10 B2B Marketing Automation Trends For Your 2021 B2B Marketing Strategy

B2B marketing automation is booming. It pervades every major area of B2B marketing and shows no signs of slowing down. And when we look back to the B2B marketing automation trends we outlined last year, it’s impressive how far we’ve come in just one year.

So as you plan your B2B marketing strategy and budget for the new year, consider each of these B2B marketing automation trends carefully. You’ll want to apply each one of them into your 2021 plans in one way or another.

More Investment.

Marketing automation is already a $7.25 billion industry globally, and is expected to grow 20% or more annually over the next few years according to SharpSpring’s “Investor Presentation Jan 2019.”

marketing automation industry size and projected growth

That rate of growth will be no surprise to B2B marketers, who are investing in marketing automation technology and strategies as fast as they can implement them. 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.

how marketers are investing in marketing automation platforms

This implementation has been made all the more urgent by the factors at play during 2020, including reduced marketing budgets at the same time marketers’ quotas and job responsibilities have increased.

But despite all the growth, marketing automation is still just getting started.

There’s still plenty of room for more use of marketing automation. Dun & Bradstreet report found that only 14% of B2B marketers say they use their marketing automation platform “with advanced functions.” 43% said they use their platform with basic functions. And incredibly, 25% say they aren’t using a marketing automation platform now at all, though they intend to in the next 12 months.

Another 18% of marketers say they aren’t using a marketing automation platform and have no plans to use one. It would be interesting to check back with this 18% over the next two or three years to see how many of them change their mind.

how b2b companies use marketing automation platforms

 

Efficiency and Effectiveness.

Marketers need to do more with less, so it’s no surprise the number one reason they’re adopting marketing automation is to improve campaign effectiveness.

primary objectives of a marketing automation program

This effectiveness may extend beyond campaigns, all the way to the marketers and how well they do their jobs. Autopilot learned this when they surveyed millennial marketers. Those marketers believe marketing automation makes their jobs easier, makes them better at what they do, and even makes their work more enjoyable.

benefits of b2b marketing automation according to millennial marketers

Sales and Marketing Alignment.

Aside from the obvious benefits of marketing automation, there is something else very interesting going on, and though it’s less talked about.

Consider the second objective in the chart above from Ascend2: Improving marketing/sales alignment. This gets ranked as being even more important than improving lead quality.

This is interesting, and it demonstrates how core marketing automation has become to many B2B marketing programs.

Sales and marketing alignment is not something marketing automation is primarily known for. But the importance of this objective for marketing automation speaks to how marketing automation is increasingly done in service to the goal of sales and marketing alignment.

It’s also excellent news. Marketing and sales alignment is arguably one of the hardest things to achieve, even though it’s one of the achievements that delivers the best results. That marketing automation programs have honed in on sales and marketing alignment, and prize it so highly, is promising. It shows how committed many sales and marketing teams are to finally be working in coordination. It may also be why marketing automation is so effective.

Still questioning how marketing automation and sales and marketing alignment are a trend? Consider this: “68% of ABM programs use automation,” according to Salesforce’s 6th State of Marketing report. As you probably know already, one of the pre-requisites of a successful account-based marketing program is sales and marketing alignment.

Personalization.

Personalization has gone way beyond first names in salutations. Thanks to AI, machine learning, and sophisticated software platforms, personalization now extends all the way to the level of the buyer’s journey. Depending on different data inputs and intent signals, marketing automation systems can achieve that long-sought ideal: the right message to the right person at the right time.

Personalization can – and should – happen across channels, too. Even simple marketing automation platforms can now personalize website messages, recommendations for content, and personalize which channels a message is sent through. Truly sophisticated marketing automation systems can personalize content for different members of a B2B buying group. So a CMO will see a slightly different (but still complementary) message than what a marketing manager will see.

