Joe Chernov is vice-president of marketing at InsightSquared, a sales performance analytics company. Previously, he headed up content marketing at HubSpot and Eloqua.

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I invited Joe to Marketing Smarts to discuss account-based marketing (ABM) and inbound marketing, and his view that the two are fundamentally at odds. We'll also talk about why 2018 is the year of customer marketing, and how brand marketing is making a comeback.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Account-based marketing reallocates the responsibility for revenue generation among salespeople and marketers (04:43): "This question is often debated: ABM vs. content marketing. Are they the same thing? Are they different things? Are they friends? Are they enemies? And all roads point to 'they're friends, they coexist happily together.' [But] they're not. They're opposite. Inbound or content marketing—the burden in that model is placed on the sales team. So Marketing creates content that potential buyers 'in the wild' discover and they find that content, it brings them to the vendor's webpage, they fill out a form, and enter a sales funnel. And then it's the salesperson's job to rummage around in that database and figure out who they're going to sell to.

"In account-based marketing, the burden is borne by the marketing team. It's reciprocal. Why? Because you start with a list of accounts. 'We're going to try to sell to these companies. Not companies that look like these companies, but these companies specifically. And not just these companies, but these contacts within these companies. Then marketing has to develop a plan to try to get noticed by those contacts within those organizations. So the burden in that case isn't placed on Sales, it's placed on Marketing because Marketing's job is to gin up some attention with that specific basket of companies. They're reciprocal: inbound or content brings people in to you; ABM is outbound marketing—it's just outbound marketing in a hopefully more appetizing fashion. They are reciprocal relationships."

Traditional content marketing focuses heavily on the top of the funnel (06:32): "You always need content. It's just, the way content is typically defined is in a top-of-funnel manner. HubSpot, Eloqua, Marketo—the companies that made content marketing, popularized it—their models were largely biased toward the top of the funnel.

"You write a blog post on how selling software is like 'Game of Thrones' and you hope it goes viral and you get a whole bunch of visitors. Most of those visitors are 'Game of Thrones' fans, not software fans, so most of them are useless to the business. But that's where that bias has been: Content equals top-of-funnel strategy. 

"With ABM, you still need content, but that content needs to be calibrated for lower in the funnel. Or at least written in such a way that the goal isn't to attract a massive audience form which you're going to have to use software to filter the good [leads] from the bad...and instead focus on content that brings in a smaller audience, but the right audience. It's a different way to think about content.

For more effective content, abandon your pursuit of "virality" and dive deeper into topics that matter to your specific audience (08:34): "When I joined [InsightSquared], we had a big blogging team and we had internal marketers writing for our blog. The blog was very 'Game of Thrones Is like Social Selling.' (In fact, that was a real post.) It was 'HubSpotty,' but our buyer is not HubSpot's persona. Our buyer is Sales Operations—it's slightly more skeptical, significantly more analytical, and simply more sober, if you will. So we decided we were going to hire outside writers that were really good at writing about software as a service (SaaS), and they could get the nature of our buyer from an industry standpoint. Well, they got the SaaS space, but they still didn't get the persona...

"Hiding in plain sight was our answer. We have a few communities that we sponsor and support, like a sales operations LinkedIn group, a sales operations Slack channel, and we decided to ask practitioners if they wanted to be paid contributors to our blog, and they did! So our job is to source topic ideas...and to edit the posts, because these folks aren't inherently writers...and we just polish the writing and let the practitioners share their subject-matter expertise. Since we've done that, traffic to our blog is up 47%. So, ironically, getting more geeky and getting more narrow and avoiding the temptation to try to pursue the 'viral' post has helped us not only get more relevant posts on our blog but increase traffic while we were doing it."

To learn more, visit, follow the company on Twitter @InsightSquared, and be sure to follow Joe on Twitter @jchernov.

Joe and I talked about much more, including how brand marketing is making a comeback, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

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Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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