Five Trends B2B Marketers Can't Ignore

  • Written by Nate Skinner, Salesforce Pardot
  • Published in Demanding Views

nate skinnerWe’ve seen a tremendous change in the B2B marketing industry in the past few years – and even months. Account-based marketing (ABM), artificial intelligence (AI), marketing-sales alignment and data-driven personalization seem to be everywhere. But while many companies recognize the importance of these concepts, few have embraced them in practice. This leaves us with the question: when will adoption actually happen and what trends will stick?

Here are five trends here to stay:

1. ABM will finally be demystified

Though ABM has been around for far more than a decade, the hype around it has reached a zenith. Rising interest was driven largely by the thousands of vendors offering an array of products to assist with implementation. Partly due to the cacophony of the vendors’ messaging, the conversation has been accompanied by confusion about how to actually get ABM off the ground.

While B2B companies see the value in ABM, only one-third of marketers reported investing in the strategy. However, ABM adoption will increasingly go mainstream as the process becomes easier for marketing and sales teams to grasp, and as they realize that most of the tools they need to execute it are already in their arsenal.

Marketers who are still building their toolbox in order to get ABM right will soon realize that all they need is a CRM that allows them to identify key accounts and develop a suitable marketing strategy. The simplification and accessibility of ABM means more B2B marketers will be able to reap the strategy’s high return on investment.

2. AI will become more sophisticated

By now, virtually everyone has become aware of the importance of AI in driving innovation and next-generation capabilities among B2B marketers. Yet, only around half of marketing leaders are using AI, with high performers being 2.2 times more likely to do so than underperformers. Even those who have adopted AI have often focused on easy wins.

In the future, we will continue to see more B2B marketers embrace AI and expand to more complex applications. This will likely include using AI to predict accounts to target or content strategies that will drive engagement. It will also include breakthrough applications we have not yet seen. For example, what if sales teams begin to inherit marketing insights automatically and vice versa, so that a marketer could learn in real-time that they should stop targeting certain types of leads because they aren’t closing? It is not far-fetched to expect developments like this to emerge later this year.

3. B2B advertising will grow in importance

B2B marketers have embraced the idea that cookies and demographics are no longer enough to power ad campaigns alone. Following the lead of B2C marketers, they have realized that their customers are demanding personalized experiences and that their strategies must be data-driven in order to close the deal.

In the year ahead, B2B marketers will take to heart that relevance is more important than ever before as business buyers are bombarded with thousands of technology options. Digital advertising that reaches the right audience with the right message at the right time is no longer a “nice thing to have,” but a necessity. That also means tapping into the full power of social media networks such as Facebook and Google, where business buyers navigate both their personal and professional lives. To do so, marketers will increasingly turn to AI in order to power everything from message sequencing to selecting the best channel for each customer.

4. Marketers will speak the language of sales

Traditionally, marketers have talked in terms of “lead flow” and “marketing-generated pipeline.” Sales teams, on the other hand, have discussed “forecasting,” “opportunities” and “revenue.” Moving forward, we’ll see marketers and sales teams align their language, metrics and communication more than ever before in order to be successful. Marketers will spearhead this shift — their jobs depend on it.

Marketers’ goals will increasingly be tied to sales objectives. As such, they will want to prove their value by demonstrating how their efforts lead directly to closed deals and revenue. In order to provide this evidence, marketers will need to rely on marketing automation platforms that offer robust and granular analytics about which campaigns are actually leading to deals closing. To stay aligned with their sales counterparts, marketers are going to need to be specific about what contributions they made versus those made by other sources. Marketers know that their credibility is put at risk when they report “closing dinners are 100% the reason a deal closed.”  Multi-touch attribution and the ability to visualize first touch, even touch and last touch for marketing influence will be the rule, not the exception.

5. Industry leaders will anticipate disruptive technologies

Virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR) and voice-activated assistants, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, have been around for a few years but only became mainstream this past year. So far, these technologies are still in their early days and have been applied in niche industries, such as gaming and entertainment, but are primarily used by brands to target consumers.

As the price of these technologies drops in the future, marketers will work to harness them in a B2B context. As some consumer-oriented brands have realized, VR and AR represent an unparalleled opportunity for grabbing customers’ attention, creating an immersive emotional experience and driving engagement. Looking beyond the year ahead, what if B2B marketers could use innovative new technology like VR and AR to nurture leads, create guided tours of products or allow prospects to experience events virtually? Voice-operated technologies are now in people’s bedrooms, living rooms and offices. What if they could automatically alert marketers to their highest-performing campaigns and budget overflows or prompt businesses to refill products? Smart B2B marketers will develop thoughtful ways to capitalize on these technologies in the near term.

In today’s competitive marketplace, B2B marketers don’t have the luxury of ignoring the latest technology. Industry leaders will embrace proven tools like ABM, AI and personalized advertising. They will understand that their strategies are only as good as their value to sales, and they’ll take advantage of the latest tools at their disposal — some of which we can only imagine.

Nate Skinner is the VP of Product Marketing at Salesforce Pardot, where he oversees product messaging and positioning for global marketing efforts. Prior to Salesforce Pardot, Skinner held senior-level positions at Campaign Monitor and Amazon Web Services.