As we ready ourselves to jump into the new year, we thought we'd take some time out to examine major trends we see coming around the corner. We're going in depth with the big three so you can see how these trends will affect marketing, sales and your team.
Let's dive into marketing and sales alignment, chatbots and advanced data and reporting and see how each one will be a growing force in the coming year.
1. Marketing and Sales Alignment
"To achieve marketing and sales alignment, both departments need to be supporting on both sides," says Matt Solomon, sales operations strategist at New Breed. "Marketing can't write content and speak to personas appropriately if they don’t leverage info the sales reps glean from their conversations with prospects, just as sales won’t be able to develop easily without marketing support."
The trend, Solomon says, will be about aligning objectives. Salespeople always have a number on their heads, but very often they're also the first human-to-human touchpoint with the prospect. Bringing marketing into those conversations gives marketing the human-connection jolt it can miss when it's so busy using advanced ad algorithms to target buyers.
Olivia Perek, Inbound Strategist at New Breed, sees this trend manifest in her own position, and is encouraging clients to adjust their approaches to keep pace.
"We (marketing) are starting to play a bigger role on both sides. It's a testament to this trend. When we do get involved on the sales side, it's not just a sales approach to sales," she says. It's a marketing approach to sales. And when sales gets involved on the marketing side, it can be a sales approach to marketing. These departments are more than just good influences on one another. They need each other in order to be across-the-board successful.
This trend literally speaks for itself, jokes Solomon. But we'll talk about it anyway.
The concept of changing your approach to speaking to your audience is popping up all over the place, and nowhere more than in the AI realm. Even HubSpot has come out with a chatbot tool!
Primarily, conversational marketing is making a showing as a sales tool as we head into next year, says Solomon. But a direct conversation with an individual isn't only about finding out what products they're looking for. It's also useful for providing content around that individual's pain points in a way that marketers have always done via conversion strategies and smart content. Now, this simple type of AI allows marketers to put boots on the ground, to ensure there's a connection between your brand and the consumer.
On the consumer side, chatbots are mostly used for retail and conversations around news and publications (customer service and content). Those efforts essentially consist of processing input and figuring out what the consumer likes before returning some response of value. Chatbots appear to be getting much better at sourcing that input from elsewhere, thereby making better recommendations without a direct request, says Solomon. And that improvement has vast implications for B2B marketing and sales.
"Delivering the right recommendations without someone digging for them presents opportunity," says Solomon. "It will take some testing to figure it all out, just as we saw with Facebook ad concepts. We'll need to develop ways that this level of intimacy is acceptable for a consumer. Otherwise, trying to extrapolate all of this information and tailor the experience can go a little too far."
As better AI emerges, marketers will need to work harder to come up with genuinely valuable content, he predicts. That's because people will be inundated by attempts. True conversations and real recommendations will come out on top, but they'll require better machine learning. These conversations will continue to take shape through the new year, but we're still a long way off from the brilliant chatbots we'll see in the future.
3. Advanced Data and Reporting
Another growing trend is the importance of data. The rise of platforms like Slate Analytics shows how valuable information is to both marketing and sales. While marketing has been in that grind for a long time, focusing on impressions and awareness metrics, sales is really starting to put its foot in the data door, explains Perek. That will continue into next year.
"Marketing has been data driven," says Solomon. "The sales side is just catching up. Now they can measure revenue, how they're closing deals and who they're closing deals with, and understand ideal customers. Before it was just anecdotal. And now there's no excuse.
"For example, a new Salesforce AI released this year is is excellent at understanding a platform that was previously too complex. There's a lot of potential for reporting there. Today, across the board, every CRM comes with some form of advanced reporting," says Solomon.
And that brings us right back to the trend of marketing and sales helping and influencing one another. Marketing can help sales understand how to improve the sales process internally and externally, helping the team focus on "how do we make this a data-driven point?" vs. "how do I hit my numbers?"
But hitting your numbers still matters, and it's becoming increasingly important to explain and prove marketing's contribution to revenue as we head into a new year.
"Going forward, marketing has a number on their head. We've understood goal numbers for a long time, and that overview is super important for marketing and sales. But in the past, our customers haven't leveraged those goals well beyond a new site build," Solomon says. "Now, marketing will be less concerned about leads generated and more concerned about revenue generated," which means the need for advanced reporting, including a semblance of multi-touch attribution, is on the rise.
"In the past, there's been a lot of confusion and not a ton of understanding about advanced reporting for revenue contribution," says Solomon. "Next year, it's more about recognizing you can do it, and finding out how. It's the year where people are really starting to figure this stuff out."
The need for contribution numbers can fuel CRM programmers, too, Solomon says. "Within the different platforms, they'll need to start to think about and acknowledge that reporting capabilities need to be built out more, and move in that direction."