Buyer Persona vs Account-Based Marketing (ABM)

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Published Aug 23, 2019 | Written by Keith Errington

For a B2B business, there are two broad marketing strategies you can follow for gaining sales. You could pursue a traditional inbound strategy that involves creating a small number of buyer personas – fictional profiles of typical buyers. These buyer personas then form the target for all your content and marketing efforts, ensuring that your creations are attractive to your target market in order to bring in leads and engagement.

Another route would be to identify certain key players within your industry, companies you would really like as your customers. You then research and gather as much information about these key targets, their requirements, their personnel, their buying cycle and so on, and dedicate sales personnel to approach and engage with them –this is Account-Based Marketing or ABM.

In simple terms you might think of these strategies as quantity versus quality, with both having their advantages and disadvantages. The success of account-based marketing is based on its precisely targeted marketing approach designed to result in large-scale, on-going sales and a major long-term customer. On the other hand, it can be a bit of an all-or-nothing approach – if it fails, then a lot of marketing time, effort and budget will have been wasted.

The buyer persona approach is capable of attracting a large number of more diverse customers when you have limited resources, and is potentially less risky, but it may only ever attract small fry and never attract that one big customer that will make or break a company.

So which should you choose?

The choice

In the real world, it is not quite so clear cut.

Take a buyer persona strategy. You develop a small set of buyer personas, publish content, use social media and other marketing channels, and land a client. What happens next? Well, unless they are very small, there is every possibility that you could sell more products to them in the future, and it would make sense to expand out and look at other sales opportunities within other departments of that company. So you dedicate at least part of someone’s time to looking after them and making the most of any possible opportunities.

You profile the company and identify key players, work out the way their buying process works, you work with them and even publish content aimed at them. Does that sound familiar? Yep – we’ve pretty much just described account-based marketing. So even if you pursue a buyer persona focussed strategy, it is still likely that you will end up doing at least some level of account-based marketing at some point.

Conversely, when pursuing an account-based marketing strategy you will inevitably still get enquiries from other companies you haven’t deliberately targeted. Companies that have seen your website, who have approached you because of recommendations from your customers, or who have seen your social media or maybe met one of your managers at a conference and been impressed. So do you turn them away? No, of course not, they represent a source of revenue for your company. Why would you turn that down?

Is a hybrid approach possible?

There is in fact, no reason why you can’t take a hybrid approach to your marketing, even with limited resources. This might seem impossible or unwise, but actually, there is more in common with the two marketing approaches than you might think.

When you develop a buyer persona you are trying to fill in as much detail as you can, you looking to define:

  • Demographics
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Sources they go to for information
  • Job role and responsibilities
  • Challenges and pain points
  • Decision criteria

This is really no different from the approach that you would take for account-based marketing, you would still want to define those areas for a targeted account. It might be that it is easier with a targeted account as those areas will have real, and specific information associated with them, but then again, it may be just as difficult to find out that information as to define them for a buyer persona approach.

Content creation

In both cases, you would be creating content tailored to your audience. If you are pursuing a hybrid approach, then although you should be creating content specifically for your targeted accounts, the likelihood is that there will still be a lot in common between those accounts and your buyer personas.

As long as your targeted accounts are not outliers or atypical, then you could use the experience, knowledge and insight you gain with your account-based marketing to inform the refinement of your buyer personas.

Key differences

There are some key differences between the two approaches.

Account-based marketing is a useful strategy when there are a small number of major players in your industry and going after a few of these would provide you with a significant revenue stream if they became long-term customers. But if there are no significant players, then a buyer persona approach is likely to be a better use of your marketing resources.

Account-based marketing typically targets large accounts where the buying decision is often taken by a group of people over a longer period. So part of the strategy must be figuring out how those people, teams or departments interact. These groups are still made up of individuals though, so figuring out who you need to target, with what content and when, is crucial to account-based marketing success.

And the winner is…

Whichever approach you take, account-based marketing, buyer persona or hybrid approach, the process of defining personas will still be the key to delivering the right content to attract sales. There will be slight differences in approach and the information that makes up the persona, but the process will be very similar.

The strategy that’s best for you will depend on your industry, your resources, your attitude to risk and the flexibility and talent of your sales and marketing teams.

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Published by Keith Errington August 23, 2019
Keith Errington