Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: When and Why Outbound Sells

Outbound versus inbound—which one to choose, when it comes to planning marketing and sales strategies as well as budget allocation for the upcoming 12 months? Or maybe it’s better to apply both methodologies? How are they different? Why do some people not like outbound? And most importantly, can they be aligned to support and strengthen each other?

CIENCE is ready to answer these burning questions. Over the past four years of serving over seven hundred clients, we’ve become a trusted expert in running outbound marketing campaigns. Furthermore, we’ve gained experience in projects that combine these approaches.

CIENCE attends HubSpot Inbound Conference

Outbound vs. Inbound — Frenemies

Simply put, there’s a (not so) old rivalry that began with the advent of Internet and accessibility of information. There are several aspects to this classical tension between marketing and sales departments, or the “dirty and clean methods” labeling imposed by some marketers.

Many inbound fans dislike outbound because they consider this method outdated, self-absorbed, pushy, and manipulative. They forgot that at the beginning of Internet era, the content of websites was manipulative (with keywords), self-absorbed, and pushy (all those pop-up windows). At least it was true for a huge number of websites, and, alas, is still the reality for many of them.

Nevertheless, many fans of inbound marketing still want to believe that the era of outbound has ended and the only viable way to win a customer is to build a comprehensive marketing strategy free of any interruptions.

“With inbound marketing, you don’t need to fight for your potential customers’ attention.” (Source: Hubspot

Well, as a content manager on the CIENCE marketing team, it’s still a fight. For content marketing alone, over the past nine months our marketing team has experimented on multiple occasions:

  1. We attempted to create articles in different styles.
  2. Then we tried the long-read format, producing several 4000-8000-word pieces of writing.
  3. Our team published several funny posts to see how people react.
  4. We made several cross-posting initiatives.
  5. Our designer tested different image styles for our articles to see which one catches attention best.
  6. We reached out to sales experts to publish interesting interviews.
  7. We also decided to make polls on sales focal issues and publish answers.
  8. By the end of the year 2018, we had come up with the new plan for the content journey of our users.

That’s a short record of what has been going on with the content in my company over 9 months. Our marketing team is rather small – only 4 FTEs + amazing Inbound SDRs + great web design team that is in charge of our website. I can only imagine what bigger teams are going through.

We spent hours thinking of how to attract the attention of our potential buyers, how to make them get interested in what we do, how to assure that we’re the best at outbound marketing while not sounding too salesy. We tried to present the most compelling offers compared to both other outsourcing firms and in-house teams.

If it’s not a fight for the customer, I don’t know what it is.

Both our outbound and inbound teams struggle over the potential buyers. However, the methods differ.

I would never dare to email/call you, my reader, and straightforwardly ask if you have a need/problem around increasing your sales development ROI or filling your pipeline with high-quality leads. I’m not the right person to do it.

When I look at CIENCE SDRs I can’t help but admire these people. They handle multiple one-on-one email conversations and phone calls, receiving both interest and rejection on a daily basis and yet they go around office smiling. They’re truly amazing.

I sincerely think that the job they do is very hard and not everyone is a fit to perform it (especially successfully). It’s really sad to read articles and blog posts that diminish the importance and efficiency of SDRs’ work (as part of outbound strategy).

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Inbound vs Outbound marketing - the difference

Though inbound is strongly associated with “new” techniques of winning customers that emerged with the advent of digital era, we think this isn’t the correct understanding of its essence.

Many people would say that outbound is addressing the masses in hope that some of the “listeners” will get interested – as in classic TV advertising. Meanwhile inbound is a more precise and targeted approach that “charges” only those who are truly interested in your product.

However, in accordance with this definition, prospecting may not be outbound at all – because SDRs target only companies that are most likely to get interested in their product and service and the process of lead qualification ultimately eliminates bad-fit firms from the list. In addition to that, all the conversations associated with sales development are one-on-one as opposed to the broadly segmented approach of some classic “inbound” techniques.

For instance, a blog post is very similar to an ad, as it aims for a large audience (compared to a one-on-one sales conversation). Furthermore, it has already become obvious that not all content sells (Colil Taylor, Marketing Director of Tortuga explained that in great detail).

So what’s the real difference between outbound vs inbound marketing?

