Account-Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: Which Is Right for Your Business?

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Marketing strategies are like gardens. (Stick with me here. I promise we’re going somewhere.)

On the one hand, you’ve got the patient cultivator. She’s out in the fields — probably in a floppy sun hat — scattering handfuls of seeds across a broad swath of soil and waiting for Mother Nature to do her thing. We’ll call her inbound marketing. 

Then you’ve got the meticulous horticulturist — a seed-obsessed super nerd who spends hours identifying rare and exotic plants with specific growth needs and tailoring a unique care regimen designed to coax them into vibrant bloom. You guessed it; this is account-based marketing.  

The cultivator and the horticulturist both yield a bountiful harvest, but through distinct strategies and tools. The question is, which kind of gardener are you? 

In this post, we’ll dig into both methodologies and help you determine whether your business would benefit more from ABM or inbound. Although (spoiler) there’s no law against using both.  

What Is Account-Based Marketing?

An account-based marketing (ABM) methodology uses a targeted approach, personalization and sales to grow. It typically involves B2B businesses that want to target accounts, not individual buyers. This approach requires extensive research about each target to create personalized marketing materials for individual prospects.

ABM materials will include tailored information for each account, and they will likely have more sales-forward language, like a clear call to action, compared to inbound marketing content designed to inform or provide value to potential users who come across a blog post or how-to video on your website.

Account-Based Marketing In Practice

ABM works best for B2B. When targeting accounts, you may look into their leadership, recent company news, press releases and other pieces of information for your research. You’ll then use that research to create, say, an email campaign that will reach out to that account with a solution or service related to their goals.

Let’s say you own a packaging company. You might notice a current client has set goals to increase recycling or swap out plastic packaging for reusable options. Knowing this, you research the client and create highly personalized materials to reach out to them and, with help from the sales team, offer recyclable or reusable packaging options as upsells or replacements for their current product lines.

Some examples of ABM may include targeted email campaigns, personalized presentations, face-to-face meetings or exclusive events.

Benefits of Account-Based Marketing 

ABM can provide many benefits for companies, especially those with highly targeted audiences. Benefits include:

  • More client knowledge. One significant benefit to ABM is that it requires you to know a lot about your accounts. All that knowledge makes it easier to target your marketing messages to those accounts. 
  • Quick pitches. Another benefit is that ABM is more sales-focused than inbound marketing. Because the approach is personalized and often targets existing clients, the trust is already established, and you can move right into the sales pitch.

What Is Inbound Marketing? 

Inbound marketing is a focused approach (although not as narrowly defined as ABM) that targets a broader audience and aims to provide valuable content first to capture potential clients before nurturing them and, hopefully, converting them into customers. Many businesses are familiar with inbound marketing. It’s popular and widely used because, among other reasons, inbound marketing can work for B2B or B2C companies.

Inbound marketing still requires some research to cater to the target audience, but the audience is broader compared to ABM. Instead of starting with a specific account, inbound marketing approaches a broad portion of your target audience, such as users who fit within a buyer persona. The content should start by providing information, building credibility and ultimately nurturing the user and encouraging them to purchase.

Inbound Marketing in Practice

Many potential clients need to “warm up” to a business before purchasing. For example, you might start by publishing SEO-friendly blog posts that answer a person’s questions about car batteries or vehicle maintenance. This may lead them to an educational video about how to test a battery or check the tire pressure of a car. 

The content will narrow down until the buyer reaches the consideration stage, when you can confidently provide a call to action or sales pitch to entice the user to become a customer by buying a new battery or scheduling a vehicle maintenance inspection.

Some examples of inbound marketing include search-engine-optimized blog posts, educational webinars or informative videos or infographics for social media.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is popular for many reasons. Its benefits include:

  • Less upfront research. Inbound marketing is a long game. It doesn’t require the same extensive time and upfront research as ABM. Instead, you’re consistently creating content for different users as they move through the funnel. 
  • Less sales-focused. Inbound marketing can feel more natural, as you’re not focusing on getting people to buy a product immediately. Instead, you’re trying to talk to them person-to-person to build relationships.

Differences Between Account-Based Marketing and Inbound Marketing

ABM and inbound marketing strategies both require narrowing down the target audience. The goal for both is increased sales. But these two approaches have some identifiable differences to consider as you decide on the best marketing approach for your goals.

Target Audience

  • ABM. The target audience for ABM is much narrower than for inbound marketing. You’ll need to target specific accounts to create highly personalized content. Many times, you will be targeting existing customers to upsell or cross-sell. 
  • Inbound. With inbound marketing, your entire target audience will need to be narrowed down to segments, so the content can help users with different problems that need to be solved. Inbound marketing materials speak to a much broader audience than ABM.

Goals

  • ABM. The goals for ABM are all about growth and sales. ABM marketers typically work closely with the sales team from the jump.
  • Inbound. The goal of inbound marketing is less about upfront sales pitches and more about providing valuable information to users and showcasing your expertise and authority on specific topics or the industry in general.

Tactics

  • ABM. Because ABM is so personalized, it can involve many different approaches. You may choose to make calls, send emails or take in-person meetings. 
  • Inbound. Inbound marketing’s methodology is highly centered on content, from blog posts to how-to guides to informational videos.

How to Determine Which Is Right for Your Business

When considering whether to focus on ABM or inbound marketing, there are a few main factors to review:

  • Define your audience. Are you trying to reach a wide range of people, or do you have a list of dream companies you hope to partner with? Inbound will be a better fit for your target audience if it’s the former. With the latter, ABM could help you land dream accounts or business partnerships.
  • Review current goals. Inbound marketing helps reach new audiences. The more valuable content you create, the more people will find it helpful and gain trust in your brand. Over time, an inbound marketing approach can generate more leads as people sign up for your newsletter to receive great content or follow you on social media. On the other hand, ABM focuses on growth. Because you spend so much time upfront researching accounts, the content is geared more toward making sales. Ideally, you are either converting or upselling existing accounts for sustained revenue growth.
  • Consider B2B or B2C. While ABM and inbound marketing can work for different types of businesses, ABM usually works better for B2B than B2C. Businesses with a particular niche could find that a personalized approach via ABM helps them build strong partnerships and recurring clients. Inbound marketing is common for B2B and B2C and benefits companies in various industries.

Tailor Your Marketing Strategy to Meet Your (and Your Audience’s) Needs

Whether you’re reaching out to users who fit a certain buyer’s persona with SEO-focused blogs or you’ve spent weeks crafting a presentation for a big account, building strong client relationships will depend on your ability to craft content and pitches that will address the audience’s needs while also working toward your own goals. You may find that using ABM and inbound marketing together is the key to success.

Are you the patient cultivator or the meticulous horticulturist?  Chances are, you’re a little of both. Unraveling the benefits and drawbacks of each method helps you dig up what works best for your business and allows your garden to flourish. 

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Paige Bennett

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