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What is the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

Creating an effective sales strategy for your company can be a challenge when there are so many different recommended approaches. Two of the most common strategies are inbound and outbound sales, but which one is better? Or should you combine the two to make a hybrid sales plan?

There isn’t really a right or wrong answer to these questions as everyone gets different results and holds different opinions. However, it’s easier to make an informed decision if you understand the advantages and challenges of both inbound and outbound sales.

Your sales approach should be based on your target audience, products and services, and the formation of your sales team. You can adapt your sales strategy until it starts to produce the results that you want.

In this article, we will walk you through the different methods used in inbound and outbound sales, including the benefits and challenges of both. We will also take a look at how you can build your own strategies using these methods to reach your sales targets.

What is the difference between inbound and outbound sales?

The main difference between inbound and outbound sales is how you source the leads. Whilst inbound sales teams wait for customers to enquire about services and products before embarking on the sales journey, outbound sales rely on direct contact with potential customers in a bid to draw their interest and direct ideas towards them.

The prospect is the catalyst for inbound sales, as they approach the company. However, the sales team is the force behind outbound sales, as they approach a prospect through the use of cold calls and advertisements on social media.

Continue reading to find out the different components of outbound and inbound sales strategies and how you can use them to increase your sales and customer base.

What is inbound selling?

The inbound sales process relies on customers approaching your company looking for solutions for their needs and wants. This type of sales approach involves “warm leads” because a prospective customer expresses an interest in the products or services of your company as they contact you.

The prospect has usually done prior research, such as by reading blogs and reviews online or by scheduling a free consultation. Your team can generate inbound leads by producing blogs and content that answer their questions during this exploration. You need to have already established who your ideal customer is for this stage to be effective. It’s important to consider what prospects are looking for and how you can provide them with solutions.

Your team can further connect with the prospects by asking them for their contact details when they stop by your showroom or website. This is when you can send them webinars and content downloads that will provide them with more information for their consideration. You can also encourage them to book a consultation so that you can discuss their options.

Inbound sales teams should guide prospects towards making a final decision rather than pushing them. You can discuss and recommend the products or services that you have to offer so that they can clearly see how they will benefit them.

One important factor to remember about inbound sales is that prospects won’t automatically translate into sales. Some enquiries are made from curiosity and without the intention to move forward with the sale. This can be frustrating, but it’s the job of the sales team to give each potential customer as much guidance and information as they need to make an informed decision.

The inbound sales process can be more time-consuming than outbound sales because it takes longer to build and generate content to attract leads. However, it can also be a cost-effective process because you are limiting your time to targeting prospects that have already shown an interest in your company.

Inbound sales strategies can be used by any type of business model, including B2B and B2C companies. The inbound sales machine can also be scaled up or down depending on your targets. For example, you can produce more blog posts or other types of content if you want to drive a higher volume of traffic to your website.

What is outbound selling?

Outbound selling takes a different approach to reach new customers. Rather than waiting for interested prospects to approach your company, an outbound sales technique would mean that you make first contact. This can be done through cold calling, advertisements on social media or email campaigns. Unlike inbound sales calls, the prospect has shown no prior interest in your company.

The first step in outbound sales is to identify your target customer base and think of the best way to reach them. Sales reps often purchase databases of potential customers, based on personal information, such as their location, age, interests and job titles. Once you have established your potential customers, you can then make contact through cold calls, pay-per-click adverts or direct emails.

Often, prospects aren’t aware that they want or need a product or service. This is when your sales team can make contact with the potential customer with a series of sales techniques. It could be that the prospect first sees a pop-up advert on their Facebook page, followed by a newspaper advert the following week. The final push could be a discount code appearing in their email inbox that acts as the final encouragement to buy from your company.

Once you have gained the attention of prospects, you can ask your sales reps to organise a meeting or demonstration to discuss how your products and services can benefit them. This can lead to a successful deal that ends in a sale and possible custom in the future.

