Account-Based Marketing (ABM) vs Inbound Marketing

Shahin Hoda 9  mins read Updated: February 23rd, 2024

Both Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Inbound Marketing are powerful strategies in their own right, each with its own use cases. ABM is personalised, while inbound marketing is more generalist.

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Consider Dropbox as an example. It can publish a general blog on its website about file storage and secure information sharing. This can attract potential customers who then enter Dropbox's sales funnel as leads. On the other hand, Dropbox could target specific industries such as financial services by creating a custom blog that highlights how its file-sharing capabilities are beneficial for banks.

Most marketers feel that they need to pick one of these two strategies. However, you can get better returns on your marketing efforts if the two are used together. The thought of using these strategies in parallel is not radical. Organisations and marketing gurus throughout the world are already doing it. ABM and inbound don't have to be mutually exclusive campaigns.

 

Speak to an Account-Based Marketing specialist about how you can streamline your Inbound Marketing with ABM principles.

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    While this article will talk about some scenarios where inbound is more effective than ABM and vice versa, we will also share some practical tips on how marketing executives can leverage concepts from both in a robust synergistic fashion. 

    Here's a glimpse of the topics you will read about in this piece. Feel free to skip any sections and read the ones that matter to you the most.

    What is Account-Based Marketing?

    What-is-Account-Based-Marketing

    Account-based marketing is a strategy that focuses on targeting certain named accounts with highly customised content and campaigns. 

    ITSMA encourages marketers to “treat individual accounts as markets in their own right”. This means more personalised messaging for key decision-makers based on their roles and pain points.  

    Apart from customisation and personalisation, the ABM process also emphasises sales and marketing alignment. Every decision, be it account list creation, theme development, or content generation, requires a strong partnership between the marketing and sales teams. 

    This strategy is best suited for B2B businesses with an average annual deal size of $30K or more. Businesses with complicated sales cycles involving multiple buying centres can also benefit from account-based marketing.

    Account-Based Marketing Examples 

    While there are several account-based marketing case studies and examples, they can all be implemented using a combination of 4 key tactics.

    These include direct mail, online and in-person events, targeted digital assets such as eBooks, blogs, videos, social media ads et cetera. Remember the keyword here is “targeted”.

    If you are curious about account-based marketing case studies, check them out on our ABM blogs here.

    What is Inbound Marketing?

    What-is-Inbound-Marketing

    Inbound marketing focuses on creating generalised content in the hope of attracting buyers. The content could be in the form of blogs, videos, emails and eBooks. 

    A crucial point to note is that the content generated in an inbound approach is not directed towards a set of specific accounts. It’s more of a spray-and-pray style of attracting and acquiring customers.

    Having said that, this strategy does focus on creating meaningful content for different buyer personas. It is about valuing customer privacy and time by not bombarding them with information you know they don't need. 

    Businesses of all sizes in the B2B and B2C space can leverage inbound marketing techniques. It is one of the most common and popular approaches out there.

    Inbound Marketing Examples 

    Just like account-based marketing, the inbound strategy can be executed by leveraging four key tactics.

    These tactics include direct mail, online and in-person events, digital assets such as eBooks, blogs, videos and social media ads et cetera. 

    Did you notice that there isn’t an element of personalisation or customisation here?

    As we explore the difference between inbound and ABM, it is crucial to keep in mind that while the overarching steps and tactics are the same for both, the difference lies in the level of personalisation.

    Account-Based Marketing vs Inbound Marketing

    Account-Based-Marketing-vs-Inbound-Marketing

    If you look at the above two definitions, you will see some common threads. Things like creating valuable content for attracting prospects, deepening relationships and being mindful of the buyer's journey and buyer persona are advocated by both inbound and account-based marketing strategies. The difference lies in the fact that ABM has extremely specific audiences for its marketing campaigns. These specific audiences or target accounts are agreed upon by the sales and marketing teams right from the start.

    The second point of difference between the two approaches is that account-based marketing can also be an outbound initiative. Yes, you can have your SDRs reach out to key decision-makers as a part of your account-based marketing strategy. Simplistically put, inbound marketing with a focus on high-value accounts can be loosely categorised as some form of ABM.

    Considering that there is some overlap between the two strategies, marketers would do well by combining them and adopting the best of both worlds. 

    With that background in place, let's dive into the four steps you can take to combine the two approaches to achieve better results.

    How to Use Account-Based Marketing and Inbound Marketing as One Strategy?

    Step 1: Tier it out

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    To ensure you have the best of both strategies, start by tiering your accounts. These could also align with the standard account-based marketing tiers - 1:1, 1:few and 1:many.

    As an example:

    • Tier 1 could be a few key accounts with a clearly defined target audience. You can also filter accounts based on revenue. For instance, in tier 1, you decide to have accounts with an annual contract value (ACV) of at least one million dollars. Other criteria by which you can define the target accounts in this tier could be the current level of ongoing sales efforts, i.e. how close the salesperson is with key decision-makers, the salesperson's rapport with them et cetera.
    • Tier 2 could be high-level accounts that meet your ideal customer profile (ICP). The number of accounts in this tier will be more than those in tier 1. They could be net new accounts or existing accounts.
    • Tier 3 could be a whole bunch of accounts in a specific industry that you might be wanting to expand into. These could also be top-of-the-sales funnel accounts or companies that you want to notice you.

