I remember when Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah were building Hubspot and created the terminology around inbound marketing. I was International Marketing Director at Silverpop at the time and had just launched its B2B marketing automation platform in UK and Europe.
We had a huge content production team there and we knew that the people who consumed our content were much more likely to close than those who came in via other channels. Its biggest challenge though was the time it took to scale up and cut through in a competitive marketplace — we always needed to supplement it with other approaches.
Today, most companies have some sort of inbound marketing strategy. Certainly more than have a formal account based marketing (ABM) strategy. Our experience at Radiate B2B is that even more sales teams use an account-based sales approach and have their own lists of prospects separate to marketing that they want to close.
An account-based approach is different to an inbound marketing-based approach. The way you plan is different and the way you implement them is different.
It is not a case of either or though. While different, they do not compete. Inbound marketing and account-based marketing are complementary to each other.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing focuses on attracting customers with content that feels valuable and intuitive to the prospect. The major channels used are blogs, search engines, and social media.
It most definitely does not interrupt or fight for a prospect’s attention. Though with the amount of content being produced by marketers this is becoming harder and harder and requiring higher quality and more personalised content to stand out (though by the nature of inbound this is usually limited to industry level rather than account level).
Most of all it builds trust and positive brand equity with a prospect.
What is account-based marketing (ABM)?
Traditionally account-based marketing has been about marketing to a select few companies that are in your sweetspot and are extremely valuable.
Today, technology is helping to scale this beyond a select few and up to a few hundred accounts. This has created a new and upsurging interest in the strategy and has been coined ‘ABM’, ‘One to Few ABM’, ‘Named account ABM’ or ‘Industry ABM’. Eventually the terminology will converge of course but not so far.
It has long existed in sales and has been growing within customer success teams also. As a result the strategy has moved beyond just marketing to be termed account-based everything or ‘ABX’. Alignment across the three raises results significantly though there is detail within each that is not applicable across the board.
Like inbound marketing, an account-based approach aims to build valued relationships with the aim of attracting a high value customer.
The account-based approach looks to place content in front of a prospect rather than wait for a prospect to go looking for it however, relying on its highly personalised nature to cut through the noise and reduce any feeling of interruption. It then continues the engagement using what we at Radiate B2B believe to be a hyper personalised inbound marketing approach through to close and beyond when the prospect is now a client.
As a result, account-based marketing uses offline, highly targeted display (programmatic, but not really), social media, websites, email marketing, direct mail, telephone and face-to-face. Pretty much any channel can be adapted within an ABM approach. It is why ABM is sometimes called just good B2B marketing.
To learn more on this topic, check out Econsultancy’s new Practical Guide to Account-Based Marketing.
Diverging or aligning strategies?
So can they truly work together? There are aspects of both strategies that do align:
- The customer is at the centre.
- Valuable content powers them both – though with different approaches.
But for the most part they do differ.
- Inbound marketing starts when a visitor looks for your content. An account-based approach requires you to go out into the world and talk to your ideal prospect directly, not wait for them to appear.
- Typically deal sizes will be larger for ABM than inbound marketing.
- Despite technological advances, ABM is still limited in scale versus inbound marketing so typically there will be a larger number of deals.
So which strategy is best?
The right approach clearly depends on who your company sells to. Obviously you are a company selling to businesses, but an account-based approach, even one using the latest techniques, does not work if the average lifetime value of your largest clients is small. In this scenario an inbound marketing approach is still the best approach.
But what about in other scenarios?
Account-based marketing works to close accounts in your sweet spot. These customers will typically be happier customers as they are aligned with your thinking and direction resulting in higher net promoter (NPS) or customer satisfaction scores. This in turn leads to significant numbers of advocates for your product driving more companies to your website.
An outbound marketing approach is therefore the wrong approach and wasteful, but an inbound marketing approach will convert these incoming accounts at a much lower cost than an account-based programme.
Combining inbound marketing and account-based marketing is also cost efficient. ABM requires hyper personalised content that speaks to an account’s needs, whilst traditional inbound marketing typically doesn’t have the same level of personalisation, it does aim to provide valuable content to attract prospects to the company. Content can be adapted to the needs of both strategies removing the need to create standalone content for both approaches.
A further benefit is that these incoming accounts may lead you to new markets and territories fueling decision-making around expansion.
So ABM and Inbound are indeed friends and work well together. In fact Hubspot, the home of inbound marketing, has not been shy investing in account-based businesses.