Skip to content

Inbound v. Outbound Marketing – How to Choose the Right Mix

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
17 min read

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

Inbound v. Outbound Marketing – How to Choose the Right Mix:

Full Transcript

Hello and welcome to the Show. I’m Liston. I’m here to help you build a better consulting business, a better agency, and in particular, help you sell yourself without all that nasty stuff that you normally associate with sales. In today’s episode, I’ll be going over the difference between inbound and outbound selling and marketing. There’s some really key differences. I’ve broken it down into seven categories. I’m going to go over all of those with you, and I’m also going to give you some ideas about how to think about the mix that you should implement between inbound and outbound for your own business.

Before I get into any of that, I just wanted to ask you for a favor. If you like listening to this podcast, if you’re getting something out of out and you know someone else who would too, tell them. That’s all that I ask. If you’re looking to ramp up your inbound or outbound sales or marketing or you’re not sure what the mix should be for you and your business or you’re not sure how to get started with one or the other, I’d love to talk to you. You can apply for a strategy call with me. I have a few of these every week. I do have some time in the next few weeks allocated for strategy calls, so all you have to do is go to Liston, Fill out that form to apply. I’ll take a look at your application. If I think there is a possibility that I can help you, I will get back to you and invite you onto a strategy call with a link to my calendar. All you have to do is go to

Okay, so let’s get into inbound versus outbound. Now, in case you’re not sure what this means, basically, inbound is someone who comes to you, right? They’re literally coming to your business and saying, “Hey, I want to talk to you,” or, “I’m interested in what it is that you’re doing,” whereas outbound means you’re initiating the connection. These people aren’t expecting to hear from you. You’re going to them and saying, “I think there’s something I can do to help you.”

Now, the internet, of course being a quite dysfunctional and polarizing place, in fact, we tend to respond to more polarized topics and take an extreme position, you’re going to find thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, if not millions of articles claiming that cold calling is dead, cold e-mailing is dead, blogging is dead, webinars are dead. Pick your selling or marketing tactic of choice and certainly, someone out there has declared it dead and it’s terrible and you should never do it because you’d be absolutely wasting your time.

Now, if you’ve been listening to me for a while, you know that I take a much more nuanced view of things than to make blanket declarations like that. Maybe I am making a blanket declaration somewhat ironically that these things aren’t dead, but hey, stick with me, okay? There’s a lot of debate about which is better, inbound or outbound. I think I’m going to break this down into seven categories as I mentioned at the top of the show, but the main thing to think about is that inbound means that people have a problem right now.

The reason they’re reaching out to you is they’re ready to talk whereas outbound, you really don’t know where they are in their process, and they’re not expecting to hear from you, so those basic facts of inbound and outbound really dictate everything else that I’m going to be covering today, but like I said, I’m going to break these down. I do have an article on my website if you’d like to use it as reference. All you have to do is go to or if you want something much simpler, go to Google. Put in Liston inbound versus outbound. I’m sure you’ll find it there on my website.

Let’s go one at a time here. The first thing I want you to think about is speed of execution. I’m going to have all these different factors, and I’ll be contrasting them, inbound versus outbound. The first thing I want you to think about is speed. If you need a solution that works quickly to bring you sales leads, to bring you attention, to bring you sales opportunities, certainly, the way to go is not inbound. Inbound is going to be a slow process, so just as an example, this podcast is a source of awareness marketing and inbound marketing.

At the top of the show, I pointed you to Some people do go and fill out that form who listen to this podcast. If you’re one of them, I’d like to talk to you, but it’s not something that happened immediately when I released the podcast, right? The idea that I would create the podcast in order to develop sales leads within 30 days is just not a good one because inbound takes time. It takes time to accrue search traffic. It takes time to accrue trust, so inbound is very good at building trust. I’m going to get to that later, but inbound is slow, right? It takes a lot of time for me to record this podcast, to get it out there for you to hear it. You probably would want to listen to maybe three to five episodes, and the timing would have to be right in your life before you ever schedule the strategy call. This is me guessing here. That’s one thing to think about with inbound whereas with outbound, I could show you … Well, maybe I couldn’t show you in one hour, but easily in one hour, I could put together a campaign where you go out and blast 100 or 200 people with e-mails who you’ve never met and who are highly targeted.

