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Account-Based Marketing + Inbound: A Match Made in Heaven

Account-Based Marketing + Inbound: A Match Made in Heaven Blog Feature

May 7th, 2018 min read

The world is full of rules and expectations of what is “normal.”

However, as I’ve grown and aged, I’ve learned that throwing some of those rules out the window or challenging those expectations can help you find the best things in life.

These broken rules can range from small and simple to huge and complicated.

On the smaller side, take the example of dessert. Dessert is always supposed to be sweet, right? And eaten after a meal?  

Well, where I live, there is an establishment by the name of Eclipse, and boy, do they choose to challenge the expectations of dessert.

Locally, they are known for their unique selection of chocolates (that has now expanded into a full restaurant and menu)., but they challenge the conventional notion of what ingredients should be in dessert or sweet dishes  by mixing in incredible (and unexpected) flavors like sage, chile, basil and salt into their chocolates.

To most of us, who’ve lived our whole lives knowing what dessert is “supposed to be,” this might sound weird. In fact, I was one of those people --until I tasted one.

Now, holy mouth-gasm. Every concoction that sounded stranger than the next, tasted better than the last.

If I had continued eating just what was “conventional”, I would have missed out on some life-changing chocolate (yes, chocolate is life-changing).

And, if Eclipse had stuck to “conventional” dessert recipes, they would have missed out on what has clearly become a thriving business.

Just like in chocolate, life (and marketing!) can bring us the most amazing things when choose to challenge norms.

With that in mind, let’s talk about challenging conventional wisdom that Account-Based Marketing (ABM) lives only in an outbound marketing.

ABM is the basil to today’s inbound chocolate. They sound like they don’t belong together, but combine them and they taste delicious.

To start, let’s make sure know what ABM and inbound marketing are:

ABM Basics

What is ABM?

Account-Based Marketing is a common B2B sales strategy in which you select a very specific group of accounts to focus your marketing and sales prospecting energies on.

You then identify specific individuals at each of these targeted accounts who you need to influence in order to make a sale, and structure your plan to reach them.

When to Use ABM

ABM is especially useful for businesses who sell high dollar items. Let’s illustrate this with an example.

Compare a business where  a single sale is worth $40,000 to one where a sale is worth only $200.

To hit a revenue goal, the first business would need far fewer clients than the second. As such, the first business would likely have a much smaller pool of people who could purchase from them and need to spend far longer nurturing relationships and convincing them to buy.

Knowing this, the first business would benefit from being highly targeted in who they are marketing to with ABM.

The second business, on the other hand, would do much better focusing on selling a high volume of their $200 products and spending less time during the sales process convincing people to purchase.

With a lower price point, you usually  need to cast a much larger net to get enough customers to hit your goals.

Because businesses with higher dollar value products or services need fewer clients to be successful and have to spend more time in the sales process to get those clients, they will by default, spend more money acquiring those individual clients.

This intersection is where ABM shines. It is designed to be far more targeted than traditional advertising programs and requires you to spend more to reach a single individual.

Inbound Basics

What is Inbound?

Inbound is more of a mindset of helpfulness than anything else.

Inbound marketing specifically is an approach to marketing that is designed to assist people as they research topics during purchases and help them find answers related to your products or services.

The goal is to slowly nurture those people toward you products or services over time.

When to Use Inbound

The beauty of inbound marketing is that there are few restrictions on who should use it.

It is a strong fit for most organizations. Both before and during the sales process, having materials that answer questions and facilitate research are incredibly useful and help to build a very strong foundation of trust, but what will change is how fast results can be expected.

Businesses with lower dollar products or services tend to be able to see results from it faster because the sale requires less human interaction and not nearly the build-up of trust that you need to create with higher dollar purchases.

Why Combine ABM and Inbound Marketing

Traditionally, these two methods have been seen as very separate and almost opposing in nature.

