November 15, 2021

Account-Based Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing: How Are They Different


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Driving more attention to your company is easy. Ensuring the traffic is high-converting—not so easy. At least, not if you’re using the wrong marketing strategies.

Today, there are many techniques to employ to boost your brand’s visibility and traffic. But not many will result in conversions and sales.

This is why inbound marketing rose to existence. And later account-based marketing. If you’re a B2B company, then you may wonder if one is better than the other. Or if the two can co-exist.

Continue reading to learn the differences between account-based marketing vs. inbound marketing.

What Is Account-based Marketing?

Account-based marketing (ABM) is a B2B growth strategy that targets your best current customers. It uses a mix of personalized communications to nurture leads and existing accounts into a purchase. For example, ABM can assist with upselling and cross-selling to current customers.

This marketing technique is deliberate and focuses on a smaller group of potential customers and key accounts to grow revenue (via new or repeat purchases). It also promotes long-term relationship building. Some of the tools used in ABM strategies include email automation, CRMs, and AI-powered customer data platforms.

Examples of Account-Based Marketing

ABM uses a mix of strategies to target businesses. This includes personalized:

  • Direct mail campaigns
  • Virtual events
  • Educational content
  • Social media interactions
  • Corporate gifting

These are just a few ways businesses use account-based marketing successfully.

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is another focused technique B2B marketers use to drive targeted traffic to a company. Except this time, the campaigns have a broader focus. Instead of targeting specific accounts, the goal is to drive in a larger number of ideal customers.

It’s a lead generation strategy to connect with companies not yet a customer. You do this using a mix of content marketing to drive leads to your company website. The goal is to find the best channels to reach and engage with a target audience. This way, they can build content around customer journeys.

Examples of Inbound Marketing

There are several content formats and mediums B2B inbound marketers use to successfully generate leads. This includes:

  • Creating educational YouTube videos
  • Writing blog posts with relevant topics
  • Guest blogging on a niche high-authority website
  • Hosting classes or webinars to educate and promote a product or service
  • Sharing content on relevant social media channels and email lists

These methods are proven to work, as long as the content is relevant, timely, and actionable.

How Is Account-based Marketing Different From Inbound Marketing?

The obvious difference between ABM vs. inbound is the audience it targets. Inbound marketing focuses on a broader customer base, mainly high-quality leads. While ABM focuses on high-value customers and leads that resemble closely to their ideal customers.

Although both focus on personalization, ABM is more personalized since it targets specific people. For instance, pediatricians working in rural hospitals vs. medical personnel.

Here’s a look at some of the other differences between inbound and account-based marketing.


When you view the funnel of an inbound marketing campaign and ABM strategy, you’ll see key differences. For instance, an inbound marketing funnel looks like this:

  • Build awareness and attract leads to a website form
  • Create interest and nurture leads through automated emails
  • Promote consideration of a product/solution
  • Drive leads to a purchasing decision (the conversion)

An account-based marketing campaign starts at the bottom of the inbound marketing funnel. After inbound marketers close deals, they keep track of who these customers are. They use this list to identify target companies to hone their marketing initiatives in the future.

In ABM, the focus is on finding these companies first. Here’s how the funnel looks:

  • Identify target companies/accounts
  • Find more of those target accounts to attract
  • Engage those specific groups
  • Nurture relationships, sales, and turn them into brand advocates


The audience targeted in inbound marketing is different from ABM. For instance, for inbound, the audience is larger, so it’s common to attract the wrong prospects along the way.

An ABM campaign is limited and based on an ideal customer profile (ICP). These consist of key decision-makers within an organization that are in the market for your product or service. So the likelihood of a purchase increases substantially.


Since ABM campaigns are highly targeted, the marketing messages used are more focused. Everything about the communication is personalized, from the medium used to the offer promoted. One group of accounts may receive emails, while another group receives calls (depending on their preferences).

Inbound marketing normally focuses on the content, such as blog posts, webinars, videos, or podcasts to target larger groups. So the topics may speak to a larger audience within a field or industry.


The common inbound strategy is building a website to guide traffic to and then crafting content to use as the vehicle to get traffic to the site. The website contains landing pages designed specifically for a wider target audience. For instance, one may be for teachers and another for government personnel.

Then the content will focus on topics catering to each group, driving them back to their personalized landing page. The main priority is to drive qualified leads into the sales cycle.

An ABM strategy first studies the target audience, defines the ideal client profile, determines companies to target based on the ICP, and proactively engages with them. The goal is to start a conversation with this group using email, social media, phone calls, or even corporate gifting.


Inbound marketers resort to content-based strategies to reach their audience. This includes websites, blogs, videos, and events. They also implement search engine optimization and search engine marketing (paid ads).

ABM marketers tend to use personal approaches, such as email, phone, in-person, and social media to connect with specific people within an organization. It’s also common for them to use highly-targeted paid ad campaigns on social media and search engines.

Measuring Results

Both campaigns have metrics to track to determine success. But there are some important distinctions.

For example, when measuring results for inbound marketing, you’ll see things like conversions, leads, and revenue. You might measure if someone visited your website or read through your blog post. Or maybe they downloaded your ebook.

When measuring results for ABM, you’re looking at email campaign engagement rates, clickthrough rate, open rate, etc. Since ABM is nearly one-on-one, it’s easier to attribute a conversion to a particular tactic. The outcomes are clear to see (closed deals and revenue), which makes measuring results simpler.

Collaboration Between Marketing & Sales Teams

It’s always ideal to have alignment between marketing and sales. However, inbound marketing initiatives commonly move forward without much input from sales or any other department. Account-based marketing can only work with alignment across departments. The more teams involved, the better.

This is why it’s critical for marketing, sales, support, and customer success departments to have a central database. A customer data platform ties together information gathered from 1st and 3rd-party data stemming from CRMs, sales tools, and customer ticketing systems.

With access to all this data, marketing teams can analyze the needs of an ICP. This empowers them to create highly-personalized messaging and offers.

Which Marketing Approach Is Right for You?

Both inbound and account-based marketing come with benefits. And while you can use the two together to create a harmonious marketing strategy, some companies will find one more suitable than the other.

This may be true if you’re a large company with thousands or even millions of customers. In this scenario, an inbound marketing campaign is an optimal choice. It’s also ideal if you have a broad range of customers vs. highly-targeted personas. This may be true for companies with a large selection of products.

However, if you have a smaller number of customers and highly-specialized custom offers, then ABM campaigns are perfect. In this scenario, you know exactly who you’re targeting and how to reach them. You just need a way to build a campaign to nurture strong relationships. It’s a solution if you’re trying to boost customer retention vs. lead generation.

Now, it’s worth pointing out that using inbound marketing with account-based marketing is possible. In fact, it’s the perfect setup when you need to drive in more business (inbound marketing) and want to build customer relationships (ABM).

In this scenario, your inbound marketing feeds your ABM campaigns. Although your lead gen attracts a large number of prospects, your ABM campaign will focus only on your high-value customers.

At the end of the day, it depends on your business goals and whether you have the tools and teams on hand to manage both marketing plans.

Build a Winning Marketing Process to Drive Sales

You don’t want to just drive traffic to your company—you want to drive results. To do that, you need to understand your business model and your dream clients. Only then will you know the best methods to use to reach potential clients where they are.

Now that you understand the key differences between these two sales strategies, you can select the one that’s right for your business.

If you’re interested in learning how others are seeing results with ABM, then check out how these marketing teams are getting over 200% return on their campaign investment.

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