Inbound or account-based? The answer may depend on your company’s growth stage

Amy Holtzman, senior director of revenue marketing at Conductor, explores whether your company would benefit from either an account-based or inbound marketing strategy.

During a recent FirstMark Capital Demand Generation Roundtable, I was among roughly 25 senior-level marketers from 15 early- to mid-stage companies brought together to discuss what strategies and tactics are working to acquire customers for our start-ups. A large part of the conversation centered on when to introduce inbound and account-based strategies, which got me thinking more about the topic.

When one approach is all that’s necessary

While the introduction of inbound and account-based marketing will typically make sense at certain growth stages, in some cases, it is apparent that one strategy will make the most sense for a company, regardless of growth stage.

For example, one company in attendance at the roundtable is entirely focused on selling to the top 200 companies in one particular industry over the course of the next two years. For them, account-based marketing clearly makes the most sense as it allows them to focus all of their marketing energy and spend on the buying committees at those 200 known accounts. Anything else would be wasteful in both time and money.

Conversely, for B2B companies with a more transactional selling model and a larger, more diverse sellable universe, account-based marketing may be too inefficient. And, it can be tough to even develop a target account list because the sellable market is so massive and ever-changing. In these cases, inbound marketing can bring the masses to them. From there, it’s all about lead scoring, qualification and nurturing to get those companies to become clients.

These are fairly obvious examples, though. What happens when the answer isn’t so apparent?

More often, different growth stages call for different growth strategies

During a typical company’s growth, there will naturally be times when either account-based or inbound marketing will make the most sense. And, certainly there will be stages when both strategies will be a priority. By breaking down growth into The Five Stages of Small Business Growth, you can see where these approaches generally make the most sense.

Stage 1: Existence

Approach: Account-based marketing

By definition, the company is forming. There’s a big idea for a product, a little bit of money and a tiny team. The company formed for a reason. The business plan or earliest meetings included information about the types of companies the company would sell to, including the names of those companies – and that’s now the target account list. Sometimes, the earliest target account list may not even be potential buyers at this stage; it may be investment firms, as was the case with Demandbase when it raised an early round of funding.

Stage 2: Survival

Approach: Account-based marketing, potential for limited inbound marketing

Now, the company is a business entity. There are a few customers, an early-stage product, and a few more employees. There is typically a better idea of the types of customers that will benefit from the product and who will take the company through the next stage of growth.

A small target account list should be developed and targeted with the limited resources that exist. If the product is truly groundbreaking, there will be a need for some awareness content as well. This content should lead with common nomenclature and concepts that will resonate with the target audience. This will help to attract an audience organically and will be important in driving clicks and conversions when syndicated.

Stage 3: Success

Approach: Inbound marketing, account-based marketing

By this time, a company has had some limited success and enters a growth mode. Company leadership is hired, teams are being built out, processes are starting to be developed, and the foundation is being laid for highly converting, scalable marketing.

Now, inbound marketing becomes the priority. A great amount of time and resources should be focused here, as it will provide the greatest volume of qualified leads and opportunities from the target audience over time. Hiring the right team is critical. A content producer and digital marketer with deep roots in strategic SEO will be necessary. Additionally, providing the right tools from the start will help maximize efficiency and scalability. This is the time to consider a technology like Conductor, which helps identify the content a target audience is most likely to consume.

Account-based marketing will also begin to mature during this time. The target account list is likely to grow from a few dozen to a few hundred accounts as the target account profile also matures. If it hasn’t happened already, sales and marketing should become aligned during this time. Both should be involved in identifying the target account list and the tactics necessary to attract those accounts.

Stage 4: Take Off

Approach: Inbound marketing, account-based marketing

The company must grow rapidly during this phase. Systems and processes are critical to scalability. And, it’s time to attack the entire addressable market.

Inbound marketing is in full swing at this stage. There will be a focus on early stage blog content as well as highly converting downloadable assets. Both organic and paid media will be used to attract the target audience for this content. By this stage, inbound should be producing the greatest volume of opportunities and these opportunities should be accelerating through the buying process much more quickly than leads generated through any other manner. Technologies that help to scale inbound marketing are no longer a luxury, but are a necessity.

Account-based marketing is equally critical during this time. It will be the surest way to attract strategic accounts – those big accounts the sales team can’t bring in by themselves. Failure is almost certain at this stage if sales and marketing are not completely aligned. Fully orchestrated plays across sales, marketing, and company leadership will be necessary to win these accounts. An account-based everything platform like Engagio, is essential to both orchestrating and scaling account-based marketing during this time.

Stage 5: Resource Maturity

Approach: Account-based marketing, inbound marketing

The elimination of inefficiencies, customer retention, and strategic planning are essential at this stage. Systems and processes are sophisticated, marketing is measurable, and growth is predicable.

The inbound strategy continues to evolve and now includes a focus on addressing content gaps, competitive opportunities, and business expansion plans. There is less of a reliance on paid media because organic marketing is driving significant traffic and conversions from the target audience. The business becomes more efficient at creating content that converts and inbound maintains its place as the top driver of qualified leads, opportunities, and wins.

Account-based marketing shifts from being solely focused on acquiring new customers to also growing existing customers. Customer accounts with the highest opportunity for growth are added to the target account list and strategic plays are developed that result in upsell and expansion revenue.

Discover the key techniques to make your ABM work

This feature will give invaluable insights into making account nbased marketing work for your business, including:

  • Eeffective ABM strategies
  • Personalisation
  • The role of technology
  • Lessons to be learned from the B2C market space

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