Inbound vs Outbound Lead Generation: Which One Works Better?


Inbound vs Outbound – this seems like an endless dispute to me. On the one side, you’ve got people who claim outbound techniques are just wrong and unethical, whereas inbound is the only effective way to generate new valuable leads. On the other side, there are people who strongly advocate outbound, because that’s what has really worked for them like no inbound tactic before. So whose advice are we supposed to follow? Which one works better in B2B: inbound vs outbound marketing?

Inbound vs outbound lead generation

In inbound, you’re supposed to be there for your potential customers and wait for them to come to you, get interested, get engaged, and in effect, buy your service or product. Each time you:

  • improve your website to show the value of your product or service,
  • write a blog post,
  • create a new ad for AdWords or Facebook,
  • make graphics, infographics, and SlideShares,
  • engage in communication on social media, forums and in industry communities,
  • care about your customers to make them more eager to give referrals,

you invest in inbound lead generation.

In outbound, you’re supposed to target your ideal customers and proactively reach out to them to start a conversation. You’re supposed to build business relations with your prospects, and in effect, have them buy your service or product. Each time you:

  • search for ideal prospects on LinkedIn,
  • research a specifically chosen company matching your ICP,
  • send a cold email,
  • make a cold call on the phone,
  • reach out to a prospect on social media,

you invest in outbound lead generation.

Which one’s better?

Inbound vs outbound marketing? Well, both of them have their pros and cons. Both of them work if done right. Neither of them works, if done poorly.

Inbound pros & cons


What’s done once, will work for you over years

For me, that’s the greatest advantage of all inbound tactics. If you work out some valuable content, it’s there to attract new people every day. Sure, after some time it may call for an update. But an update is just an extension to what you’ve already created it’s not as time-consuming as creating something new from scratch.

I’ve been writing this blog for almost two years now. And the posts I wrote at the very beginning are still helping my readers today. I put together the 15 Cold Email Templates ebook over 1,5 year ago, and people are still signing up to download it. Our followers’ group on Twitter is growing every day, it’s not going to suddenly vanish.

Inbound is a long-term investment, but it’s an investment that pays off.

You build your position as an expert

Creating all those materials, you learn a lot and grow your skills. You become a person who knows this and that, and more, about your topic. You’re becoming a kind of an expert in your narrow field. That means you’re becoming more apt to help your prospects. And the better you help, the easier it is to sell your product or service as a result of the helping.

After some time, people start to associate you with your field of expertise. They start to trust you, and they’re more eager to buy from you.

You let your prospects freely go through their buying cycle

If you’re in the team inbound, you trust that when your ideal prospects will be searching for the kind of product or service that you’re offering, they will find you. You’re trying to provide them with all the necessary information. You’re trying to help them find all they need to finish their research with the right buying decision in the end. You just guide them and allow them to come to the buying decision in a moment that they feel is right.

As a result, you acquire pretty well-educated customers who notice and understand the value of your product. And these are the most desired customers indeed.


You have to wait longer to see some results

You need to invest a lot before you see some returns. It’s not only about content creation but also about promotion. You need to create various forms of content and employ various channels to distribute the content. Firing those channels off takes more time than you think. Then, you need to build some audience. And this audience will also need some time to get engaged in your messaging and to build trust towards you before they become actual leads.

It’s a long-term process. Before you’ll be able to test your hypotheses and get some reliable results, there’s a time when you invest lots of time and hard work and see little in return. You have to be patient.

The influx of leads is unpredictable, especially at the beginning

Each time you write another post or prepare another marketing campaign, you’re not sure if it’s going to bring you 100 new leads or 10. In the beginning, it’s difficult to estimate the effect of inbound activities. You do your best and keep your fingers crossed in the hope that this time you’re going to see some reward for your hard work. The sad thing is, though, sometimes you see the reward, and sometimes you don’t.

The skill of predicting the results takes time and experience, and it’s something you can’t learn overnight.

You have limited targeting options

In inbound, you only get to choose a profile of the prospect you’re aiming at. You’re not choosing individual companies and specific people to become your clients. You can organize your marketing activities around a few previously created personas, but those will be only concepts.

You can attract less-than-ideal customers

No matter how hard you try to keep your content focused around your ideal customer profile, there are always some leads who get hooked up even though you haven’t targeted them at all. There will be some people who signed up for a trial out of curiosity and never had a chance to become customers. There will always be some people who will be close to your ICP, but some of the characteristics of their business won’t let them succeed with your product.

