Nothing is constant in B2B marketing. The ever-evolving nature of potential buyer desires combined with continual advancements in marketing technology changes how we aim to generate new business opportunities. Account-based marketing has recently gained immeasurable popularity – many now claim it to be a B2B marketing “must-have”. But why has this approach been so impactful? Traditional inbound approaches have been effective for multiple decades, why should we invest so much belief in ABM?

Discover the meanings behind account-based marketing and traditional inbound marketing approaches, learning how these strategies differ and how you can balance them to deliver elite B2B marketing.

What is account-based marketing?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a highly targeted and deeply focused approach, singling out a select few prospects that are highly valuable to your business. These key accounts perfectly match your buyer criteria and are usually large organizations or enterprises, offering your business the chance of a high-value sale.

An ABM approach identifies a single decision maker within the key account business, and guides them through a bespoke buyer journey, using highly targeted online and offline communication. An account-based marketing approach will introduce these key accounts to your brand and product, nurture them to understand the value it offers their specific business and convert them into highly engaged sales opportunities.

Account-based marketing views every prospect as an individual, each with differing requirements and needs. To win their business, you must make them feel valued, building a relationship founded upon trust and authority. Because of this, ABM can be an expensive and time-consuming approach. To achieve the desired result, each touchpoint must be appropriately personalized to ensure advanced engagement. This also means an ABM strategy is exclusive and can only focus on a specific number of prospects at any one time.

What defines “traditional inbound” marketing?

Traditional inbound marketing approaches focus on attracting new business interest by promoting content that potential buyers find useful and engaging. Inbound marketing will use channels including a business website, search engines and social media platforms to share blogs, eBooks and product information. These content pieces will lead engaged buyers to a CTA or contact form to encourage conversion.

Inbound marketing approaches tend to wait for potential buyers to get involved whenever they’re ready, believing prospects need to have identified some kind of need for your product before starting their buyer journey. When a potential buyer searches Google or browses their LinkedIn feed, they may come across a piece of your content relevant to their current business pain-point and begin their brand engagement.

Inbound marketing is similar to fishing; you put the bait on the end of a line and cast it into the wide world, waiting for a fish to grab hold. This means organizations can run multiple inbound strategies at one time and look to catch any opportunities that may view the shared content in question. The audience of inbound marketing is as broad as the world wide web!

B2B buyers like responding to inbound marketing approaches, as they don’t feel pressured to make a decision- they can choose when the time is right to come forward and ask for more information. However, your business has very little control over inbound marketing results. You have no idea when a prospect will inquire with your business, and very little control over who will respond- you may generate a number of leads that don’t match essential buyer criteria.

How are they different?

Though these approaches both share the desire to drive exciting new sales opportunities, they differ in many ways. These differences can affect your department-wide results, so it’s important you consider them before building your next B2B marketing strategy.

  • Quality vs quantity:

    One of the biggest and most impactful differences between ABM and inbound marketing is the number of leads generated. Once inbound marketing has established a solid base, it can produce a healthy stream of new business opportunities. And should you need to fuel a large sales team, you can run additional campaigns and publish extra content to boost this result. ABM can only target a small number of businesses at any one time, and so will not produce leads in the high number an inbound marketing approach will.

    However, ABM focuses on quality, aiming to produce fewer new business opportunities that are worth far more. One ABM sale will easily produce the same revenue as at least five sales driven by inbound marketing. You additionally have more control over when the prospect converts with an account-based marketing approach. As the brand journey is so intricately planned, you can pinpoint the exact moment you predict prospect conversion, and if you’ve done ABM properly- that’s when it will happen!

  • Quick wins vs big wins: This difference in lead quality and quantity dictates some of the activity on your sales floor. Leads generated through inbound marketing are usually fairly quick wins. They may need some time to run a free trial or organize other decision makers, but an inbound lead will usually purchase your product within 1-3 months. With ABM prospects, however, this is not the case. Sales can take far longer, usually at least 6 months, so the wins are less frequent, but they are significantly bigger. Because ABM prospects are from large businesses and have a detailed understanding of their individual use case, they offer your business a large revenue return. But these big wins only come with perseverance and commitment- they aren’t easy to secure.

  • Satisfied clients vs brand advocates:These quick wins from inbound approaches lead to satisfied clients; they enjoy your product and use it regularly, but aren’t your most valuable customers, and won’t always retain. In some cases, clients identified through inbound marketing are not perfect fits for your product or services and will not remain indefinitely satisfied. However, the big wins provided by ABM opportunities are likely to become brand advocates. Because they have such a detailed understanding of how your product can be used to solve their business pain points and how to secure return on their investment, ABM clients offer extended lifetime value. They also share your brand message and product benefits with others, helping you achieve valuable earned media.

  • Independence vs alignment:These two approaches affect how your marketing departments work with the wider business. Inbound marketing can be successfully conducted with marketers working independently of other departments, such as sales. Whilst insight into qualifying criteria and product use cases can benefit the content created to fuel this approach, it is not essential to securing inbound success. However, account-based marketing needs to be supported by account-based sales. There’s little point spending so much time and budget curating a completely bespoke brand experience for valuable accounts if it’s not followed through by your sales team. Successful ABM requires marketing and sales alignment, and sometimes the inclusion of additional departments like customer service! This isn’t necessarily a drawback- organizations that have successfully aligned sales and marketing are 67% more likely to achieve success. But this alignment can be vastly complex to effectively implement and continually maintain.

Balancing these approaches

As you may have guessed, the most successful B2B marketers effectively balance these approaches to maximize their resources and ensure market dominance. Giving equal focus to targeting a small number of highly valuable accounts and prospecting the world wide web through insightful content helps your team secure big business wins, but never miss a self-presenting opportunity.

Until very recently, businesses were able to reach targets through inbound approaches alone, but this is no longer the case; ABM truly has become a marketing essential. To promote business growth, you need ABM to secure those big, valuable wins. This, however, shouldn’t diminish the importance of other marketing strategies. If your business wholly relied on ABM to drive new business, you’d fail to identify any opportunities you aren’t directly targeting!

Look to your marketing strategy and ask how you can balance both these approaches. Can you allocate appropriate time and budget to each one? Can you measure, analyze and improve each strategy? If you can, there’s no reason not to embrace them both!

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