Account-Based or Inbound? Choose Marketing Strategy to Boost Sales

January 2023

Imagine you’re going fishing. You can use a few techniques to increase your chances of bringing dinner home tonight (sorry, vegetarians!). Some, like spearfishing, are high-accuracy. Using a spear requires some skill, but it is fast, precise, and discreet. You spot a fish and go for it, and it only, nothing else. Or you can go with a broader approach and fish with a net. Less selective, but more efficient. While you have little choice of what goes into your net, your chances of catching that goldfish are higher than with a spear. The economies of scale kick in.

Ok, but what does it all have to do with marketing? 

More than you might think.

You see, the spear and net metaphor, although not perfect, is commonly used to explain the difference between the two principal marketing methodologies: account-based marketing (or ABM) and inbound. That’s because just like with fishing tools, choosing the right marketing strategy ultimately comes down to what your target is.

In this article, we’ll unpack everything you need to know to get started with marketing strategy. You’ll learn what ABM and inbound are, how they differ, which approach to choose for your business… and whether you even have to choose one particular.



Think of your marketing strategy as a fishing method: there are many effective tools, each with its strengths, weaknesses, skillsets, and purpose.


Inbound marketing or fishing with a net

Inbound marketing is all about targeting a broader audience. In that sense, it’s similar to a fishing net—it focuses on attracting a large number of potential customers.

Although this metaphor explains the general idea behind inbound marketing, it can mislead you into thinking that the strategy is to passively wait for any customer to come to you by chance. That couldn’t be further from the truth—if it was, we couldn’t even call it a strategy, right?

Instead, inbound marketing relies on actively creating and distributing content and experiences that are meaningful and valuable to your audience to attract them. Ideally, the content you share will help people solve problems or make their lives or work easier. Webinars, ebooks, tutorials, explainer videos, online academies, and comparison tools are just some of the content businesses use to that end.

One more thing that the net metaphor fails to capture is that inbound marketing isn’t random. After all, attracting the target audience through valuable content wouldn’t be possible without knowing who they are and what they need. One of the key first steps in developing an inbound strategy is to research and define customer personas. Only with these personas in place can marketers come up with relevant content

But their work doesn’t end there: drawing customers-to-be to your business is just the first phase of the inbound cycle. The entire workflow consists of three stages, reflected in the model known as the inbound flywheel.


Converting strangers into customers and then promoters throughout the three stages spins the inbound wheel, stimulating the growth of your business. (Image source: HubSpot)


After the attract stage (where your audience flocks to your website or content due to inbound efforts) comes the engage phase. Here, businesses focus on turning prospects into customers. During this phase, inbound marketing uses educational content and helpful insights to guide them through the consideration and decision stages.

Next up, there’s the delight stage. The name says it all: it encompasses all efforts to surpass customer expectations to convert them into your brand ambassadors and further propel the inbound flywheel.

You don’t have to look far to find examples of successful inbound campaigns. Take streaming services like Netflix or Spotify that use their custom-made offerings, social media presence, and events like Spotify Wrapped to naturally spur word-of-mouth publicity. For educational content, it’s best to look for inspiration from companies specializing in digital growth, like Ahrefs or HubSpot. Both publish educational blogs, run online academies, and even offer certification options to teach their customers about the tools they offer and their areas of expertise: SEO and inbound, respectively.

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ABM—aiming for the big fish

As you can see, there’s much more to inbound marketing than the popular fishing-inspired analogy would suggest. And how does the ABM-spearfishing metaphor hold up?

Although inbound is intentional when picking the audience, account-based marketing (ABM) takes it to a different level. Here, determining and targeting high-value prospects is the primary focus.

In ABM, each prospect is assigned an account. Every account is treated as a separate “market”, with custom advertising campaigns and content created specifically for every target. This means focusing on the problems of high-ranking decision-makers and offering a solution to build a long-lasting relationship.

Speaking of content, account-based marketing uses it on a much smaller scale than inbound because it’s often tailored to very narrow audiences or even individuals like C-suite executives. In addition to industry-specific case studies and testimonials, comprehensive guides, webinars, and proofs-of-concept, ABM campaigns often rely on personal contact with prospects during on-site product workshops or live demos.


