The automation of B2B marketing is booming. It permeates all major areas of B2B marketing and shows no signs of slowing down. And when we look back at the trends in B2B marketing automation that we outlined over the past year, it’s impressive how far we’ve come in just one year.
As you plan your B2B marketing strategy and budget for the New Year, carefully consider each of these B2B marketing automation trends. You should incorporate each of them into your 2021 plans in one way or another.
Marketing automation is already a $ 7.25 billion industry worldwide and is expected to grow by 20% or more annually over the next few years, according to SharpSprings’ Investor Presentation Jan 2019.
This rate of growth won’t come as a surprise to B2B marketers who are investing in marketing automation technology and strategies as soon as possible. Marketing automation platforms were the second highest technology investment priority for B2B marketers in 2020, according to Dun & Bradstreet’s report B2B Enters The Experience Era: 2020 Data-Driven Marketing & Advertising Outlook.
That implementation has been made all the more urgent by the factors at play in 2020, including reduced marketing budgets, while at the same time marketers’ quotas and job responsibility have increased.
Despite the growth, marketing automation is still in its infancy.
There is still a lot of room for more use of marketing automation. The Dun & Bradstreet report found that only 14% of B2B marketers say they use their marketing automation platform “with advanced features”. 43% stated that they use their platform with basic functions. And incredibly, 25% say they are not currently using a marketing automation platform at all, although they intend to be in the next 12 months.
Another 18% of marketers say they don’t use a marketing automation platform and have no plans to use one. It would be interesting to look back at that 18% over the next two or three years to see how many of them change their minds.
Efficiency and effectiveness.
Marketers need to do more with less. So it’s not surprising that the number one reason to adopt marketing automation is to improve campaign effectiveness.
This effectiveness can extend beyond campaigns, to the marketers and how well they do their jobs. Autopilot found out about this when they interviewed millennial marketers. These marketers believe that marketing automation makes their jobs easier, makes them better at what they do, and even makes their jobs more enjoyable.
Aside from the obvious benefits of marketing automation, something very interesting is afoot but less talked about.
Consider the second objective in Ascend2’s table above: To improve marketing and sales alignment. This is considered even more important than improving lead quality.
This is interesting and shows how central marketing automation has become for many B2B marketing programs.
The direction of sales and marketing is not primarily known. However, the importance of this goal to marketing automation speaks to how marketing automation is increasingly being performed in the service of the goal of aligning sales and marketing.
It’s great news too. Marketing and sales alignment is arguably one of the hardest things to achieve, although it is one of the accomplishments that produces the best results. Hopefully, marketing automation programs have improved sales and marketing alignment and rated it as highly. It shows how committed many sales and marketing teams are to finally working in a coordinated manner. It may also be why marketing automation is so effective.
Still wondering how marketing automation and sales and marketing alignment are trending? Note that “68% of ABM programs use automation,” according to Salesforce’s 6th Marketing Status Report. As you probably already know, one of the prerequisites for a successful account-based marketing program is the alignment of sales and marketing.
Personalization has gone way beyond first names in salutations. Thanks to AI, machine learning and sophisticated software platforms, personalization now extends to the shopper level. Depending on varying data inputs and intent signals, marketing automation systems can achieve this long-awaited ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time.
Personalization can and should also take place across channels. Even simple marketing automation platforms can now personalize website messages and content recommendations, and personalize which channels a message is sent through. Really sophisticated marketing automation systems can personalize content for different members of a B2B buying group. So a CMO sees a slightly different (but still complementary) message than a marketing manager.
All in all, the biggest part of personalization is still content personalization. And there are five main channels for content personalization:
- Website messaging
- Social media
- Direct mail
In particular, automation in advertising is accelerating so quickly that some experts have predicted by 2022 that 80% of the advertising process will be automated. The advertising algorithms of Facebook and Google are already increasingly taking over campaign management, from bid changes and target group views to creative ones.
Multichannel Marketing (sometimes referred to as “Single Customer View (SCV)”).
We’ve covered multichannel marketing before, but it’s so important to marketing automation that it deserves its own section.
Multichannel marketing is usually the hallmark of a sophisticated marketing automation program, but even some relatively simple marketing automation platforms can send custom messages through email and on a website. Some of these more sophisticated tools often offer SMS messages as well.
Email was earlier enough, and it certainly matters, but text messages, social media, advertising, and the messages and content on your website also need to be synced to achieve the results marketing automation can deliver.
Finding the right data for all of this is, of course, a huge undertaking. You need to coordinate:
- Transaction data
- Behavioral data
- contact details
- Communication data
- and more, depending on your program
As mentioned in the “Personalization” section, marketing automation can do much more than just put information in first names in content fields. Marketing automation can affect entire customer journeys, largely thanks to what we can now do with artificial intelligence and / or machine learning.
However, before you get into this level of sophistication, you need to work out the workflows for marketing automation tasks. You need to set up your entire marketing automation system and then refine that system based on data from customer journeys. The machines can automate, but they still need people to shape their instructions.
At least for now. In the most advanced marketing automation systems, data can be used to customize and optimize workflows and to shape how content and data is managed during the customer journey.
Applications like this become particularly valuable in the context of account-based marketing. In ABM, individual purchasing committees of companies can consume content and display different digital body languages (also known as intentions). Marketing automation is now smart enough to customize messaging based on these intent signals. However, it relies on AI and machine learning to achieve this. So we have another trend (AI) that is superimposing a trend (using marketing automation to create customer trips).
Chatbots are being renamed as “Conversational Marketing”. As they get smarter and their applications expand, they are colloquially known as “conversational marketing”.
Call it what you like, but this is another example of marketing automation infiltrating other aspects of marketing. This time it’s the customer experience and the customer journey.
About a year ago, the experience with most chatbots was disappointing and quite limited. But give the AI developers a few more years (or less). Until then, we’ll all have a hard time telling whether we’re chatting with a person or a bot. And of course everyone with Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant is already familiar with the conversation with an algorithm. It’s only a matter of time before the marketing part of the conversation shows up.
There is even more room for implementation in marketing attribution automation. But we’re more than halfway there, as the following graphic shows. Note that high performing companies are more likely to use automated mapping. This is usually a strong signal that more companies will be adopting this practice in the future.
Marketing automation is no longer different from other marketing strategies.
Marketing automation has made its way into most marketing strategies and tactics. It is so common that talking about “marketing automation” as separated from “marketing” is a little like talking about “digital marketing” as separated from “marketing”.
As many influencers have been saying for years, the two things have come together. There is no longer any “digital” marketing – there is only marketing. In the same vein, we are approaching a time when “marketing automation” is no longer an exception. It will just be regular marketing.
The automation trends for B2B marketing in 2020 and 2021 reflect what is happening in B2B marketing overall.
Each of these B2B marketing automation trends shows how data management and technology are doing the marketer’s job. For most of us this is exciting, if a little challenging at times. With the pressures of reduced budgets and increased expectations we all face right now, at least we know we have the tools we need to address these challenges.