In the past year, we’ve see artificial intelligence (AI) take off. As an industry, we’ve finally reached the point where we have enough user data, the right algorithms and the data science needed to allow technology to take over—predicting outcomes in real time and based on past behaviors. In the world of digital marketing, AI’s opportunity is huge, and we’re already seeing consumer brands like Fanatics and Room & Board deliver personalized and targeted experiences with content across email communications, social media, advertising and more.
For B2B companies, the promise of AI is also massive and sits primarily within marketing automation—software that’s essential for companies to engage with other businesses in order to sell to them and build successful customer relationships. Marketing automation’s importance shouldn’t be underestimated with 79% of B2B companies turning to it for more than two years. With AI, B2B marketers can take marketing automation to a new level, developing more productive salespeople, improve sales and marketing alignment and executing more targeted campaigns.
Here’s how AI is helping revolutionize B2B marketing as we know it:
1) Stronger Prospect Leads
B2B companies have tons of data on their prospects and customers. They know what businesses might be interested in a specific technology, and they know exactly who within these businesses have interacted with specific content like white papers and E-books. That data helps fuel the success of AI.
As a B2B marketer, I can now know what businesses bought from me in the past, what interactions they pursued (Did they download a report? Click on an ad?), and determine not only if they’re likely to buy, but what exactly and when. On top of that, I can also see what similar businesses might also be interested in with what’s called “look-a-likes.” And, with capabilities like predictive lead scoring, AI uncovers the very best prospects based on machine learning and stack ranks them for a sales rep to pursue.
2) Personalized Customer Journeys
Customers that buy products like apparel and household items are increasingly used to seeing content tailored to what they’re looking for and need. We receive emails that know not just our name, but our size and color preferences too. Not much is different when we talk about B2B companies. Company decision makers get targeted emails, digital advertisements, social posts and more. But, if you’re the person making buying decisions for your company, you’ve seen how many stakeholders are involved and how cumbersome the buying process can be.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re in the creative department at a company. You’re considering a new storage service for images and marketing collateral. You’ve already signed up for the free version, but are interested in upgrading for more space. A salesperson calls you after you submitted an online form. On the line is a sales rep digging through emails of your previous interactions, trying to figure out who you are and what your company does. Odds are you’re speaking with a junior-level rep who’s qualifying you before passing you on, and you’re most likely going to endure three or four of the same conversations before you get a demo. When you finally get a demo, it’s not customized for your needs. Time has been wasted and you’ve lost interest because of the turbulent experience.
Luckily, marketers now have the ability to keep conversations quick, to the point and very relevant. No longer will junior sales reps need to struggle to sort through emails and trying to piece together information. With AI, a marketing automation system can provide all of the information a sales rep needs in one place and with a recommendation on how to act on the data in order to move a deal along quickly and secure the deal. Personalized prospect engagement pays off. In fact, personalized emails alone see a significant boost in email-clickthrough rates of more than 100%.
3) Precise Channel Management
Marketers have to decide how to spend their budget across a range of sales channels from trade shows and field events to social media, E-books and other thought-leadership content. There are many avenues to engage with a prospect, but it can be expensive. Depending on how people engage with a company, especially those interactions that happen online, AI can help determine where to make the best investment to deliver ROI. AI can also help determine the sequence of marketing events that need to take place in order to be successful.
AI helps marketers determine what channels are working best for a B2B company, optimizing spend and shaping the direction of future campaigns. IT executives are already using machine learning for segmentation, so it’s easy to see how marketers will apply AI to measure campaigns more precisely, to be better informed for the next one based on historical information and to pinpoint the ROI of any investment made.
From a sales and marketing perspective, segmentation will help companies understand audience types, their behaviors and interests better than ever before. A customer won’t be determined by age, gender and geography, but by, for example, where they are in their journey. Are they repeat buyers? Are they having service issues? AI captures all of that information and provides the best solution.
4) Better Account-Based Marketing
ABM has been around for years, but has carried several definitions. Historically, B2B sales teams would chase prospects, unsure if there were other leads from the same company at varying stages of the buying cycle. ABM is a set of tools and an approach whereby sales and marketing teams work together to engage with specific accounts, leveraging personalized content across all interactions with a single brand, or account, versus a single individual.
AI’s biggest benefit is arguably in ABM. Today’s customers, whether buying a new sofa or a new software solution, expect a personalized experience with brands throughout their entire journey—from discovery to adoption and advocacy. B2B companies have to accommodate to this new evolution in marketing, and they can do that by tapping the benefits of AI to better curate content with more relevant information at their fingertips. Sales teams are now told by AI what prospect to reach out to, and with what sort of information. They can look at analytics, and be informed by the data on the best next move.
According to Forrester and SiriusDecisions, two of the hottest trends in 2016 were ABM and predictive marketing. When AI meets ABM, B2B sales and marketing don't get much better. If you’re a B2B company and you aren’t thinking about ABM and AI, then you should start now or risk getting left behind.
Michael Kostow is the SVP and GM of Salesforce Pardot, B2B marketing automation by Salesforce, where he is responsible for driving product strategy and market execution. Mike is a six-year Salesforce veteran and has spent the past three years helping Pardot to become the fastest growing and most widely deployed marketing automation solution for Salesforce customers.