We think this all comes back to the behavioral model. Outbound marketing is the strategy where you look for a good fit company and engage with them directly. Inbound is when you create an environment (similar to spider net) and wait for a good-fit company contacts to fall into it.

Each has its advantages and flaws. And in our opinion, most companies need both strategies to successfully operate.

Outbound Marketing vs Inbound Comparison Table:Differences between inbound and outbound marketing: engagement, communication, timeframe, ROI, result

A key advantage of the inbound model is the attention span of a prospect. For example, you look for lead generation companies (to fill your pipeline and improve the ROI) and come across our guide on Lead Generation Companies. You’re likely to be more motivated to spend 30 minutes of your time reading tips on choosing the best lead gen provider.

An SDR who wrote an email or called you over the phone to talk about your need to increase your number of appointments doesn’t have nearly as much focused time. He or she needs to be brief and talk straight to the point.

On the flipside, there are 2 obvious advantages of outbound methods. First, outbound provides the opportunity to go after the companies you want rather than hoping to make them see your company, product, service, or content and then making the leap into a sales cycle. Second, it’s a human-to-human conversation. SDRs can answer any questions immediately if a prospect has them, they can relate emotionally and build rapport – something we, content writers, can hardly achieve, even if we address you directly.

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1. Timeframe and results of inbound vs. outbound marketing

Inbound is always a long-term “team” game. Looking at the work of the CIENCE Marketing department from the inside for almost a year, I’ve seen everyone contributing to our results, day after day. Frankly speaking, in the beginning, it seemed next to impossible. When we began getting first inbound clients it felt almost like a miracle.

Content is slow.

It takes time (and money) to understand what’s wrong with an article or a blog on the whole (as in the Van Winkle’s case mentioned by Ms. Taylor).

Outbound prospecting is very different in essence. I’ve watched multiple sales development campaigns launching here regularly at CIENCE. The whole process is operated by a researcher, a copywriter, and a sales development representative working in perfect alignment. It is managed by a Customer Success manager and controlled by the Client’s POC (Point of Contact).

Campaigns start in less than 2 weeks after contracts are signed. And results are gained within days or weeks after the beginning (depending on the campaign, industry, sales cycle longitude, etc.). Extremely fast, compared to inbound.

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2. ROI and impact


Most marketers grudgingly admit much of the great content they create didn’t attain the key marketing goal: people came to read the articles rather than buy products. They created a masterpiece but that alone didn’t increase sales. Often, as a result, the blog was no more.

ROI of inbound is hard to measure. And it’s not because we lack criteria or tools to do it. On the contrary – we have plenty of them compared to outbound or sales (quota met or not being the only KPI in most organizations). One reason is that the conversion from a passive reader of content to an active buyer still needs additional steps through any inbound funnel.

We’re half blind. And it’s because we can’t see the real impact of our activities. It’s inside the heads of our readers – the domain we’re yet to penetrate (or better not?).

We don’t see them, don’t hear them, and rarely receive their feedback. I was lucky enough to get feedback through our sales team – and that’s only because CIENCE is the place where great people work and where marketing and sales are mutually cooperative and supportive.

Furthermore, it’s merely impossible to calculate how inbound activities facilitate and support outbound. When, for example, CIENCE SDRs talk with our potential prospects, they often provide articles from our blog so that the prospect may learn more about our methodology. In addition to that, our potential buyers also check out our website and blog to learn who we are and what we stand for.

Is outbound impacting inbound? Absolutely. Learn how outbound can empower inbound in our internal case study.


When it comes to the impact of outbound, in one-on-one conversations, an SDR has a space for a quick maneuver if he or she feels that the talk is going nowhere. In a sense, sales reps have control over their communication and they can also learn from their mistakes to adjust their behavior almost instantly.

Similar to regional sales managers, SDRs always know their ultimate goal — qualify and pass prospects to the sales team. In other words, they have a very defined goal and clear methodologies. They try to be straightforward and frank about this because they cherish the time of people they talk to.

This makes ROI easy to calculate: you invest a certain sum of money, get a certain number of appointments with good-fit companies and then close a certain percentage of these opportunities.

