Better Lead Generation: Inbound vs Account-Based Marketing 

by | Dec 5, 2018 | Account-Based Marketing, Content Marketing, Marketing Strategy

When it comes to developing your marketing strategy, things aren’t always as cut and dry as they may seem.

While you may assume you have to select one “tried and true” marketing strategy and stick with it exclusively, many marketers are finding that combining principles of different marketing approaches to lead generation actually works best.

Frankly, it’s not uncommon for successful marketers to implement components of both Account-Based Marketing and Inbound to meet their needs.

In doing so, your goal is to not only create and curate unique and relevant content that will inform and nurture prospective clients and provide additional leads—but to see more immediate and tailored lead generation results as well.

While not all marketing teams benefit from utilizing aspects of both inbound and Account-Based Marketing, many will see impressive results.

The key is understanding the differences between these two strategies (especially as they relate to lead generation) and knowing when to leverage each.

Understanding Inbound vs. Account-Based Marketing

Inbound marketing and Account-Based Marketing are two very different approaches, so it’s important, to begin with a solid understanding of what each one is. Since (for the most part) these two strategies are polar opposites, after all.

Inbound Marketing

With an inbound marketing strategy, you are focused on attracting new customers or clients through the strategic development and distribution of content that is created with the needs or interests of your market in mind.

Some of the most common examples of channels used to carry out an inbound marketing strategy include:

  • Blogs
  • Video
  • Social media posts
  • SEO

This content tends to be highly relevant to your customers’ market and, by extension, very specific to your industry.

However, rather than vying for your client’s attention like other forms of marketing might (such as banner ads), inbound marketing relies on your target audience to come to you.

Generally, the focus with an inbound marketing campaign is to gradually build demand and generate quality leads over time. But by its very nature of relying on organic content to do so, it can take a lot of time for an inbound strategy to prove effective—sometimes as much as 2 – 3 years.

Account-Based Marketing

Perhaps the most significant similarity between inbound and Account-Based Marketing is the fact that Account-Based Marketing (ABM) also focuses on building relationships with a company’s audience.

Simply put, with ABM, your focus is on being proactive about getting specific content in front of a highly targeted audience—or treating your target accounts as markets of one. It’s a much more proactive approach that strives to achieve such a high level of personalization that the target audience is not only reached easily, but engaged and focused on the content itself.

ABM focuses on targeting very specific accounts or clients that are calculated to be the most valuable in terms of long-term sales and/or profits.

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that B2B marketers these days are spending more money on ABM than ever before; one study found that “27% of survey respondents said they were devoting between 11% and 30% of their total marketing budget to ABM. This metric was up 19% from 2015.”

Some examples of the channels often used in ABM include:

  • Highly targeted display ads
  • Social media
  • Email marketing
  • Websites
  • Physical engagement like direct mail (gasp!!!)
  • Telephone calls
  • Face-to-face meetings

With Account-Based Marketing, the traditional “sales funnel” is practically flipped upside down; rather than sifting through thousands of prospects for a few potential leads, your sales and marketing team are working together to capture a few specific, pre-determined, high quality leads based on the development of an ideal customer profile.

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ABM Strategy Overview Flipped Funnel

What’s the Difference, Anyway?

As you can see, inbound marketing and Account-Based Marketing are two very different strategies.

One focuses on the casting a wide net and hoping something gets caught in it, whereas another is going after a very well-defined, smaller audience that can yield big results.

However, as you’re trying to determine which type of marketing strategy will best suit your needs, it can be helpful to dive a little deeper in your understanding of the many differences between an inbound and Account-Based Marketing strategy.

Distribution Channels

First and foremost, the channels used to distribute marketing content vary greatly between ABM and inbound marketing strategies.

Whereas inbound marketing focuses on more “organic” channels such as blog posts, social media posts, and optimized website content, ABM tends to be more direct. Distribution channels for any given ABM campaign may include email, direct mail, social, and in-person interactions.

Lead Generation - ABM vs Inbound Distribution Channels

This is not a comprehensive list of potential distribution channels, and some channels do benefit both strategies in some way. But this gives you a general idea of the different mediums used.

