End-of-the-year predictions are a dangerous business. I will take the risk and just hope that at the end of 2018, no one looks back to call me on it! B2B sales and marketing are evolving quickly as buying behavior changes and new technologies take hold, so there’s a lot to talk about. But I will limit my predictions to just seven and hope they provide food for thought to my fellow followers of the B2B marketing scene.
- More growth in marketing technology—and more consolidation. Ever since Scott Brinker began tracking the martech space in 2011, when he identified 150 point solutions on the market, the category’s growth has been unstoppable. In 2017, he counted 5,381 solutions, up 40% from the year prior. This is nuts—and ripe for consolidation. As buyers sit paralyzed by the deluge, vendors scramble to stand out. I predict major M&A next year. One corollary point is that marketing executives will need to be tech savvier than ever to manage their ever-growing stacks.
- Predictive analytics becomes an essential tool in B2B. Data and modeling are nothing new in B2B, but the tools and strategies that have entered the tool set in the last few years are setting us up for a new kind of data-driven future. Particularly in prospecting, new resources like purchase signals (“intent data”) and lookalike modeling will continue to expand marketers’ access to new audiences and provide scale to their ABM programs. Look to Lattice, Mintigo, 6Sense, Leadspace, and MRP Prelytix.
- AI gets real. The marketing buzzword of the year, artificial intelligence will in 2018 prove its value in speeding up data processing and applying machine learning to digital advertising, predictive analytics, responsive websites, chatbots, and all manner of customer management. Look, when Salesforce introduced an AI plug-in called Einstein, my point was proven.
- Self-service analytics. As martech gets more complex and CMOs are close to controlling tech budgets as large as CIOs, next up is the need for simplicity and new ways for marketers to take advantage of technology without becoming total geeks. Enter self-service, which essentially means more sophisticated business intelligence tools that feature ease of use along with speed and power. IBM’s Watson may be the most famous of the bunch. But I believe cheaper, more accessible competitors will be coming along.
- GDPR will give B2B marketers a break. This is certainly wishful thinking, but my gut says the EU regulators will clarify whether some exceptions or workarounds may be available to B2B marketers as the May 25, 2018 deadline approaches. B2Bmarketing.net in the UK has prepared a useful guide for B2B marketers on how to begin their compliance efforts. In the meantime, Forrester predicts that 40% of marketers are going to take their chances and not even try to comply.
- Customer experience will become a key discipline in B2B. It’s been a long time coming, but B2B marketers are finally waking up to the fact that purchase decisions are based far less on price and more on direct and indirect experience with the product, the brand, and the company. Even in B2B, where things are supposed to be so rational. Sirius Decisions has been following this topic for some years. As interest grows, so will marketing departments focus on how to deliver consistent, informative, and enjoyable experiences—online and off—to customers and prospects.
- Understanding millennial buying behavior will be key to success. I’ve offered tips about marketing to millennials before. But new data suggests that this demographic is more influential than ever. They are now responsible for researching and influencing 65% of purchase decisions, and in 13% they are the decision-makers themselves. Moreover, it turns out that the first place they look for solutions is not Google search and your website, but on social media. As these people age, their influence will grow. We need to be on their wavelength.
Those are my predictions for B2B marketing in 2018. Anyone have others to offer?