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Should Inbound Marketing Agencies Be Selling Account Based Marketing?

Posted by Mike Lieberman on Sep 20, 2017 11:00:00 AM

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Comparing_Inbound_Marketing_Agency_Numbers.jpgShort answer? Sell your prospects what they want to buy. If you have a pizza place and people keep coming in asking for salads, add salads to the menu. If your inbound marketing prospects keep asking about ABM, then it’s time to consider it.

Now there are other factors that go into deciding to add or remove services from your services catalog. Like do the desired services violate any principles or morals that you find important? As an example, if you were dead set against doing anything that was not 100% inbound then ABM might not be something you’re comfortable with.

But the definition of inbound marketing has changed so much over the past 12 months that I’d argue ABM fits just as much as AdWords, social PPC and other more outbound oriented tactics. In fact, I think it’s your obligation to work with these outbound tactics to make them as inbound as possible, to make them as measurable as possible and to make them as effective as possible. Don’t simply do what everyone else is doing, do it in your way so your prospects get the benefit of your thought leadership and improved results.  

Here’s how to weave account based marketing into your inbound marketing portfolio of services.


You’re already comfortable with technology as a component of your service offering so no need for any major strategy shift there. While you don’t need another piece of software to execute ABM, it might be helpful. Unfortunately, most of the HubSpot clients are tapped out with their HubSpot subscription. Coming in and suggesting they might need another $3,000 a month tool to manage their ABM program is likely to be a non-starter.

Instead work their existing tech stack, primarily HubSpot, to do some of the heavily lifting the ABM tools would do. This is going to give you some access to tools like automated lead nurturing, workflows, sequences and analytics. You can do the targeting with custom lists and this also leverages the CRM which might be a nice bridge for those clients on the marketing automation platform but not the CRM. You’ll need individual company and individual person data to track connect rates, engagement rates and then watch the insights associated with the deal as it works through their funnel.  


Data and the inbound marketing agencyGarbage in means garbage out and most of the clients we see in our Inbound Marketing practice don’t have high quality databases. Sometimes we even have to get them out of trouble with SPAM related issues because they built their list with suspect names. But if you’re executing an ABM project you’re going to want to spend some extra time and make sure you get paid for extra effort to clean and prep the data before any marketing or outreach starts.

Again, you don’t need anything fancy. We do work with ReachForce, DemandBase and a handful of other data quality providers. However,  you do need clean and high-quality data before starting an ABM project. If you start emailing, contacting or trying to coordinate a targeted set of outreach plays to a company and your data is bad, you’re going to look unorganized and unprepared.

One way to keep this affordable is make the client responsible for data quality and data cleaning. It might delay your program while they work on it and you might be able to function as an outside advisor while they work on cleaning their data but I would not proceed unless the data is clean.



This is a critical non-starter for us. While I’ve seen tons of inbound marketing programs started without any idea of strategy, taking that same approach to account based marketing would be a monumental mistake. You need all your persona work locked down and you need all your targeting done. You need to have a plan on how you want to connect with targets, how you want to engage with targets, how you want to nurture targets and what you’re prepared to offer these people that encourages them to see you as a resource.

If that sounds complicated, there’s more. In addition to the plan described above, I’m also going to encourage you to create a Plan B. It’s likely that your main plan or Plan A won’t rollout and execute exactly as expected. You don’t want to get caught without a backup plan when you need it. Build your best-case scenario in Plan A and then get all your other ideas on paper as a partially formulated Plan B, just in case you need it.


Account Based Marketing For Agencies

What you say matters. In this case it matters a lot because you’ve never talked to these people before. In most cases, these people were never even aware of your client’s company prior to the initial outreach in the ABM program. Account based marketing is about driving awareness. This means it starts without any awareness. Your messaging has to be rock solid and it has to be well crafted.

Start with disruption, make sure it’s emotional, compelling and action oriented. Make sure there are stories and that the stories feature their prospects as the hero of the stories. Message creation is an art that’s built with a foundation of science and data. You’re going to want to know what moves the person to action and then you’ll need to message to that, package it with content and try to deliver it in context over a series of days, weeks or in some cases month.

Building these sequences, workflows or as we describe them as plays is also complicated. You might need 20 different plays depending on who the sales team is talking to, what their major issue is and what kind of company they work for. After these are done, they all need to be added to the CRM for consistent execution, tracking and data analysis. Again, not easy but a definite requirement.


We haven’t even gotten to execution yet. Everything up until now was planning, building and getting ready to execute. Now you need to get all the sales and marketing people in the same room, rollout the plan and make sure everyone knows what their role is, how to use the new tools, tell the new stories, understand the sequences (plays) and how to get people into those sequences.

You’re going to have to build in the feedback loop required to getting “from the field” feedback from sales and back to marketing so they can adjust the program assets as necessary. For example, if you have an email template and message with a content offer and that package is NOT working you’ll need to make adjustments to all or some of those assets and you’ll want make feedback oriented changes like that quickly.


You’re going to need a set of analytics to help you measure the success and performance of your ABM program. If you can build a few of these dashboards in advance, that’s a great start. The ABM technology obviously comes with standard reporting tools that make analytics easier, but without those specialized tools you’ll need custom dashboards or manual spreadsheet tracking tools.

Some of the initial metrics would include connect rates. What percentage of our total targeted audience is connected with us in some way? Initially you’ll be connected with a very small percentage of people, so this number should be coming up weekly and the pace of conversion should also be increasing. Then you’ll want to know the percentage of people that who are connected and engaged, meaning they’re clicking and responding to your outreach effort. They might be opening emails, reading messages, visiting website pages or downloading content you’re offering up.

Then you’ll want to take engagement and drive sales opportunities. There’s another conversion rate metric there and finally as you move sales ops towards proposals or agreements and then onto new customers, those two conversion rates are very relevant to the effectiveness of your sales process and as a comparison metric to your non-account based marketing opportunities.

So much data, so little time. Try to start with a handful of key performance indicators and as you get further into the program, you should consider adding other KPIs that provide additional insight. For example, the performance of emails or content in the connect and engagement process.

Inbound marketing taught me that marketing needs to be strategic, planned, and performance based. When you apply the same approach to account based marketing you end up with some interesting upgrades when compared to other digital agencies offering ABM to their clients. By applying some inbound principles to your ABM offering you bring a unique perspective to the ABM market and hopefully this helps you get better results for your clients.

New Call-to-actionStart Today Tip – Your first step, figuring out if you’re comfortable enough with the delivery to start offering it to your clients. I would not recommend (but I know a lot of people do it like this) learning how to do this at the expense of a client. We don’t like using our clients to learn how to run tactical programs. As an option, consider running an ABM program for the agency first. You could benefit from the new leads, learn what to do and what not to do without putting your clients in the hot seat. Another reasonable option, offer it to a client and don’t charge them. At least, you’d be honest that you’re learning and in exchange for their help and they get a break on the cost. Both options are strong alternatives.

Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping Your Agency GROW!

Topics: Inbound Marketing Agency, Account based marketing

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