Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: what are the differences?

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

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If we take a step back and analyze our options for boosting our sales performance, we realize that we have two possible directions: get potential customers to land on the company’s website, or go after them by relying on third-party databases. Each approach has its advantages and disadvantages… but contrary to what one might think, they are not mutually exclusive.

As you will have understood, we propose to explore in detail the differences between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing through concrete and practical examples that will lead us to a comparative table at the end of the article. Let’s go !

What is Inbound Marketing?

The concept of Inbound Marketing was theorized in 2005 by a certain Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot. The starting point is relatively simple:

  1. Today, the overwhelming majority of purchasing projects start on the web, from simple B2C consumer products to massive B2B investments. Thus, 85.5% of French Internet users buy on the web, with an average of 33 purchases per year (FEVAD figures). Even better: according to Google, 90% of completed real estate projects start on the web;
  2. Consumers (B2C) and buyers (B2B) are less and less receptive to advertising, cold calling and intrusive marketing;
  3. Consumers (B2C) and buyers (B2B) are increasingly interested in high value-added content.

In the context of the democratization of Internet access in the mid-2000s, these three elements argued for a new marketing paradigm that reverses the magnetic field. Objective: to make sure that the customer comes to the company, rather than targeting him in a direct and intrusive way with offensive campaigns, without bringing him anything in return.

Definition of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a strategy that consists in producing useful and high value-added content for the target audience, distributing it on the best channels and at the right time, to attract potential customers to the company’s website without actively seeking them out.

In concrete terms, the company will mobilize content marketing specialists to identify themes and topics that interest a specific Buyer Persona. This content will be published on the company’s blog, relayed on its social network pages, integrated into an advertising campaign and optimized for search engines to ensure visibility.

These contents will attract a qualified audience, whether on search engines or social networks. This audience will then land on the company’s blog to view this content. From there, several levers can be mobilized to transform these visitors into leads, prospects and then into effective customers:

  • Suggest that they sign up for the company’s newsletter so that they can receive content that is as interesting as the content that brought them to your company’s website;
  • To offer them exclusive content, access to which is conditioned by the completion of a contact form. It can be an ebook, a white paper, a replay of a webinar, etc.
  • Invite them to a virtual event, such as a webinar, client case presentation, etc. ;
  • Attract them with a lead magnet: it can be a contest, an exclusive sale, a promotion, etc.

The objective here is to collect emails and/or phone numbers of visitors to integrate them into a lead nurturing loop and transform them into prospects and then into actual customers. To conclude this definition with a simple analogy, let’s say that Inbound Marketing is a form of fly fishing, where the company uses bait (useful content) to attract customers rather than harpooning them with aggressive commercial messages. To go further, you can consult our guide ” What is Inbound Marketing? And how does it work? “.

Detailed example of an Inbound Marketing campaign

Let’s take the example of a company that publishes a marketing automation software. Here is a proposal for an Inbound Marketing campaign. We will then show you an example of an Outbound Marketing campaign for the same company to highlight the differences. Here we go.

Objectives of the Inbound Marketing campaign

Let’s make them SMART. If you are not familiar with this concept, we recommend you read our guide ”
How to build your B2B marketing action plan for 2023
“. Our marketing automation software provider could define the following objectives for its Inbound campaign:

  • Increase the company’s visibility by 20% by the end of next quarter by regularly posting content on its company blog and using social media to promote that content ;
  • Generate a minimum of 500 qualified leads per month using conversion forms and calls to action strategically placed on the website and social networks;
  • Convert 10% of generated leads into paying customers by the end of next quarter using a sequence of email nurturing and qualified phone follow-ups.

What is the target of this Inbound Marketing campaign?

The campaign targets CEOs of small businesses, and marketing directors and/or marketing automation managers in large companies, across all industries, who are looking to boost their profitability and improve the ROI of their marketing strategy.

What is the content of the Inbound Marketing campaign?

Our marketing automation software editor chooses to base his Inbound Marketing campaign on the following content:

  • Ultra-practical blog posts on the following topics: How much can you save with a marketing automation solution? How to program automation sequences without any prior technical skills? How can automation maximize the company’s sales volume? These articles will be optimized for search engines and will be shared on social networks to increase their visibility and reach the target;
  • Ebooks documenting application examples and anonymized customer cases to show the target audience the concrete benefits of deploying a marketing automation solution. The ebooks will be offered in exchange for contact information to generate leads;
  • Webinars on marketing automation topics, providing an opportunity for prospects to ask questions and interact with the company. Replays of the webinars will be available on the company’s website to generate additional traffic, again in exchange for the completion of a contact form;
  • Nurturing email sequences for generated leads, presenting software features and testimonials from satisfied customers. The emails will also include calls to action to schedule a demonstration of the software;
  • Qualified telephone follow-ups for the hottest leads, performed by a dedicated sales team to convert prospects into customers.

