Digital Marketing
Digital Marketing

B2B Marketing Trends 2021

The traditional predicting of the next year's 10 B2B Marketing trends. Hopefully 2021 with be better than 2020.


The year 2020 didn’t start half bad. I mean January and February weren’t bad.  We can all agree 2020 wasn’t exactly what we expected. However, looking ahead with renewed optimism, we’re continuing the tradition and predicting the most important B2B Marketing trends in 2021.

Things have changed, but marketing activity hasn’t stopped. The pandemic forced many companies to rethink their strategies, and we saw remote marketing become common almost overnight. Going forward, sales and marketing teams will be more creative and resourceful, building on the lessons learned in the last few months. As a result, companies will refine their strategies with a focus on a new digital customer journey with multiple touchpoints and channels across various channels.

A renewed focus on the digital journey that puts the customer at the centre. That’s the premise in which I am predicting next year’s 10 B2B Marketing trends—and here they are:

1. The digital customer journey will be on top of the corporate agenda

The pandemic accelerated the adoption of remote work, and now remote sales are more important than ever. For marketing teams, especially those lagging behind, it’s time to shift focus from traditional, offline strategies to more modern digital tactics.

In the coming months, companies will rethink a prospect’s path to become a customer. We’ll see more salespeople spend time on social selling, sharing relevant content, and building relationships—in place of traditional cold calling. For their part, marketers will learn to be more data-driven to deliver highly targeted campaigns and personalised customer experiences.

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).

2. Retention marketing: it’s easier and more efficient to sell to existing customers than it is to find new customers

Retention marketing is the set of activities that seek to maintain customer relationships resulting in higher marketing ROI through continued sales at a lower cost per sale. Retention marketing can increase both the amount of time a customer continues buying from you, as well as how much they buy. We often call this cross-sell and upsell. We want to sell more products and services to existing customers and also at higher prices and profit.

How much profit? According to Harvard Business Review, a 5% increase in customer retention can deliver up to 95% increase in profits. B2B Marketers love to talk about acquiring new customers. But the bottom line is that Retention Marketing might be a better place to start in 2021. Especially if budgets are limited.

What are some of the best ways to retain customers?

Onboarding & Education
Customer Training
Constant Communication
Ongoing customer support
Surveys & testimonials
Customer appreciation

3. Advertising will be not anymore manual

Advertising has evolved tremendously over the years, as brands and landing page tools continuously adapt to new mediums, audiences, and trends. In the past decade alone, we’ve seen major changes in advertising and software automation.

From PPC and social media to AI and machine learning, advertisers, agencies, C-Level executives, and clients today search for and apply the best automation technology to their campaigns.

In Automation in advertising 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.

According to Business.com, software automation can save advertisers 30% of their time. Not only that, but it optimizes your campaigns for higher CTR and lower CPC.

Implemented to its fullest extent, automation helps streamline lead generation, lead scoring, customer segmentation, customer lifecycles, analytics processes, and more. This is especially important as a business begins to grow and scale, and manual operations become unmanageable and ineffective without technology. When this happens, automation is key. Fortunately, businesses can automate many tasks that are well-defined — bids, budgets, keywords, campaign rules, etc.

Efficiency, scale, and low cost are just some of the many benefits that the evolution of automation has brought to advertising. This is only the beginning, and further advancements could lead to more transparency and cost efficiency for agencies and advertisers.

4. Analytics will solve the B2B attribution chaos

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” A century later, this quote by John Wanamaker is still true for more than half of marketing organizations. According to Salesforce research, only 41% of companies are using marketing attribution modelling. Without a model, how do you connect a simple action like a click on an ad to revenue noted in your CRM?

In 2021, we expect this number to increase. Sales and revenue operations pros will dig deeper into their custom multi-touch revenue attribution reports to better understand how different activities create revenue. Such models are especially useful in long sales cycles with multiple stakeholders involved.