This is primarily because ABM is viewed as more of a sales strategy while inbound marketing is thought of as a marketing strategy.

As such, they’ve traditionally been carried out by completely different teams, so  combining them simply hasn’t occurred to many people.

They also require very different approaches to looking at prospects.

With inbound, you are much more general and with ABM you are very specific about who your ideal clients or customers are. So again, traditionally people tend to take one approach or the other.

But, just like our chocolate example, your marketing strategy can be made all the sweeter by combining them. Creating and combined inbound ABM strategy is fantastic for quite a few reasons, but some of the most important are:

1. You Create 2 Prospect Funnels

First and foremost, you open up two different methods for attracting top prospects.

With a purely ABM strategy, you may completely miss accounts which might have been a good fit for your business because you were so narrow in your targeting, while with purely inbound, you may never be able to attract that one huge perfect client because you never reached out to them with a personal enough approach.

With a combined approach, you cover both bases and give yourself more opportunity to attract new clients to your business. Why limit yourself to just one method when you can use two?

2. Your 2 Funnels Can Complement Each Other

Also with a combined strategy, your inbound efforts may help attract one of your highly coveted target accounts that is part of your ABM list.

In this case, you want to make sure you are prepared to immediately act. If you are doing inbound correctly, and identifying when this happens, you can perfectly time your ABM messages to your contacts.

Additionally, your inbound efforts may bring the most perfectly suited candidate to your website and identify them demographically as a good fit. At this point, you just got a free addition to your ABM list that you didn’t have to research and prospect yourself!

3. Your Content Works Double Time

All the content you create as part of a combined ABM and inbound strategy will help you on both fronts.

For example, if you approach any content you create as part of the strategy with both goals in mind, you can create a piece of content that is both incredibly useful from a keyword perspective (and drives a ton of traffic to your site) while also providing all the key information that you’d like to say to your ABM contacts.

If you plan with the end in mind, you can make content that serves both purposes!

If these strategies are carried out completely separately, then you’d be creating totally separate content for each, doubling your work!

How to Build a Strategy Combining Inbound and ABM

So, how do you build a strategy that uses them both to the fullest?

Step 1: Take a Tiered Approach

The best way to start using ABM with inbound is by building out a couple different tiers of effort.

I typically work with clients to separate strategies into three tiers which will determine how much effort and budget you’ll spend trying to reach them.

These sample strategies will give you an idea of somewhere to start with your own strategy. Feel free to take them and make them more specific to your business and audience!

Tier 1 accounts are the “dream clients” that you want to land. This list shouldn’t be huge and should include the main accounts you want to land.

Tier 2 should be a list of target accounts that are a good demographic fit for your ideal client profile. This list should be larger than your Tier 1 list, but still be specific list of company names.

Tier 3 isn’t actually a specific list of accounts like Tier 1 and Tier 2 but rather should be an audience profile of your ideal customer profile by demographics and potentially even include behavior profiles.

Step 2: Build a Strategy for Each Tier

From here, each of the three tiers should have a specific strategy set for how marketing (and sales) should interact with the accounts in the list.

Sample Tier 1 Strategy

Tier 1 accounts will be touched with both an inbound and outbound strategy. Prior to execution, all individual stakeholders and decision-makers at each target account will be identified.

Outbound Strategy:

This outbound strategy will use a high-level [theme] messaging strategy.

This strategy will support the overall messaging that will be updated across the website and supported by the digital content offer which is focused on helping [Persona] and [their organization] [solve their pain point].

The messaging strategy will place you as an educator and supporter to help them achieve this goal. The messaging will also include an element of exclusivity (e.g. “we have selected you because we think you have what it takes to be the best”).

