We all want the same thing, right!?
But not in the same way. Or for the same reasons.
The same can be said for lead generation and account based marketing. Sure, they both want high value customers who stick around and tell their friends. But they go about it in entirely different ways.
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve played some role in B2B lead generation. Lead gen has been a predominant subsection of B2B marketing strategy for some time. ABM has also been around, but only gained more widespread acceptance – and actionability for smaller organizations – over the last decade.
So what do we need to know about these two “styles” of marketing? How do they work together, how are they different, and which should we focus on?
B2B Lead Generation Explained
Lead generation, in its essence, is a marketing process aimed at sparking interest among potential customers—or leads—in what you're selling. It is often paired with “nurturing” these leads to move them through stages of qualification and an eventual sale.
Pull-out Quote: "In the vast ocean of potential customers, leads are those special fish who've shown a hint of interest in your bait."
Identifying the Leads
Leads are the potential customers who've indicated an interest in your product or service. They might show this interest in numerous ways:
- Filling out a contact form on your website
- Downloading an eBook or white paper
- Subscribing to your newsletter
- Signing up for a webinar
Techniques for Lead Generation
When it comes to lead generation, you cast a wide net. Your aim is to reach as many people as possible and filter out those with a genuine potential to become customers. A few common lead generation techniques include:
- Email marketing
- Content marketing
- Social media marketing
- Event marketing
The Ultimate Goal
The end game of lead generation is to create a pipeline of potential customers who can be nurtured and converted into paying customers over time. It's a numbers game:
"There are many fish in the sea” - every lead gen manager
What if it’s not working?
What if the wide net of lead generation doesn't quite match your marketing needs? Then it might be time to consider a more targeted approach, like Account Based Marketing. More on that in the next section.
What is B2B Account Based Marketing (ABM)?
While not exactly new, Account-Based Marketing (ABM) has been gathering steam in the world of B2B marketing. So, what is ABM? At its core, it's a strategic approach that focuses on individual prospects or customer accounts.
How ABM Works
Instead of casting a wide net as in lead generation, ABM is like using a spear — it's a targeted, account-focused approach. It involves identifying key accounts (or companies), understanding their needs and challenges, and then tailoring bespoke marketing campaigns to engage them.
Why Choose ABM?
ABM is typically used when selling high-value products or services to large companies or industries with long sales cycles and multiple decision-makers.
"ABM favors precision and personalization over volume."
ABM and the Sales Team
One defining characteristic of ABM is its close alignment with the sales team. With ABM, marketing and sales work together, with shared goals, to win high-value accounts.
The personalized nature of ABM can lead to higher returns and better customer relationships. However, it's not always a bed of roses. In the next sections, we'll dive deeper into how ABM contrasts with traditional lead generation and discuss their respective pros and cons.
Account Based Marketing versus Lead Generation: The Core Differences
Lead generation and account-based marketing, though different in their approaches, share the same ultimate goals: driving conversions, bolstering sales, and ultimately, boosting revenue. However, the paths they tread to get there can be strikingly different:
- Lead Gen prioritizes establishing contacts with a vast pool of individuals who might find your solutions beneficial for their organization.
- ABM, on the other hand, identifies target accounts first and then determines the individuals within those organizations that need to be engaged.
Content and Appeal
Pull-out Quote: "Lead Gen is like a billboard on a busy highway, ABM is a personalized letter delivered straight to your desk."
- Lead Gen requires content with a relatively generic appeal to cast its wide net and pull many leads into the top of the funnel. It's all about broad appeal and high-volume traction.
- ABM calls for personalized content that feels highly relevant and engaging to its intended audience. It's about deep connections and resonance with a select few.
The Sales-Marketing Dynamic
- Lead Gen is the domain of marketing. Once a lead is nurtured far enough down the funnel to confirm their purchasing intent, it gets handed off to the sales team as a qualified lead.
- ABM necessitates a closely-knit sales and marketing team, working together from the start to generate content and engage with decision-makers at opportune moments.
The Scaling and Channel Use
Pull-out Quote: "Lead Gen is a wide net, ABM is a precise spear."
- Lead Gen, designed to cast a wide net, is easy to scale. It thrives on organic channels with a wide reach, like social media and SEO.
- ABM, with its strong emphasis on personalization, is costlier to scale. It's best suited for B2B companies focusing on a manageable number of high-value accounts. ABM is much more direct and tends to leverage channels like email, direct messaging, and live events.
Effort and Resources
Pull-out Quote: "Lead Gen is a marathon, ABM is a series of sprints."
- Lead Gen requires consistent, ongoing efforts to produce content and attract a high volume of leads. It's a long-term commitment, but it's spread over a larger number of leads, reducing individual lead cost.