My point here is that in inbound, you have limited control over the quality of leads you get.

Outbound pros & cons


You get to choose your ideal prospects

In outbound, you’re the one who does the research. You’re the one who decides which companies to start a conversation with. You’re the one who chooses their customers. And you can choose specific accounts and people that you want to work with. You’re the one who takes action first. And this action is to bring you an actual business conversation with a potential customer.

All you need to do is contact people

You don’t need an experienced marketing team armed with a professional set of tools to do outbound. All you need is an email account (and maybe a phone if you prefer this way of contacting people). Sure, cold emailing is a skill you need to acquire. But you need much fewer resources to get started and learn.

After some time, when you feel the need to scale your outbound activities, you’ll need some tools and new team members to help you handle the expansion. But the start is much easier than in inbound and brings results faster.

You can quickly build a predictable source of leads

The greatest advantage of outbound lead generation is that you can test your hypotheses fast. You send the first version of your message to a few dozens people and observe reactions. If it works, you proceed and improve. If it doesn’t, you make changes and send the second version. And so on. The best part is, you don’t have to wait for the people to come and see your work. You decide when to get in front of the people. And you get straight to their inbox.

Additionally, you can easily measure the effects of your activities. You see how many of your prospects replied, and how many of them replied positively.

A series of alterations in your outbound campaigns allows you to build a predictable source of leads within weeks.

You get to actually talk to ideal prospects

Outbound techniques are based on conversation. The aim of all your marketing activities in outbound is to talk to your prospects, listen to their problems, learn their needs and help them find solutions. You don’t just create content, put it out there and observe reactions. You start a business connection based on interaction. You get a verbally expressed feedback.

This opens the gate to the best way of learning the specifics of your target group. Even if you don’t close an impressive number of deals at the beginning, you’ll draw an amazing amount of first-hand information from your ideal customers. This is the scope knowledge no other method will give you. And this is something no one will take away from you.


Prospect research is time-consuming

Yes, if you want to prepare a good prospect base for a personalized outbound campaign, it will take you some time. You will have to do some serious research and look for information that will help you qualify a company as a prospective client – and specific people within this company as decision-makers.

You can’t be sure if the prospect is at the right point of their buying cycle

You can look for some hints during your research. But you will never be 100% sure that the companies you chose to be your prospects will be ready to talk to you at the moment when you reach out to them. The good thing is, though, that they will tell you in case they are not ready.

And how about all-bound?

What’s interesting about outbound and inbound tactics is that they are often presented as contrary to each other and mutually exclusive. As a marketer, you’re supposed to take sides and either be in team ‘inbound’ or team ‘outbound.’

And I don’t quite understand why on Earth should this work like this. Why should you embrace one set of marketing methods, and turn your back to the other? It’s like you’re only using half of the options you have available and deliberately reject the other half for no good reason.

The two are not mutually exclusive. There’s no inbound vs outbound marketing. In fact, if properly combined, they can empower each other.

If you have a well-developed content base and an awesome website, you’re more likely to get a response to your cold emails. And if you’re contacting carefully chosen prospects via cold email, the chances that they will check out your content are obviously greater because they will want to see who you are before they reply.

You can have a list of subscribers for your ebook, and send them an automated sequence of emails with additional materials to learn from in hopes they will get interested in your product eventually. But you can also research those people, and contact them personally to start a conversation.

Using the two types of marketing tactics outbound and inbound in combination is something that we like to call allbound.

What’s in it for you?

The one important thing I’d like you to remember from all this is: don’t reject inbound or outbound marketing for no good reason. Both of them require some time to learn. Both of them require a set of processes to be created in your organization. Both of them can be wrong if done poorly. And both of them will work great if you do them right.

And by right, I don’t mean “the only right way only I know and will share exclusively with my subscribers”. By right I mean “the way that works for your specific kind of business and your specific target group”. You’ll have to figure out the right for yourself. It’s not going to be easy, but in the end, it will be worth the effort.

I bet you have your two cents on the inbound vs outbound marketing discourse. I’d love to see those two cents in the comments section, feel free to put them in there.

Follow this up with this article, The difference Between Inbound And Outbound Lead Service >>