There are two primary go-to-market approaches to reaching potential customers: outbound and inbound. Outbound involves contacting prospects through cold calling, email/text, advertising, and campaign spending. In contrast, inbound focuses on attracting customers through content, public relations, community building, referrals, and product-led growth (PLG). While inbound marketing may seem accessible, it requires significant time and resources to be effective. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between outbound and inbound and how to strike the right balance for your business.

A series of YouTube shorts about outbound and inbound

The Uphill Challenge of Outbound 

Imagine walking up to a stranger with a dog and trying to sell them waste bags. You’d likely ask yourself: Is it their dog? Are they running low on bags? Do they have a supply they like? Are they even thinking about waste bags right now? In the business world, this scenario is akin to an outbound go-to-market. Too often, outbound is based on a “spray and pray” approach, which is expensive and inefficient. 

Outbound motions:

  1. Sales Development (SDR) and AE prospecting, follow-up from inbound interest
  2. Paid Search
  3. Paid Social
  4. Webinars

We measure outbound success through the number of sales-qualified opportunities created, which is a high bar. Investing in better targeting through pipeline analysis, intent detection, lookalikes, and AI-generated synthetic personas can help understand the market, its pain points, and its unique language but doesn’t guarantee success. Investing in better pre-qualification through AI and research, training your prospecting team (SDRs or AEs) in delivering value to the target prospect, and understanding the urgency triggers of your most attractive buyers will improve outbound, but fundamentally, you are still trying to synchronize your outreach with their urgency.

The Power of Inbound 

Inbound is the art of being top-of-mind and easily discoverable when prospects prioritize a problem they believe you can solve. It depends on building visibility and awareness of the problem and your solution.

Inbound motions:

  1. Content & SEO: Website, contributed articles, syndication, videos, podcasts
  2. Conversational chat on website – AI or Live
  3. Email + newsletters (if you have an opted-in list)
  4. Brand building
    1. Articles and analyst coverage
    2. Events: Trade shows, speaking engagements, dinners
    3. Values and delivering value
  5. Advocates, reviews, testimonials, and a community
  6. Products that motivate expanded use (Product-led Growth)
  7. Ecosystem: Partners, integrations (e.g., Salesforce App Store, HubSpot Marketplace, Shopify Partners)

Building inbound momentum takes time and resources. Inbound efforts don’t respond quickly to investment of time or money because they take time to build momentum and depend on the prospect to engage when ready. Attribution can also be more difficult, as prospects may only recall 1-2 of the most recent touchpoints out of the 11+ they typically discover before becoming a prospect.

Managing Expectations and Balancing Strategies

It’s essential to manage expectations when implementing an inbound strategy. Inbound motions take time and investment to yield results, often 6-12 months at a minimum. During this time, you will likely need to spend on outbound and inbound marketing while momentum builds. Inbound motions also require more human resources (product, content, community management) than program spend. If inbound yields, it generates lower customer acquisition cost over time, but it is not zero.

It’s crucial to remember that reporters are not your promoters and are not looking to write about you. Inbound motions are complex to measure because many are anonymous or happen outside marketer-controlled platforms. PLG can be more measurable when the model is a known user invites others to use the solution using a personal link or system generated invitation (Slack or email). Higher price points require people to follow up, qualify, and convert.

To strike the right balance, consider using outbound to accelerate awareness while leveraging inbound to enable buyers and alert you to potential prospects. Data and instrumentation are essential, alongside a go-to-market process that prioritizes prospects and their actions, ensuring that your team spends their time on the highest potential prospects. Partner with RevOps for instrumentation and reporting. Partner with Sales Enablement to ensure a smooth process,  consistently followed. Set and measure against goals such as engagement within target accounts, opportunities created, opportunity momentum, and opportunity value to calibrate what is yielding the best results for your company in both volume and value.

TL:DR

Inbound offers a high return on investment and is more efficient and sustainable. On the other hand, outbound can be a kick-start accelerator and is more controllable. You will still need front-line people to qualify and engage interested prospects for higher contract-value solutions. Finding the right balance between outbound and inbound requires budget, systems, experimentation, and coordination. By understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each approach and tailoring your strategy accordingly, you can effectively reach your target audience and efficiently grow your business.