5. The content will be more interactive and personal

In order to increase consumer interactions and engagements, businesses need to make their content more interactive. Your business can do this by encouraging followers to share your posts on social media, creating interesting quizzes, filming videos, and implementing infographics.

According to a study by Microsoft, the average human being now has the attention span of eight seconds. Interactive content can help customer retention by requiring them to participate and become actively more engaged. As consumers’ habits and tastes move closer towards interactive content, storytelling becomes an essential feature for business success.

Personalisation 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. Personalisation can – and should – happen across channels, too.

Even simple marketing automation platforms can now personalise website messages, recommendations for content, and personalise which channels a message is sent through. Truly sophisticated marketing automation systems can personalise 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 personalisation going on is still content personalisation. And there are still five primary channels for content personalisation:

Email
SMS
Website messaging
Social media
Direct mail

6. Voice Search Marketing will growth

Voice search utilization data numbers are expected to reach 5 billion by the year 2021 and increase to 6.4 in the year 2022. When voice devices were originally created, they were used for grocery store lists and notes. However, consumers are now using voice searches to play favourite songs, ask questions and get directions.

Marketers see great opportunities in this tool as it gives us more information about our consumers and their needs. Alexa and Google Home have created a huge increase in the usage of voice search. It is extremely important to make sure your company is ready and has the tools needed to successfully compete with other businesses using this advanced technology tool.

7. Security and privacy are the kings

There’s no way around it. With B2B marketing increasingly happening online and remotely, privacy and security issues will become pivotal to building trust with potential buyers.

We’re coming up on the two-year anniversary of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) being implemented in the European Union.  Essentially, GDPR comes down being clear about how you’re collecting and using data, and gaining explicit consent to do so — which is especially applicable to marketers as we strive to be more data and insight-driven to create personalised experiences.

Companies that operate in the EU have already been forced to reexamine their data privacy practices to ensure they’re aligned with the new guidelines. And across the world, proactive business leaders are showing support for the initiative, recognizing without the need for a crystal ball that this path represents the way of the future.

In discussions of data privacy, there’s almost always a focus on the consumer impact, which can make it seem like more of a B2C issue on the surface. But of course, business buyers are people too, and when brand assets are at play, the scrutiny around data protection can be heightened. Here are some things to keep in mind as you contemplate data privacy and how it relates to your B2B marketing strategy.

Transparency Holds the Key. The tricky thing is that while we can all understand the reservations people have about their data being leveraged for marketing purposes, we also know that customers (whether B2B or B2C) want personalization. And the only way we can really deliver on that is by leveraging data for marketing purposes. Therefore, it’s all about transparency. Whenever possible, be up-front and clear about when you’re collecting data, and why. Clarity is key: don’t bury them in small-print legalese.

It’s all about transparency.  When polled by DemandBase last year, 80% of B2B marketers expressed some level of concern that their marketing technology vendors could expose them to risk for running afoul of GDPR guidelines. This speaks to another potential hazard: people will hold our brands accountable if they have a bad experience with us, even if we’re not the ones who ran afoul. It’s smart to be rigorous in vetting the data privacy practices of other businesses you partner with, especially if they influence customer touchpoints.

Collect Only the Data You Really Need Have you ever downloaded an app and had it ask permission to access information on your phone for no obvious reason? “Why is this calculator asking to get into my contacts?” That kinda thing immediately sets off alarms.

Quality over quantity. Be judicious in the data you seek to acquire and make the most of it.

Be virtuous in your approach. Honour as sacred the personal information of those you serve. Gather consent but understand that you don’t own the data; you’re only borrowing it to be helpful.

This is a new world and we’re all figuring it out together. There are no magical solutions. But the first and most important step to a strong data privacy program is to be thoughtful and purposeful about how customer data factors at every level of your B2B marketing operation.

8. Smart bot calls and chats are reality

Anybody likes bot calls? Not really… yet. Still, bot calls can be an incredibly helpful tool for both salespeople and buyers when the conversation and trust are already established. And, the technology is getting smarter. I predict we’ll see more companies using bots to, for example, inform their customers of a product update.

