As 2021 begins, B2B marketing leaders must solidify their strategies and tactics in order to ensure a successful year ahead. The global pandemic has sped up digitalisation for business marketers and buyers alike. Buyers have already begun the shift from engaging with remote sellers to predominantly using digital channels, and marketers must implement strategies to keep up.
In order to stay relevant with buyers, marketers will have to adopt technologies such as AI, virtual assistants and digital event platforms. Marketers must also begin to concentrate on customer retention and acquisition, and work alongside sales and service teams in order to make the most of acquired information.
AI, chatbots and virtual assistants in marketing
The rapid shift towards a digital lifestyle is affecting B2B firms. In 2020, according to a Forrester survey, ‘Less than 20% of data and analytics decision-makers at B2B firms say they’re using AI to create conversational experiences or optimise personalised engagement at scale.’ This low percentage occurs despite the fact that AI-powered martech is effective throughout the buying cycle, in terms of targeted advertising and content recommendations.
During the pandemic, business buyers have increasingly preferred digital content sources, and B2B should and will use AI to comprehensively personalise customer experiences going forward.
”Forrester predicts that, ‘Nearly 50% of B2B marketers will leverage AI to orchestrate customer engagement by the end of 2021.’
In another 2020 Forrester survey, 41% of buyers said that human/analogue channels were less important than digital channels as a result of the pandemic. As a response, B2B marketers are developing more automated communication channels for these specific buyers. According to Forrester, ‘37% have adopted chatbots and 34% virtual assistants in the past 12 months.’
The current channels are often considered cumbersome and are used as a means of reaching a human agent, but with practice and tech development, this will improve through the use of data, AI and machine learning.
Chatbots and virtual assistants will provide more personalised and guided experiences with specific and relevant information and delivery. Forrester predicts that, ‘More than a third of B2B tech buyers will rate chatbots as one of the top 10 engagement channels in their buying journeys.’
Buyers are seeking personalisation
Adam Hempenstall, CEO and founder of Better Proposals, believes that basic templated emails aren’t adequate anymore: ‘B2B audiences crave personalisation.’ And he suggests taking your time to ‘craft personalised marketing messages’ to see ‘open rates and response rates increase significantly.’
Customer retention and ABM
Prior to the effects of the global pandemic, sellers and marketers always prioritised customer acquisition over customer retention. Forrester claims that,
”"Less than a third of B2B marketers prioritised customer retention as a measure of marketing success"
However, difficult economic times mean that businesses must turn their focus to customer retention and expansion, and B2B marketers must concentrate on their base accounts and account-based marketing (ABM). In 2021, Forrester predicts, 75% of B2B marketers will do exactly that. The amount of B2B firms that spend more than 20% of their marketing budget on ABM programs will also increase by 400% in the coming year.
In order to personalise content and boost sales interaction, ABM marketers will use the information already gathered by B2B firms’ sales content solutions. As a result, Forrester believes that, ‘60% of marketers will enjoy tighter alignment with sales as a key ABM outcome,’ an increase from only 39% in 2019.
In-person events with digital aspects
Over 500 trade shows worldwide were cancelled due to COVID-19. As soon as social distancing requirements become more lenient, events will be held again – but the impact of virtual events will remain.
Over half of in-person events in the future will include virtual elements alongside traditional elements such as onsite networking, sharing and engagement opportunities.
Forrester suggests that virtual elements such as, ‘on-demand content, broader audience reach and richer attendee data gathering’ will be used. As a result of social distancing and the allowance of a limited number of attendees, events will now generally take place in smaller, more decentralised venues.
The future of marketing is now
The effects of the global pandemic on B2B marketing cannot be erased, but that’s not necessarily something negative. The current economic situation gives way to new focuses and strategies, especially with previously established base accounts. Digitalisation and the adoption of new technologies will continue to increase, ensuring interactions remain personal and intimate.
AI, virtual assistants, Marketing Automation and chatbots will be implemented for firms to stay relevant to buyers, further creating an atmosphere adapted to the current climate and where businesses can continue to increase their sales performances.
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