ABM vs Inbound Marketing: which is right for your B2B Tech company?

Author - Jodi Norris

Posted By Jodi Norris Community Marketing Manager

Date posted 9th Sep 2021

Category Blog, Marketing


If you’re a B2B Tech marketer, the chances are you want to increase your leads, pipeline and revenue, right? As objectives they are simple enough to articulate, but with the growing complexity of the B2B landscape, in particular for companies in the tech, SaaS and software space, working out which are the right levers to pull to achieve them has never been more important.

Two of the most powerful digital marketing tools at your disposal are Account Based Marketing (ABM) and Inbound Marketing. Which is best for your B2B company? Should you use ABM and Inbound together, or treat them completely separately? To help answer that question, let’s take a look at them both in more detail.

Account Based Marketing (ABM)

ABM has traditionally been seen as a one-to-one or one-to-few B2B marketing approach. Involving dedicated time and effort, focused on a small number of high value customers, often with complex requirements and in a niche market. Some ABM practitioners believe that it should be purely focused on existing clients, maintaining and strengthening the relationship, seeking out organic growth opportunities and using the profound understanding of an existing client’s needs to provide a uniquely bespoke solution. 

Others see it more as a way of defining and targeting a select number of new accounts, again being high value, often complex and in a niche space. The idea being that the time and effort that goes into researching, communicating with and nurturing those stakeholders is recouped in terms of the value of the accounts if you are successful in winning them.

A less traditional approach is one-to-many ABM. There is a point at which this becomes simply ‘marketing’ – and there is no hard and fast rule on where this point lies. However the principles of traditional ABM still apply in the ‘one-to many’ model, in that you create a (longer) list of target accounts, based on what you understand their needs to be, and why your B2B company is best placed to meet those needs. 

The chances are that this long list will be a group of companies in a particular industry sector or sub-sector, in which your company has particular and demonstrable expertise; for example FinTech within the SaaS space. You may find it helpful to use research tools and platforms such as Crunchbase, LinkedIn Sales Navigator, or Hubspot Lead Scoring to refine your targeting. Over time ‘one-to-many’ ABM may evolve into ‘one-to-few’, as the likelihood is that your long list of targets will become a short list of leads to engage with following your initial efforts. At that stage having an effective CRM platform (such as Hubspot) in place is a must, to help you track, nurture and convert those leads.

Ultimately ABM is time and resource intensive, but with high value rewards if you get it right. With B2B Tech and SaaS deals sometimes worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds across the lifetime of the relationship, there’s no doubt it can work.

With all this in mind, ABM is more of an Outbound Marketing approach, i.e. it involves reaching out to potential customers with your product or service, without them having expressed any direct prior interest in what you have to offer. You might be wondering, on this basis can ABM work alongside Inbound Marketing for a B2B company? 

Before answering that question, let’s take a look at what Inbound Marketing involves.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing is well established and there are a host of big names in the B2B space, most notably Hubspot, who espouse its value. In essence it is about drawing in customers, by creating content that demonstrates why your business meets their needs. Those needs will vary by customer, depending on what stage of the buying journey they are on, so your content needs to reflect that. 

For example, if you are a SaaS company that creates enhanced mobile shopping experiences, your TOFU (top of funnel) content might educate prospective customers about why mobile e-commerce is crucial to business success. MOFU (middle of funnel) content might outline why your mobile platform provides the right solution. And BOFU (bottom of funnel) content would encourage those prospects to engage with your sales team. 

Generally Inbound Marketing relies on B2B prospects giving signals or indications of their business needs. The majority of these signals are digital, although sometimes they may be offline (a meeting at an event for example). These signals need to be captured by your reporting and analytics systems, including tools such as Google Search Console, Google Analytics and your CRM. It’s worth saying that offline connections can (and should) be recorded in your CRM in order to attribute them as accurately as possible if they lead to a deal.

The content that you provide to meet the needs expressed through those digital signals will most commonly sit on your website. So the digital experience that you provide to prospects via your website has to be spot on, in terms of the UX, design, CTAs and more. It’s more than just a shop window, it is a dynamic, evolving marketing machine that works to provide high quality leads for your sales team to engage with and convert. If you use WordPress for your CMS, or are interested in it as an option, it’s worth knowing that 93digital is one of just 4 agencies in the UK to have both WordPress VIP Partner and WP Engine Strategic Partner status. Our team at 93x are also HubSpot Certified Partners, and we’re able to deliver website CMS solutions across WordPress & HubSpot.

Can ABM and Inbound Marketing work together?

OK, so we have covered what ABM and Inbound Marketing do, and how they can deliver effective business outcomes for you as a B2B marketer. But going back to the question we started with – can ABM and Inbound Marketing work together?

Because ABM is closer to Outbound, does that mean that strategically it can’t work alongside Inbound marketing? Not at all.

Your B2B Tech business can have both inbound and outbound approaches sitting under your overarching digital marketing strategy. In fact, running them both together can deliver business outcomes greater than the sum of their individual parts.

B2B sales processes are notoriously long, often 6-12 months from start to finish. That means at any one time only a small percentage of what is likely already a relatively niche target group is actively in the market for your tech or SaaS solution. So your ABM approach could be spot on in terms of targeted accounts, but many of those stakeholders won’t be ready to engage with Sales. Yes you can (and should) nurture them through regular communication, but ultimately they will also be doing their own research, very probably using online search as part of that – and they won’t just be considering your solution. If you have an Inbound Marketing strategy set up to draw them towards your website, that can only complement the ABM efforts that you already have in place. 

So ABM and Inbound marketing may work quite differently, but they also complement each other very effectively. What they also have in common is that at some point in the prospect’s journey towards becoming a customer, whether via ABM or Inbound, that prospect will be engaging with your website. The experience that they have on your website will be a crucial factor in their decision making process. 93digital is trusted by some of the world’s most ambitious B2B Tech, SaaS & software companies to build the websites that sit at the heart of their growth. 

Wrapping Up

When all’s said and done, ABM will only work for your B2B business if your customer base includes high value enterprise accounts, usually with complex service offerings and multiple stakeholders involved in the decision making process. The ROI has to stack up – in this case the Investment being the time spent by you and/or your team on planning and activating an ABM strategy. Inbound Marketing works for both large and small value customers; if the lower value customers can convert at scale, with a high degree of automation in the process, then Inbound will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. Ultimately you’ll need to decide, based on your business needs, whether ABM or Inbound Marketing, or both, are right for your B2B Tech company.

What next?

Want to learn more about ABM from leading industry experts in conversion with 93digital founder Alex Price? Check out these podcasts on our B2B marketing community platform, FINITE:

ABM myth busting with Zoe Hominick, Head of Business Marketing and CEX at O2

Building ABM from the ground up with Angela Lee, Senior Demand Generation Marketing Manager at LinkedIn

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