Inbound or outbound sales—which one should you focus on?

by Steli Efti

I share a lot of advice about outbound sales. Thus, many people naturally assume I'm an outbound advocate. I'm not. It's just one of the things I do, outbound is a part of the puzzle of success in business to me. But I don't think every startup should do outbound sales.

When it comes to inbound versus outbound, I'm not dogmatic—I'm pragmatic!

Fun fact: Close is doing zero outbound sales. All our growth is 100% inbound generated! There will come a time when we get outbound sales going, but right now we're too focused on optimizing and scaling the inbound part of the business.

Cons of outbound sales

Outbound sales has taken a lot of flak for several reasons.

1. Public enemy number one


Nobody wants to be cold called—even sales reps who cold call don't want to be cold called. I'm more receptive than most to cold calls because I'm a sales aficionado. I appreciate good salesmanship but even I don't look forward to being pitched.

2. Interruption


When you're doing outbound sales, you're interrupting people. Everybody is an expert nowadays on filtering out interruptions. The average US citizen is bombarded with more than 2,000 marketing and sales messages every single day (number varies depending on methods used to measure, but 2,000 is actually on the low end).

It's like our brains have a subconscious TiVo or adware program running that immediately blocks anything that triggers the sales pitch alarm. You basically have to buy, beg or bug your way in.

3. High-pressure sales tactics


These are still commonly used and encouraged in outbound sales organizations, but you can (and should) be a smooth operator rather than a sales bully.

4. Time inefficiency


Outbound sales reps waste a lot of time on mind-numbing tasks. They spend only a small part of their workday practicing their core skill: closing deals. (Which is something we're mitigating with our outbound sales software, but it's still a major pain point.)

5. Finity


Outbound sales stops working as soon as you stop working. One of the big advantages of inbound sales is that it keeps generating leads even if you stop doing it. But as soon as you stop doing outbound, it stops generating new business.

Pros of outbound sales

Now let's look at the flipside of the coin.

1. It works


Yes, it's 2014. Yes, "the buying cycle has changed", we're living in unprecedented times with social networks having changed the game of sales. But the fundamentals of salesmanship that worked in 1914 are still working now, and will still work in 2114. Outbound sales brings home the bacon.

2. Predictable and scalable


Once you have developed a sales process, you have a predictable, scalable growth mechanism for your business. Hire a new sales rep? You know how the actions you take now will affect your revenues three, six, nine months from now. Ask any business owner—that kind of simple formulaic predictability is a beautiful thing.

3. Power to choose your customers


Outbound empowers you to pick your customers. Outbound is hunting: You pick a target and go for it. Inbound is fishing: You hang a fishing rod in the water and hope that a fish will bite, but your control over what kind of fish will bite is miniscule.

4. You determine the timing and medium

Outbound sales gives you control to determine when you want to interact with prospects. This is the flipside of the "interruption" coin. Rather than having to wait for prospects to reach you through inbound requests when they are ready, you reach out to them when you are ready.

You also determine the medium of your interaction, be it an email, a phone call, meeting them at industry events or even knocking on their doors.

5. Immediate results

Outbound sales can generate new business quickly, whereas inbound takes a long time to build up. If you want fast growth now, outbound is your friend.

6. Targeted reach

If you're selling to professionals, outbound allows for much more targeted lead generation. This kind of laser focus allows you to execute with a higher level of precision and accuracy, and thus be much more effective. Want to reach the VP of Marketing at Citigroup? Good luck trying to get his attention with inbound tactics. 

7. Higher level of engagement


The most impactful and influential sales outreach possible is a human one-on-one interaction. It allows you to truly engage with the buyer. Everything else pales in comparison when it comes to the impact you can have on an individual buyer.

Is outbound right for you?

It really depends on what the focus of your business is now, how fast you want to grow and what kind of business you want to run.

Your strengths

Whether or not you've got what I call the "hustle DNA" and are a natural born salesperson, you should be doing some outbound sales, just for the lessons it'll teach you. But don't try to force yourself and break your back over making outbound successful if you have other means for growth.

Your market

Are there other companies doing outbound successfully? If yes, how are they doing it? Study their outbound sales process and learn from the market.

Your results

old cash register

Ultimately base your decision on the results you get. Outbound is probably the least trendy, hip, cool, awesome, amazing thing a startup can do to grow the business. But you're not in business to get admiration from your peers and the press; it's not a popularity contest.

Business is about the bottom line. The only thing that matters is: Does outbound sales make your business more successful or not?