By using this combination of Inbound Marketing tactics, the company can achieve its lead generation and lead-to-customer conversion goals while improving its online visibility and building trust with its audience.

Qualified leads will be “nurtured” on the benefits of marketing automation and will be able to make an informed decision about purchasing the company’s software. By following this approach, the company can develop an effective marketing and sales cycle, generating a steady stream of qualified leads and converting them into loyal customers. The quality of the content and the relevance of the channels used are the key factors of success.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Definition of Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is a traditional marketing approach that focuses on proactively promoting a product or service to a target audience.

This strategy usually involves the use of direct marketing techniques to reach prospects such as cold calling emails, phone calls, on-site product demos, advertisements, etc. Outbound marketing can also involve advertising in traditional media such as television, radio, magazines and newspapers. It can also integrate virtual or face-to-face events.

The method generally consists of identifying a list of potential prospects (for example by purchasing a database) and proactively contacting them to present the benefits of the product or service being marketed.

The advantage of outbound marketing is obvious: it is a direct marketing method that can quickly reach a large number of potential prospects. However, the main challenge is to reach the right audience and stand out among the large amount of competing messages that prospects receive.

It is also important to note that consumers tend to be less receptive to outbound marketing messages, as they are often perceived as unsolicited and irrelevant. The result: low conversion rates for what can be very high expenses, especially if the industry is particularly competitive.

Detailed example of an Outbound Marketing campaign

So let’s go back to our marketing automation software company. Here is a proposal for an Outbound Marketing campaign that will allow us to deduce the differences with Inbound Marketing.

Objectives of the Outbound Marketing campaign

Here is an example of objectives for the Outbound Marketing campaign of our marketing automation solutions provider:

  • Reach a minimum of 1,000 qualified leads per month using a targeted mailing list of marketing professionals;
  • Convert 5% of prospects into paying customers by the end of next quarter by conducting qualified phone follow-ups and offering product demos;
  • Increase awareness of the company by 15% by the end of next quarter through regular online advertising and direct marketing campaigns.

Targets of the Outbound Marketing campaign

We remain on the same target as for the Inbound campaign, namely the CEOs of small companies and the CMOs and/or marketing automation managers of large companies.

Content of the Outbound Marketing campaign

  • Send targeted prospecting emails to a mailing list of marketing professionals, presenting the benefits of the company’s marketing automation software. The emails will include a Call to Action to schedule a demo;
  • Direct marketing campaigns: phone calls to reach prospects who have not responded to prospecting emails;
  • Telephone follow-ups for the most interested prospects, carried out by a team of Business Development Representatives (BDR);
  • Demos for the most interested prospects, presenting the software’s features and answering the prospects’ questions;
  • Online advertisements to reinforce the company’s notoriety and generate traffic on the site.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing in this example


Inbound Marketing

Outbound Marketing





Generation of qualified leads

Brand image

Conversion of contacts into customers


CEOs, marketing managers, marketing automation specialists

CEOs, marketing managers, marketing automation specialists

Content of the campaign

Blog articles, ebooks, webinars, white papers, social media posts, etc.

Prospecting emails, phone calls, product demos, advertisements, etc.


Long term

Short term

Inbound vs. Outbound marketing: what you need to remember

Let’s now take a step back to evaluate the “Big Picture”. The difference in approach is particularly evident in these two examples. Inbound marketing consists of distributing content with high added value to interest the target and encourage them to provide their contact information in exchange for even more useful content. Outbound consists of identifying the target (database purchases in particular) and then approaching it directly to “pitch” the product.

To conclude, it is important to note that Inbound and Outbound Marketing are not mutually exclusive. They can (must?) be combined to create synergy and generate business opportunities across the board.


Inbound Marketing

Outbound Marketing


Attract, convert and retain customers by using quality content and creating personalized user experiences

Solicit prospects directly and encourage them to take action


Focused on attraction

Focused on “interruption


Prospects looking for information, potential customers

All prospects, including those who are not actively searching

Media used

Content, blogs, social networks, email marketing, SEO

Online advertising, unsolicited commercial emails, telemarketing, direct mail, events


Uses information and solutions to help prospects solve their problems

Message focused on the features and benefits of the product or service being marketed


Conversational and informative

Commercial and persuasive

Time required to generate results

Long term, but more durable results

Can provide quick results, but little long-term impact


Perhaps more profitable in the long run

Perhaps expensive due to advertising costs and database purchases, especially if the industry is particularly competitive.