These are three of the most overused phrases in marketing today. Inbound marketing started in 2009 as part of HubSpot’s launch of their new software. Demand generation followed as companies felt like inbound marketing took too long to produce results, and account-based marketing (ABM) arrived when demand generation also was taking too long.
See a trend here?
CEOs and business leaders are impatient by nature. They want immediate results. This drives CMOs, CROs and sales leaders to constantly be looking for that silver bullet to produce results in short order.
Unfortunately, all this rushing rarely produces results quickly, but it does usually cause people to wonder if marketing works at all.
The bottom line is you need it all and you need it all to be running concurrently. Once you pair these campaign approaches with a solid foundational website, the right content and strong messaging, you’ll see solid results over a reasonable timeframe.
But almost no one operates like this.
That brings me to the topic of this article. How do you get inbound marketing, demand generation and account-based marketing to work together?
It’s possible if you have the right strategy, the right team, the right tools and the right assets. And if you have aggressive growth goals, this is the only way to achieve them.
Every day we meet CEOs with a solid business strategy but no accompanying marketing strategy, no solid message for the company, no compelling story for the company or the sales team to tell, no differentiation and no idea of what investment is needed to drive a set of agreed-on results.
It might seem a little shocking to have me say that out loud, in black and white, but it’s true – it’s worse than a pandemic. This is the situation at almost every company we encounter here at Square 2.
Wondering why you can’t generate leads or close enough new business? Answering those kinds of questions is hard work. It might even be uncomfortable work. Admitting your business is lacking a compelling, emotional and disruptive story is a little like saying you forgot to put gas in your car. Looking around the board room and realizing you look, sound and act like your top three competitors is equally unsettling, but it happens every day.
If this is your company, this is the place to start. Hold off on deciding about inbound, demand gen or account-based marketing, and get these issues resolved first.
If you have your story down, you still might not be ready for any execution-related questions. We see many, many companies running marketing without a clear plan.
This is like building a house without architectural drawings. People are doing a lot of work and you’re investing a ton of money, but the house just doesn’t look right, doesn’t work right and might even fall over if the wind blows a little harder than normal.
We call this random acts of marketing. This too is happening all over business today.
When it comes to planning, I’m not talking about a written 12-month marketing plan that collects dust on the shelf. You need a well-thought-out go-to-market plan that has the following components.
Who do you want to attract to the company (in detail)? What industry, what geography, what size and, more specifically, which people do you need to talk with at the organizations you’re targeting? Build a detailed profile on each of them, including their psychographic profile, online behavior and questions they might have while making a purchase decision around your products or services.
You’ll need to understand, in detail, each of those people’s individual buyer journeys and how they make a purchase decision. You’ll want to know what questions they ask, how they feel, where they go for information, how they digest and process information and any experiences they might have had that will influence their decisions.
This map is in essence your plan. It’s the road map or blueprint to the marketing, sales and service execution you need to grow your company.
This will also help you start to identify if people are actively looking for you, which might mean you can take an inbound marketing approach.
If people are not looking for you, then demand generation (getting in front of them) might be a better approach. In many cases, people opt for inbound AND demand generation to cover all their bases. This is a highly viable approach.
If you know exactly who your prospects are by name, then account-based marketing is also a legitimate approach, one that in most cases works along with an inbound approach.
Companies that know who their prospects are can create a two-tiered plan. First, directly target your top 100 prospects with a combination of marketing and sales outreach, then create a separate and more automated outreach for a second tier of less qualified but equally important companies.
Go after those tier-two targets in a less expensive and more automated way until they are ready for sales conversations. This drives additional demand into the sales team in a highly efficient and effective way.
Once you have the map and a clearer plan around your approach, now and (only now) are you ready to start creating assets. While this might feel like marketing, don’t do this until you have the previous work locked down.
Now you’re in a position to start identifying what your website needs to do, what content you’ll need and how to arm the sales team to interact with your prospects. You’ll also know how to create an ongoing conversation with prospects, so they feel safe and want to choose your company.