First Touchpoint

The first touchpoint or point-of-contact can also vary greatly between an inbound marketing strategy and an Account-Based Marketing strategy.

Again, this is because ABM is much more proactive in nature when it comes to working with prospective leads. Rather than waiting for the target audience to stumble across your organic content online and reach out to you, ABM focuses on reaching out to your prospect directly.

Lifetime Client Value

The size of the potential sale you make through ABM versus inbound marketing can also vary greatly, mostly because the quality of the leads you generate can be so wildly different.

Through inbound marketing, you have less control over the quality of your leads or their potential lifetime client value. With ABM, however, you can strategically focus on nurturing the relationships with leads that are perceived to have the highest lifetime client value.


This allows you to optimize your company’s time, resources, and marketing dollars on leads that are most likely to be worth your efforts and pay off handsomely in the long run.


On the flip side, when it comes to scalability, this is where ABM is significantly weaker when compared to inbound.

Because ABM content is so highly personalized, it isn’t usually easy (or even possible) to tailor the content you’ve spent so much time creating to make it relevant to another lead. In fact, if content you’ve created for one account can directly transfer to another account—then by definition—that content is not personalized enough for ABM, and you’re not actually doing ABM—you’re doing target marketing.

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Instead, you’ll probably have to return to the drawing board and come up with another highly personalized campaign for the next lead—which can certainly take up a lot of time, money, and resources.

Inbound marketing content, on the other hand, tends to be much easier to scale because the content isn’t very personalized to begin with. Your content was already created with a broader audience in mind, so tailoring it to scale doesn’t have to be very time consuming or costly.

This is certainly one aspect where inbound marketing has significant advantages over Account-Based Marketing.

Impact on Sales Cycle

In terms of its impact on the B2B sales cycle, focusing on an Account-Based Marketing strategy tends to significantly shorten the sales cycle for a number of reasons.

For starters, because ABM focuses on reaching out to your prospective client rather than waiting for them to come to you, there is much less “waiting around” to see if your client is going to make a purchase or otherwise decide to do business with you.

ABM makes the sales cycle much more cut-and-dry, whereas things can drag on a big with inbound marketing. It can be more difficult to truly define that first point of contact, and then it could take weeks or even months before a lead is converted to a sale.


It’s no secret that focusing on an inbound marketing strategy for lead generation is going to be more affordable for a business than focusing on an Account-Based Marketing strategy. This is true for a number of reasons.

Lead Generation - ABM vs Inbound ROI

For starters, creating inbound marketing content (such as blogs and social media posts) has a relatively low cost of entry, yet can live forever online. Use of social media for businesses is free, and keeping a blog running on your website doesn’t cost anything more than your investment in time and domain/hosting expenses. Because it focuses on taking an organic approach, inbound marketing strategies are very affordable for even start-up businesses with very limited budgets.

Account-Based Marketing, on the other hand, requires a larger up-front investment because it involves effort that is not inherently free. It costs money to place strategically targeted ads. It costs money to conduct specific research on each client or lead and their specific needs. It takes a lot of time and resources to build a highly personalized campaign for a lead.

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In many ways, this higher cost of marketing through ABM can be scary. It is important to understand, though, that the added initial investment and risk often pays off many times over.

Account-Based Marketing has the highest return on investment because you’re focusing your time and marketing efforts on your highest value clients. In fact, one study found that companies who implement ABM generate 208% more revenue for their marketing efforts.

208% more revenue generated by companies using ABM.
208% more revenue generated by companies using ABM - Mobile

How Does ABM Relate to Lead Generation?

Now that you have a better understanding of the many differences between Account-Based Marketing and inbound marketing, it’s time to look at how ABM relates specifically to lead generation from both a sales and marketing aspect.

For starters, consider the fact that lead generation for marketers is usually about very specific people and the campaigns aimed at them. It can be helpful to look at it as casting a huge net and hoping to catch a few good fish. For your sales team, on the other hand, lead generation is more focused around a specific account rather than a person. Based on research and long-term client values, your sales team will want to focus on spearheading a few accounts that are determined to be the best fits.

With employing an Account-Based Marketing approach, your sales team and marketing teams goals align and the focus is on getting both teams to work together towards an end result.

