The difference between inbound and outbound leads

Many customers who come to Lead Cookie only have experience closing inbound leads and referrals. Most have never run a cold email campaign, cold calling or Linkedin outreach campaign. 

How you handle an inbound lead vs an outbound lead is different in two fundamental ways.

  • Trust
  • Buying cycle 

My goal with this article is to dive into those differences and help improve your closing rate from outbound leads. 


At the start, a referral and inbound lead have more trust built than an outbound lead

At the start, a referral and inbound lead have more trust built than an outbound lead

When you receive a referral or an inbound lead, that customer already has some sense of trust built up with you. 

A referral creates massive trust because you have the word of whoever introduced you two.
An inbound lead trusts you because that person has consumed your content before ever engaging. 

On the flip side, with outbound, you have very little trust at the start. This person has no preconceived notions of who you are until you show up in their inbox. At the start of an outbound lead relationship, you have very little trust.

With a referral, you need to build very little trust in your sales process because it is already there.
With an inbound lead, you need to validate their assumptions and build that last leg of trust.
With an outbound lead, you must build trust and a foundation from the ground up.

How to build trust with outbound leads

Very rarely is the sales process as simple as the chart above, but it illustrates a simple point. With an outbound lead, you need to invest more time and touch points to get to a sale. 

Very rarely is the sales process as simple as the chart above, but it illustrates a simple point. With an outbound lead, you need to invest more time and touch points to get to a sale. 

First off, your web presence is essential. That prospect will most likely research you, your Linkedin profile, and your website. You want them to see a consistent message across your entire online presence. It should be professional in appearance and backed up with social proof. 

Second, you can’t go for the sales pitch right away. Instead, you need to have conversations, learn about their business, and share a bit about yourself. It’s like dating. You don’t hop into bed the day you meet someone, but first feel each other out to see if there is even a potential match. 

Third, trust takes TIME. You won’t close many outbound leads on your first sales call. It may take an extra call or two more than what your standard inbound sales process looks like. Often the first call from an outbound lead is a “get to know you” call to evaluate if there is a potential match. You want to walk away from that meeting with next steps on how you can explore the relationship further.

Every interaction you have with an outbound lead builds a small bit of trust. 

  • When the customer researches your web presence, you build trust
  • Each message or email you exchange with the prospect builds trust
  • Each phone call you have with the prospect builds trust

Before you can close that sale, you must raise that trust bar from zero to 100. 



Buying Cycle

Buying Cycle.jpg

The other massive difference between inbound and outbound leads is the buying cycle.  

When you receive a referral or an inbound lead, that person has a pain. They have some sort of problem and they are looking for a solution to solve it in the near future. 

When you generate a conversation with an outbound lead, they could be anywhere in their buying cycle. They may have purchased a solution 3 months ago, or they might be purchasing a solution 9 months from now. Or you may get lucky and catch them when they are making a buying decision in the next 3 months.

When you get a response from an outbound lead that says “Follow up with me in 3 months”, that is serious and a real lead. They may be genuinely interested in your services, but right now they are not ready to buy. 

This is why follow up and CRM organization is essential!

Many of the leads generated from outbound are valid prospects but they may not turn into revenue for 6-18 months A few will close quicker, but many will have a long sales cycle while you wait for their buying cycle to align. 

It is essential that you use a CRM to keep your leads organized. You don’t want to drop the ball and forget to follow up with that person who says “Touch base with me in 3 months”. 

Once you have generated a lead from outbound and received some initial response here, you have a warm lead that you need to follow up with. It will take time, but if you can stay organized and diligent with follow up you will see those leads turn into deals.

For further reading: The art of following up with warm leads

Create a foot-in-the-door offer

Another thing you can do to combat long sales cycle is to create a foot-in-the-door offer that can be bought at any time. This model won’t work for every company, but it will work for many.

The idea is that you create a small offering that your clients can buy at any time, that provides value to them. Often this offer comes in the form of a strategy consultation, project roadmap or audit. 

For example:

  • A paid advertising agency may offer to audit all of their ads and provide feedback on areas for optimization
  • A content marketing agency may offer a competition audit and roadmap for future content creation
  • A software development agency specializing in process automation may offer a business audit to look for processes they could optimize
  • An app development company may offer a design sprint or wireframing project as a way to start small
  • A consultant may offer an audit or strategy session
  • For years as a consultant, I offered a Sales Teardown & Strategy Blueprint which could be purchased at any time and provide massive value to the recipient 

The price points of these entry-level offers can say but most often are under $15,000. The goal is not to make a lot of money from these offers, but instead to get you in the door, create value, and position you for a larger sale.

Going from zero to a $100k sale is hard regardless of if it is inbound or outbound. An entry level offer can be a great way to test the waters with a small project first and then expand to something bigger.

For more detail on this topic read How to shorten your sales cycle with an entry-level offer.


The bottom line

I consistently find myself explaining these concepts to our clients and to anyone who is doing outbound. These are the fundamentals that anyone doing outbound needs to understand. 

  • Outbound leads trust you less than inbounds or referrals. You must build trust over time.
  • Outbound leads can show up anywhere on the prospects buying cycle. Often sales cycles will be much longer than inbound leads.
  • Many companies can shorten sales cycles by creating an entry level offer.

If you go into outbound with the same expectations from leads as you do from your inbound campaigns, then you will be vastly disappointed.

You must understand the differences and handle each lead accordingly.