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Account Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: Does Inbound Marketing Have a Flaw?

June 21, 2017 Mike Rose

Inbound ABM Cocktail header.png

I am going to share my thoughts about inbound marketing after implementing it for more than five years for about 50 clients. While I don’t have all the answers, I feel like we have developed a solid process for producing results. I remember when we decided to go all-in on inbound marketing. I knew the impact inbound was going to have on our agency — and our clients.

We could not have made a better decision. Since then, we’ve honed our skills, roles and responsibilities, training and development, onboarding processes, implementation processes, pricing structures, sales processes and client services with an inbound focus — yes, we’ve definitely been all in!

That being said, I have been researching account based marketing for the past year. As the program has evolved (and the technology surrounding it), I’ve discovered that it can positively impact our agency and our client’s inbound marketing programs in a way that inbound can’t yet. Basically, account based marketing fixes the — dare I say it? — flaw in inbound marketing.

The Rise of Account Based Marketing

By now, if you haven’t heard about Account Based Marketing (ABM), Account-Based Advertising or Account-Based Sales, then maybe you have your head buried in the sand at “Inbound Beach.”

Account-Based Strategies will change the way your business is run. ABM is not new. It has been around for a long time. Originally coined by Bev Burgess (@BurgessBev) at the Information Technology Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) about 10 years ago.

One factor in its recent surge in popularity is due to the advancement in ABM technology. This is a much bigger and more complicated technology stack than “automated marketing and a CRM.” An ABM campaign on a 1:1 basis and even 1:100 has been done forever and can be reasonably managed by humans — albeit at a very high management and lead acquisition cost. However, programmatic ABM, meaning targeting thousands of accounts along with a total of 4,000-5,000 total targeted contacts must be technology driven to reduce costs and scale your business.

How to Know If You’re Ready for ABM

How do you know if you are ready for Account Based Marketing? At Mojo Media Labs, we have identified a minimum of three categories and 14 tactical properties that must be in place before developing your ABM strategy.

Note: The following categories and properties of each category are very tactical, but critical to have in place. It will help to later identify the ABM functional roles, data, content, offers, channels, campaigns, analytics and technology stack you will need.

To start, if your inbound marketing program (the first category) is set up properly, you are off to a good start, because six of these properties will already be in practice. To take it a step further, if you have your sales and marketing (smarketing) aligned properly, your sales and marketing team should already be intimately aware of five additional properties in the second category. That leaves a minimum of five more properties to include in your ABM program (the third category). If you have a good system in place for inbound and sales and marketing alignment, introducing the new terms of ABM to include account-based sales and account-based advertising become less overwhelming to the client-facing departments: sales, marketing and client success.  

The 14 Essential Properties of ABM

Your inbound marketing properties, at minimum, should include:

  1. Ideal Client Profile (ICP) – using firmographics, technographics, behavioral and environmental.
  2. Buyer Personas – the target audience to whom you develop content for telling a compelling story and solving their pain, the product/service/process that will solve their pain and the one unique “remarkable” your company possesses that makes you different.
  3. Contact-Based Lifecycle Stages – Subscribers, Leads, Marketing-Qualified Leads, Sales-Qualified Leads, Opportunities, Customers and the wildcard, Other.
  4. Lead Status (Pre-Pipeline, Pipeline and Post-Pipeline Sales Process) – clearly defined lifecycle & contact stages (in the buyer’s journey) that the contact goes through, along with who is specifically responsible for each stage. Each stage should have exit criteria assigned before advancing to the next stage of the buyer’s journey.
  5. Contact-Based Lead Score – sets of positive and negative attributes that assign an “engagement value” to each contact and account (see account lead score below).
  6. Contact Sources – both offline and online contact sources. If offline, it may be an event, networking, referrals, a sales channel, etc. If online, it may be organic, social media, referral traffic, paid (advertising), etc. 

Your sales and marketing alignment, at minimum, should include:

  1. Pipeline(s) – generally, the handoff from marketing to sales (where the funnel connects to the pipe). However, conventional wisdom suggests that marketing and sales development precede the activities in the deal stages of the sales pipeline. For example, a lead researcher and a sales development representative (in addition to an inbound sales development representative) may support the Account Executive role in the pipeline. See Trish Bertuzzi (@bridgegroupinc) author of The Sales Development Playbook.
  2. Deal Stages (Pipeline Sales Process) – the lead status steps specifically outlined in the sales pipelines.
  3. Deal Type – this is critical to the success of the “Land and Expand” campaigns in your ABM advocacy strategy. A deal type for a marketing agency might be: Retainer, Renewal, Project, etc. Retainers and renewals, for example, might have one sales pipeline and projects might have a different pipeline because they following different sales process that are even potentially managed by different sales teams. This step is particularly import when you introduce Tiers to your business development process. You might have a SDR for mid-tier customers and another SDR for enterprise customers each following different sales process.