That would be relatively easy and fast to execute, and those people could be exposed directly to an offer where you’re saying, “Hey, I could help you with X, Y, or Z.” In my case, maybe it’s, “I can help you with your sales system and building scalable sales in your business. Is that something you’re looking to do right now? If so, schedule a meeting with me.” The speed of execution of outbound is much faster. The time where you’re going to think about your campaign, create your campaign, get it out to the world, that’s going to be much faster and much more targeted.

Let’s go to number two, targeting. Number one, speed of execution. Outbound, definitely faster. Inbound, definitely slower. Number two is targeting. The problem with inbound marketing is you can target all of your content, so again, I’m just using myself as an example because you’re not here to tell me what you do. I would do that if I was talking to you, but for me, I am creating this podcast, inbound versus outbound. It’s a question I hear a lot of my clients and people who could hire me asking like, “What’s the difference? How do I think about this problem? What mix should I choose?”

Partially, by me producing this podcast and publishing this podcast, I have in mind the key question that my clients are asking on a regular basis, which is about inbound versus outbound marketing. In terms of inbound marketing, you can target the content that you create or the type of inbound that you’re doing in so far as it’s more or less likely to attract the right people. Now, there’s a little bit of nuance here. If you buy advertising, if you go to promote your content in groups that are targeted, you can do a better job of targeting and distributing your content in the right places. However, there’s no guarantee who’s going to respond, right, whereas, let’s go to the flip side. If I’m doing outbound, that means I’m … Let’s just take cold e-mail because it’s probably the easiest example. I could go out to LinkedIn and put together a list of 300 target accounts that I really want to work with because I think they’re especially suited for my skills and that I can help them.

I go out and put together that target list. I find their contact information. Now, I’m only contacting the people who could directly benefit from what I’m doing. I know by definition, the reason that they ended up on my list is that there’s a good chance that I can help them. Now, I don’t know for sure if I can help them, and I don’t know for sure if I’m the right provider for them, but I know that it’s very, very likely that anybody that I would contact on that list is highly targeted because I know who I want to reach, so you’re targeting with outbound much more laser-focused.

Coming up on Thursday and Friday of this week, you’ll hear my interview with Jason Bay of Blissful Prospecting. He talks about the difference between fishing and hunting. He’s saying when you’re hunting, you have a single target and you have a spear. That’s what he likens outbound marketing and selling to whereas if you’re doing inbound, you’re casting a net, and you’re going to get some fish. You just don’t know if you’re going to get a tuna or a shark or a whale or what exactly is going to come back to you. I think that’s a really good analogy. I think the more that you do your inbound marketing, I’m going to talk a little bit later about investment and accrual, but the more you do it, the more likely you are to catch more of the things that you want. It’s just going to take a long time, right back to number one. Speed of execution is really slow. With inbound, you can influence your targeting based on the content you create and who you’re likely to attract as a result of it. However, with outbound, your targeting is much more zeroed in on the people that you want.

Now, here’s a big point. In the first two, I basically gave the edge to outbound. It’s faster to execute. The targeting is much more specific. Now, next, I want to give the edge to inbound in this category of timing. One of the biggest issues in selling anything is a very small percentage of your addressable market is looking to buy at any specific time. As a general rule, I’d say 5% or less. It’s probably more like one to 3% depending on what it is that you’re selling and the sort of trigger events that would occur that would cause someone to buy something. With inbound, when someone’s coming to you and reaching out to you, we know that the timing is now for them.

Let me give you an example. The kind of classic way to do inbound marketing is to say promote a webinar that purports to solve one of your clients’ key problems, okay? They see that offer, they go and sign up for the webinar, they consume the entire webinar, and then they fill out a form to talk to you. That lead, that person I should say … It’s not a lead. It’s an actual human being, right? That person is saying what you’re doing is extremely interesting and relevant to them. They believe that you can solve their problem, and the time to solve and address that problem is now or in the very near future, whereas if I have my list of 300 accounts that I gave in the last example with targeting, if I have my list of 300 outbound accounts, I know, let’s say 5% of my market is ready to buy at any given time. That means on average, out of 300 accounts, only 15 of those account will be in a buying cycle now if 5% are in the market to buy.

The problem of course is I don’t know which of those accounts are ready to buy now, like who’s in that 5%? I really don’t know, and so when you’re doing any outbound selling or marketing, one of the big issues you’re going to find is that your response rates will be fairly low, and you’ll have much more follow-up to conduct because even if someone responds to your offer or your message now, they may not be in a position to buy right now, so you may even have a meeting with someone and they say, “Well, this looks really interesting, but we’re thinking about doing this in nine months. You just happened to catch me after we had a meeting, and so I was interested to learn more.”

