Account-Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing

By Madison Taylor
May 14, 2020
arial view of five people sitting around a round table

Businesses need customers, and that means they need leads. That’s the easy part. The hard part is that there are as many ideas for how to get those leads as there are companies trying to get them. Two of the most common are inbound marketing and account-based marketing — but which one is the best for your company?

What’s the Difference?

Inbound marketing is focused on creating high-quality content that attracts a wide range of customers through relevant, timely, high-quality information. The idea is that your customers will do their research before they buy and when they do, you’ll be there for them with the best possible solutions to their problems. The inbound methodology — attract, convert, close, delight — is all about catering to your audience with the right content at the right time.

Account-based marketing, on the other hand, is the approach of directing your marketing toward predetermined target accounts. Rather than waiting for leads to come to you, you reach out and find them. There’s still a lot of content, but in this case, it’s created for specific target clients.

ABM is especially popular with B2B companies that sell to specific niche markets. If you sell to a very particular type of company, it’s easy to find the accounts you want to work with and decide how best to target them. It’s a great way to not only attract new accounts but to improve the relationships you already have.

ABM and Inbound Together

Chances are, one of these strategies will be a better fit for your company than the other — but that doesn’t mean they can’t work together. In fact, mixing them can make your marketing even more powerful than either technique on its own.

The goal is the same — finding the right people and introducing them to the things you sell. The context is what matters most. Inbound is about adapting to how people shop, and account-based marketing is just another version of that, allowing marketers and salespeople to take a tailored approach to a few special accounts. That said, there are a few key differences:


If you work in a specific niche market, ABM is perfect. Some companies offer highly specialized products that are only useful to a few clients, while others offer enterprise-level software that are targeted at a few big corporate customers.

In that case, an account-based, individualized approach makes a lot more sense. You’ll have the time and human resources to handle each account separately, delivering the right content to the right people at the right time.

But if you’re selling to a market of thousands of diverse customers, you won’t have the means to give each account the attention it needs. For that kind of business, a broader inbound approach is better.

Advantage: Inbound


Inbound marketing is all about creating content that’s made for your buyer personas — the fictional version of your ideal customer. You’ve done your research on the way they think, the way they shop, and the types of problems they’re trying to solve, and you build campaigns to address that.

But there’s nothing more personal than a campaign, strategy, and set of content materials that are built specifically for one single company — or even half a dozen individuals at that company. ABM is more labor-intensive, but its level of personalization is unmatched.

Advantage: ABM


Measuring the ROI of inbound marketing campaigns can be tricky. With any campaign, you’ll be wasting a little bit of money on putting your materials in front of people who don’t care about it, so it’s hard to determine exactly how much of your money is working.

Measuring the ROI of an ABM campaign is far easier. Since you already know which companies are seeing your marketing, you can easily compare sales, closed deals, and revenues. And since ABM is so much easier to quantify, the return is even better — 45 percent of marketers have seen their ROI double since adopting an ABM approach

Advantage: ABM


Account-based marketing is an outbound approach. We know, we’ve been talking trash about the outbound marketing system because it can be intrusive and interruptive. That’s still true if it’s not done correctly, but account-based marketing requires an outbound approach to get yourself in front of the right target accounts. The potential downside is that if you’re not careful, outbound tactics can come off as spammy and disruptive.

Inbound marketing tries to avoid all that. Rather than reaching out to your customers, you create content that’s available to them when they reach out to you. It’s a method of attracting, engaging, and delighting people that aligns your customer’s goals with your own. It’s a great way of building long-term brand loyalty, trust, and credibility.

Advantage: actually, there’s no single best technique here. It depends on your company, your customers, and your business goals.

Different Strokes

Inbound and account-based marketing might feel like completely different approaches, but there’s no reason they can’t work in concert. By mixing the two techniques, you can combine broad coverage with laser focus, taking your marketing game above and beyond.