• Blog
  • /
  • Popular articles
  • /
  • How to distinguish an inbound marketing method and an outbound one in lead generation

Table of contents

How to distinguish an inbound marketing method and an outbound one in lead generation

  • #B2B
  • #Customer Success
  • #Sales

Lead generation has two approaches: inbound and outbound. Each approach has its methods, some of them are strictly inbound, some are related only to outbound. But there are a bunch of methods that could be attributed to both approaches and have a fine balance between the outbound and inbound side of one approach. Many people got confused, so we decided to clear it up. This article is about the difference between inbound and outbound approaches, and the common mistakes people make.

Interruption and permission marketing

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was an interruption. Or permission?

In the late 90s marketer and entrepreneur Seth Godin introduced interruption marketing and the permission marketing models to the world.

Interruption and permission are the early forms of outbound and inbound approaches.

In accordance with the title, the aim of interruption marketing is to push a product or service to the prospective client. In interruption marketing, your goal is to capture the attention of the audience to generate interest in your product or service.

Common methods of interruption marketing are TV ads and radio ads, direct mail campaigns, cold emails, and cold calling.

Permission marketing is the opposite of interruption one.

Permission marketing is customer-centered, so this model allows the customer to be in the center of marketing communication. The permission model aims to attract potential customers’ attention to your product or service according to their active interest (given permission).

Inbound lead generation

Inbound lead generation is a part of the inbound marketing model. The concept of inbound marketing appeared only in 2005, as co-founder and CEO of HubSpot Brian Halligan used this word for the first time. An inbound lead is a prospect who is interested in your brand and has reached you for more.

For inbound lead generation, a company puts out targeted content to a specific audience. It is crucial to understand that inbound marketing is an indirect way of generating leads. You are not going to pitch your product or service to your prospects, but instead, you are encouraging them to come to you by offering valuable content. The main goal of this content is to pull in interested prospects and turn them into leads that probably can be turned into clients in the future.

Inbound leads are always active, it is up to them to decide when they want to interact with a company and via which channels.

How does it work?

In the inbound approach, you are trying to engage your prospects with your content and if they stay engaged, turn them into customers.

Inbound B2B marketing is like you open a dialog and wait for your audience to come in. The aim of the inbound method is not to sell, but to educate, so you should provide great valuable content. The crucial thing in inbound marketing is that your content does not distract your audience like in an outbound approach. Your audience is ready for the content they search for.

Usually, your prospects are drawn in by the content you are creating and the marketing campaigns you are running. As the main goal of the Inbound lead generation is to attract prospect’s attention to your product or service, all methods are focused on increasing brand awareness and making your company more visible. Inbound lead generation is into providing value, educating, and building trust.

The most common marketing methods that are exclusively inbound are SEO and content marketing. Others like PPC and mailing campaigns can be either outbound.

The outbound approach in lead generation

Outbound lead generation is the opposite of inbound. It is a way to engage a potential customer who probably has never heard about your company. Your prospects do not search for your product or service, you particularly force your company on them. As your prospects have never asked for your product and have never shown an interest in it, you interrupt them with your campaign. It stops the customer’s journey, so inbound lead generation is usually labeled as an interruption.

How does it work?

When you are using the outbound approach, you are going directly to your prospects and pitch your product or service to them. Unlike inbound lead generation, outbound is a more personalized method and uses a one-to-one strategy. It is extremely important to build a strong personal connection, because your prospects may have never heard about your company.

The main goal of outbound is to generate revenue and scale the business quickly. In the outbound your leads are passive, you do not wait for them to come to you. To start the process you need just to connect with your prospect. It is not as time-consuming as the inbound approach and often demands less money. Due to this simplicity, many new companies pick outbound as their main strategy and start to bomb their potential clients with tonnes of spam. That way is just ineffective, but there is much more in the outbound strategy.

The main methods of the outbound approach are advertising in the mass media, outdoor advertising, and social selling. LinkedIn is the most popular network for the social selling method, due to the statistics, revenue from LinkedIn, and the number of users are constantly growing.

How to distinguish inbound from outbound

From all that has been said it follows, that the main difference between inbound and outbound lead generation is the role of the lead. Inbound slips into the content consumption of the leads seamlessly, and when done right, gives them exactly what they need. You do not have to win the lead, because they are already searching for yours or similar products or services. You only give them what they are asking for.

Outbound is on the opposite side. To interact with your leads, you are about to interrupt their journey and push them into your campaign. There is always a chance that leads need your product, but just do not know about it. To find it out, you still need to break the customers’ journey and make them listen to your information.

Some methods of B2B marketing can be included in both approaches. Video content can be commensurately inbound and outbound, let’s look closely using YouTube as an example. When your leads come to you through the video search, it is pure inbound because you did not break the consumption of information. But when your video appears as an ad, interrupting the customer, you are using an outbound approach.

The other example is emails because not all email campaigns are outbound. The inbound approach in the mailing is introduced by Opt-in email marketing. Opt-in is the process of sending marketing materials to an email list of prospects who specifically subscribed to your content. Opt-in means prospects or leads are aware you’re adding them to your email list. While in the outbound lead generation, cold emails are used. Recipients of the cold emails have never given you their email address.

With such a point of view, it should be easy to determine which method relates to which approach. But sometimes it becomes blurry, especially when one method can be used with both approaches. And in the end, it leads to many mistakes.

Common mistakes in approach assigning

It is quite a common mistake to refer to PPC as an outbound approach. You can use PPC as an outbound one, and some years ago it was exactly like that, but it would be pretty ineffective. And now pay per click is used mostly as an inbound approach. Pay-per-click advertisement that is based on keywords related to your product or service, is an example of an outbound approach. The clients themselves are searching for you. On the other hand, if you use your competitors’ brand names as keywords it is an example of an outbound approach. People do not expect to see your ads among others.

Another significant case is influencer marketing. Many articles mentioned this method is an inbound one, which is not quite right. Influencer marketing can be considered both inbound and outbound depending on the context. If the influencer’s content and the ad look cohesive together then it is an inbound approach. A great example of outbound influencer marketing is a collaboration between Samsung and a Snapchat blogger CyreneQ in 2016. She is a Filipino-American social media artist, and Samsung hired her to promote the launching of the Samsung Note 7. As far as CyreneQ is not a tech blogger, this campaign was definitely outbound.

Sometimes even profs can make a mistake. For example, Nel Patel in his article about inbound techniques mentioned pop-ups. It can sound adequate, as the leads come to your website, so they are searching for your product or service. But the truth is they have never asked you to push some info into their faces. As for me, there is nothing more irritating, as when I am reading an article or scrolling the web page, and the pop-up appears. It interrupts my content consumption, so it differently should be defined as outbound.


The distinction between the inbound and outbound approaches can be tricky, so even experienced marketers sometimes make mistakes. Remember, PPC and email marketing are not that easy. Leads in the inbound approach are always active; they initiate the process and search for your product or service. While outbound you need to interrupt their information flow in order to introduce yourself. You should pay great attention to the criteria that have been pointed out in this article to avoid such mistakes.

  • #B2B
  • #Customer Success
  • #Sales