- ABM is about targeted sprints towards high-value targets, requiring a significant per-account investment in terms of time, creativity, and resources. The focus is depth over breadth, often yielding a higher return on investment due to the significant revenue potential of high-value accounts.
Pull-out Quote: "Lead Gen forms a community, ABM nurtures key relationships."
- Lead Gen often results in siloed internal teams and broad, less personalized external relationships. Marketing brings in leads, and sales closes them. While individual relationships might not be deep, lead gen cultivates a large community of potential customers.
- ABM pushes sales and marketing to collaborate closely, fostering better internal communication and a unified strategy. Externally, ABM focuses on nurturing deep, personalized relationships with select high-value accounts, leading to strong bonds and potentially better customer loyalty
The pros and cons of B2B lead generation marketing
Lead generation's broad reach can increase your potential customer base significantly. This method is akin to casting a wide net, creating a larger pool of leads that could potentially convert into customers.
Despite being one of the oldest pillars of B2B marketing, there are distinct trade offs to prioritizing lead generation over all other forms of marketing.
Pros of B2B Lead Generation:
- Broad Reach: Lead generation can significantly increase your potential customer base by casting a wide net.
- Proven Methodology: It's a tried-and-true method, reducing the risk involved in adopting less proven marketing strategies.
- Filling the Sales Funnel: Lead gen consistently fills your sales funnel, ensuring a steady flow of potential customers.
- Broad Market Insights: The wide net cast by lead gen can provide extensive market insights, informing strategic business decisions.
- Scalability: Lead generation strategies are scalable, an important factor for growing businesses.
- Talent Availability: It's generally easier to find experienced professionals for lead gen, reducing talent acquisition challenges.
Cons of B2B Lead Generation:
- Resource Consumption: Ensuring a constant stream of content and engagement across various channels can be resource-intensive.
- Lower Conversion Rates: Lead gen tends to focus on the quantity of leads over their quality, which can result in lower conversion rates tracking through the sales funnel.
- Lack of Personalization: Traditional lead gen strategies often take a more generic approach, which can lead to decreased engagement and ability to adapt.
- Long Sales Cycle: With lead gen, you're often starting from scratch with each new lead, which can result in longer sales cycles.
- Difficult Attribution: Tracing a lead's journey from first contact to conversion can be complex due to the variety of channels and touchpoints.
- Talent Management: Managing a diverse team with the various skill sets needed for comprehensive lead gen efforts can be challenging.
The pros and cons of B2B Account-Based Marketing
Account-Based Marketing's targeted approach can significantly enhance your engagement with potential high-value accounts. This method is akin to spear fishing, focusing on a select group of prospects or accounts that could potentially convert into loyal customers.
While many B2B marketing teams have found success using the focused nature of ABM, there are distinct trade offs to the approach.
Pros of B2B Account-Based Marketing (ABM):
- Increased Personalization: ABM's targeted approach enables you to deliver personalized experiences to each lead, boosting engagement and conversion rates.
- Improved ROI: With ABM, you're focusing on a select number of high-value accounts, leading to improved return on investment.
- Shortened Sales Cycles: By focusing on pre-qualified accounts, the time from initial contact to conversion can be significantly reduced.
- Alignment of Sales and Marketing: ABM inherently aligns sales and marketing teams around shared account-based goals.
- Clear Attribution: With ABM's concentrated focus, tracking a lead's journey from first contact to conversion becomes simpler.
- Enhanced Customer Relationships: ABM focuses on building deep relationships with high-value accounts, leading to increased customer loyalty.
Cons of ABM for B2B Marketing:
- Resource Intensive: ABM requires significant time and resources for research, planning, and executing tailored strategies for each targeted account.
- Scalability Challenges: Given its personalized approach, scaling ABM can be challenging.
- Dependence on High-Value Accounts: ABM's focus on a select number of high-value accounts can be risky if these accounts fail to convert or churn after a short period.
- Need for Skillful Execution: Implementing ABM successfully requires a delicate balance of targeted personalization without coming across as intrusive.
- Long Planning Cycles: The up-front research and planning required for ABM can lead to longer planning cycles compared to traditional lead gen efforts.
- Talent Acquisition: Finding professionals with the right skill set and experience in ABM can be more challenging compared to more traditional marketing methods.
The Metrics: What Should We Measure?
Metrics provide a clear view of what's working and what's not, enabling teams to adjust their strategies accordingly. Yet, it's not enough to simply track everything. Teams need to be selective, focusing on the metrics that truly matter, the ones that are directly tied to their goals and provide tangible (and repeatable) benefits to revenue.
Lead Generation Metrics
Below are some of the most common B2B lead generation metrics:
- Lead Volume: Number of new leads acquired over a given time frame, indicating the breadth of your reach.