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This highly customized approach (or “throwing the spear”) takes a lot of time and energy, so you better ensure it's worth the effort. And what better way to learn more about the value of your prospects than asking the sales team?

The sales-marketing alignment is a good thing to have regardless of your marketing strategy, but it’s especially crucial in the ABM methodology since it relies on high-effort, high-gain leads. 

And it’s a win-win situation for both teams. Salespeople can share their inside-out knowledge of the product and past qualified leads to help marketers find the right prospects and adjust campaigns to their needs. In return, they get quality leads that convert. Over time, this strategy will make it much easier to select promising leads to follow, shortening the sales cycle and increasing ROI.

A recent example of a clever and successful ABM campaign comes from O2. To get ahead of the competition in the B2B sector and increase deal size, marketing and sales teams jointly selected 64 key customer accounts that were then divided into three tiers, depending on the potential of each prospect. Then, the telecom giant developed personalized communication strategies and bespoke assets presenting all products relevant to each account. 

The results? 583 new C-level contacts in the CRM, up to 50% click-through rate on emails between segments, and $52 million of pipeline generated.


Account-based marketing vs. inbound: what’s the difference?

One of the main differences between inbound and ABM lies in their target audiences and, consequently, in what these audiences are looking for.

With inbound marketing, you “cast the net” to attract as many people as possible to your business. This method works best for companies that offer a product or service to a general audience—think productivity tools, streaming services, or non-industry-specific business solutions

Another perfect example is consumer goods brands like Starbucks, Nike, or The Body Shop. They all use inbound to stellar effect. Individual deal size may be low, but inbound balances it with volume. Overall, it’s also a great strategy for businesses that want to build brand awareness and scale up.

As for ABM, much more effort is put into finding, attracting, and nurturing each lead. All this combined work of marketing and sales teams has to pay off, so the ideal target for account-based marketing campaigns is high-yield prospects who promise to close major transactions that will bring ROI. 

ABM also makes sense when the product is highly specialized, has a complicated and costly development process, and offers a solution to a specific business challenge.

For these reasons, ABM campaigns are often preferred in corporations and large companies. Their clients have the resources to buy sophisticated products or services at a scale that warrants the return of funds spent on marketing and development.

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A blend of ABM and inbound

It would seem that with audiences and offerings that different, the choice is binary: it’s either ABM or inbound. Luckily, the two strategies also share some common features which make it possible to get the best of both worlds.

Firstly, both require knowing your audience inside-out. All the knowledge of your user base and the experience you’ve gathered while researching and developing personas for either strategy will be extremely handy for the other. 

The same can be said about the personalized customer experience. Both ABM and inbound rely on humanized, meaningful, and highly targeted content. Its goal is also similar: it needs to present value to your customers-to-be, whether by educating them or providing a solution to a challenge. The only real difference here is the level of personalization: while the content used in ABM campaigns is often tailored for a narrow audience, the one created for inbound tends to be more general.

This means that much of the content created for your inbound campaigns can probably be repurposed for the needs of ABM—all you need to do is personalize it even more for the needs of a specific part of your audience. Once you start using ABM alongside inbound, you’ll be able to create content that can be applied in both strategies to get the most out of your marketing and sales teams’ time.

In a sense, you can think of ABM as an extension of inbound. First, you use inbound marketing techniques to attract a broader audience. Next, you select the most promising accounts and adjust your current content and experiences to them. Here’s how to get started with a hybrid marketing strategy.


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Build a strategy aligned with your audience

Now that you know what ABM and inbound are about—how they differ, what they have in common, and how to combine them—you have everything to pick the marketing strategy that will work best for your business. But remember that no matter your choice, delivering value to your customers should be your top priority.

Running a successful marketing or sales campaign always requires optimized content and an efficient customer relationship management platform like HubSpot. At 6minded, we can help your business with both—all you need to do is to reach out to our team!


Ziemek Waszczyszyn

Ziemek is a content writer with a background in localization and UX writing. Passionate about languages, cultures, and all things nerdy, he divides his spare time between books, video games, electronic music, and LEGO.

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