If you identify the following five elements, you can start developing an ABM strategy and your pilot program:

  1. Target List – cross-reference the sales reps target list with your Ideal Client Profile (ICP)
  2. Tiers – are based on potential account value (PAR) or sometimes average contract value (ACV). Enterprise level (Tier A), for example, might have 1000 or more employees and $1 billion-plus in revenue, which would go to an enterprise-level account team. However, a Tier C, with less than 100 employees and $50M in revenue might go to a different team.
  3. Roles – roles are not titles on a business card. Titles can define the buyer persona, but not role. Sangram Vajre (@sangramvajre) defines roles well in his book, Account-Based Marketing for Dummies: Stakeholder, Champion, Decision Maker and Power Sponsor. Yes, I think the Dummies books can be a good resource in research, as well as a good reference for other industry-specific resources.
  4. Account-Based Lifecycle Stages – Account, Marketing-Qualified Account and Sales-Qualified Account
  5. Account-Based Lead Score – the sum of each contact-based lead score for each associated contact related to that account. Further segmenting by tier, role, contact-based lifecycle stage, buyer persona, title, etc. to produce an account-engagement score. Both sales and marketing are responsible for driving the lead scores “contact and account” engagement scores. This is where sales and marketing really get aligned!

Adding ABM to Your Inbound Marketing Program

If your inbound marketing is built on a solid foundation, then you are off to a great start. If not, your ABM program might be built on sand. Just like when organizations ran paid advertising only and became concerned about the results of their spend until they shored up their owned-channels using inbound marketing principles. Results then increased with a balanced paid and owned (inbound) strategy that included personalized content aligned to the buyer persona that lead them to high value landing pages.

Therefore, if you have a solid inbound marketing strategy (with sales and marketing alignment) in place, ABM will not be as difficult to framework. Your ABM strategy will be much easier if these eleven properties are currently agreed to and being implemented in your sales and marketing departments. It’s the fundamentals, like blocking and tackling in football.   

Additionally, if you have these actual physical properties set up in your automated marketing software and your CRM, your sales and marketing will have the ingredients for alignment. ABM will never reach its full potential as a predictable revenue driver for your company if sales and marketing are not aligned. (Just like paid advertising without an inbound foundation.)

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The Struggle for Sales and Marketing Alignment

It’s no secret that sales and marketing speak different languages. I recently attended a “sales enablement” talk presented by a very well-known marketer. The speaker kept using the term “domain” as a reference to a “company.” With account-based terminology in place, I cringed each time “domain” was used to reference an “account.” Salespeople don’t use the word domain! Salespeople don’t close domains; they work to close accounts. Hence, the term “Account-Based Selling” (but that is a topic for another blog).

Two Worlds Colliding…or Aligning?

"The difference between inbound and account-based marketing is inbound focuses on the contact level and ABM on the account level."
-@rmichaelrose #accountbasedmarketing – [Click to Tweet!]

But, you can’t have ABM without Inbound.

"The flaw with inbound marketing is that it’s primarily lead-based, which is problematic if sales and marketing alignment is your goal."
-@rmichaelrose #accountabasedmarketing – [Click to Tweet!]

This fundamental flaw in the inbound marketing methodology sparked the debate about whether ABM is better than inbound, or if they are similar or different. It’s being corrected with the Sales Enablement addition to the service stack. Whether you use Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo, HubSpot or any other automated marketing software, ABM must be added to (or augmented with) these methodologies and technologies. HubSpot's recent investment in Terminus is an example of inbound marketing and account-based marketing starting to align. It’s also at the core issue of why sales and marketing are like cats and dogs — as well as the development of the term “smarketing” (thank you, @dantyre).

Sales Enablement: The Real Culprit

Get ready for it… Inbound marketing does not have a flaw. Sales enablement does. ABM, in part, is the strategy that drives sales enablement. I think the real question is not, “What’s the difference between inbound marketing and account-based marketing?” Rather, it’s “What’s the difference between account-based marketing and sales enablement?” Inbound marketing and ABM cannot effectively work without the other and they are very different, but complimentary. The primary reason inbound must be used in ABM is because inbound plays a critical role in the expansion and engagement stages of the flipped funnel.

Sales and marketing (smarketing) alignment is the bridge that connects inbound marketing to sales enablement. Sales enablement is powered in part by ABM. -@rmichaelrose #accountbasedmarketing  [Click to Tweet!]

Here are the fundamental differences between the inbound and account-based marketing funnels (figs 1 and 2, respectively), as well as how they can work together to optimize performance in your sales and marketing efforts. Marketing speaks lead language and sales speaks the language of accounts.

Inbound funnel graphic (fig. 1)

Inbound marketing is lead-based marketing.

Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 8.45.01 AM.png      

ABM funnel graphic (fig. 2)

ABM is account-based marketing.
-Sangram Vajre, #FlipMyFunnel


Sales enablement is the technology, process and the leverage of ever-expanding content library[1] to assist the sales force to increase deal velocity through the sales pipeline. 

Types and Touches of ABM:

  • One account to one sales person may involve high-touch and low-tech activities. One reason why some will say that enterprise-level accounts generally do not go through the inbound funnel.
  • A couple hundred accounts is borderline needing tech. However, everyone is reducing costs, and without tech, the cost of lead acquisition is cost prohibitive.
  • Thousands of accounts are impossible to go high-touch and low-tech. Therefore, it’s critical to get the contact property (role) right.

Aside from deal velocity is deal volume. Sales enablement with a programmatic ABM strategy can increase deal volume. This will scale the growth of your company.


The inbound marketing methodology is instrumental to implementing a successful account-based marketing program. The ABM program is instrumental to support your sales enablement efforts. You see, we should all just get along.

Therefore, sales enablement and account-based strategies are very similar if not the same.

Need a partner for your Inbound Marketing and ABM efforts?
Mojo has offices in Dallas and Indianapolis.
Book time with Mike to learn more.

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[1] Inbound is a great process to develop your sales and marketing content library that is aligned to every decision stage of the buyer’s journey. Sales Enablement services leverages this content within the sales process and sales software.

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