Identified contacts at Tier 1 companies will be included in the following outbound efforts:

  • Contacts will be sent:
    • A custom-selected gift with be delivered in a custom-branded and messaged box.
    • A customized card/letter that aligns with the messaging strategy and outlines the benefits of working with you and seeks to set up a meeting.
    • This card/letter will also direct the reader to some of the content created as part of the inbound content creation strategy
  • Sales follow-up:
    • Outline an agreed-upon sales follow-up schedule (via both phone and email) that will be timed with when the gift is sent.

Inbound Strategy:

Our inbound content creation strategy for Tier 1 accounts will be:

  • On-Page Guide (Working Title: [Title])
    • This guide will fit with the theme already discussed above.
    • This guide will not be personalized to the reader.
    • The guide will be targeted to the keyword [insert keyword] to help drive search as well.
  • Personalized Content
    • This can take the form of an on-page executive brief of how [product] and [client] can benefit the reader’s company specifically.
    • For Tier 1 contacts, this will be a fully customizable brief where, once triggered the Smarketing team will write a customized example (based on research into the target company and individual contact) of exactly how [product] would work for the prospect. A new version of this will be made each time it is necessary to send to a qualified Tier 1 prospect.

As part of our Inbound strategy, we will be tracking anyone looking at or downloading content. If anyone from one of our Tier 1 accounts interacts with the website or downloads content, they will immediately be flagged as an MQL and passed to sales for follow-up.

Sample Tier 2 Strategy

Tier 2 accounts will use a hybrid strategy with a much smaller investment in the outbound component.

Outbound Strategy:

This outbound strategy will use the same high-level theme as described in the Tier 1 outbound strategy.

Tier 2 companies will be included in the following outbound efforts:

  • Contacts will be sent:
    • A customized card/letter that aligns with the messaging strategy and outlines the benefits of working with you and seeks to set up a meeting.
    • This card/letter will also direct the reader to some of the content created as part of the inbound content creation strategy

Inbound Strategy:

Our inbound content creation strategy for Tier 2 accounts will be:

  • The same on-page guide from the Tier 1 strategy will be useful for Tier 2 contacts as well.
  • Personalized Content
    • This can take the form of an on-page executive brief of how [product] and [client] can benefit the reader’s company specifically.
    • For Tier 2 contacts, this will be a standard version of the brief which has personalization tokens for company and individual contact names.

As part of our Inbound strategy, we will be tracking anyone looking at or downloading content. If anyone from one of our Tier 2 accounts interacts with the website or downloads content, their lead score will be increased accordingly.

Sample Tier 3 Strategy

Tier 3 accounts will use a primarily Inbound strategy with the outbound component of strategy really being comprised of only targeted paid advertising.

Outbound Strategy:

This outbound strategy will simply be well targeted digital advertising efforts. Using the demographic and behavior profile of your ideal customer, build a targeted digital advertising program to best reach those individuals.

Inbound Strategy:

Our Inbound content creation strategy for Tier 3 accounts will be:

  • The same on-page guide from the Tier 1 strategy will be useful for Tier 3 contacts as well.

As part of our inbound strategy, we will be tracking anyone looking at or downloading content. If anyone who interacts with the website or downloads content meets specific demographic criteria, their lead score will be increased accordingly.

Step 3: Coordinate with Sales

A tiered strategy like the samples above requires a very strong alignment between the marketing and sales departments.

So, once you’ve determined the components of the strategy, make sure everyone is clear of the expectations around follow-up for each item with contacts from each category.

I’d even suggest laying out a documented Sales and Marketing SLA that each team agrees to and signs.

Final Thoughts

Any marketing strategy should be highly specific to your business and your personas.

With ABM as a component of your overall strategy, it becomes even more important to make sure you aren’t just using a cookie cutter strategy.  An ABM and inbound strategy should be very well thought out, and the beauty of doing so means you are making the most of your efforts.

Everything you create from a content perspective is designed to be highly useful both to your key accounts you want to reach as well as purpose-built to help drive traffic to your site from those who you may not even know are looking for you.

So, go ahead and step out of the box of what is “normal.” It is way more fun out here, I promise!

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