Inbound vs Outbound Sales: What’s the Difference, Which is Best, and How to Create Your Killer Sales Process

Struggling to find the right sales approach for your company? Wondering if you should build an inbound sales machine, hire an outbound sales team, or take a hybrid approach?

Thinking of maybe just jumping off a cliff instead? Well, don’t do that. Figuring out the right sales model for your business, though—yeah, let’s definitely do that together.

Inbound sales can attract customers to any business. Plus, it’s cost-effective and can scale really well. But outbound sales has its advantages, too. Yes, it often requires a human touch and relies on approaching unsuspecting prospects, but it’s one of the most powerful ways to build trust, close big deals, and maintain control.

So, who wins the inbound vs outbound sales battle?

Well, it all depends on your goals, sales process, target market, and the type of business you run. In short, it gets complicated. But lucky you, I’m here to demystify this right now.

Let’s unpack the pros and cons, highs and lows of each approach. I’ll show you how to build your sales process (depending on your decision), and how to track your sales results—in order to crush your goals.

Inbound vs. Outbound Sales: What’s the Difference?

Who initiates the sale? That’s the main difference between inbound and outbound sales. 

With inbound, the prospect starts the sales process. With outbound, it’s the sales representative. 

With inbound sales, the prospect reads an article, attends a webinar, or downloads an ebook. With outbound, the salesperson is cold calling, cold emailing, or cold texting the prospect—or, the company is placing ads online.

The difference is in the direction of that first point of contact.

Subtle? Not really. It actually has a big impact on the type of customer the business engages with. Inbound prospects are typically more aware and engaged at the start—whereas outbound leads are less so, at least early on. Let’s get an overview:

Inbound Sales Outbound Sales
Prospect makes the first move. Sales rep contacts the prospect first.
Strategies rely on generating interest and pulling leads into the sales funnel. Techniques involve cold outreach and killer sales pitches.
Leads are warm by the time they reach sales. Leads are unaware of you (and often even your product) at first contact.
Highly scalable and cost-effective. Great for high-cost products, and precise lead targeting.

But let’s be clear: neither approach is inherently better. Both can be powerful engines for growth. The sales strategy you choose will depend on several variables, including your business type, your average deal size, and the awareness your customers have about your solution.

We’ll dive more into these factors, and help point you toward the strategy that will be best for your business. Ready? Let’s go.

What is Inbound Sales?

How would your ideal customer organically find your business? Would they search: “best CRMs for startup sales teams”, then read the first few articles, and buy one of the recommended software?

That’s one example of a path created by an inbound sales strategy.

Most inbound strategies involve creating content geared toward the interests of your ideal customers, and then putting that content where people can find it. It’s pretty simple: Show up in all the places your ideal prospects are searching, and you’ll build a well-oiled inbound sales machine. 

But before we outline the overarching flow of how a prospect enters the inbound sales machine and interacts with your reps, let’s start with the advantages and disadvantages of this approach.

Pros & Cons of Inbound Sales

There are plenty of pros and cons to an inside sales strategy. 


  • Applicable to (almost) any business: Whether your sales team works B2B, B2C, or some combination of both—inbound sales strategies will apply.
  • Highly scalable: Sales and marketing content can be recycled, and SEO-friendly blogs and engaging digital resources can draw new leads for years. So, the right inbound approach can support scaling teams and strategies—painlessly.
  • Go lean: Because inbound sales is scalable, you can have a leaner team and still generate high-quality leads.
  • Creates less sales friction: The average B2B buyer reads 13 content pieces before making a purchase. With inbound sales, prospects can do their research—and then buy whenever is convenient for them.
  • Positions you as a leader: Inbound content can position your team as credible thought leaders in the industry. You differentiate yourself from competitors and build buyer trust by creating quality content, staying ahead of trends, and offering a unique perspective.


  • Lots of initial effort: There’s a learning curve to creating quality sales content that converts new customers. You’ll need to invest a lot of effort before you see revenue results. 
  • Massive time commitment: You have to build a solid inbound foundation, or your strategy will erode. There’s a time “startup cost” for every campaign and sales tactic your team rolls out.
  • Doesn’t (always) work for high-ticket items: Inbound sales gives the initial research power to the customer, which makes converting high-ticket items more challenging. If an objection isn’t addressed in the original sales content, you may lose the sale before you’re even aware it existed.
  • Demands a diverse skill set: Your team needs an array of skills to make content marketing work, including writing, editing, data tracking, and more.
  • Data is king (but can be confusing): Data is central to closing deals, predicting outcomes, and forecasting sales. But tracking data and ROI with an inbound sales strategy can be difficult, especially when leads are coming from so many channels.

