Account-based Marketing (ABM) is a lot of things to a lot of people. This is mostly because ABM has evolved over time via purpose-built marketing technology.  To some, ABM is the discipline of aligning marketing resources with sales resources to help penetrate a small set of accounts (with stalker-like tactics). For others, it’s about scaling ABM approaches to a larger set of accounts via any number of marketing technology tools. The reality is that both are probably right.

Confusing things even more is that it’s difficult to have an ABM discussion without talking about Inbound marketing. While both inbound and ABM have their rightful place, each one attacks accounts differently. This article will break down the fundamental difference using a fishing metaphor.

I like to think about inbound marketing as fishing with a net. You may know where the good fishing spots are, but you’ll catch all kinds of fish with a net. Most of them have to be thrown back, while only some of them wind up being keepers. This can be an expensive strategy. It’s often true that the cost per acquisition of a fish is lower (because you’re catching a lot of fish). That said, inbound strategies waste a lot of time and budget to get to the right fish.

Inbound Marketing is like fishing with a net.

ABM is like fishing with a spear. Similar to inbound, you probably know where the good fishing spots are. Unlike inbound, you are only going after the fish that you believe are the right size. Thus, your approaches are much more targeted. In the ABM model, the cost per acquisition is higher per fish. However, you know that when you catch one you’ll be able to keep it.

Account based marketing is like fishing with a spear.

The next layer down is intent-based targeting, which is an awful lot like fishing with a sonar. With intent-targeting data layered on top of inbound and ABM strategies, you can see which fish are actively biting. This helps you reduce resources focused on the small fish you can’t keep and the large fish that aren’t hungry. 

Intent based targeting is like fishing with a sonar.

All three of these approaches are different in how they work. Yet, one can begin to see how they work in tandem with each other. Each business is slightly different as well, so you’ll need to figure out the right mix for yours.

How do you know when you’ve got it right? When the majority of your time, resource and budget are strictly focused on catching the right fish.