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3. Scaling — inbound vs outbound marketing

Scaling is much easier in outbound marketing for a number of reasons:

  1. The timeframe is shorter. Because outbound marketing campaigns are faster, you get immediate “response” and can adjust almost instantly (e.g., change the subject line of a letter, ask about different pain points).
  2. In one-on-one conversations, you can ask for feedback on your offer and actually get it.
  3. You control the process — not your audience or Google page ranking algorithms.
  4. You can hire one more full-time SDR and target twice as many prospects. Producing twice as much content doesn’t guarantee you the same result.

Inbound strategies (massive and passive):

  1. Internet:
    • Website
    • Content
    • SEO
    • SMM
    • Ads
    • PR / Content placement
    • Guest Blogging

Outbound strategies (active and personal):

  1. Email marketing
  2. Phone calling
  3. Outreach via Social networks

Other tactics that can be defined as either inbound and outbound, depending on execution include most Offline activities like tradeshows or traditional media advertising (TV, Print, Billboard, Direct Mail), as well as newer forms like Influencer marketing or thought leadership (e.g. Podcast guest).

Wrapping it up, it’s not about inbound sales vs outbound sales. It’s about combining the two approaches.

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Outbound Advantages

1) Immediate ROI

Often times with inbound marketing, it’s not apparent when traffic is leading to sales. There are businesses who drive traffic on social and get many website visits, but whether this leads to sales is difficult and sometimes impossible to track. The beauty of outbound is its ability to nurture and close leads, unlike solely attracting leads. Inbound marketing rarely generates results immediately, and should not be looked at in this context. 

2) Targeting

It’s no secret that outbound marketing allows you to directly get in front of people. You choose exactly who you’re pitching to. You have the ability to one-on-one target who is most likely to be interested and benefit from your product. Instead of weeding through hundreds of inbound leads, you’re going after your most desired accounts. You’re able to choose who you want to reach out to and have full control of your message.

3) Time Spent

Continually creating content takes a lot of time. Spending your resources on constant content creation in a crowded space is slow. Inbound tactics are effective in the long term, but not if you’re looking to quickly grow a customer base and win new accounts. Studies report that as content marketing has risen, there’s been a decrease in efficiency on the sales side. All of the organizations solely focusing on inbound should look at outbound to complement their efforts.

4) Easier to Scale

Many companies that are looking for the right tactics to scale growth have adopted an outbound strategy. Leveraging outbound sales development by using Sales Development Representatives (SDR’s) to sell to a specific set of accounts often amounts to incredible success. This is typically done by targeting the ideal customer profile (ICP) of these accounts, which are higher value contracts. SDR’s prospecting represents narrowly-focused activities performed daily to a wider target audience than any full-cycle rep could handle. As such, the ability to add SDR’s and grow the total prospecting population, while still remaining targeted, is achieved. 

5) Better understand your customers

When organizations are considering inbound vs. outbound, they tend to overlook the ability to improve messaging with outbound. You’re constantly communicating with your customers and learning more about them. This helps you achieve empathy to understand their problems and give them solutions as well as how to pitch your product. This constant feedback loop of testing messaging with measurable response rates enables you to establish outreach that resonates. Once you’re on a path of consistent messaging that’s relevant to what your target cares about, you build trust and better understand your customers. You’ll learn a lot about your target group at a faster pace than inbound.

6) Speed to Market

Inbound takes time. How long is it going to take to rank #1 (or even top 10) on a Google SERP (Search Engine Result Page)? How do you prevent other businesses from taking your place in a Google PageRank tomorrow? While inbound strategies can be a strong asset for your business, they take a long time to develop and further time to simply maintain. Outbound allows you get to market as soon as your campaign is ready.


When considering Inbound vs. Outbound for business, evaluate the factors above. If you’ve never tried outbound marketing, it could be exactly what your business is missing. Try outbound marketing to complement your inbound marketing to see quick gratification. Inbound alone isn’t enough because you’re waiting for prospects to come to you. By creating targeted email campaigns and persona-based outreach, you’ll be able to move through the sales cycle more quickly. Utilizing outbound marketing is a great way to boost your inbound marketing and increase its effectiveness. Be sure to test both to see what works for you. If you’ve never tried outbound marketing, remember that using your cold email and calling outreach is a fantastic way to build trust with accounts you desire to land. CIENCE can become an extension of your team, providing you the outbound team of your dreams. Book a meeting and chat with us to learn more. 

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