To optimize the pros and mitigate the cons, you need a solid CRM to track your results across channels. Otherwise, you’ll never know how effective your campaign was—or how to replicate it.

What Does the Inbound Sales Process Look Like?

Every inbound sale is different because every prospect has different questions and a different level of interest before making a purchase. 

Some prospects can read one article and are ready to buy a $1,000 product. Others need 10 to 20 touchpoints over several months (or years) before they even sign up for a free trial.

You must understand the buyer’s journey to build an effective inbound sales process. Then, you can develop an approach that supports your customers throughout the entire sales process.

What Does the Inbound Sales Process Look Like - Close CRM

1. Identify and Capture Your Ideal Customers

The first step in inbound sales is defining your ideal customers and understanding their problems. Your most successful customers (who get the most value from your solution) likely have certain things in common—like company size, pain points, industry, and goals. These criteria, put together, create your ideal customer profile (ICP).

Then, use what you know from your ICP to hook your ideal customers—what kind of content, tools, and resources could you create to grab their attention?

Then, decide how you will capture these ideal customers as marketing-qualified leads. This could be through a form on your website, or a call-to-action that allows them to download some gated content.

2. Qualify New Leads

In most inbound sales processes, qualification happens in two stages: before contact and after contact.

As a new inbound lead enters the pipeline, you can conduct automated qualification. For example, you might ask a simple qualifying question on your form, like: “What’s the size of your business?” This can tell you right away whether this new lead matches your ICP and is likely to become a successful customer. 

You can also automate qualification using B2B data providers that will run preliminary research on new inbound leads and score them based on preset criteria.

After the initial round of automated qualification, it’s time to hop on a discovery call with your inbound prospect. You’ll ask qualifying questions, and determine whether this lead is a good fit for your business—and whether your product is a good solution for their needs.

3. Present a Consultative Pitch

Once you qualify and connect with the potential customer, encourage them to explore your solution. At this stage, you’ll use consultative selling to listen to a prospect’s pain points and guide them to the appropriate product or service for their needs.

You might invite them (or other relevant stakeholders) to a meeting or product demo. You want to make clear that you understand their problems—and that your solution is the answer.

4. Negotiate and Close the Deal

The final step involves navigating how each prospect normally buys new products, selling the relevant stakeholders on your solution, and getting the contract signed.

Ideally, inbound sales representatives will walk a prospect through these four steps from initial search to final purchase. This can happen all in one session, or it can be spread across days or months. The key here is to figure out where in the sales funnel your prospects need your help the most—and be there.

It all depends on the type of solution you’re selling, and how your customers typically make purchasing decisions.

5 Signs Your Business Will Thrive with Inbound Sales

So, who should use this strategy? It’s important to consider because inbound sales doesn’t jive with every business–or even every stage of growth!

Here’s when it makes sense to implement an inbound sales approach: 

  1. You don’t have much capital to invest in a sales team: Are you a cash-strapped startup? Inbound sales is a cost-effective way to reach leads and win deals.
  2. Your product is searched for online: If your target audience is already searching for solutions like yours online, that’s the green light to create an inbound strategy that brings them to your digital doorstep.
  3. Your customers make purchase decisions quickly: Short sales cycle? Inbound sales techniques work best when customers can make relatively quick, uncomplicated buying decisions.
  4. You have a unique advantage: Do you have an amazing team of content writers, video editors, or high-profile founders? At Close, we leverage our unique advantages of thought leadership and (tons of) sales experience to create inbound marketing content.
  5. Your target market doesn’t respond well to outbound sales: Some buyers, for some products, simply prefer to do research and buy online on their own. Cold calls? Forget about it.

Before moving on to outbound sales, here is one word of warning: Beware of trying to emulate HubSpot. Their content marketing strategy is elite, and they remain a juggernaut in the inbound SaaS sales space. 

However, HubSpot raised hundreds of millions from investors, and billions from the public markets. They heavily prioritize growth, and their playbook won’t translate to most businesses.

Here's how Jacob McMillen expressed it candidly in an October 2019 post on his LinkedIn profile:

For the majority of our history at Close, our content production was a two-person team. We don’t want to be HubSpot, and they don’t want to be us.

Moral of the story: Choose the strategy that is best for your customers, team, and growth plans.

What is Outbound Sales? 

Outbound sales gets a bad rap for its association with two sleazy words: cold calling.

