Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: Which Is Right for You?

In order to answer this question, it’s important to understand the fundamental differences between inbound and outbound marketing.

In inbound marketing, the customers come to you. Outbound marketing is usually a one-way form of communication in which your company reaches out to customers. 

Inbound customers elect to receive your content and interact with you. Outbound marketing is normally unsolicited and interruptive. 

Inbound marketing uses data, market research, and customer profiles to create highly personalized content. This makes inbound marketing more detail oriented and more time consuming. 

Outbound marketing is typically geared towards a wider audience. Because content is intended to reach a wider audience, the messaging in an outbound campaign is broader and less targeted. 

Now let’s circle back to our original question: what’s right for your company? Inbound marketing has become the standard and while it may produce better results, we’d argue that you need a bit of both. 

As you dial in the right marketing mix for your own business, certain metrics can help you decide where to allocate your budget. Some situations may call for one sort of marketing over the other. We’ll go over these in the next section. 

When and Why to Use Outbound vs Inbound

Finding what works best for your company involves some trial and error, but here are some good rules of thumb to get you started in the right direction:

Length of Sales Cycles

The shorter the sales cycle, the more realistic it is that inbound marketing can be your exclusive means of customer acquisition. This might mean that your product or service is a lower financial risk, making the purchase decision less difficult. Or perhaps the buying process is so simple that it requires limited or no back-and-forth with your team members.

But, if your product or service lends itself towards longer sales cycles, your marketing mix may need to contain a heavier share of outbound marketing. Longer sales cycles are commonly associated with products and services that are larger financial investments.

Your customer may need multiple follow ups through channels such as phone and email. You will need to nurture your leads likely all the way to the end of your sales pipeline rather than relying on “just content” to close the deal.  

Company Maturity

A newer company usually does not have the budget to allocate to outbound marketing. The cost of outbound marketing content distribution and events might be prohibitive when you aren’t guaranteed an immediate and large return. 

As a smaller company, you can use inbound marketing to draw a specific audience: attracting would-be customers that are most likely to interact with your company, buy your product, and most likely to stay with your company.

A larger company with a bigger budget may not necessarily need to use outbound marketing methods, but if you have the budget, those outbound techniques can widen the number of customers aware of your product or service, so that inbound messages (such as an opt-in email or an organic result for what they’re searching for on Google) are more likely to capture their attention.

Market Maturity

The level of awareness (and thus the search volume) of your market category can help determine which type of marketing might be more effective.

If your product or service is a newer solution, this usually means that no one is searching for it yet. There will inevitably be a disconnect between the knowledge required for a customer to buy your product, and the level of expertise they actually have.

While inbound techniques like social media can help raise the awareness of your solution in adjacent markets, outbound will likely be your best bet if you’re in a brand new category. You need your marketing techniques and sales representatives to focus on informing consumers of who you are and what you offer. 

If your category already has a high level of search demand, the majority of your audience is probably relatively familiar with the type of solution you offer, and inbound content marketing can be more effective. 

Audience Specificity

Creating buyer personas and ideal customer profiles to tailor your marketing techniques can bring in a highly focused group of customers. Inbound marketing can target these personas and ICPs with relevant content, but there’s a limit to how specific your targeting can get using solely inbound techniques. 

This is where outbound marketing can really shine.

Ad targeting options on the major search and social networks allow you to get extremely granular with who you’re targeting. And of course with 1:1 outbound techniques like phone calls and emails, you can contact the customer directly and extend an invitation to communicate with you on an individual level.

Putting Inbound and Outbound Marketing Together

Using outbound and inbound marketing together is your best strategy because it presents your audience with a comprehensive view of who you are. 

Use outbound marketing to initiate the conversation. Using ads or cold calls or cold emails from a sales representative can attract initial attention. Then following up with an inbound form of marketing like a newsletter email or invitation to view a webinar can draw your audience to you. 

Establishing a flow of information through inbound and outbound marketing creates a two-way form of communication that builds a relationship with your customer based on trust.

Ultimately, inbound and outbound marketing work better together than individually. The best marketing strategies encompass both, to meet customer needs at every stage of the buying process as well as catering to different content preferences.