Can We Just Admit The ABM vs. Inbound War is Made-Up?

“The world has changed.”

“The old playbook is fundamentally broken.”

“The way we do business has radically transformed.”

Yeah okay, these are true in some cases. But they are overused catchphrases that are becoming borderline mind-numbing.

The most frustrating recent example is the way that Account Based Marketing (ABM) vendors are posturing themselves as the knight-in-shining armor alternative to inbound marketing.

The ABM Talk Track

The concept of ABM is this: find some companies that fit your ideal buyer profile. Then promote awareness and interest at multiple levels of that account, using content and targeted outreach to “land and expand”.

Does this sound like a white hot innovation?  Or does just it sound a lot like… B2B sales? Every sales rep I’ve tried to explain this to looks at me like I’m joking or confused.

Don’t get me wrong — there are some ABM vendors that are bringing amazing technology to bear to help facilitate this age-old approach (I’m looking at you, Terminus, Engagio, and Everstring – some beautiful products).  But this concept is something that has been a part of many sales and marketing organization for forever.

The False Dichotomy: It’s ABM, or Inbound

The common refrain across ABM vendors, no matter what the specific tactic they’re helping enable, goes a little something like this:  

  • You were told to generate leads
  • None of those leads convert
  • Sales isn’t happy
  • The world has changed, the old playbook is fundamentally broken… you know the drill.

This hits home for a lot of people, and I get that.  There are some seriously misaligned expectations in many organizations about what inbound marketing is for and what success looks like.  

There’s also an ever-present search for that silver bullet that is going to solve all of our problems and make our businesses successful beyond our wildest dreams.  But I just don’t believe that ABM is that silver bullet.  In fact, I’m willing to plant my flag on the assertion that the silver bullet does not exist.  

My take: it’s an AND not OR

Should you STOP building awareness, generating leads, and nurturing prospects in order to support sales’ target account efforts?  Does inbound marketing have to be BROKEN in order for you to be better aligned with your sales team?  

I’m going to say a hard no to that one.

When you start unpacking what goes into executing on an ABM strategy, it’s funny that most of the tactics are exactly aligned with an inbound marketing approach — generating content with commercial insights, positioning as a thought leader, serving targeted ads, creating focused email nurtures, reporting on marketing’s contribution, etc.

My takeaway from all this hoopla is simple: focus your efforts, be strategic, and sit on the same side of the table as sales so they see you as an ally.  Execution is everything, so take the hype with a grain of salt, and look at the tools that best fit to get ‘er done.  

Those tools may very well include some of the shiny new ABM platforms — they’re pretty cool and fill a very relevant need.  

But the idea that it’s a revolution at odds with inbound marketing is hyperbole at best, dangerously misleading at worst.  Not buying it…

What do you think?  Am I wrong about this?  Let me know in the comments!

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Andrea is a 12X certified Salesforce MVP and the founder of Sercante. When she's not Pardot-ing, she can be found playing with her German Shepherd Murphy, making homemade gin, or traveling with her hubby Buck.

2 thoughts on “Can We Just Admit The ABM vs. Inbound War is Made-Up?”

  1. AMEN TO THIS. There are so many similarities between ABM and inbound that sometimes I think someone made up the term “ABM” to make a new argument for inbound marketing to sales managers who aren’t convinced a blog will do anything to generate business. And in half the cases, that’s probably true.

    ABM is what enterprise-level software sales teams have been doing for years. As a marketer, I’ve worked with sales managers to tailor content, customize value propositions, and re-write or create new case studies based on the needs of one particular account. This is because it pays off in the end – a multi-year implementation and service agreement can easily mean millions in revenue and profit.

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