But cold calling is just one of many outbound strategies available. And if you do it right, it doesn’t have to be icky or sleazy. In fact, outbound sales is now less invasive than ever before, thanks to the massive amount of data we can access. 

So, outbound versus inbound isn’t about invasive versus non-invasive selling. It just depends on who initiates contact first. 

And when your outbound sales team initiates contact strategically? The results are powerful.

Pros & Cons of Outbound Sales

Considering outbound sales? Here are a few pros and cons to keep in mind.


  • It (still) works: The world has changed, but sales fundamentals remain the same. According to the RAIN Group, 82 percent of buyers accept meetings from proactive sales outreach—including cold calls.
  • It’s predictable and scalable: Your outbound sales strategy provides a predictable, scalable growth mechanism for your business. As you continue to develop a sales process and hire new reps, you’ll have the formula for success—and can accurately forecast revenue.
  • You can see immediate results: Get instant feedback from prospects and generate leads much faster than with inbound. If you want to move fast, outbound is the way to go.
  • Precise lead targeting: Outbound sales allows for targeted lead generation, executed with precision and accuracy. Want to reach the VP of Marketing at Google? Choose outbound.
  • Human contact is irreplaceable: The most impactful, influential sales outreach is one-to-one contact. Digital marketing cannot replace the human engagement between a sales rep and a prospect. 


  • Cold calling has a bad rap: "Cold calling" is kind of cringey. Keep this in mind on your next cold call, and make sure to refine your sales script or sales pitch to overcome the sketchy stereotype.
  • You’re going to interrupt people: Outbound sales and interruption go hand-in-hand. And because American adults are constantly bombarded with sales pitches and ads, your team must overcome the noise—and the lead’s tendency to tune you out.
  • It requires the right sales tools, mindset, and lots of discipline: Outbound sales is a grind, which means your sales team has to develop discipline. It also requires the right sales stack to stay on top of follow-ups, lead outreach, and sales tasks.
  • You need to sustain motivation: To be successful in outbound sales, you have to keep going, and going, and going. Rejection is an everyday reality in outbound sales—and if you stop going, the leads stop coming (unlike with inbound strategies).

What Does the Outbound Sales Process Look Like?

Sales teams: your move. Outbound sales begins with the action of a salesperson (or company). Once contact is made, the sales process moves them from unsuspecting leads to customers.

Here’s an overview of the typical flow for an outbound sale.

Outbound Sales Process - Close CRM

1. Prospecting

Outbound sales begins with building lists of potentially interested prospects—similar to inbound. But unlike inbound efforts, this is less about who we want to attract, and more about who we want to reach.

Sometimes, sales reps will buy lists of people who have similar demographic information. Or, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, and others have made it possible to build prospect lists based on prospects’ interests and location.

But for more targeted (and effective) list building, use your ideal customer profile to identify key criteria for success, and then conduct research to discover the right match. 

B2B data providers like Clearbit or ZoomInfo help with preliminary research, finding valid contact information and email addresses for the specific individuals you want to engage in a sales conversation.

2. Outreach

Once you’ve built your outbound sales list, it’s time to target them with phone calls, emails, text messages, and advertisements—or, have a field sales team that visits prospective customers at their place of work. 

The goal of these efforts is to get prospects to respond to your messages, take your calls, or book your meetings so that you can start the “real” sales process.

3. Qualifying

Once you have a prospective customer’s attention, figure out: Is this someone who would genuinely benefit from my offer? 

Assess (with no BS) whether it’s in the prospect’s best interest to purchase your product. If it is, move them toward that buying decision. If it’s not, let them go.

Qualifying sales prospects is one of the key skills I look for when hiring new sales reps. Everyone focuses on their pitching skills, objection handling, drumming up business, and closing the deal. But qualifying a prospect is the foundation of a great sales process. If you accurately qualify quality prospects, you’ll waste less time on folks who won’t convert.

4. Pitching

Once you’ve qualified the prospect, it’s time to make your sales pitch. This is all about creating a vivid mental image in the prospect’s mind of how they’ll benefit from your solution.

You are selling your value. You want them to want what you have to offer.

5. Objection Handling

No matter how well-qualified a prospect is, they’ll probably still have concerns that you need to address before they are willing to make a buying decision. 

How do you handle their objections? By listening and learning about their problems, working to resolve their hesitations, and showing them the value of your solution.

6. Closing the Deal

Once you address the objections, some prospects are ready to buy. And you need to actually ask for the close. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed a sales conversation that went really well—then ended with a vague promise to chat again soon.