Outbound sales techniques have their fair share of critics. They are often considered too intrusive because you are approaching prospects that haven’t shown any prior interest in your company or its products. However, they can be very effective in promoting brand awareness and successfully reaching people that might not have previously heard about your company. You also have personal contact with prospects and can control the pace of your sales.

The outbound sales process relies on a data bank full of potential customers that fit your target group. People are often wary of outbound sales tactics: they can often be suspicious of contact from an unknown company about products they hadn’t been considering. It helps if you have collected contact information for high-quality prospects, as they will usually be more receptive to your outbound sales strategy.

Outbound sales teams can get instant feedback from their sales strategy, which can help you to maintain and improve your lead generation methods. The personal aspect of outbound sales calls is also a highly effective strategy as it helps to build a relationship between the prospects and your company.

A drawback of outbound sales is the reliance it has on the motivation of each sales rep. The outbound sales cycle is never-ending as you are responsible for bringing in customers to the company. Once your team loses motivation or you invest less money in your strategies, the pool of prospects will quickly dry out.

How can I build a strong inbound and outbound sales strategy?

There’s no rule that says you can only use one sales method. If you find that inbound or outbound sales alone aren’t working, your sales team may want to consider using a combination of both. For example, you could push your online content strategy to attract prospects and then follow up these leads with outbound strategies, such as emails and phone calls.

You can use both inbound and outbound strategies together to help you identify which of your prospects are ready to make a sale. Whilst you may use an inbound strategy to create content that will attract prospects, you can follow leads up with phone calls to verify whether the potential customer is interested. A follow-up call could be a great opportunity for you to guide a potential customer towards your products and services.

Although outbound sales can be very effective, the methods can alienate potential customers as they may feel pressured into a sale. You can combat this by letting customers walk through the sales process at their own pace, with the occasional phone call or email so that you can keep in touch. Adverts in print and online are also effective in notifying potential customers about your company, which can bring you to the attention of more leads than inbound sales alone.

The good thing about using a combination of inbound and outbound sales is that both strategies can support each other. Your sales team may implement a range of advertising or social media campaigns that don’t generate as many leads as you would like. However, these campaigns may have presented your brand to prospects that eventually gravitate towards your company at their own pace. Equally, potential customers may take notice of keywords in your sales campaigns and use them to search for the products at a later date.

Some of the inbound and outbound sales strategies that you could use include:

Search engine optimized content and paid adverts: Use keywords in your content to boost your website’s ranking on the internet and pay for sponsored adverts that will appear on social media channels to encourage prospects to visit your website.

Emails and in-person events: Host a stall at a tradeshow or attend a conference. After prospects approach you, ask for their contact details so that you can follow up with an email.

Automated texts and phone calls: Use automated campaigns such as text messages to connect with your prospects. You can follow up with an outbound phone call if they respond to the text. This will establish a business relationship that you can nurture to make a sale.

Data analytics and direct mailing: You can source a curated list of leads based on your target customer bases, such as their job title, interests and geographical location. This can be followed up with personalised emails to help explain your company’s products and services to the prospects and how it can benefit them.

Summary

Inbound sales are generated through organic traffic. Prospects will approach your company, having done their research into the products or services that they want or need. This is usually after a period of consideration and comparison with other companies. Once a prospect has made contact with your company, it is the job of your sales team to guide the potential customer towards buying from your company. This can be done through recommendations and explanations as to why you have the solution to their problems.

Outbound sales strategies, on the other hand, rely upon your sales team sourcing data from people in your target consumer group so that you can target them with emails, cold calls and advertisements on social media. You can buy contact information or source it yourself to ensure that the prospects meet your criteria for your target audience.

The people you contact through outbound sales usually won’t have identified a need or want for your products or services, so it’s up to your company to convince them of why they should buy from you. This can lead to some tricky conversations as many consumers don’t always like to be approached out of the blue. However, it’s an easy way to generate interest in your brand as you are directly bringing it to the attention of your target audience.

Whilst the two approaches are very different in their lead generation, you can use aspects of both in your ongoing sales strategy. This could mean letting customers come to you via inbound sales and then maintaining their interest or closing a sale through outbound methods, such as phone calls and emails.

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