Inbound vs Outbound: They Aren’t the Same Opportunity

Devon-McDonald by

One of the biggest mistakes a sales person can make is to treat inbound and outbound opportunities the exact same way.


Sure, they’re both generally qualified based on a company’s management standards, but the tact necessary to handle the two is quite different.

At the end of the day, outbound opportunities are far more sensitive. They require more hand holding and relationship building. If a sales person were to treat that opportunity with the same approach they use for inbound opportunities — which tend to be much more prepared to buy — it could result in a lost sale.

Just to set the record straight, here is a definition of each type of opportunity.

Inbound Opportunity

These are the warmer prospects. An inbound opportunity is a lead that approached a company through its website or with a phone call. It might also be the result of marketing efforts like Search Engine Optimization, public relations, or social media. Generally speaking, an inbound opportunity is curious about your product and looking for more information.

That inbound opportunity is typically handed off to a lead qualification specialist (or a sales rep, depending on the size or complexity of the sales organization), who connects with the interested prospect to answer questions, gather more information, and determine whether the company’s product or service is a good fit. In a nutshell, a potential buyer has a need and makes the effort to reach out to your company on their own.

Outbound Opportunity

These opportunities are the result of a prospector’s blood, sweat, and tears, and are generally born from a cold calling environment. In this scenario, an outbound prospector or lead generation specialist is responsible for reaching out to leads that come from an industry or profile specific list. These leads have likely never heard of the cold caller’s company, particularly if the business is in the expansion stage and newer to the market.

If the prospector is able to connect with decision makers and develop trust with them, they will be able to determine if there’s a customer pain point that can be solved with their company’s product. Based on our Lead Generation Services research, a mere 20 percent of those conversations will result in a positive outcome, resulting in an opportunity for the sales team.

Notice the difference between the two?

The inbound opportunity’s decision maker wants to buy, while the outbound opportunity’s decision maker was caught off guard by a cold caller. Even if the cold call made an impact and convinced the prospect to consider the company’s solution, that outbound opportunity isn’t at the point of proactively researching solutions to invest in. The two opportunities are at a completely different point in the buying process.

All of that may sound completely obvious. But it’s an all-too-common mistake to treat the opportunities similarly. A singular blanket approach completely disregards each opportunity’s history and their readiness to buy. If decision makers from both inbound and outbound opportunities get the same e-mails, phone calls, and closing pitch, then the outbound opportunity is as good as lost. Those leads need more hand holding and special treatment. Neglecting that need is a big mistake.

That’s why your entire sales team, regardless of each sales person’s experience, needs to understand the opportunity hand-off process and outbound opportunity nurturing. It’s not just the new hires that need to be trained when launching a lead generation team.

Additionally, sales people who were previously solely responsible for closing inbound opportunities need to better understand the hard work it takes a prospecting team to generate outbound opportunities. Lead qualifiers are held accountable to metrics every day and each outbound opportunity generally requires numerous fruitless conversations. A sales person not familiar with the process may not fully appreciate the opportunities that come their way.

I suggest having your sales team shadow the outbound prospectors once a week, month, or quarter. Or, try making your sales team responsible for their own outbound prospecting. Those practices will help them understand the difficulty of finding truly qualified leads and the sensitivity that they often require.