Account-Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Account-Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: What's the Difference?

Think how much easier marketing is when you know exactly which companies you are targeting and what marketing messages are best for them to get across. That’s the dream, isn’t it?

While we don’t live in a perfect world, we do live in a world where inbound marketing and account-based marketing (ABM) exist. And when these two strategies work together, that dream can become a reality.

You may be pretty familiar with inbound marketing – creating content that attracts, converts, and excites customers.

You may also know a thing or two about account-based marketing: aligning marketing and sales to deliver a consistent, personalized shopping experience to prospects. But based on their definitions, you might think you have to choose between the two.

Fortunately, you don’t have to choose. Instead of thinking of “ABM versus Inbound”, think of “ABM and Inbound”.

For clarity, let’s define the two and offer some tactics on how you can incorporate these strategies into your existing marketing campaign.

What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing is a targeted, focused growth strategy. It aligns marketing and sales functions to create a personalized experience for accounts rather than an individual buyer.

Rather than treating each of these buyers as a unit, ABM has a strategy that says, “Let’s make sure we plan how all of these buyers will be marketed and sold as one account.”

This starts with aligning sales and marketing to collectively choose a select group of accounts. They then work together to create marketing and sales strategies that target each account. This saves time on marketing and sales and gives customers a far more consistent shopping experience in each account.

Companies that are usually well suited to using an ABM strategy sell high quality products or services to other companies such as B2Bs.

Aligning sales and marketing when using an ABM strategy will help you make more rational business decisions. This removes the time it would take you to try to find the best accounts to target and instead speeds up the process of engaging those prospects.

ABM treats accounts as if they were individual buyers. That way, you can excite key decision makers with a personalized content strategy.

So ABM is a strategy that lets you shorten sales cycles, increase ROI, and effectively sell to your highest value accounts, whichever they prefer – but how does it compare to inbound marketing? Let’s talk about this next.

Account-based marketing and inbound marketing

ABM allows you to excite high quality accounts with a focused approach. With inbound marketing, you can attract customers by creating valuable, SEO-optimized content. The audience receives the information they need in an organic way.

But what do they have in common?

Both strategies require a deep understanding of your target buyer in order to be informed of what type of content you are creating and how you plan to deliver it. This increases the findability through this goal.

According to Ryan Batter, HubSpot’s ABM Product Marketer, “Every growth story starts with the same basic elements of inbound marketing: creating great content, creating a publishing strategy, optimizing search exposure to enable your brand to be discovered, and generating leads.”

You can use content for other purposes and use the same channels for ABM that you have already set up for incoming messages. ABM often just takes this basic content and personalizes it even more.

Both Inbound and ABM focus on delivering a great shopping experience across the flywheel. ABM helps accelerate the flywheel once the incoming foundation is in place.

In addition, the two strategies focus on targeted, personalized content. ABM wants to inspire the right customers with content that has been specially developed for their challenges. This is an essential function of inbound marketing.

Ultimately, the two of them help with customer satisfaction and loyalty. Because an ABM strategy focuses on a number of specific accounts, you have more opportunity to focus on the satisfaction and loyalty of those customers, which is another integral part of the inbound marketing flywheel.

But that’s not all – you can also use the two in partnership to improve your overall strategy.

“With some stories, companies benefit immensely from augmenting their inbound foundation with account-based strategies that deliver a personalized, tailored buying experience for a subset of high-quality leads,” says Batter.

In other words, inbound marketing can help you attract the right customers. Account-based marketing then uses marketing and sales to speed up the flywheel process and deliver a valuable customer experience. Ultimately, you can win these target accounts with either strategy.

It’s important that you approach your account-based marketing in an in-depth way: deliver valuable content and customer experiences to those quality accounts.

Using both together can offer a more robust strategy. With software like the HubSpot CMS, you can also experiment with creating campaigns that align with your company’s goals.

Account-based marketing

Stick to the principles to ensure that your customers are at the center of your account-based marketing strategy. Adjust your account-based marketing strategy to tailor the way you communicate with your target company.

Account-based marketing consists of five main phases that work hand in hand with inbound marketing. Let’s go through each one and detail how you can do ABM in a people-friendly way.

1. Identify

Account-based marketing starts with sales and marketing identifying and selecting relevant accounts. At the beginning of this selection process, data such as company size, number of employees, location, and annual sales can give you an understanding of the accounts you might want to target.

Similar to inbound marketing, you can also use buyer personalities to understand the day-to-day lives and challenges of your target buyers and then identify content and channels to target them.

2. Expand

In sales where ABM is typically used, buying decisions are generally made by numerous people within a company. ABM helps build a relationship with every potential buyer and involves them in the purchase decision.

In the expansion phase, it is important to create unique, company-specific content that will interest every potential buyer within the company. Regardless of whether your product is for marketers, operations managers, or anyone else, making sure you identify all of them and are involved with them in the purchase decision is critical to attracting a customer.

Take into account the challenges your stakeholders face in order to create compelling content. For example, Finance can focus on pricing, while Operations can focus on user access, ease of use, and security. In this context, you can create targeted content and interactions that suit the concerns and challenges of each individual.

3. Engage

This is where sales and marketing come together and join the party to get in touch with stakeholders through various channels. For example, if one of your stakeholders has a preference for email, equipping salespeople to reach that person with a helpful and relevant message can start a conversation. This phase is mostly about building relationships with all of the buyers and getting to know them who will make the final decision.

4. Lawyer

Next, you want to liaise with a few stakeholders who can act as advocates within the organization. The modern shopper can turn off information they don’t want to hear. So it is up to both marketing and sales to create value here – and to talk about the product when and where necessary.

5. Measure

Finally, account-level reporting can provide you with data on what is working, what is not, and how you can improve over time. With HubSpot ABM software, you can report on business growth, sales, job titles, engagement levels and much more at the account level.

For more information on aligning ABM with inbound, as well as some tactics for great account-based marketing tactics, check out this ultimate guide.

If you’re a company selling in a smaller addressable market and targeting a handful of highly critical accounts, this webinar can help you learn more about developing an ABM strategy without giving up your inbound philosophy.

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2020 and has been updated for completeness.

Account plan template