In that case now, you’re going to have to mark a follow-up for yourself in your CRM nine months from now, right? What I would recommend is having some sort of nurturing capability so that you’re adding value to that person between now and nine months from now so that they remember you when the time is right for them to buy. Timing becomes a very, very big issue, and a very big difference between inbound and outbound. This is why Google’s search engine marketing, if I buy ads based on a keyword someone’s looking for, the reason Google can charge so much for one of those clicks is because I know if I’m buying a keyword for me, let’s say for sales training, if someone clicks, types in sales training or especially like sales training companies, which means they’re actively looking to hire someone, more than likely, if they type that in, they see my ad, they click. I know now is the right time to talk to that person. That is very, very valuable.

That is a really big thing for you to think about, is your burden for follow-up and staying in touch with people when you do an outbound campaign is going to be much greater especially if you’re doing low volume outbound, so that’s timing. I give the edge there to inbound over outbound, and you’re going to start to see a theme where inbound starts to win out for the rest of the dimensions that I have listed here.

Number four is awareness. One of the things … I have a copywriting background, and so I’ve studied marketing. I think one of the most common threads of my entire career is I’ve studied how people make decisions, and obviously, we can’t decide to do something if we’re not aware of it as a possibility. This is one of the classic flaws in how people make decisions, is they limit the realm of possibilities in their decision set. One of the things that I would look at if I’m working with any organization, sales organization or looking at how marketing is influencing that is how well are you making your company and your solution known to your ideal client.

If someone comes to you through inbound, here’s what typically happens. If you’ve listened to this, you know that I do a lot of LinkedIn lead generation. I’m starting to do a lot of cold e-mail outreach. What happens on LinkedIn, let’s say, is if I reach out to someone, the first thing that they’re going to see when I reach out is my headline, the thing that you write underneath your name, that shows underneath your name in your profile on LinkedIn. For a lot of people, it’ll say like owner of a marketing agency. A more effective one would be I help company type get this result. For me, at the time of this recording, and you probably see that I test a lot of headlines on LinkedIn, but at the time of this recording, it says I help agencies scale their sales beyond referrals.

If that piques someone’s interest, I know what they’re going to do, right? If they say, “Oh, that’s interesting. I want to scale my sales beyond referrals,” what they’ll probably do is go to my LinkedIn profile, check out what that says. If that’s interesting to them, they’ll go to my website, they’ll check out what that says. Then, if they’re really interested, they may even fill out my strategy session application. Now, that’s the outbound scenario, right? They’ve done a little bit of homework. They want to see a little bit about me. “Is this relevant to me? Do I care about this?” is what they’re asking. If so, they may act on it.

Same is true if I’m doing a cold e-mail campaign, right? I’m reaching out to people. I’m putting together some really sharp, tight messaging. Here are a couple problems I see. Here are three things that I can do to help. Here’s one example. Do you want it? If they read that, they’re more than likely going to go to my website, do some digging, do some homework and then get back to me and say, “Yeah, I’m interested.” Their level of awareness about me and what I do is almost as low as it could possibly be before someone got on the phone with me whereas on the inbound side, let’s again use this podcast as an example. If you listened to three, five, 10, God forbid, 20 episodes of me on this podcast, by the time you have the problem that you need solved and that you think I can help you solve, by the time that comes, your level of awareness about me is through the roof. You totally know what I can help with. You’re totally aware of more or less, how I work, more or less, how I might be able to help you. You’re totally aware of all of that stuff, and so inbound has a distinctive advantage in the dimension of awareness, and that leads us to the next factor that I’d like to discuss, and that is trust and credibility.

It goes without saying … I mean, I really don’t even need to say much here. If I’m going and reaching out to people through an outbound means, more than likely, I’m going to have less trust and credibility built up with that person than if I’m getting it through inbound. Now, there is one exception with inbound, and that is if you’re listed on like a marketplace or you’re listed … If you’re an agency and you’re listed on, you’re going to have some trust and credibility built up if you have five or 10 reviews, but it’s not the same quality as if someone’s been reading your blog for a year and then reached out to you. I do want to interject that, but overall, inbound is going to have a much higher level of trust and credibility. Those people will essentially feel like they know you, definitely trust you and find you credible before you get on the phone with them, whereas in outbound, there’s going to be a minimal level of trust and credibility, obviously enough for them to say, “I want to get on the phone and talk to you,” but not so much where they’re basically just like, “How do we get started?” That’s probably not going to happen in an outbound setting.

