Inbound marketing is a hot topic these days (slight understatement). I don’t want to say that it’s a “buzzword,” because that kind of has a negative inclination, but inbound marketing is certainly talked about a lot–and for good reason. Inbound marketing is very effective in what it sets out to do, which is the educate and nurture visitors into eventual customers on their own accord. However, with inbound marketing’s rising popularity, outbound marketing seems to be getting the proverbial “shaft.”

People often pit inbound and outbound marketing against each other in a sort of “marketing duel,” as if they were “Coke vs. Pepsi” or “Dark Side vs. Light Side.” This is good for the inbound marketers who want to push the methodology, but bad for the general audience who are seeking answers

In this post, I plan to highlight the differences but also point out how they compliment each other. More importantly, inbound marketing is not something that every business should implement RIGHT NOW, and we’ll talk about that as well.

The difference between inbound and outbound outlines the difference in how people buy

A person’s buying process in today’s world, where sleuths of information are right at their fingertips, is vastly different than in times past. I won’t go as far as to say the psychology behind their buying process has changed, but instead, the sleuth of information that is readily available to a buyer has changed. This increase in readily-available knowledge to the average buyer has caused a major shift in what people do before they buy.

Before the internet changed our world completely, companies relied on the (now-called) traditional advertising and marketing methods such as billboards, radio ads, and print ads. Tactics like these are what have become known as “outbound marketing.”

What is “outbound” marketing?

Outbound marketing, as outlined above, includes the mediums which most people are familiar with: billboards, radio, etc. It’s been around forever. Marketers commonly referred to those types of marketing mediums as “interruptive” marketing because they are there, in your face, whether you want them there or not. This is why it has become known as “outbound” marketing—your message is being blasted outwards into the public, whether they want to see it or not.

Over time, people have learned to ignore much of the outbound marketing tactics. Commercials can be skipped (or completely omitted) thanks to DVR and streaming services such as Netflix (no commercials!). Popups on websites are blocked (thank goodness). Banners on websites are virtually invisible because people have learned to identify and ignore them completely.


Pretty annoying, huh?

Outbound marketing is very intrusive and often annoying. People are genuinely happy when they are able to skip, ignore, or prevent many outbound marketing mediums. Superbowl commercials are probably the only exception to this—people actually enjoy commercials this one day a year.

When is the last time you were happy about having to watch an ad before your video started?

Outbound marketing is great at raising awareness to a product or brand—especially when the company is brand new. Before the internet, outbound marketing was really the only way to market and it was as effective as it could get. Even years after the internet arrived, outbound marketing was still the mindset of marketing agencies. Again, think “popup windows” in AOL!

Outbound marketing has changed, however, and is still practiced today. “Outbound” certainly has its place, but with the way people go about buying products and services today, there are new methods in which they can be reached more effectively. Outbound marketing has gotten smarter with technology and still has a dominant place in a healthy marketing strategy.

The outbound sales process

Take, for example, a salesman. Salesmen ran the show before the internet and its helpful resources came along. The salesman was responsible for the entire sales process:

  1. Making the potential buyer aware of problems: “You’re sweeping your carpet? Do you realize how inefficient that is? It’s not even cleaning your carpet!”
  2. Explaining how the potential buyer can fix their problem: “Did you know that vacuums can clean your carpet in as little as 30 seconds?”
  3. Explaining why the potential buyer should choose the salesman’s product to fix it: “You should choose MY vacuum cleaner product because it’s better than the rest!”

By covering those three items, the salesman was able to take a random stranger from sweeping their carpet to being ready to buy a vacuum. The salesman has carried the buyer throughout each stage of the buyer’s journey: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.


The salesman was the key holder to the success of a company. This was ideal for companies because it allowed them to control the entire process. Unfortunately, even back in the good ol’ days, this wasn’t a full-proof solution to selling “more.”  This led to companies placing sales quotas on the salesmen and subsequently creating a big opportunity for “sleazy” salesmen to creep in. This is why salesmen are often looked at as deceitful beings.

What is “inbound” marketing?

To avoid beating a dead horse. I’ll give just a brief overview of inbound marketing before moving forward. Inbound marketing is the modern-day approach to reaching, converting, closing, and delighting buyers. It is a long-term approach to marketing that is based the way people actually buy (which you can see below). Inbound marketing, when implemented correctly, will generate sales-ready leads for years to come, on its own. You build it, it works, it runs forever. The more the merrier!

Inbound marketing should be looked at as more of a force multiplier than a sole marketing practice. Click To Tweet

Inbound marketing gets a lot of publicity today. It’s a movement. Big companies are doing big things with inbound marketing and it does not show signs of slowing down. Inbound marketing is the answer for many businesses who are looking to increase their sales and sales efficiency by generating more “warm” leads.