Chatbots are already working for many companies and are an essential part of web design and will continue to act as an important business feature in 2021. Globally, 67% of consumers reported using a chatbox support system in the past year. Many clients are beginning to expect quick replies to questions and 24/7 customer service representatives on call. This can be a hard task to manage without the help of chatbots which will be programmed to match human behaviour and offer similar services.

This tool is used by many industries to answer clients’ questions and help them navigate through a company’s website. Chatbots can help your business provide faster, improved online experiences.  As a result of this digital feature, businesses will see an increase in consumer engagements, business connections and overall client satisfaction.

B2B customers don’t make impulse purchases, but they are more inclined to seek answers at particular moments. As an example, someone might be more willing to ask questions on your company’s chat at the very moment they stumble upon quality content. In those moments, chatbots are a great tool that can be leveraged to help you convert more micro-moment opportunities. Chatbots can get the conversation started and connect a prospect to a sales rep.

9. GPT-3 for B2B marketing

The act of having a natural conversation with a machine was depicted in numerous science-fiction books and movies, but it wasn’t until three months ago that it became (close to) a reality. Back in June this year, OpenAI released beta access to its latest large-scale natural language model called GPT-3. The new model represents a major breakthrough in the way a machine can understand human language and it took most of the AI community by surprise.

Since then, there have been many experiments done and showcased online, some of them quite impressive. GPT-3 is a natural language model that uses machine learning to generate human-like text. Until transfer learning was introduced, AI and machine learning has been designed to work mostly in isolation. Which means, for every new task, a completely new representation had to be learned from zero. Imagine that every time you need to read an article, you have to learn English all over again! Transfer learning allowed researchers to run algorithms through huge amounts of unlabeled data, which doesn’t require any time-consuming preparation, and generate bigger and bigger models. A model is an AI term for a language representation that machines can understand. Each model is usually made of hundreds of millions of parameters, or variables that capture the specificity of the language data it was trained on.

Then the language model racing began. Research teams started to publish ever bigger and better models, starting with Google’s BERT, who had 340 million parameters in its largest form, and more recently GPT-2, a model released by OpenAI last year, with 1.5 billion parameters.

The latest model that came from OpenAI in June, GPT-3, doesn’t differ much from its predecessor in architecture or algorithm. What is different this time is its scale. GPT-3 is trained on a massive dataset of hundreds of billions of words crawled from all over the Internet, including numerous human languages but also programming languages such as Javascript, CSS and Python. Its size stands at a staggering 175 Billion parameters, a more than 100x increase over its predecessor GPT-2.

Back in June this year, the OpenAI team released GPT-3 as a web API available through a restricted beta program. Which meant that anybody with access and basic programming knowledge was able to use its capability. Since then there have been quite a few app examples developed on top and published, some of them quite impressive.

GPT-3 is still in private beta, but more companies are investing in data science tools, resources and teams and I expect new apps to pop up and use GPT-3 to generate a wealth of content in seconds, from follow up emails, landing pages, taglines, blog posts, or online ads. Such content will help B2B marketers to engage with prospects along their digital customer journey in a personalized and scalable way.

10. Companies will meet the buyer’s expectations of a multi-channel, personalised experience

When selling and buying happen in the digital world, buyers enter the funnel at any stage. Also, they aren’t tied to a single channel. Some people prefer to read blogs and ebooks. Others want to ask questions on the chat and watch how-to videos. Different buyers, different preferences.

Buyers demand to be served in the channels they prefer. To meet such expectations, companies will experiment with many different promotional, distribution, and purchase channels to offer a seamless buying experience regardless of channels and devices.

Multichannel marketing tends to be the trait of a sophisticated marketing automation program, but even some relatively simple marketing automation platforms can send customised 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, behavioural data, contact data, communication data and more, depending on your program.