5 Ways Outbound and Inbound Marketing Complement Each Other


What kind of marketer are you? That sounds like the beginning of a diverting quiz, but it speaks to a perception among marketers that just may have run its course.

If you’re like many marketers right now, you’d answer that question either with “inbound” or “outbound” as your answer. And, most likely, more of you would say “inbound” than would say “outbound.” While the two types of marketing have been around for a long, long time, it’s inbound marketing that’s been the belle of the ball of late.

As inbound marketing has risen to fame, there’s been an odd split among professionals. Many of us have broken into two camps, or at least we thought we’d broken into two camps.

Before we start to dispel this dichotomy, let’s define those camps. What exactly are inbound and outbound marketing, anyway?

Act-On defines inbound marketing as “activities that are designed to attract the attention of customers and prospects with the purpose of giving them a reason to come to you.” Our Chief Marketing Officer, Kevin Bobowski, recently described it like this: “marketers getting people to come to them, rather than marketers going out to get prospects’ attention.”

So what about outbound? It’s got a few working definitions that aren’t quite as warm and fuzzy. “Interruption marketing” is one. But basically, any tactic that’s initiated by the marketer/company/salesperson is considered outbound marketing.

Here are a few of the most common tactics used for both approaches, and how often they are used. The data is from our Inbound Marketing Effectiveness Report.

Don’t see much overlap there, right? But would you want to execute your marketing programs with only one of those lists of tactics, having to exclude the other? Probably not – and you’re not alone in that assessment. Ends up, 84% of marketers say they need both types of marketing.

When we look a little deeper, the blending of the two types of marketing gets even clearer. Whether or not a marketer views themselves as leaning inbound or outbound, they tend to use tactics from both practices – a lot.

Of course, none of this is bad. It’s good and smart to blend the two approaches. That’s why we think balanced marketing is the smartest choice. You get to use both sets of marketing tactics, and use them collaboratively. Here are five ways to do that:

1. Inbound marketing attracts; outbound closes

That’s a simplification of the process, of course, but it’s a pattern we see a lot. Here’s why:

Inbound is good for attracting the right audience in the first place. They find you through your content, on social media and via search (which are all inbound tactics). As your relationship with each audience member grows – through regular exposure to your content – they move along through the sales cycle. And as they progress through that sales cycle, outbound tactics start to become necessary.

For example, say you write a blog post (inbound) and get some SEO traffic from it as a result (inbound again). You have a call to action at the close of the blog post, where the prospect can download a gated whitepaper. Once you have their email address, you start to send them email messages (outbound). Even if they don’t download the white paper, you can advertise to them via retargeting (outbound again).

As you get more and more information about them as they interact with your sales system, eventually many of them will qualify as a warm lead. So a salesperson calls them (outbound again). Once the human-to-human interactions start to build, the close becomes more and more likely.

Even through this part of the sales cycle – while they’re talking to your sales rep – you’re still using both inbound and outbound tactics. You’re still sending them email messages, and you’re still showing them retargeting ads (both outbound). Hopefully, they’re still consuming your content (inbound), and they’re still snacking on shorter content via social media.

So while it is a bit of a generalization to say “outbound closes,” inbound tends to play the major role at the beginning of the sales cycle. Then it steps out of the spotlight a bit as outbound tactics become primary toward the close.

Here’s a real-world example of this from James Flannagan, Digital Manager of Blue Mountains International Hotel Management School.

“Now we can reach out to our new and potential students through outbound marketing, rather than relying solely on inbound advertising. We’ve used Facebook and Google to generate more leads, but now, once a potential student fills out a form from that inbound activity, we can put them into an automated program that leads them through the recruiting process.”

Social media is the first, inbound, step of the sales funnel for Blue Mountains. But when prospects click the “Contact Us” button on their Facebook page, the outbound process begins.

Even if someone doesn’t click after visiting the Blue Mountains Facebook page, it’s possible to retarget them with Facebook ads. Then the marketing automation kicks in (an outbound tactic), nurturing prospective students through the sales cycle. When the time is right, they get a call from someone at the school (an outbound tactic again).

2. The goal of inbound marketing is to get you to outbound

As you can see in the slide below (which is from the Act-On video Inbound and Outbound: Dual Powered Marketing), it’s smart to add a call to action on every landing page. And it’s inbound’s job to get people on that landing page. But once they’re there, hovering over your content, the job is to get the conversion. You want them to enter their information and take the next step forward with your content – and your sales cycle.

That next step is going to be an email message. And that’s an outbound tactic.

So unless you’re doing content marketing to raise brand awareness (and most marketers are doing it for either lead generation or for sales), you’re using inbound marketing so you can turn around and execute some outbound tactics.

3. Outbound and inbound can cross-promote

Any time a salesperson (or anyone at your company) recommends some of your company’s content to a prospect, that’s outbound marketing promoting inbound marketing.

This question from Act-On’s interactive online assessment, Inbound vs. Outbound Assessment: How Balanced Are Your Efforts?, illustrates this really well.

4. Advertising can support both inbound and outbound

Any advertising you do to promote your content is also a blend of inbound and outbound marketing.

As you probably know already, content marketing needs promotion to work. And generally, we content marketers could do a lot better at promoting our content (me included).

One of the ways to promote content is, of course, to advertise. So there’s your outbound tactic being used to support an inbound tactic. And around and around we go.

5. Inbound and outbound generate almost exactly the same amount of leads.

According to the Inbound Marketing Effectiveness Report, the same amount of marketers said outbound was best for lead generation as said that inbound was the best. And 13% reported they delivered on leads equally.

This is particularly interesting because inbound is typically credited with being stronger on the front end of the sales cycle. That’s where lead generation begins. But if outbound is generating as many leads as inbound, maybe we should question that assumption, too. This chart suggests outbound is necessary even at the beginning of the buyer’s journey. 


Balance is always a good thing. Using a balanced approach to your marketing strategy – with both inbound and outbound marketing tactics – can let you do far more than if you were using only one approach.

Besides, marketing is challenging enough today. (Like you haven’t noticed.) Why would you deliberately shun a bevy of good tactics? I’ll take all the help I can get.

What do you think?

What do you think about this inbound versus outbound discussion? Is outbound old hat and expensive? Is inbound a time sink that’s too hard to track? Weigh in as you please. We want to know what you think.