ABM vs inbound

ABM vs inbound

Both Account-based Marketing (ABM) and Inbound are powerful business development strategies in their own right. I feel comfortable saying every business to business in this day in age should be doing at least one of the two.

As you can see from the quick summary table below,  there can be certain characteristics of your business and your markets that dictate which out of ABM vs inbound is a better fit. So hold on tight, we’re going in:


Inbound marketing Account-based Marketing (ABM)
What is it? Building traffic to your website then converting them (contacts>leads>customers> Very focused marketing to a small list of companies
Targets ‘Typical’ contacts (Personas) Companies
Suits B2B & B2C B2B
Reach Addresses whole industries Address specific companies in industries (1-200)
Typical downstream deal size Any Over £250k
Sales involvement Light Heavy

Targets practice

Inbound marketing focuses on thinking purely about your typical contacts (often called personas). Through this process you generalise the characteristics of influencers and decision makers within the organisations that you typically sell to. You build a clear profile of who they are and you target all of your efforts around keyword research, content generation, conversion tactics and marketing automation methods that try to appeal to as many of them as possible.

ABM on the other hand is narrowly about specific organisations. There are no generalisations. Through the process of putting together a list of companies to target through ABM, you use all of the specific insight about the organisation, their challenges, strategy etc to guide the thinking about how to create the right call to action to bring them to your website and then the right conversion methods to onboard them as a lead.


Reach for the sky

Inbound marketing purposefully addresses the whole of a particular industry or segment. It’s all about achieving scale: scaling traffic from relevant people, scaling content and Calls to Action to scale leads, which in turn scales customers. This makes it ideal for building a lead generation and business development strategy that’s sustainable and doesn’t require new people hitting the phones in sales as was the case a few years ago.

Another difference when comparing ABM vs inbound is that ABM addresses specific companies. It speaks directly to one history’s great event marketing cliches: “you only need one”, often used as part of a rubbish business case for spending tens of thousands of pounds on trade shows that don’t return anything. With ABM, you often only do need one. And because of the fact the only KPI that matters is closed revenue from your ABM list, it’s makes proving that return a lot easier.


What’s the deal (size)?

Inbound marketing can be flexed nicely for both Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) market. The plan, activity and the way sales plug in is very different. But Inbound marketing is a proven way for both B2C and B2B business to get bigger and more repeatable results from marketing.
ABM is purely focused on B2B organisations/markets. Currently, it has higher barriers to entry at the moment (it is more expensive than inbound to run an ABM strategy). This is balanced by the comparatively bigger returns that can be gained when you wins deals. For this reason, ABM is a better fit for organisations that have average deal sizes within their customers of £250k plus.


It’s all about sales

The level of involvement from sales across ABM vs inbound can often be very different.

When committing to doing Inbound, there’s a defined handover process between sales and marketing. You work to understand what the thresholds should be, whether that’s manual, semi-manual, or using lead scoring. This means that marketing take control of creating leads and sales take control of creating customers. It overcomes the traditional battleground between sales and marketing: marketing complaining sales don’t follow up on leads and sales complaining about the quality of leads/lack of qualification. This makes it a great fit for sales teams of all sizes and one of very few lead generation and business development techniques that can be deployed in an organisation that works for resource light sales teams. They focus on highly qualified leads and highly qualified leads only. No cold calling – no time wasters. Note: it’s great to get sales involved in the whole inbound process particularly to create your personas. They know your customers the best!

ABM is a more intensive ask from a sales perspective. If ABM is to work sales and marketing must be on the same page. This means they’re in the trenches through the whole campaign: defining the target accounts, developing the specific messages and reporting against a set of KPIs on the successes (or failures). It’s also pretty typical for the handover to sales to happen a lot earlier than it does with Inbound. This is because ABM goes hand in hand with a key account management approach and you tend to see that approach in B2B organisations that have a long or complex sales cycle.


Blending both works extremely well

Many B2B organisations operate across different vertical markets. Markets that have very different structures and dynamics. This means a large amount of organisations will seek to integrate both Inbound and ABM across the different markets under a single unified lead generation and business development strategy. That’s if they’re doing it right of course.

This means that the skills you need within your business and the practical experience will need to be greater and a little more diverse.

For many organisations stuck doing marketing that doesn’t generate results, or with an over reliance on an outbound function that’s increasingly frustrated by the ineffectiveness of traditional techniques, doing either of these things will be a huge step forward. It will almost certainly deliver strong outcomes from marketing that people within the organisation would never have felt was possible.