Inbound vs. Account-Based Marketing: Avoiding the False Choice


According to Joe Chernov, VP of Marketing at InsightSquared, we marketers often fall victim to False Choice Syndrome, thinking it’s all or nothing when it comes to selecting the most fitting programs.

The head-to-head battle on most marketers’ minds these days is the one between inbound marketing and account-based marketing (ABM).

Joe joined TrackMaven to break down how businesses can build the right strategy on the spectrum from inbound to ABM, and how sales and marketing leaders should align their teams around the right results.

Watch Joe's complete presentation on inbound vs. account-based marketingWATCH NOW!

Inbound vs. ABM: Caught between two equally undesirable outcomes

Joe explains that when it comes to choosing between an inbound content marketing strategy and an account-based strategy, the particular breed of false choice marketers face is that of Morton’s Fork, in which the only two alternatives presented are equally undesirable.

“In a very real way, there’s a real undesirable quality to inbound. And that is this: in the inbound model, sales is responsible for selling to whomever marketing just so happens to source. Marketing transfers the burden onto sales. Whomever comes to your blog and fills out a form — that’s what sales has to work with.”

“In ABM, there’s a reciprocal challenge: sales transfers the burden onto marketing. Marketing’s job is to engage whomever sales wants to sell. So now marketing is caught holding the bag.”

A framework for guidance

Based on his findings, Joe developed a framework to figure out to which degree to consider inbound/content marketing vs. ABM:

  • An organization selling to a finite number of logos (like the Fortune 500) can succeed with a heavy/all ABM approach;
  • An organization selling to the base of the pyramid (the Fortune 500 Million) where all leads created equal can succeed with a heavy inbound model;
  • Those in the middle face the biggest challenge — and need a blended approach. They aren’t casting a super-wide net (so they can’t just rely on inbound) but are going after a well-defined addressable market.

An exercise in reconciliation

Joe zeroes in on the perfect approach for “the rest of us” by reconciling the values of ABM with the values of inbound marketing.

Ways that inbound/content marketing and ABM are friends (i.e., in alignment):

  • The sales team wants content and becomes the distribution channel for it.
  • Even though you start at the bottom of the funnel with ABM, you still need to get the attention of targeted accounts. That’s where many inbound marketing principles still apply to ABM.
  • Content demand multiplies with each customer cohort or named account you pursue, because you’re selling to a buying committee.

Ways inbound/content marketing and ABM are foes (i.e., fundamentally different):

  • Inbound marketing is about generating and nurturing new leads, while ABM is about pursuing an account and its contacts.
  • The publisher metaphor – using content to build the biggest audience possible – is inside-out in ABM. It’s about better, deeper, more meaningful engagement in ABM.
  • ABM is not a marketing-driven process. In ABM, marketing’s job is to assist sales, not source more leads.

Key takeaways

  • In an ABM world, the star of your marketing team may become the sales enablement function.
  • An acting agent’s job is to secure the actor an audition, not a part. In the ABM world, the marketer’s job is to get sales on the phone with a target account.
  • Collaboration with sales leads to buy-in that helps drive better results.

Are you arming your sales team to spark a conversation? Watch Joe’s complete presentation to learn how to build content that supports the right approach for your business.

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