One of the bigger trends recently in B2B (and rightly so) is that it’s becoming more like B2C, where today’s younger buyers can research multiple vendors without even talking to salespeople – if you aren’t using the right mix of creativity and data analysis you risk losing customers to competitors before you even know they exist.
Fortunately, Artificial Intelligence will soon be here in B2B marketing to make it all a lot easier. I believe that AI will make it effortless for a B2B brand to learn who and where their customers are, what they’re talking about, and how to provide them with the right content and interactions at the right time.
AI is already a part of our lives, with most of us having a personal assistant on our smartphones in the form Apple’s Siri or Google’s Now/Assistant; Microsoft’s Cortana on our PCs; in our homes, with Amazon having sold 5 million of its Echo devices in 2 years (as of November 2016); and in our cars too, with GPS systems being aware of the traffic situation and rerouting you if necessary – but with developments from Google and Tesla, we soon won’t even need to drive the cars ourselves because AI will do it for us.
We’re ready for AI
Why is now the time for AI to make a big impact in B2B? Because we’re just about ready for it. R “Ray” Wang, Principal Analyst and Founder, Constellation Research, says there are seven factors that need to be nurtured for AI to really work:
- Large corpus of data
- Massive compute power
- Awesome maths talent
- Industry-specific expertise
- Natural user interfaces and user experiences
I think we’re very close, if not already there, for many of these factors.
The biggest tech brands are betting on AI too
It’s hard to argue that AI isn’t a big deal when huge tech brands such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft have, and continue to, pump massive amounts of time and money into its research and development – for example, in 2014 Google acquired UK-based DeepMind, a company pioneering in AI, for £400m. There are even rumours that Samsung has put aside $1billion to acquire, and invest in, companies working with AI.
But AI is about more than giving us directions or asking it to send an email for you – it’s ready for business too. Not long after Salesforce announced its Einstein project, Oracle too unveiled its Adaptive Intelligent Applications AI platform, which they say processes enormous amounts of data and analyses context to anticipate buyer behaviours and deliver actionable, personalised outcomes, all without needing a team of data scientists.
AI might actually align sales and marketing
If you work anywhere near marketing, you constantly hear the phrase ‘align sales and marketing’. Businesses feel that they should be doing it, but most don’t because they don’t know how to or don’t have enough motivation or energy to get multiple business areas working together.
AI could make this a lot easier. By analysing data from across the whole business it could, say, recommend actions that the sales team should take based on what the marketing team has already done and what the business goals are – it will be able to constantly adapt and react to what separate areas of the business are doing, and continuously provide personalised feedback.
AI and personalisation
Producing consistently relevant and high-quality content is a challenge for marketers at the best of times, but it’s even more difficult now that customers are expecting ever more personalised content and interactions.
AI should speed this up considerably by making connections between certain events and how people react to them. AI will be able to help humans learn what a customer wants when a certain action takes place and recommend a personalised reaction or piece of content, engaging them at the right place and the right time.
AI and Account Based Marketing
A report by Demandbase shows that there’s a good reason for the trend of Account Based Marketing in B2B in recent years: ABM allows for a greater focus on customer experience, allows marketers to focus on pipeline rather than ‘vanity metrics’ such as impressions and click-through rates, and lets you achieve value quicker.
AI will make ABM more effective and easier to achieve. While conversations between account managers and customers are already taking place, AI lets you scale it up to however many visitors your website receives.
Chatbots, for example, could let thousands – or even millions – of website visitors all have conversations about their particular needs and goals, and recommend a product or service package that meets their requirements, all without any interaction with a human.
AI will impact B2B sooner than you think
If AI is to be as useful as possible in B2B marketing, it’s important that we focus on quality rather than flooding the market and adding to an already cluttered marketing tech space – there were an estimated 3,874 marketing technology solutions in 2016.
But I think it’s now clear that AI will change the way the world works and how humans interact with one another. A recent study by Weber Shandwick revealed that 55% of CMOs across 5 global markets think AI will transform the marketing and communications landscape even more than social media has, and nearly 6 in 10 believe that companies will need to compete in the AI space to succeed.
So there’s no question that AI will greatly impact B2B marketing, only it will come a lot quicker than you think. And no, we’re not going to see a dystopian future where AI decides it no longer needs humans – not anytime soon, anyway…