Account-based marketing (ABM) has been traditionally viewed as an overarching strategy for B2B outbound sales. A more sophisticated view, however, looks at ABM as a targeted strategy that encompasses both outbound and inbound marketing. There is also room for complex B2B businesses to incorporate account-based marketing strategies.
It is up for debate whether inbound driven account-based marketing should truly be considered ABM. It is clear, however, that a modern approach to ABM needs to incorporate both inbound and outbound elements within a coordinated strategy.
Why Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Isn’t Just Outbound Sales
Old school account-based marketing is targeted outbound marketing. You choose a set of companies, access database information, create an org chart and make contact. That means email campaigns, cold calling, posting letters and engaging with key stakeholders at events.
This is still technically an account-based marketing strategy. However, it is cold, soulless and unlikely to work. The internet changed everything — sales and marketing particularly. People have become conditioned to expect personalised interaction. Beyond that, they have been empowered to undertake complicated product research at their leisure. Account-based marketers need to take notice.
Inbound is a key aspect of a comprehensive account-based marketing campaign
The internet both created content marketing and social media campaigning. Both are efforts to get relevant information in front of decision makers in a way that feels natural. They provide choice and value while engaging in a manner that does not feel like a sales pitch.
These tools can be easily integrated into an ABM approach. Both are already undertaken as targeted strategies. In order to integrate these channels into an ABM strategy, marketers simply need to think about the personas within their accounts when creating content marketing or crafting social media messages.
This strategy actually improves a business’ ability to create more personalised and effective outbound campaigns. If your cold email contact can include links to relevant content marketing, it will seem less intrusive than a simple request for attention. Gated premium content allows you to capture contact information and expand accounts or create new ones. Beyond that, it gives you a reason to follow-up, turning that cold-email into a marketing-qualified-lead and enabling you to deliver a personalised and relevant message that is much more likely to be appreciated.
Account-based marketing has always been about honing the relevance of conversations and delivering greater value to both you and your buyer. Inbound marketing is one of several tools at your disposal that enables you to do that. A true account-based marketing strategy will take advantage of every tool available. Inbound marketing needs to be part of that equation.
B2B Account-Based Marketing Strategies
B2B sales processes can be considered increasingly complex and personalised for the same reason B2B marketing has changed — the internet. If you think about the process of buying IT hardware, for example, individuals no longer go to a store, or call a specialist business, simply to gain advice from a salesperson and make a purchase. Instead, they read reviews, compare brands, look at competitive offers and technical specs and then compare prices across a number of online sources. The whole journey is often done online and entirely customer directed. The number of touchpoints available in most B2B sales journeys is significantly decreasing.
The internet has also dramatically increased the amount of data available about customers. Sales and marketing teams have access to analytics information about buying habits based on demographics and can see how individuals interact with their online material. This has all opened up the opportunity to make targeted marketing decisions about individual customers much more in line with how B2B marketing teams can analyse businesses.
The internet enables demographics to be looked at like ‘accounts’ for a lighter ABM approach.
‘Accounts’ become demographics — categories of people or decision makers based on factors that make them likely buyers. This could be income, job descriptions, location, patterns of behaviour or interests exhibited online.
Using this information to guide online and offline mass marketing is becoming a traditional strategy for sales. However, businesses can go beyond this to create targeted content marketing and embed calls-to-action on their websites. These incentivise individuals to supply contact information for follow-up. B2B businesses can even engage in targeted outreach campaigns based on demographic information.
The opportunities and options are as expansive as those available to B2C businesses. Whether or not this should truly be considered account-based marketing is up for debate. But, it is a developing opportunity of which B2B businesses should take advantage.
Summary: Account-Based Marketing (ABM) Should Encompass All Available Channels for All Relevant Sectors
Account-based marketing is more of a perspective than a set of channels or strategies. The idea is to approach the buyers who are relevant to your product or service. For B2B businesses, this means understanding that your true customers are businesses. It is important to look at leads within a business as just one connection on the way to a sale. Leads are made relevant by their presence in the business that needs your product.
Sometimes the greatest value of a lead is to connect you with an actual decision maker. Account-based marketing stresses the utility of using contacts to make more contacts within an ‘account’. In order to generate these initial leads and expand contact within a company, both inbound and outbound strategies need to be employed to have effect.
B2C businesses are encountering opportunities to make similarly informed decisions about their prospect buyers based on the information being generated by the internet. For B2B businesses selling complex products or services, this information is enabling them to pursue individual customers with a level of rigour and personal attention applied to leads and accounts. Others can simply use this information to intelligently guide more traditional marketing campaigns, or develop content marketing strategies.
For both B2B businesses, account-based marketing should be looked at as a set of guiding principles. ABM is about categorising leads and using individual leads to gain more relevant contacts, all aimed at improving the likelihood of making a single sale. This outlook should be applied to both inbound and outbound strategies in order to generate the greatest impact.