June 1, 2016

Inbound vs. Account-Based Marketing: Is there a Balance?


With so much talk about Inbound tactics floating around the marketing ecosystem, it's easy for anyone doing "named accounts" marketing to question if they're missing out.

Account-based marketing (ABM) and Inbound are generally seen as so disparate that one company couldn't — or wouldn't — do both. But because so many companies see value in ABM and so many companies see value in Inbound, it's important you're able to recognize the distinctions and commonalities between the two. What's most important is identifying the balance necessary to achieve your specific organizational goals.

So, what are the definitions of each, and how do you establish that balance?

Inbound Vs. Account-Based Marketing

Account-based marketing simply means marketing which targets specified accounts that are defined by the business's vertical and product. Inbound means the target is wider and unnamed.

As Mike Volpe puts it, if you are to use a fishing analogy, Inbound is a net filled with highly attractive bait that's designed only to appeal to certain types of fish. You cast the net, attract the fish, and sort through all of the catches to find the exact type of fish you really want.

Make Sure Your ABM Strategy is Fully Optimized for Success with Our Checklist:  The Ten Essentials to Account-Based Marketing.

With Account-Based Marketing, you're spearfishing. You already know the exact type of fish you want and where it is, and you're only going after that fish. You don't need bait because you're targeting so specifically. You just need information about that fish's identity and favorite hangout spot to get started.

Which Marketing Strategy is Better for Your Business?

First, it's important to note that the two strategies can coexist. Though achieving a decent balance can be difficult, it isn't impossible — and you might even find that you could integrate ABM tactics with your current Inbound efforts, or vice versa.

Dave Rigotti, Head of Marketing at Bizible, provided great insight about how you should be thinking about Inbound and ABM:

"Unless you're exclusively selling the Fortune 500, a mix of ABM and Inbound is likely the right strategy. It captures your target accounts with Outbound and those with high intent with Inbound."

Here's what you need to consider in order to craft the right mix:

  • Goals
  • Timeline
  • Resources
  • Demand

Let's dive into each.

What are your goals and how long do you have to hit them?

Evaluating your goals and their corresponding deadlines is the best place to start when weighing ABM vs. Inbound. Do you have a limited budget and resources with a long runway to hit your numbers? Then Inbound is the technique to consider.

Download our Ultimate Guide to Inbound Marketing to learn how to build a  successful, optimized strategy.

The beauty of Inbound is the ability to generate high-quality leads with few resources. Blogging, email marketing, social media marketing, conversion-optimized websites — all of these strategies are extremely effective at a portion of the cost for paid strategies. The downside: it takes time to build and ramp up. Consider Inbound if you have six to nine months to wait for real results from your marketing efforts.

On the flip side, if you have a flexible budget and a hard goal to hit in a certain time period, ABM may be the best choice. Now, those are a lot of different variables that must be in line for an account-based strategy, but to be successful with ABM you need to be able to drive full steam ahead with everyone on board. Successfully executing an ABM strategy takes dedicated resources, not just your solo marketing manager. Which brings us to the next consideration...

What type of resources and team do you have?

You've assessed your goals and timeline. Now it's time to take a critical look at your resources and team. Be honest with yourself about both of these factors too. Don't overestimate your team's abilities and stay realistic, because when considering ABM vs. Inbound, the resources and budget needed are vastly different.

To execute a successful ABM strategy, you need to have a dedicated team whose skills encompass strategy, writing, editing, design, development, analysis and more. And dedicated means dedicated; you need a team that is fully invested in the account as a whole.

With Inbound, it still takes a team of exceptional marketers to successfully meet goals, but you don't need to have dedicated individuals focused on nurturing specific accounts or individuals down the funnel. If there are a lot of other initiatives your marketing team is responsible for, it may not be the right time to leverage ABM.

How many organizations can actually use your product?

Knowing your product's market is hugely important to defining how you attract and nurture new business. In order to use an account-based approach, you need to first identify what types and how many organizations can actually use your product. There must be adequate demand among your target accounts for your particular solution before you can go after them specifically, or you'll find yourself disappointed in the results of your efforts.

This is where Inbound makes the most sense because you're able to cast that net as wide as you'd like and sort through the leads that get caught in it.

Ways to Integrate Inbound and ABM

There are clear delineations between when to use Inbound and when to use ABM, but going back to the original question: Is there a balance?

There are various styles within the ABM-to-Inbound spectrum, so knowing the approach you'll take can help you integrate (or not!) your ABM with your Inbound efforts. With "Classic" ABM, each account is counted as a market of one. That means your team will need to do serious research and create customized campaigns. This style is incredibly effective but not highly scalable.

A more lightly customized approach requires less time and fewer resources and is more appropriate for companies with slightly larger account bases. A third style is appropriate for companies with a few thousand accounts: the combination of traditional marketing with a focus on account targeting.

And finally, there's good ol' demand gen using Inbound tactics. Each of these styles is viable for different account types at different companies. What you choose will depend on your customer base. 

New call-to-action

Olivia Perek-Clark

Olivia Perek-Clark leads New Breed’s Learning and Development team. She is a seasoned Demand Generation and Inbound Marketing Strategist turned team trainer who has a passion for developing systems and content that help other New Breeders do their best work for our clients.


Ready to jumpstart your acquisition, retention and expansion efforts?

Request Assessment