Inbound vs. ABM? That's the Wrong Question

As a modern B2B marketer, I find it impossible not to approach marketing from an account-based mindset. However, what hurts marketers most is the old-school philosophy of inbound versus outbound, and the idea that somehow ABM is only an outbound strategy to go “fishing with spears.”

Yes, that’s a big part of ABM, but if we ignore inbound marketing, we miss at least half the value of ABM.

In a recent article, the question was asked, “Account-based marketing takes on inbound marketing… Which will win?”

But it’s really not an “either or” situation.

Outbound and Inbound Marketing

ABM is a more focused and strategic method of both outbound and inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing can be targeted in the same way outbound marketing can be targeted with an ABM model. It may not be quite as precise, but still, posing the question regarding whether to choose ABM or inbound is is posing the wrong question in solving a very really challenge for B2B marketers today.

That challenge begins with our CRM system.

Salesforce, for example, has an architecture that defines leads as people who are not yet contacts, therefore unable to be associated with accounts. Yet, in Marketing’s mind, an account is simply a company/organization that fits a target profile.

The definition of an account to a marketer, therefore, is much broader than what it is to Sales. Marketing’s job is still to create a scalable, repeatable machine to build pipeline, so ABM has to fundamentally be approached differently as a marketer versus a BDR or AE.

The “sexiness” of ABM is that we can start to effectively target accounts that fall into certain demographic profiles, and by doing so, we can see our database (leads and contacts) with this account-centric lens.

Leads and contacts should never be separated, and every single person/lead/name/contact in your database should be associated with an account as long as you sell into companies (B2B) and not individuals (B2C.)

“Although inbound promises to generate lots of new contacts and leads, it can be lonely and frustrating to wait for the bigger companies (with budgets to do larger deals and provide a high lifetime value) to stumble upon your content and raise their hand,” Gudema writes in the aforementioned article.

But modern inbound marketing is not a waiting game.

Inbound marketers must cast wide nets to obtain quantity of leads, but many opportunities exist to apply ABM strategies to inbound.

For starters, if you know which accounts you want to target, you can more smartly determine your public relations strategy, your website SEO, your content marketing, and virtually every inbound program you are running.

Sure, outbound will always be a more targeted version of “fishing with spears,” but you can at least narrow your net in regards to inbound when you apply ABM correctly.

Inbound ABM Examples

PR

The accounts you wish to target all happen to be within one industry or region of the country—so you look for opportunities to generate buzz specifically where key buyers at those accounts would be reading/watching.

You track and measure your results from an account-centric lens, not just a generic MQL. You can also focus on highlighting specific stories that align to the problems faced by accounts you hope to inspire to seek your product/service out as a solution.

Website

Solutions like Demandbase offer personalized content on your website that can be used to target accounts. “Just because they’re anonymous doesn’t mean they’re unknown,” notes Demandbase on its website. That is a great point and very relevant to how inbound marketers can use ABM.

SEM

I consider search marketing to be an inbound strategy (whereas display is outbound.) Thus, search marketing is about making sure you show up when someone looks for a solution to a problem your product or services solve. Account-based targeting in SEM can be highly effective if you determine what types of companies by profile click on ads and convert.

Content marketing

Creating content marketing with an account-centric lens is extremely important if you are selling to the enterprise. Although you will have a vast library of content that is more generic, investing in account-specific assets and personalizing with tools like Vidyard can be extremely helpful in achieving your goals and creating a better relationship with the buyer.

Analytics

Probably the most important example of ABM for inbound is analytics.

By removing leads from the equation and tying your contacts to accounts from the beginning, you can always have a clear view on your ABM progress. If this isn’t possible for your organization, using a solution like Engagio or any number of ABM technologies coming to market this year will be a great way to bring ABM to inbound marketing.

Just think of it this way—if you generate a lead from an organization that is already an opportunity and your product is sold only to one division of the company, should that lead be an MQL? In my opinion, it should not, as long as your opportunity pipeline has reasonable SLAs and BANT requirements.

Numbers can quickly get skewed if you’re not doing everything through an ABM lens. In the same sense, if you are a land-and-expand type play and can sell into any area of the organization, wouldn’t you want to focus on how your inbound efforts target existing customers to expand reach into your existing accounts?

Cooperation Needed

One point that I agree with Gudema about is that cooperation between Sales and Marketing is needed for ABM to work.

Nothing hurts an organization more than a sales and marketing team working against each other to ultimately achieve a common goal.

Unfortunately, that is how many marketing and sales organizations are structured, with Marketing required to drive X% of the total pipeline and sales told to fill in the remainder, or a portion of the remainder. This sets marketing and sales up against each other from the beginning, which helps no one.

Sales reps face daunting quotas, and one missed quarter from marketing could cost them their commission or worse. Therefore, I don’t have a solution to this challenge, other than knowing that the more marketing can talk to sales in “account-based language,” the more likely they are to be able to work together.

But what you don’t want to do is have your marketing team targeting accounts when your sales team is also aggressively outbounding to the same accounts—a successful ABM strategy requires unprecedented collaboration between marketing and sales, which I see as possible but something that will take time to achieve as ABM solutions for marketers become more robust.

Inbound or ABM

Again, that isn’t the right question to be asking. ABM is not a channel, nor is it only an outbound strategy.

ABM is an old way of approaching B2B marketing that is finally becoming possible in a scalable manner thanks to new technologies and innovative CRM infrastructures.

The more value we can show ABM drives, and the quicker we can prove this value, the more mainstream ABM will become in marketing—no longer a “piece” of the marketing equation, but instead the overarching strategy for every aspect of marketing in a modern B2B organization.

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