Your marketing team gets to enjoy creating highly personalized and targeted content, whereas your sales time enjoys being able to aim that content at very specific targets/clients.

It’s also important to realize that Account-Based Marketing isn’t just for gaining new leads; it can be used to maximize the profits from your existing leads as well.

For example, it can be effective within your existing customer base for up-selling. And when you consider the fact that it’s much more affordable to retain an existing client than it is to bring on a new client, using ABM for up-selling your current clients makes a lot of financial sense as well. Specifically, it is widely accepted that it costs about five times more to bring on a new client than it does to keep an existing one. What could this mean for your marketing budget?

When to Implement ABM

With all this in mind, you may find yourself wondering, “How do I know when an Account-Based Marketing approach is best for my lead generation needs?”

Unfortunately, there is no universal answer here.

At the end of the day, you know your company best and therefore you must consider all of your various needs and marketing resources to determine which approach is going to yield you the most and highest quality leads.

However, there are some conditions that may apply to you that would indicate your company could benefit greatly from an Account-Based Marketing strategy.

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You Know Your Client

One of the most important aspects of embarking on an Account-Based Marketing campaign is knowing your client/target audience.

While this is admittedly important with any marketing campaign, it is perhaps never more important than it is with an Account-Based Marketing strategy. This is because so much of the success of your campaign will rely on how well you know your client. So much of the content you create will need to be highly personalized and tailored to that specific lead’s needs, so if you’re off-the-mark even slightly, your attempts will likely come off as disingenuous and your campaign will be a failure.

When implementing an Account-Based Marketing strategy, you need to know your target client inside and out. You must understand their business model and, perhaps most importantly, their pain points.

After all, your ultimate goal is to get them to see how your company’s products and/or services can solve their problems in a very specific way, and you need to be prepared to articulate this in detail if needed.

You’re Focused on Service Marketing

Account-Based Marketing approaches are extremely helpful to companies and brands that have a service component to their business. .
One of the challenges here, of course, is that services don’t have a fixed existence and can, therefore, be difficult to market to your audience.

This is where focusing on the seven P’s of service marketing can make all the difference. We go over these 7 P’s in greater detail in a past blog, but here’s a quick refresher on them.


Make sure your pricing is fair and competitive by using strategies such as competition pricing, penetration pricing, or skimming pricing.

Service Marketing Pricing Strategies


Have a physical location that is accessible to your lead, especially when you offer a service that requires your client to come to you rather than the other way around.


View the service that you’re offering to your client as an actual “thing” that they need, rather than as a broad concept.


Have the right employees who understand your company’s goals and vision and who carry out this vision in their interactions with leads.

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Know how to communicate the value of your services to your leads through channels such as:

  • Public relations
  • Social media
  • Online advertising
  • Direct advertising
Physical Evidence

Offer some sort of tangible “thing” to your leads, even if your services are not tangible. This could include anything from offering free coffee to clients in your office to sending out promotional items.


Make sure that each of your employees is trained to follow a very specific process when interacting with a lead and making a sale from start to finish. It can be helpful to have a script here.

You Have Longer Sales Cycles

Account-Based Marketing may also be the better choice for your organization if you tend to have a longer sales cycle.

ABM can help cut down on the time involved in a B2B sales cycle, but it will probably require more long-term planning than inbound.

You Have a Flexible Budget and Resources

As mentioned above, implementing an Account-Based Marketing campaign will require some initial investment and resources.

This includes not only the time/resources associated with getting to know your target client(s) but the costs required to build a highly personalized campaign for each one. Because your campaigns will not be generic enough to be re-used for clients in the future, you will need to invest the time and resources into each campaign as if it were brand new.

This can be a difficult pill for many companies to swallow, especially when they are working with limited marketing budgets and resources. This is where having a flexible budget and plenty of resources at your disposal can really work to your advantage.

This isn’t to say that it’s impossible to create a successful ABM campaign on a tight budget, but it will be much more challenging if you’re trying to pinch pennies along the way and will require a lot more creativity from your marketing team.

