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Lead Nurturing and Marketing Automation: 15 Key Questions Answered (Questions 8, 10)

by Sid Smith  |  
February 12, 2013

Question 8: What's the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

That question has two parts. First is the overt question: What's the difference between inbound and outbound marketing? Second is the implied question: Is one approach any better than the other?

In the simplest of terms, outbound marketing is how you actively seek out prospects, and inbound marketing is how you get them to find you.

Outbound marketing:

  • Cold calls
  • Events/conventions, etc.
  • Direct mail (snail mail and cold emails)
  • Print advertising and online advertising (Google, LinkedIn, etc.)

Inbound marketing (also called "content marketing"):

  • Blog posts
  • Articles posted in digital magazines and industry blogs
  • Twitter posts
  • LinkedIn discussions/groups and posted articles
  • Blog comments
  • Videos and slide decks posted online (YouTube, SlideShare, etc.)

Is One Better Than the Other?

The answer is an unequivocal no. They're different, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Inbound marketing advocates would likely tell you that inbound leads are "more qualified" than outbound leads. That isn't necessarily true: Just because they found you online via a Google search or a link in an article on an industry blog doesn't mean they are any more ready to buy than the person who received an email from you out of the blue.

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Sid Smith is lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. Sid has written on topics ranging from flex circuits to motherhood, but gets a real kick out of putting together the puzzle pieces of complex marketing automation strategies. Reach him via

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  • by Alexandra Gibson Tue Feb 12, 2013 via web

    I think that there is some strong information here but I would argue that there are a few pieces of information that are not correct.

    1. Inbound marketing is not just content. Inbound marketing is pull marketing and can be made up of anything from SEO to blogging to landing page creation to social media and more.

    2. Inbound marketing does not necessarily take longer to get leads. It does take time to ramp up but we have seen our clients bring in leads in the first month by creating compelling offers, properly designed landing pages, and taking advantage of current traffic. On the other side, we've had clients need to send out 4-6 pieces of direct mail before they received any lead return.

    3. There should not be less control over what a potential lead sees with inbound marketing. By placing well designed and compelling calls-to-action that speak to the content of each page, you can not only control the messaging but you can focus your call-to-action more on what the prospect cares about.

    4. I would actually put paid search in the inbound bucket. While it is not organic, you are not throwing information at someone who has not, in any way, requested it.

    Alexandra Gibson
    OttoPilot Media (

  • by Casey Carey Tue Feb 12, 2013 via web

    Sid, a really strong post and I like the advantages/disadvantages view. I helps clarify much of the confusion.

    Personally, I think the purpose of almost all marketing should be “inbound” if you think about why marketing exists. A more meaningful discussion is about the role of content in marketing and its increasing importance as more and more buyers seek information before engaging a company. A couple of additional thoughts:

    1) It is hard to create scale and drive high volume with an “inbound marketing” only approach. Outbound allows me to buy as many leads as I can afford. If I have a small pipeline and need to blow it out, I can do it fairly easily with some big spending.

    2) They shouldn’t be viewed as existing separately. I run a bunch of outbound programs promoting content which creates a huge ROI multiplier on my content development costs.

    3) I always laugh when so called, “inbound marketers” want to include paid search as part of their toolbox. For the most part, PPC is simply advertising. The argument that they were “looking for something” can just as easily be made for a display ad on a content site or a the guy who walks up to your booth at a trade show.

    I remain convinced that the inbound/outbound debate is rather meaningless and the models of either unpaid/paid or earned/owned/paid provide a better organizing view of marketing. With this view, content is an integrated component of the program regardless of the media or channel.


  • by Nick France Fri Feb 15, 2013 via web

    All sound advice in your post, Sid. Might I add an advantage to the "inbound" column. It seems to me, the biggest advantage to inbound/content marketing is the relationship one builds through ongoing engagement.

    While I believe it's necessary to do both inbound and outbound, the engagement and context one builds through inbound is something unachievable with inbound. Some call it context marketing. It's vital, in my view, for longterm success. Albeit hard work, as you well pointed out ... it's well worth it and a clear advantage.

  • by Nick France Fri Feb 15, 2013 via web

    * unachievable with outbound.

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