- Conversion Rate: Percentage of leads taking a desired action (e.g., form submission, trial sign-up, purchase), reflecting the effectiveness of your lead gen efforts.
- Cost Per Lead (CPL): Cost to acquire each new lead, essential for assessing financial efficiency and determining your marketing budget.
- Lead to Customer Rate: Percentage of leads becoming paying customers, indicating the effectiveness of your nurturing process and lead quality.
- Time to Conversion: Duration for a lead to become a customer, useful for optimizing nurturing strategies and managing sales forecasts.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Profitability of your lead gen efforts, the ultimate indicator of success.
- Customer Lifetime Value (CLTV): (Specific to B2B SaaS) Total revenue a customer generates over their lifetime, crucial for understanding the long-term value of each lead.
Account Based Marketing Metrics
To the contrary, ABM metrics are built around a small set of target accounts and measuring how they are reached, how quickly they proceed down the pipeline, and what their lifetime value is.
- Influenced Pipeline: Evaluates the impact of ABM strategies on target accounts. A lack of influence indicates a need for strategy adjustment.
- Return on Investment (ROI): Gauges campaign costs against deal closures. High or unmeasurable costs signal a need for reassessment.
- Target Account Coverage: Tracks reach and engagement within targeted accounts, considering:
- Number of contacts in each account
- Percentage of engaged contacts
- Completeness of contact data
- Contact list growth rate in each account
- Sales Cycle Length: Measures the time taken to close deals. Shorter cycles, often a result of ABM's personalized approach, indicate an effective process.
- Pipeline Velocity: Assesses the speed at which target accounts move through the ABM funnel, considering:
- Total time from opportunity creation to close
- Time spent at each opportunity stage
- A slower than expected velocity signals a need for strategy optimization.
Now you might be thinking, these are all solid metrics - regardless of what marketing strategy you pursue - and you wouldn’t be wrong.
How ABM and Lead Gen Can Work Together
While Account-Based Marketing (ABM) is a powerful strategy for converting high-quality prospects, it's not always possible to identify lucrative target accounts on demand. Even with highly specialized, industry-specific products, potential buyers can sometimes slip under the radar. This is where lead generation comes into play. Running a lead generation campaign alongside your ABM efforts can ensure a continuous nurturing of new leads, some of whom might eventually become excellent candidates for a more focused ABM approach.
ABM and Inbound Marketing Synergy
The content generated through ABM can be repurposed for a broader audience as part of an inbound marketing campaign, and vice versa. If you have existing content that generates a lot of engagement and conversions, you can adapt and personalize it for your ABM campaign when the opportunity arises. A content calendar can be a useful tool in this regard, helping to ensure regular engagement with your target accounts while keeping your inbound content fresh and up-to-date.
Benefits of a Hybrid ABM/Lead Gen Model
Implementing a hybrid ABM/Lead Gen model offers several benefits. One of the key advantages is the breaking down of information silos that can occur when sales and marketing teams work separately. The close alignment necessary for successful ABM activities encourages the sharing of data and insights, optimizing the performance of both teams.
Moreover, ABM can help build closer connections and trust with decision-makers, creating future opportunities as these individuals progress within their industry. This hybrid approach, therefore, not only ensures a steady flow of new leads but also fosters deeper relationships with high-value prospects, maximizing the potential for conversion and customer loyalty.
Read more: Why Multithreading is Crucial for Account-Based Marketing
What Approach is Right for You?
Both Account-Based Marketing (ABM) and lead generation have proven successful for various businesses, inspiring teams with their unique benefits. The choice between ABM and lead generation isn't necessarily an either-or decision. Instead, it's about understanding your business's unique needs, size, and goals, and then applying the right mix of strategies.
Choosing Based on Your Business Size, Type, and Goals
For startups and smaller businesses, lead generation is often the first step. At this stage, it's about casting a wide net to build brand awareness and attract a large pool of potential customers. As your business grows and you start to identify high-value prospects, that's when ABM comes into play.
For established businesses and enterprises, ABM becomes increasingly important. With a clear understanding of your high-value accounts, you can focus your resources on personalized campaigns to convert these prospects into loyal customers. However, lead generation still plays a role in maintaining a healthy pipeline and reaching new markets.
Remember, the journey between lead generation and ABM isn't a one-way street. Depending on your business dynamics, you might find yourself shifting focus between these strategies over time.
Deciding the right path forward can be challenging. That's where the expertise of a platform like Marketerhire can be invaluable. With access to top marketing talent, you can gain insights and guidance tailored to your business needs, helping you discern the right balance between lead generation and ABM. Explore the top 2% of marketing freelancers today and take the first step towards optimizing your marketing strategy.