This effort requires a complex framework to help you map this out, but it’s mandatory.
This is also where most of the investment comes from. New website, new written content, new video content, new emails, new sales materials, new campaign assets, new creative – the list is endless.
You can waste a lot of money if you start creating assets without a solid strategy and plan.
In the 70s and 80s, marketing was easy. Tell as many people about your company as many times as possible in as many places as possible and wait for the phone to ring.
It was expensive and highly inefficient, but it was easy. Very little tracking and accountability also made it easy.
Today, it’s an entirely different game. So much needs to run concurrently that no single person or team can do this efficiently. Marketing automation software like HubSpot, CRM software like HubSpot and Salesforce and even customer service software are all mandatory for you to execute efficiently and track what’s working and what’s not.
Without the right technology, you’ll be running your business blindly. It’s kind of like running it without QuickBooks or similar financial software. You won’t know what’s working and everything will take 10 times as long to get done.
Today’s marketing needs to be one-to-one and highly personalized. People need to give you the right permissions to market to them. This simply adds another layer of complexity to an already complex effort.
Regardless of whether you use inbound marketing, demand generation, account-based marketing or all three, you still need the right expectations around what you’ll invest and what you should expect in return.
Here’s the no-fluff guidance around expectations. Most people will tell you what you want to hear, but I’m telling you the truth after 20 years of doing this for companies just like yours.
It’s going to take time. There are no tricks to losing weight. There are no secrets to getting better when you have cancer. There are no easy ways to make money. In all three examples, you have to follow a program, stick to it religiously, leverage an expert and never give up. There are going to be setbacks, and you have to preserve, trust your advisors, be patient and do the work.
Initially, expect very little. If your program overachieves, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Know that you’ll never stop. Just like dieting, you can’t go back to eating ice cream and pizza every night. It’s a lifestyle change that produces the best results — the same is true here. You can never stop marketing your business.
No matter how many times what you do fails, you have to pick yourself up and continue going. You’re going to have campaigns that don’t work, landing pages that don’t convert and emails that don’t resonate with customers. Those failures help you learn what not to do again. Those are important lessons.
Don’t use failures to quit, take a break or fire your team, your agency or your CMO. Leverage that newfound intelligence and get back at it.
If you take this approach (and very few people do), you’ll soon be seeing positive results, more visitors to your website, more new contacts in your database, more marketing-qualified leads, more sales-qualified leads, more sales opportunities and eventually more new customers and the growth you’ve been searching for.
The hard work will be rewarded, and you’ll feel confident what you did contributes to that growth.
Just like you need the best doctors to help you get well, the best nutritionist to help you lose weight and the best financial advisor to help you build wealth, you also need the best team to help you navigate the challenges associated with growing your agency.
These people might work for you already. You might have to hire them in-house, or you might want to use an outside agency to help.
Regardless, you don’t want the cheapest doctor, cheapest accountant or cheapest architect.
In this case, you don’t want to cheap out on this team either.
If you’re going with inbound marketing, make sure your team is fluent in the conversion and nurture motions associated with inbound. Make sure the team can use content and search tactics to drive people to your website.
If you’re going with demand generation, you’ll need people who are more comfortable running awareness campaigns through paid channels like search and social. Retargeting is also key for demand generation, and you’ll need ungated content that might seem counterintuitive but is necessary.
If you’re running account-based marketing programs, that requires tight alignment with sales, sales support motions, active targeting, tracking and ongoing nurtures that the sales team executes.
Finally, if you’re going with all three — and depending on your goals, you should probably be considering this option — you’ll need people who are experienced in each of these areas.
It’s not an easy task, but it’s a requirement.
Growing businesses is complex. It requires planning, solid strategy and execution that runs flawlessly week over week and month over month. Probably most importantly, it requires the ability to uncover insights buried in your data, so that your action plans can be informed based on those insights.
If you’re up for it, it might be the crowning accomplishment of anyone’s professional career.