Number six, I want to talk about investment and return. If you’re doing inbound marketing, again, this podcast, writing articles, webinars, all that stuff, I really do think that over time, it has a huge return that it can bring to you, but the investment in making it is also enormous. If you’re not used to creating content, if you find it difficult to sit down and make something, then inbound is going to be difficult for you and difficult for your team. However, if you like doing that, the investment will be worth it, but it’ll still be really high, but over time, the return will be there.

Again, for instance on this podcast, I’m recording about and publishing about three episodes per week. Even if I stepped that down to two, that’s over 100 podcast episodes I’m going to be producing every 12 months, so that’s going to give me a much higher likelihood of someone finding me out of the blue through search as a combination of the articles that I make that are associated with this podcast, the search choose that I get in iTunes and other search capabilities that come to me as a result of this podcast. The return can compound over time.

One thing that a lot of people don’t know about search engine optimization, which essentially answers the question, how does Google send me traffic, one of the things that Google looks at very famously, and this was a key insight, was how many other credible sites linked to your page, but closely related to that is the age of that page. How old is it? The older a page is on your website, the more likely you are to get more search traffic from it. That’s just a function of the fact also that you’re more likely to get links the older your page is, so it sort of builds on itself, and so this is just one of many examples of inbound marketing where you can accrue the benefit over time.

Related to that, of course, is if you’re in the business of sort of shifting your business regularly or attempting to get new types of customers or changing your deliverables, that becomes a challenge to your investment in inbound. You may end up getting visitors to your site who really aren’t that interested in what you’re doing now but they wanted what you’re doing two or three years ago. That may be something to think about. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal because overall, I’d say bring more people to me and some percentage of them will be interested and some won’t, and that’s okay.

The investment in inbound is very high. The return over time is very high. The investment in outbound is relatively low, and I will say in terms of the return, if you’re diligent about … Let’s take cold e-mail again. If you’re diligent about when you do your cold outreach, you’re testing subject lines and you’re testing your body copy and you’re testing your calls to action, and you’re testing landing pages, and you’re testing content, and so eventually, if you have a really dialed in campaign where you can send it out and you’d go, “Okay, I know if I send 100 of these e-mails,” or you can send to 100 contacts, probably more accurately, 100 contacts and get five meetings, I mean, that’s a huge asset.

That return becomes really, really significant if you can do that on a regular basis. The return is really great on outbound. The big difference between the two is inbound acts more like a flywheel than outbound, so things that I wrote 12 months ago will start to accrue traffic and start to bring me more good things now, whereas outbound’s like what I did 12 months ago may turn into business, but basically, I need to have my foot on the gas at all times.

Lastly, I want to talk about the overall quality of the leads. This is kind of what I think a lot of people want to know, and I promise you I would talk about how to think about the mix between inbound and outbound, and I will get to that in a second, but it’s related to the overall quality. What I would tell you is that’s indeterminate. It depends on how well you execute each of these. Overall, I would say most people that I talk to who are getting inbound leads tend to be really happy with them, and outbound marketing and sales tends to be the realm of larger teams where inbound just isn’t producing enough on its own, and so they’re starting to go outside of that and saying, “I want control,” and this is a big factor obviously. “I want control over who’s going to see my message about who I’m selling to, about who I’m marketing to.” Obviously, outbound is fantastic with that.

I’ve seen it work both ways. Again, I’m not this like, “This is dead or that’s dead.” I’ve seen inbound be a fantastic tool. I’ve seen outbound be a fantastic tool, so this brings us to, what should your mix be? I really recommend that you have a mix of both. I think that the ultimate strategy is to have one or two inbound channels that help you build trust, create awareness, give you a chance to invest in something that will have a long term return and also the value of content is so great, so if I was talking to a prospect for instance and they were asking me about inbound versus outbound, I can now send them this podcast or I could send them the article that I wrote on this. I do think that creating content, which is sort of the primary driver of all inbound marketing, creating content is helpful in all of the sales that you do, and so I would recommend, again, one or two inbound channels and at least one outbound channel. Typically, that’s called direct outreach at some level.

That’s my recommendation for you. I hope this was helpful. Again, if you’re not sure what to do, if you have some questions, if you want my help choosing what your mix is and looking at your overall marketing and sales mix, I love to talk to you. Go to That’s how you can apply for a strategy call with me, and I hope you have a fantastic day. Bye.

Modern Sales Podcast