Where’s the close?! In sales, you have to ask for the close early, ask often, and embrace the no. One of my favorite ways to close deals is with what I call the virtual close: asking what it will take to turn them into a customer.

Think of it like a doctor advising a patient on a course of treatment. If the doctor is certain this medicine will help the patient, they’ll clearly communicate why it’s important to adhere to the treatment plan.

6 Signs Outbound Sales is the Right Approach For Your Team

Now you understand the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of outbound sales. So, when does it make sense to use it for your business? 

Here are six signs that outbound sales strategies will work for you:

  1. Your product is expensive: Outbound sales is ideal for enterprise customers who are unlikely to reach out to you. And a pricey product means your pool of potential prospects is small—so, get on the phone.
  2. Your product solves a new problem: If prospects don’t know that your solution (or the problem) even exists, they won’t be looking for it (goodbye, inbound sales). In this situation, outbound sales can generate awareness of your offer—and your value.
  3. Your product has a long sales cycle: Long sales cycles require ongoing follow-ups and personalized outreach from your sales team. The good news is, sales automation can streamline the follow-up process.
  4. You can afford the commissions: For the economics of outbound sales to work, you need high-ticket items with significant margins to attract and pay your salespeople. Because deal quantity is less, you need those big wins.
  5. Your target audience allows cold calls: This may be rare—but some people really don’t mind sales calls, depending on the product. They might like the personalized sales help.
  6. Your target market is crystal clear: Do you want to reach the data scientists at Spotify, or the customer success leaders at Close? If you have zeroed in on your target market, outbound strategies enable you to hit it consistently.

Best Inbound & Outbound Sales CRM Solutions

Sales reps spend about 15 work days each year just entering phone numbers. That doesn’t include all the time they spend manually entering notes, keeping track of follow-ups, or writing cold emails. 

If you want to improve your sales, improving sales professional productivity is the first step. Let’s look at the top CRM solutions and who they work best for.

1. Close CRM

Best Inbound and Outbound Sales CRM Solutions.- Close

Best for: Inbound & Outbound

Close provides lead management, built-in sales workflows, a Power Dialer, and call coaching features—all in one sleek package. The platform also supports robust reporting and KPI-tracking, following every touchpoint with leads and suggesting timely follow-ups. 

Close is well-loved by small businesses and startup sales teams. 

Best feature: Built-in one-click calling and call automation with both the Power and Predictive Dialers. Your sales reps can reach both inbound and outbound leads—painlessly.

Cost: Starts at $49 per user per month when billed annually, or $59 per user per month when billed monthly. (But first, start your 14-day free trial.)

2. HubSpot Marketing Hub

Best Inbound and Outbound Sales CRM Solutions - HubSpot

Best For: Inbound

With HubSpot Marketing Hub, your marketing team can grow traffic, convert leads, and track your sales funnel in one spot. It’s an all-in-one inbound marketing software for your entire team. (Plus, those handy marketing features in HubSpot can link directly to Close. Learn more about the Close x HubSpot integration.)

Best Feature: Build and modify your website. Users can create landing pages, blogs, and emails through a simple drag-and-drop feature.

Cost: Limited free plan, Starter plan at $45 per month. (Professional at $800—and Enterprise at $3,300.)

3. Pipedrive

Best Inbound and Outbound Sales CRM Solutions - Pipedrive

Best For: Outbound

Grounded in the philosophy of activity-based selling, Pipedrive is a sales management tool designed to help solopreneurs and low-volume sales teams manage their sales pipeline.

Best Feature: The visual sales pipeline. This feature will prompt you to take action, stay organized, and remain in control of your pipeline throughout your outbound sales process.

Cost: Starts at $14 per user per month.

Sold on Inbound or Outbound Sales? Here’s One Final Caveat

So, have you picked a side on inbound vs outbound sales? Hopefully, you have a better understanding of each approach—and you know which one is right for your company, at this moment in time.

But here’s an important disclaimer: Nothing is set in stone. The general sales processes we walked through today may look totally different in your situation—and sometimes, you have to break the rules to get where you want to go.

Both inbound and outbound sales teams use Close to go against the grain. They’re doing high-touch sales in a vertical where nobody else is doing it. Or, they’re doing inbound sales in an industry where outbound is the standard. And vice versa.

There are no fixed questions, surveys, or scientific processes that will determine whether inbound or outbound sales will work best for your sales team.

But one thing is certain: Close can help you reach potential customers, and close more deals—no matter your strategy. (And our free trial is just that—free.)

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