B2B marketers have always had a difficult job, and the last couple of years have only gotten harder. COVID and the related safety precautions have driven many of the purchasing managers and procurement experts that form the core B2B customer base to work from home. At first glance, this might not sound like a huge problem. After all, most marketing is now done online, and most purchases are completed the same way.
Well, yes and no. While certain data indicates that the pandemic has actually been great for some B2C companies, the same cannot be said for B2B companies. There’s a good reason for that. The average B2B purchase is far larger than the average B2C sale, and B2B buyers must typically justify their purchasing decisions to a wide range of stakeholders and superiors.
For this reason, securing B2B sales has historically relied on an ability to walk a potential customer through the buying experience. That journey is one that it is very difficult to replicate online. Nevertheless, there are tools that can help B2B marketers guide customers to a sale. Some of the most important of these use artificial intelligence (AI), and take the business value of analytics to the next level. In this article, we’ll look at how B2B businesses can leverage AI to deliver a seamless customer experience.
Achieving success in the B2B space has always been about making the most of the resources available to you, and that’s truer now than ever before. An emerging set of AI-enhanced tools promises to make resource allocation more efficient by predicting shifts in your target markets well in advance of when they happen.
Such functionality has long been the promise of AI tools, but it has been relatively slow to come to the market. Or at least it has for B2B marketers, as this same functionality has long been a part of industrial supply chains, but has also been more difficult to apply to marketing environments than supply chain logistics.
While it might seem as though these tools are relatively new, they actually rely on a component of effective B2B marketing that has been around for decades—the ability to drive change in the market, rather than merely be reactive to it.
In fact, and as some analysts have recently pointed out, AI tools are leading many marketers back to a recognition of how content marketing actually works at a fundamental level, rather than attempting to “capture traffic” for existing keywords in your industry, it’s now possible to use AI-driven insights to get ahead of the market, and use your content to drive shifts in your industry.
It now appears that leading B2B marketers have recognized the value of predictive models. In a recent study by McKinsey, “a majority of executives whose companies have adopted AI report that it has provided an uptick in revenue in the business areas where it is used, and 44% say AI has reduced costs.”
AI tools can help with B2B marketing from the very beginning of your customer acquisition process. When it comes to the earliest stages of contact with a customer, the majority of B2B companies face a similar problem—how to separate those who are in charge of a significant budget, and are actually going to make a purchase, from those who are merely browsing. Similarly, B2B customers are likely to require significant amounts of information on a particular product—especially if it is a complicated one—before they can begin to assess its value to them.
AI-powered chatbots can solve both issues simultaneously. They can engage with customers when they access your site and respond to their queries in an adaptive, intelligent way. This means that potential customers can quickly access the information they need to make a purchasing decision, but also that you can begin to collect key pieces of first-party data. As we will come to shortly, this information will then allow you to begin to segment your customers into key demographics, a key element of any business analytics systems.
If you haven’t looked at chatbots in the last few years, you might be pleasantly surprised by their increasing sophistication. Even five years ago, most chatbots found it difficult to discuss complex B2B products in a convincing, genuinely useful way. Now, they can be quickly trained to provide information on complex product and service offerings.
If there’s one thing that AI tools excel at, it's taking vast amounts of raw data and generating genuine insights. Most B2B marketers have, by now, put in place advanced analytics tools that are able to harvest data from the smallest interactions with customers—either through their interaction with chatbots, as above, or merely by tracking the way that your customers interact with your website. Due to this, digital marketers tend to have an abundance of data on which to base marketing decisions—the problem is extracting meaning from it.
This is also an area where AI tools can help. It’s now possible to take raw data generated by web and social media analytics engines and feed these through AI-driven segmentation models. These models will automatically provide you with a set of key customers for your business, and can even suggest how and when you should target them to maximize sales.
That said, it’s important to recognize that tools like this cannot (yet) replace the trained eye of an experienced marketer. Tools, such as chatbots and customer segmentation services, should be looked at as a way of saving you time, so you can focus on what you are best at. Analysts recommend, for instance, that you get your team to spend 10 to 15 minutes a day using tools, such as LinkedIn, to engage with others in your industry—a task that is far better done by an actual human being, rather than an AI.
All of the AI-enhanced B2B marketing tools on the market today rely on one thing: data. Vast amounts of it. This simple fact can also be used to predict the future of the industry—if we are able to collect more data on B2B customers, these tools will be more effective.
The Internet of Things (IoT) has long been a driver of innovation within the AI space, because IoT devices allow the collection of the kind of vast datasets that AIs need to function effectively. As a result, many B2C marketers have fought to gain access to consumer IoT devices (such as smartwatches and activity trackers) to inform their marketing campaigns.
To date, a similar shift has not occurred in the B2B space, but that might be about to change. If B2B marketers can gain access to the IoT networks already deployed by their customers, these data could usher in a new era of B2B marketing where the tactics adapt to the needs of business customers in real time.
That might sound like science fiction, but it’s important to realize that not everything will change. In fact, the future is likely to contain some very sophisticated elements—think AI-driven tools drawing data from the IoT—alongside more traditional forms of advertising.
For many B2B marketers, the move to AI tools will now be a natural choice. Leading operators in the industry have spent years building up their ability to collect data, and are now sitting on vast stores of valuable raw information. It’s time to let artificial intelligence show us how to use that, and to turn analytics into insights.
For more information about how digital marketers can work with AI, check out: