Marketing is increasingly driven by data and technology. Nowhere is that more evident than in marketing automation.
It’s enabled us to do some pretty cool things. Most B2B marketers, for example, have moved beyond the simplest forms of marketing automation. We can send welcome emails and autoresponders in our sleep. We’ve got the email part of marketing automation down.
Now it’s time for B2B marketing automation to shift into multichannel messaging, even personalized, real-time multichannel messaging.
And that’s only one of B2B marketers’ new capabilities. As AI and machine learning gain wider use, marketing automation is set to get increasingly more sophisticated and impressive. It’s both exciting… and a little daunting.
So if you’re ready for the brave new world (or at least 2019’s version of it), here are the B2B marketing automation trends most likely to have the biggest impact. We’ve chosen these trends based on research wherever possible, so while this list may have some opinions in it, it’s mostly based on data. Which seems appropriate, given the state of marketing automation in 2019.
The most successful marketers will be those who manage their data best.
Marketing has become a data wonk’s job. Everything runs on data now – pretty much every trend mentioned here is data-driven: Personalization, Multichannel, Improving the Customer Journey, you name it.
Data management is complex of course. That’s why it’s a challenge, and often mentioned as a primary barrier to marketing automation success (only strategy seems to give marketers as much trouble).
And “data management” is a very general term. To rock marketing automation like we want to, data has to be accurate and formatted correctly so it can be accessed. It has to be current, and you’ll have to figure out a way to keep that data “clean” so no delayed process ends up updating a field with outdated information.
Managing all those data inputs can be tough. And it isn’t going to get any easier. The number of data sources used by most marketing organizations is actually increasing.
Don’t expect this to change all that much in 2019. The real thing to expect is that the marketers who can figure out how to turn their data from a cacophony into a symphony will do better and better.
And while data management is a big job… it can be done. “47% of marketers say they have a completely unified view of customer data sources” according to Salesforce.
You want to be in that half.
More B2B marketers will use multichannel messaging – and use it well.
For years, “marketing automation” has largely meant automated email marketing. More sophisticated B2B marketers moved past that a while ago, but some marketers are still “stuck” in the early phases of marketing automation.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but your prospects and customers don’t just use email. As you know all too well, they’re using social media (often several social platforms) and they’re on your site (we hope). They may even be at an in-person event now and then, and they’re almost always texting.
So expect to see more B2B tools and marketers move toward multichannel communication this year, especially because more marketers are integrating AI and machine learning into their martech.
AI and machine learning have a data-crunching power needed to pull multichannel off. It’s always been nearly impossible for human marketers to manage multichannel campaigns of any size, especially now that customers and prospects basically expect personalization and real-time messaging.
There be more personalized communications, and more personalized customer journeys.
Personalization is no longer a competitive edge – it’s a customer expectation. And yet, only 28% of marketers are “completely satisfied” with their ability to “Create personalized omni-channel customer experiences.”
If you can get this right, though, the rewards are there: Salesforce reports that “High-performing marketers are 9.7x more likely than underperformers to be completely satisfied with their ability to personalize omni-channel experiences.”
What B2B marketers can do now with marketing automation is truly impressive… and at the same time, to some customers and prospects, we’ve finally achieved what they’ve been expecting for so long: To give them the information that’s relevant and useful to them, and nothing else.
More B2B marketers will implement real-time communication.
You know the cliché: Strike while the iron is hot. Well, it applies to marketing automation in spades, and smart marketers are chasing this capability down.
To give you an idea of how powerful real-time communication can be, consider the difference between response rates for welcome emails that are sent instantly versus welcome emails that are “batched” and sent out a bit later.
The real-time emails get 10X the engagement.
What would your marketing reports look like with 10X engagement? Heck – what would your bonus look like?
Marketing automation will be used more often for the entire customer lifecycle – not just for lead generation.
Marketing automation is great for nurturing leads, but it’s also great for customer retention and increasing customer lifetime value. We’ve known this for a while, but as marketers have had more time to grow into marketing automation, and to use it more confidently throughout their marketing, we’re finally seeing the full lifecycle use show up.
40% of marketers in a recent survey said that “prospect/customer re-engagement” is one of the most effective tactics for optimizing marketing automation.
If your current marketing automation program is only “sort of” profitable, an automated re-engagement program could be an easy way to move it into the black. Re-engagement programs are generally the low hanging fruit of marketing programs: They can generate strong results with just a little bit of work.
All you’d need to do to set up a marketing automation re-engagement “program” is to:
- Ask your IT department (or your own marketing software, in some cases) when customers/clients tend to dis-engage.
- Have a copywriter write you a series of re-engagement emails.
- Get the emails designed and set up.
- Start testing.
The opportunity for re-engagement emails is particularly ripe. Only 10% of marketers are sending re-activation emails according to a recent survey.
Lead quality will continue to beat lead quantity.
The shift to lead quality over lead quantity has been going on for a while now. It’s a sign of how marketing automation is becoming more effective.
Of course, lead quality can mean many things. It can refer to whether leads are Sales qualified, how long leads take to mature into sales, and the value of leads. Those are all more granular measurements of the same trend: Better leads are better than more leads.
Sales will welcome this, for sure. They’ve spent too much time already following up on weak leads. Actually, the quality of leads (however you measure them) could be an excellent metric for tracking that elusive Sales and marketing integration.
Marketers will use marketing automation as a way to improve the customer journey/experience.
Pop quiz: What’s the single most effective way to optimize marketing automation?
According to the marketers (mostly B2B) who responded to Ascend2’s survey about marketing automation, the answer is: Customer experience mapping.
This actually makes enormous sense. In a way, marketing automation – sending pre-defined messages to people who take particular actions – is a way to shape their experience with your company. All those drip email campaigns… that’s a way to guide a customer’s experience with you.
Marketing automation is customer experience optimization.
And as you know, optimizing the customer experience is one of the single best ways to be an awesome marketer, build an awesome company, and have customers/clients who rave about you to thousands of other likely customers.
That’s why it’s been called the ultimate competitive advantage. A survey from PwC found that:
“Forty-three percent of customers would pay for a greater convenience, and 42 percent would pay for a friendlier, welcoming experience, according to the survey. Furthermore, 65 percent believe that a positive experience with a business is more influential than great advertising.”
Another survey found that “80% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products and services.”
Thinking of marketing automation as an extension of optimizing customer experience could be a great way to get more budget for it. A lot of CEOs get the benefits of improving the customer experience – they know how it can affect practically every aspect of a business. And so, framing marketing automation as one way to improve customer experience could get them onboard with projects that they might otherwise have been cool about.
Strategy may continue to be a sticking point.
It’s the classic story: Marketers get attracted to cool technology, but don’t have enough of a strategy set up to really make the most of it.
Developing a marketing automation strategy should happen after you’ve defined your personas and mapped their customer journeys. Customer journey mapping will never be perfect – customers and prospects don’t move in a linear path, and they definitely don’t all do it in the same way.
But take a deep breath, accept that your customer journey plans won’t be perfect, and build your marketing automation system from there.
It will evolve the longer you use it and test it. But you have to start somewhere, and starting with a “good enough” customer journey map is far better than just diving in and starting to implement marketing automation in a little corner of your business here and there.
Use of artificial intelligence and machine learning will continue to grow.
Honestly, B2B marketing automation is probably using more machine learning than true artificial intelligence. The classic definition of AI is that it can fool a human into thinking the AI is another human; most chatbots can’t do that (yet).
But machine learning is definitely in play. The definition of machine learning is “using data to answer questions” according to Google. As mentioned above, marketing performance basically runs on data now – who wouldn’t want to use machine learning to get the data to start answering questions? That seems to be exactly what we all need.
And because marketers’ adoption of AI grew by 44% from 2017 to 2018, expect 2019 to see at least that much growth in “AI” (or machine learning).
Voice search will become the next new messaging channel for messages sent via marketing automation.
B2B marketers get such a bad rap for being behind on trends. But 32% of us are already optimizing for voice-activated personal assistants.
This is going to accelerate in 2019, and it is absolutely going to affect marketing automation. Even now, Alexa can read emails.
So… have you listened to how your automated emails sound when read? Have you looked into what your company’s customer experience is like via voice for your automated messages? Some of your competitors are already doing this.
Marketing automation reminds me more and more of the advertising automation going on in pay per click and social media advertising. Marketers are increasingly able to sit back from routine operations (like bid edits or sending updates about a new blog post) and are moving more into data analysis and customer experience.
Having these powerful tools to work with is fantastic. It lets us do truly cool things. But the tools are really only as good as the people who use them.
Marketing automation can work really well, but it’s not magic. Even the most robust marketing automation platforms still need smart people to set them up and optimize them.