But (there’s always a “but”), I’ll tell you something that inbound marketing is not. Inbound marketing is not a single “answer” to all of your marketing woes, nor is it recommended for every company. Inbound marketing should be looked at as more of a force multiplier than a sole marketing practice.

Inbound marketing tactics are not new. Content marketing, SEO, social media monitoring, email marketing, etc. are all tactics that have been around for quite some time. “Inbound marketing” is just a methodology, a mindset, a movement, that uses these tried-and-true tactics in a single methodology.

Understanding how inbound marketing reaches today’s buyers

Buying hasn’t changed. Buyers still go through the same buyer’s journey as they did before the internet: Awareness, Consideration, Decision. What has changed, however, is that they can now do this all on their own, without a salesman doing it for them.


When you have a problem come up, or a question, and are curious about it, you either ask a friend or you “Google” it. Right? Perhaps you’re one of the few (7%) that utilize a different search engine, but still, you “search” for an answer, on your own, from a source you feel you can trust.

Using the vacuum example as before, let’s say your carpet is becoming frayed because you’re sweeping your carpet too often. You ask your friends for their opinion but they have no idea (they have the same problem, actually). So now, you turn to the trusty search engine.

You begin your journey by searching for “how to prevent fraying carpet when sweeping it.” Remember, you do not know that vacuums even exist. You just want to solve the problem of fraying your shag carpet while sweeping it 10 times per day. Moving on, this search will turn up results that you will browse and read. Not because someone told you to, but because you are trying to learn how to solve your problem and discover solutions.

Upon learning how to solve your problem, you notice that there is a way that you can clean your carpet in as little as 30 seconds and have it be even more effective than sweeping. You become intrigued! You then move further into this research. This leads you to learn about vacuums, which eventually leads you to research which vacuums to buy. Eventually, you buy a vacuum and your life is that much better.


The website, utilizing an inbound approach, would begin to educate you on vacuums and which are best. Eventually, after determining which is best for you, you decide to buy one. The inbound methodology would continue to work until, finally, you are ready to purchase the vacuum of your dreams. So you contact the company and talk with their sales department.

See how this differs from an outbound sales process? With inbound, by the time the buyer is communicating with sales, they are already educated and ready to purchase. Buyers carry themselves through the process while the automated inbound marketing process guides them along the way.

This is how people buy. This is how people solve problems. Inbound marketing allows your company to be the one that solves their problem.

So, is outbound marketing dead?

No. Not by a long shot.

Again, many like to paint outbound marketing as this sort of antique, cob-webbed marketing methodology that does very little in today’s society. But this isn’t entirely true. Many “outbound” tactics have become so data-driven that the thin line between inbound and outbound marketing gets more and more blurred.

Don’t believe me? Look at how many inbound marketers utilize popups, slide-ins, animations, and similar “outbound” approaches in order to get more email sign ups. Ironic? No, not really, it’s just that inbound and outbound marketing are not vastly different from each other.

Inbound marketing is an effective way of reaching today’s buyers, but by no means does that mean outbound marketing is “dead.” Outbound marketing has adapted and continues to adapt to the ever-changing information-driven world just as other marketing methodologies do. The world is becoming more and more technology-driven as the days go by. So much, actually, that even billboards can track your cell phone use and use that data to improve their efforts. Sheesh!

What are the differences between inbound and outbound marketing?

Finally, the six-million-dollar question.

The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing lies in the buyer’s journey. Who is leading the buyer through the process? Is it the buyer, or the seller? If the seller is moving the buyer through the process, then it’s outbound. If the buyer is moving through the process on their own, then it’s inbound.


Inbound marketing is how you fulfill the demand that your outbound marketing efforts are creating. Most of your marketing material is leading your potential customers to your website, correct? Your website needs the be able to capture and nurture these new visitors and educate your readers on what your company provides and why your company is the best at providing it. This is what inbound marketing does. Outbound and inbound marketing work together.

If the seller is moving the buyer through the process, it's outbound. If the buyer is moving through the process on their own, it's inbound. Click To Tweet

Inbound marketing is a proven process that can generate an endless amount of return on investment (ROI) because the systems are automated. You create great content that acts as your sales team. You create unique and specific emails that then guide the buyer throughout the journey, and you wait for them to reach out. Some buyers, however, may not reach out without a direct prompt. In this case, a good inbound marketing tool will notify you when leads are ready to be reached out to directly. Lead intelligence and scoring provide even more ROI for companies and are a big part of many marketing automation tools.


So, the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is small but very definite. Understanding Inbound Marketing is the first step to making the decision to implement it or not. We’ve written a quick guide that runs you through the idea of Inbound Marketing that may help you get started. We call it the “Introduction to Inbound Marketing Guide” and you can download it below.

Here’s to Inbound Marketing!