We have spent the last decade building out inbound marketing programs and are huge advocates of this marketing strategy. We have also spent longer building account based marketing campaigns.
What excites us is the potential to expand those account based marketing campaigns across larger and larger numbers of accounts, whilst still maintaining the stronger connection that happens when an account based marketing campaign targets a single account.
By expanding down the pyramid towards larger sets of accounts, account based marketing encroaches on inbound marketing’s territory. It has never been an either/or though and, as we wrote previously in our Inbound and ABM whitepaper, we see the two marketing strategies working hand in hand.
Let’s be clear though: they are not the same thing.
Here are three aspects to think about when using both strategies:
Content Strategies are misaligned.
Content generation by B2B marketers has risen each year for as long as I can remember. This is a direct result of the increase in internet usage changing the way buyers obtained their information instead of from sales people. Inbound marketing takes advantage of this change and with the buyer continuing to research online, content remains an important part of any inbound strategy.
When it comes to account based marketing, the environment has not changed so content is also a critical piece of the puzzle. However, the aims of that content differ significantly. Inbound led content by its very nature is aimed more broadly at large groups and personas, especially at the top of the funnel where virality plays a large part in attracting leads. Account based marketing content is personalised towards specific accounts or account sets, which are typically smaller, and aim to initiate a conversation.
These differing goals mean that content strategy discussions for inbound marketing and ABM should often be held separately as combining the two can lead to poor performance across both strategies.
Sales teams engage differently.
For many B2B marketers over the past decade, the MQL (marketing qualified lead) has loomed large as the metric to strive for. Once a lead reaches that level it is over to sales to finish the job. Inbound marketing has used the same philosophy as quite rightly, the strategy brings individuals into view that are not ready to purchase today or ever. Having sales deal with all those leads is a waste of time and money.
When it comes to accounts in an account based marketing strategy, sales wants to be talking to them and building a relationship with them ready for a future significant sale. That is because these accounts are companies that when marketing and sales sat down together, were identified as being the best fit with what the company is doing today and tomorrow. This very process means that sales are involved at the beginning of the process and then on an ongoing basis until the account closes or is deemed to be no longer a fit.
This in turn also means that the MQL is not the end of marketing involvement, just a milestone along the journey to close. You probably do not even focus on it for ABM anymore unless it happens to coincide with a key milestone in the buyer journey.
Insight requirements have different goals.
All good marketing strategies are built on insight. Inbound marketing is no different. Understanding your market and the personas you sell to are just part of the broad insight inbound marketing requires. Account based marketing builds on these foundations as well, albeit requiring a deeper understanding of the accounts who are the best fit for where the company is going in the future. A narrower scope if you will.
It is when you get beyond those foundational changes that the focus really differs. Inbound marketing relies on ongoing marketing insight around market changes and especially an evolving content strategy that attracts people into your sphere of influence. Account based marketing on the other hand requires proactive insight. It relies on ongoing insight about accounts or account sets that create ongoing conversations and build relationships over time. With sales being more heavily involved, the level of insight is more granular and needs to be easy for sales teams to act upon.
For the majority of companies, adopting only account based marketing is not an economically viable option. But whilst inbound marketing can help you accelerate your path to using account based marketing, the outputs and thinking are different. Both should and do have a place, side by side.