    Step 2: Identify opportunities to leverage inbound marketing concepts and collaterals in each of the tiers

     

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    After your accounts are tiered, an important exercise is to evaluate the relevance of your existing digital assets created for inbound purposes. You would be able to reuse or refurbish your existing content and make it more personalised, i.e. introduce the account-based marketing flavour in it.

    The content creation process becomes highly efficient in such a scenario since it already addresses the industry-level problems and just needs to be made company-specific.

    Step 3: Strategize for accounts in each tier

     

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    The approach to targeting accounts in each of the tiers is going to be different.

    For instance, the marketing campaign for an account in tier 1 will be more interconnected and personalised than the accounts in tier 2 and tier 3. Similarly, the level of marketing automation in tier 3 will be higher than that in tier 1.

    Strategizing becomes the key, and inbound marketing will inherently be a part of the overall ABM campaign. When we say strategizing, it means a collection of account-based marketing tactics. Here is a simplified strategy document for a tier 1 account, which will give you a better idea.

    Tier 1 Account-based marketing strategy: Inbound

    CAMPAIGN 1 (Weeks 1-4): Create and publish educational content in the form of a website blog addressing the prospects' pain points

    • The website blog will be SEO-optimised for specific keywords based on market research.
    • Daily unique website visits would be used to measure the success and impact of the blog. 

    CAMPAIGN 2 (10-12 Weeks): Create an eBook as a step-by-step guide that the prospects can use to solve their problems

    • The eBook will be published on the company website to target specific audiences.
    • There will be a separate landing page created for downloading the book where users would have to enter their details.
    • Social media ads will be run for specific accounts as a part of sales and marketing efforts.
    • The sales teams will then follow up with stakeholders who have engaged with the campaign.

    Tier 1 Account-based marketing strategy: Outbound

    CAMPAIGN 3 (Weeks 5-8): Create an eBook as a step-by-step guide that the prospects can use to solve their problems

    • Physical copies will be used in a direct mail campaign. Key executives will receive a copy of the book.
    • A personalised letter or a card will be sent to the executives in the contacts list highlighting the benefits of being in business with the service provider company.
    • The sales teams will then follow up with stakeholders who have engaged with the campaign via a phone call or email and try to get a meeting.
    • The success of the outbound campaign will be measured by the number of meetings booked and any feedback shared by the prospects. 

    You might have noticed an inbound component to the account-based marketing strategy in the above example. This is the synergy that we have been talking about.

    There are many forms of abm strategy template that other companies and businesses might be leveraging.

    Ensuring that account-based marketing's focused approach is correctly intertwined with inbound marketing can be a critical factor in increasing the ROI on marketing and sales efforts.

    Step 4: Align marketing and sales strategies

     

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    So far, we have proposed ensuring that your account-based marketing tactics align with your inbound efforts. We have also shown you how using the two together can save you a ton of effort and help you increase the ROI.

    As a marketing executive, the last step to keep in mind is to involve your sales teams continually.

    ABM strategies can easily fall flat if the sales team on the account has yet to buy in. The best way to get the sales team excited is to have them as a partner and active contributor in your account-based and inbound marketing campaigns right from the start.

    You should also set the expectation that although there is a flavour of inbound introduced, account-based marketing works best over a longer duration, and the results may not be visible as fast as they are in a pure inbound marketing campaign.

    Remember, we are focused on quality and not quantity. It is not about lead generation or gathering random new leads but finding the right account, nurturing it, and addressing their pain points.

    Once you have all the above sorted out, close by agreeing on the metrics and what success should look like at the end of the campaign.

    ABM vs Inbound Marketing: Which Marketing Approach is Right for You?

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    ABM vs Inbound marketing strategy, we talked about how you can combine the two to get better results. But if you only had the budget to go for one, which one is right for you? That's the million-dollar question.

    The short answer is that it depends on your situation and the end objective.

    If you are a large company in the B2C space with millions of retail consumers and several hundred or even thousands of products, you would be better off with inbound marketing.

    If you are a start-up trying to create awareness and traction in the market, in that scenario, you are better off with inbound marketing.

    If you are an established B2B firm trying to expand into some of your key accounts, you will do well with account-based marketing. If you have the tools and capability, a hybrid of inbound marketing and ABM would be even better.

    The above are some sample scenarios to indicate how we like to think about what approach is better for a business. They are not exhaustive.

    Conclusion

    We hope this article provided some basic information to leverage account-based marketing and inbound marketing as one strategy. If you think about it is not account-based marketing vs inbound marketing, but it's more like account-based marketing + inbound marketing.

    If you need guidance on this topic or want industry experts to execute your account-based marketing strategy, reach out to us!

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      Frequently Asked Questions

      Can ABM replace your inbound marketing strategy?
      Yes, the one-to-many tier of ABM can replace your inbound marketing strategy.
      Why combine account-based marketing and inbound marketing?
      Combining account-based marketing and inbound marketing provides you with the best of both worlds. With inbound, you create content that attracts buyers. Introducing ABM forces you to upgrade your content to attract an extremely specific set of buyers.
      How do account-based marketing and inbound marketing work together?

      With the right tools, team and guidance, you can update your existing inbound marketing content for an account-based marketing campaign.

      Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and Inbound Marketing can work together by complementing each other's strengths. In this scenario, inbound marketing generates leads and attracts a large number of high-value customers.

      Inbound marketing feeds ABM campaigns by providing a pool of potential customers for ABM to target. ABM then uses highly personalised and targeted strategies to nurture strong relationships with those customers.

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