The Fallacy of Inbound Versus Outbound

May 4, 2016 Mark Emmons


Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the main event! The bout you’ve all be waiting for is about to begin. In the blue corner, we have that time-honored business strategy, Outbound Marketing! And in the red corner, there’s the up-and-comer, Inbound Marketing!

We can settle this, once and for all, by having them duke it out until one is flat on the business canvas. Let’s have a clean fight.

OK, so maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But doesn’t it seem like Inbound and Outbound always are being pitted against each other? It’s a topic that has launched countless blog posts as thought-leaders stake their positions about which is the smarter way to drum up customers. The discussion inevitably is billed as Inbound Versus Outbound.


boxing gloves

But it doesn’t have to be “either-or.” They are more friends than foes. Not only can they co-exist, but they should have a symbiotic relationship. And by working as a tag team, your sales and marketing efforts can be amplified. In fact, Account-Based Marketing does exactly that by integrating the best elements of both Inbound and Outbound.

“Sales generally has always been Outbound, forever and ever,” said Adam New-Waterson, the chief marketing officer at LeanData. “It’s been all about hunting and prospecting. Then in recent years, marketing has become more about Inbound with the idea of creating content that pulls people toward your product. But with the rise of ABM, marketing is doing more things through Outbound activity that just make more sense.”

In fact, the ABM process creates a natural flow between Inbound and Outbound that orchestrates the activation of best-fit accounts rather than blindly pursuing individual leads of questionable worth.

“It’s not just that you do both of them,” New-Waterson added. “It’s how you use them together.

Traditionally, Outbound marketing has focused on paid advertising while sales pushed cold-calling and batch-and-blast emails. The downside of that, of course, is prospects would get bombarded with interruption-style messaging that they often just tuned out. That helps explain why Inbound marketing, popularized by software company HubSpot and others, has grown in popularity. The philosophy is to earn someone’s attention with interesting information like blogs, eBooks, webinars and so on. The belief is that this is a far better method to gain the trust of potential customers.

“The inbound side is about creating content where you become the New York Times of your industry,” said Mike Volpe, the former CMO at HubSpot, during a recent webinar hosted by the event management firm Attend. “You’re thinking much more like a publisher and doing top-of-the-funnel things where you’re trying to become one of the more popular publications within the industry.”

Obviously, Inbound and Outbound can be vastly different ways of looking at business. But they are hardly incompatible. In fact, they can fit together like hand and glove.

“This is why there’s an incredible strength in that Inbound-Outbound coordination. There’s just a huge potential.”

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Let’s say, for example, marketing creates relevant pieces of content for your products and solutions. Someone becomes intrigued and shows up on your radar. Your Inbound efforts have lured in a potential prospect. Congratulations, well-done.

But in an ABM strategy, that marketing touch represents more than just a person showing interest. It indicates that a company has a basic need for what you’re selling. This one Inbound moment serves as a catalyst for the sales team to leap into action. It triggers a flood of Outbound activities toward all of the potential influencers inside that account who would need to be part of a potential deal.

“In the past, there’s been just that one-to-one relationship,” New-Waterson said. “Now, marketing isn’t just saying that this person is the right one to talk to, but also that this company has needs that we can solve. We need to make the entire buying team understand — as a group — that they must do business with us. We’re using that singular event so sales reps can drive one-to-many relationships for their prospecting.”

That push-pull between Inbound and Outbound works in a similar fashion going in the other direction as well. Maybe a sales rep has struck gold on an Outbound prospecting call. Someone wants to learn more. Again, well-done. That, in turn, will prompt Inbound interest as the person starts nibbling on the content materials you have created. That becomes the signal to begin fleshing out all of the other influencers within the account and adding them to Outbound nurturing campaigns.

“This is why there’s an incredible strength in that Inbound-Outbound coordination,” New-Waterson said. “You’re going to find and engage all of the key people in that account. You will see a much higher sales velocity. You’re going to start building real relationships. There’s just a huge potential there. But that will only be the case if it’s well-executed.”

Think of it more like a carefully choreographed dance than a boxing match. And it’s certainly more partnership than conflict.

“They’re not against each other at all,” New-Waterson said. “There needs to be a union of the two.”

So call off the fight.

Main image courtesy of Kristin Wall

About the Author

Mark Emmons

Mark Emmons is the staff writer at LeanData. He previously was a reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, Orange County Register and Detroit Free Press. He can be reached at

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