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Sales, marketing and blurring the lines: 4 predictions for B2B customer relationships in 2018

By / / In Insight /
In this digital age, modern buyers have often already made their decision before they reach the salesperson. How do companies stay ahead of that trend? Marketers will need to be more involved post-sale, AI-powered solutions must gain traction, marketing content should improve and the traditional B2B salesperson must change, says Andy MacMillan – citing this year as the tipping point in the digitisation of B2B customer relationships.

The B2B sales process has looked the same for many years. Marketing would generate leads and then pass them onto the sales team, who managed the RFP, on-site meetings, follow-ups and all the other little steps necessary to make a deal go through.

However, following those steps seems hopelessly outdated today. In the world we now live in, buyers do extensive online research ahead of any purchase, thus forming opinions before they ever come into contact with a salesperson. According to Forrester, up to 90 per cent of a buyer’s journey could be completed before they even reach out to a salesperson.

In 2018, this will become standard procedure more than ever before, something B2B companies are well aware of and working hard to address. The new world order will require honing digital marketing techniques, rejigging organisational structures and keeping up with the fast advances in technology that are allowing for more automation and intelligence in regards to managing the customer lifecycle.

For companies still relying on outside sales teams, pressure will mount to re-allocate resources towards marketing and inside sales teams that can manage digital relationships both pre- and post-sale.

B2B and going digital

Overall, it will be a big year for change and a tipping point in terms of B2B customer relationships going fully digital. Below are are four predictions for B2B marketing in 2018.

  1. Marketing will encompass more than ever

Marketing used to involve exclusively the creation of campaigns and activities to attract customers. Once a lead was generated, the marketer’s job was done and the sales and customer service teams took over the relationship.

B2B relationships today are much more complicated; providing appealing content to reel buyers in at the start is no longer enough. In order to keep customers happy and engaged, it is crucial that marketing be involved more than ever post-sale, well into the customer care phase, particularly for companies using a subscription-based model.

  1. AI-powered solutions will become ubiquitous

Increasingly, more B2B companies will embrace artificial intelligence (AI) in 2018, facing the key challenge in managing today’s digital relationships; how will businesses retain a personal connection?

With all the information available online, buyers are more knowledgeable than ever before about a company’s products. They are thus more demanding about the content they receive and, naturally, expect a more personalised experience.

Marketing automation already helps marketers save time and target more effectively. It also helps optimise all stages of the customer journey by doing a variety of tasks that would otherwise have to be done manually. However, AI gives us a deeper insight into customer behaviour and can give marketers recommendations on things such as at what time an email is most likely to resonate with its reader. Being able to provide that level of personalisation has become as critically important to a company as the products it sells.

In 2018, these AI capabilities will begin to be considered a standard part of the toolkit in managing B2B relationships.

  1. Content will get stronger

Buyers today are more difficult to please than in the past and are more discerning about the content they come across in their research – so, the quality has to be higher and thought has to be put into everything we share online.

B2B companies know this and will make an effort to step up their game in terms of content in 2018 – making sure everything from their case studies, white papers, eBooks and other traditional content is top-notch. We’ll also see more video content, a format which is rapidly becoming one of the preferred ways for prospects and customers to interact with companies.

More and more companies are also realising that it is crucial to reach customers through their smartphones, since the number of B2B buyers using them throughout the path to purchase is rising sharply. ‘Micro-moments’, a term invented by Google which means appealing to customers who are turning to their devices for absolutely everything, will become popular in B2B environments.

  1. The traditional B2B salesperson will become digitised

This new online model for B2B customer relationships is endangering the conventional outside salesperson. Once considered the more important cog in a well-oiled machine, the hard truth is that salespeople are becoming obsolete.

In 2018, many companies will have to redefine the role and necessary skills of their sales team, as lines between pre- and post-sales continue to blur. One thing that is for sure is that inside salespeople will be working much more closely with marketing, as the overall focus shifts to nurturing customer relationships in a holistic way,

All aboard the rapid B2B customer relationships train

As these four predictions for 2018 show, the B2B buying process has been completely turned on its head and it’s incredibly important for companies to hop aboard this fast-moving train, otherwise they risk losing out.

Have an opinion on this article? Please join in the discussion: the GMA is a community of data driven marketers and YOUR opinion counts.

Andy MacMillan
Author: Andy MacMillan
CEO at Act-On |

Andy MacMillan is CEO of marketing automation company Act-On. Previously, he has held several senior leadership positions, including chief operating officer of the products division at Salesforce and vice-president of product management at Oracle.

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