You’re Interested in Up-Selling for Account Penetration

Remember, Account-Based Marketing isn’t just for generating new accounts (though this is what it is most often focused on). To make the most of your ABM strategy, you should also use it to focus on up-selling for greater account penetration with your existing clients.


This can help you make the most of your marketing dollars, as you won’t have to spend the money on bringing in a new client. Instead, you can focus on retaining your existing clients, nurturing your relationships with them, and selling additional products or services that may be relevant to them. Meanwhile, you’ve probably already done this client research so you can save on the additional costs and resources that would otherwise be required to bring a new client onboard.

You’re Developing New Accounts

Of course, where Account-Based Marketing truly shines is in helping your business generate new leads and new accounts.

If you’re looking to not just generate new leads but quality leads with the highest potential for profits down the road, an Account-Based Marketing strategy will probably be a great choice for you.

Account-Based Marketing is extremely effective in generating valuable leads due to the highly personalized nature of the marketing itself. Just keep in mind that this might mean having fewer overall new leads, but leads with higher profit potentials.

You’re Pursuing Existing But Drawn-Out Opportunities

Perhaps you’ve already attempted to gain a few new clients through inbound marketing or another marketing strategy, but your efforts were unsuccessful in the past.

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This is another situation where Account-Based Marketing can really shine. Rather than relying on generic content to convert your leads to sales, creating a specific and targeted campaign for your prospective lead may be all that’s needed to actually convert them into a paying customer. In a case study by Terminus, they found a client was able to generate 28% more new opportunities from target accounts once they started using an ABM strategy.

A lot of times, once a prospective client sees exactly what your business can do for theirs in detail, they are more willing to complete the sale.

28% more opportunities generated with target account by using ABM.
28% more opportunities generated with target account by using ABM - Mobile

How to Integrate ABM and Inbound Marketing

Ultimately, many businesses will actually find that there is no need to draw a line in the sand between Account-Based and inbound marketing.

Each can be extremely useful and successful in their own way. The key is finding a way to integrate ABM with your existing inbound marketing strategy (or the other way around). Then, by aligning the goals and efforts of your sales and marketing teams, everybody wins.

For starters, understand that personalized content will always be needed to some extent. Sure, some of it can be written in such a way that it can be re-purposed, but it still needs to be extremely relevant and useful to people. If it’s too vague or generic, it’s likely to be skipped right over.

No matter which marketing strategy (or combination of strategies) you choose to employ, it’s also important to realize that at the end of the day, customer retention should be a top priority.

Onboarding new clients is great, but maintaining those existing relationships with people who have given you their business in the past is perhaps even more important (or at the very least, just as important).

If you’re looking to integrate inbound marketing into your ABM strategy (or the other way around), be sure to also take advantage of the many different types of software that are available to make your life easier. Consider marketing automation software such as HubSpot, for example, which can be repurposed to suit your marketing needs by using Terminus workflows to integrate your ABM.

Finally, when deciding on a marketing strategy to suit your business, make sure you have enough demand around your service or product within the market to successfully integrate an Account-Based Marketing strategy in the first place. You can demand generation using inbound tactics here as well.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, both inbound an Account-Based Marketing strategies have their inherent strengths and benefits. Ultimately, choosing the right strategy isn’t always an either/or situation; sometimes you need to find a way to strike a balance.


Of course, no two brands will require the same marketing tactics because no two brands will have the same marketing needs and goals. You’ll be most successful if you can find ways to use each tactic strategically to your advantage.

From there, you can improve overall lead generation by not only generating more leads, but higher quality leads as well.

If you’re looking for more high-level insight on Account-Based Marketing in B2B, you can read up on the topic right here on our blog. And if you’ve blogged yourself out today, you can head to our evergreen Account-Based Marketing Infographic for more ABM insight in a way different format.

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About Us No Column Title – 8179

Marketing Agency

MESH is a digital marketing agency that has pioneered Account-Based Marketing via our proprietary Outcome Driven Marketing (ODM) methodology. We keep our focus on tightly integrating (or MESHing) lead generation, inbound, and outbound methodologies. We help you understand the hidden levers that impact your customers’ buying decision process, develop the right marketing strategy for your unique business case, and effectively execute and measure all aspects of your Account-Based Marketing program.

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