All that said, most of the personalization going on is still content personalization. And there are still five primary channels for content personalization:

  • Email
  • SMS
  • Website messaging
  • Social media
  • Direct mail

Advertising.

Automation in advertising, in particular, is accelerating so rapidly that some experts have predicted by 2022, 80% “of the advertising process will be automated.” Even now, Facebook and Google’s advertising algorithms are taking over more and more of campaign management, from bid edits and audience targeting all the way to creative.

Multichannel Marketing (Sometimes Called “Single Customer View (SCV)”).

We touched on multichannel marketing earlier, but it’s so important to marketing automation that it deserves its own section.

Multichannel marketing tends to be the trait of a sophisticated marketing automation program, but even some relatively simple marketing automation platforms can send customized messages via email and on a website. It is quite common for some of these more sophisticated tools to also offer SMS messaging.

Email used to be enough, and it’s certainly essential, but SMS messages, social media, advertising, and messages and content on your website also need to be in sync to get the results marketing automation can deliver.

Getting the data right for all this is, of course, a huge undertaking. You’ll need to coordinate:

  • transactional data
  • behavioral data
  • contact data
  • communication data
  • and more, depending on your program

multichannel marketing aka omnichannel marketing and how well it works

AI-Driven Workflows and Buyers’ Journeys.

As mentioned in the personalization section, marketing automation can do far more than just drop first name information into fields in content. Marketing automation can shape entire customer journeys, thanks largely to what we can do now with artificial intelligence and/or machine learning.

But before you leap into this level of sophistication, you’ll need to hash out the workflows for marketing automation tasks. You’ll need to set up your entire marketing automation system – and then refine that system – based on data about customer journeys. The machines can automate, but they still need humans to layout their instructions.

At least for now. In the most advanced marketing automation systems, data can be used to adjust and optimize workflows and to shape how content and data are managed through the customer journey.

Applications like this become especially valuable in the context of account-based marketing. In ABM, individual company buying committees may consume content and show different digital body language (aka intent). Marketing automation is now smart enough to adjust messaging based on those intent signals, but it relies on AI and machine learning to make this happen. So again, we have another trend (AI) that overlays a trend (using marketing automation to shape customer journeys).

Conversational Marketing.

Chatbots are getting a rebrand as “conversational marketing.” As they get smarter and their applications expand, they are being described colloquially as “conversational marketing.”

Call it what you like, but this is yet another example of marketing automation seeping into other aspects of marketing. This time, it’s customer experience and the customer journey.

Even a year or so ago, the experience with most chatbots was disappointing, and a quite limited. But give the AI developers another few years (or less). By then  we’ll all have a hard time telling whether we’re chatting with a person or a bot. And, of course, anyone with Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant will already be familiar with conversing with an algorithm. It’s only a matter of time before the marketing part of the conversation comes up.

Automated Attribution.

There’s still more room for implementation in automating marketing attribution. But we’re more than halfway there, as the graphic below shows. Note that high performing companies are more likely to automated attribution. This is usually a strong signal that more companies will adopt this practice in the future.

marketing attribution is another way for b2b marketers to use marketing automation

Marketing Automation is No Longer Distinct From Any Other Marketing Strategy.

Marketing automation has seeped in most marketing strategies and tactics. It’s become so widespread that to talk about “marketing automation” as being separate from “marketing” has become a little like talking about “digital marketing” as being separate from “marketing.”

As many influencers have been saying for years, the two things have merged. There is no “digital” marketing anymore – there’s just marketing. In the same sense, we are approaching a time when “marketing automation” is no longer an exceptional thing. It will be just regular marketing.

2020 and 2021’s B2B Marketing Automation Trends Mirror What’s Happening in B2B Marketing Overall.

Each one of these B2B marketing automation trends shows how data management and technology are taking over marketer’s jobs. For most of us, that’s exciting, though occasionally a little challenging. But given the pressures of reduced budgets and increased expectations we all face right now, at least we know we have the tools we need to meet these challenges.

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