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Inbound vs. Outbound Lead Generation

People have been arguing for ages about whether one thing is better than another. It’s in our nature to choose sides.

Which is better? Smooth or chunky peanut butter? New York-style pizza or Chicago-style pizza? Coke or Pepsi?

Sales and marketing professionals have also argued the merits of inbound versus outbound lead generation (AKA lead gen). You can use both types as part of your lead gen strategy, but it’s important to know the differences and when it’s best to use them.

Learn about the differences and similarities between inbound and outbound lead gen, as well as their respective benefits. Then you can determine how to deploy lead gen effectively for your organization. 

Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation

There are many differences between inbound and outbound lead gen. The primary differentiator is that inbound lead gen is pull marketing, while outbound lead gen is push marketing.

Inbound lead gen encourages prospects to reach out to you for more information on your products or services, request a demo, or make a purchase. The strategies and methods you use pull leads to your website.

Outbound lead gen involves reaching out to prospects with advertising, direct mail, phone calls, emails, and other methods. The strategies and methods you use, push your message and brand out to prospects.

Inbound lead gen can sometimes be described as permission marketing. You require the prospect’s permission to interact with them.

Outbound lead gen is sometimes known as interruption marketing. Your efforts interrupt the prospect with your message.

Inbound and outbound lead gen can be compared in the following ways:

Inbound Lead Generation

  • Involves educating leads about your products or services
  • Supports interaction with your audience
  • Relies on creating the most valuable content
  • Asks the lead for permission to contact them

Outbound Lead Generation

  • Involves selling your products or services to leads
  • Promotes one-way communication with your audience
  • Relies on spending the most money
  • Interrupts the lead with its messaging

Inbound and outbound lead gen vary by philosophy and approach, particularly in the time and place of the interaction. With inbound lead gen, the prospects choose when and where they interact with your message; with outbound lead gen, the marketer chooses the time and place of the interaction.

The following table shows different inbound and outbound lead gen methods:

Inbound Lead Generation Methods 

  • Content marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing automation

Outbound Lead Generation Methods

  • Content syndication
  • Social selling
  • Cold outreach (calling & emailing)
  • Campaign marketing / paid advertising

Inbound lead gen methods involve strategies for pulling prospects to your website and reaching out to your business. Prospects decide when and where they will interact with your brand.

For example, Hubspot publishes a free social media workbook, which includes exercises on developing a social media strategy for your business.

HubSpot Social Media Workbook Free Download

Outbound lead gen methods involve reaching out to prospects to push your sales and marketing messages. You determine when and where prospects will see your message.

For example, if someone did a Google search on automated scheduling software, they might see the following ad at the top of their search results.

Chili Piper Ad on Google for Scheduling App search term.

You can also break down the differences between inbound and outbound lead gen in terms of effectiveness and cost. There is a lot of research on the topic, so the numbers will vary from study to study, but here are two key statistics that illustrate the difference (source: Demand Metric):

Inbound lead generation produces three times as many leads

  • Inbound lead generation costs 62% less
  • Similarities Between Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation

Inbound and outbound lead gen have two key characteristics in common: 

  • The primary goal is to generate leads for your business
  • They both require the ability to understand and segment prospects and leads within your target market

Both inbound and outbound lead gen are designed to generate leads. They are also more effective when you understand who your leads are, why they would use your product or service, and how you should speak to those leads to generate the most interest.

Benefits of Inbound and Outbound Lead Generation

Both inbound and outbound lead gen have their respective strengths and weaknesses. However, what matters most is they each offer different advantages.

When choosing a specific inbound or outbound lead gen strategy, focus on the benefits it provides and how it supports your organization’s structure and goals.

Benefits of Inbound Lead Generation

  • Leads tend to be warmer (i.e., higher quality), so they sometimes require less time to convert into customers
  • Leads tend to spend more on your products or services
  • Marketers are more confident that their efforts will generate the desired results
  • It costs less and has better ROI
  • Approaches are better designed to raise awareness of your brand
  • It enables you to establish your brand as an industry expert

Benefits of Outbound Lead Generation

  • It is relatively easy to start your marketing and begin generating leads
  • You can create one type of content or advertising for mass distribution
  • It enables you to contact leads who do not know about your product or service
  • You control where and when you connect, as well as who hears about your brand

Which Is Best for Your Business?

You don’t need to think of this as inbound versus outbound lead gen. You can combine both methods in your lead gen strategy.

Most companies combine inbound and outbound lead gen tactics in their marketing and lead gen efforts, according to a Demand Metric survey

Demand Metric survey showing 84% of participants use both inbound and outbound tactics to drive business.

If you have the resources and flexibility, you should utilize both inbound and outbound lead gen strategies. However, if you don’t, then let your goals determine which approach is best. 

Choose inbound lead gen if you:

  • Want to acquire new leads through content creation
  • Are willing to wait to acquire new leads over a longer period of time
  • Prefer leads that choose to interact with your business
  • Tend to sell to a wide range of customers

Choose outbound lead gen if you:

  • Already have sources of leads or have purchased a list of leads
  • Want to reach a large number of leads in a short period of time
  • Have the budget to spend on acquiring and sorting through leads
  • Prefer one-way communication

The Bottom Line

There’s a lot to consider when comparing inbound versus outbound lead gen. Both approaches have their benefits and drawbacks, although they’re both effective for generating leads, particularly when they are used together.

About the Author

David Gargaro has more than 20 years of experience as a content writer and copy editor. His content has appeared in Business.com, ITPro.com, RHB Magazine, Advisors Magazine, and more. In his free time, he enjoys reading, catching up on TV shows and movies, watching hockey, and playing with his daughter.

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