The role of B2B marketers is changing, says Josh Mueller, Global Head of Marketing at Dun & Bradstreet, and they can use the latest tech like AI and blockchain to help them in that process.

The role of B2B marketers has changed. Not long ago, the priority was primarily around developing the brand and creating a high volume of leads that could be passed to sales in the fastest way possible. However, this emphasis has shifted and now marketing teams must work alongside their go-to-market counterparts in sales and product across all aspects of revenue generation. No longer can a lead just be tossed over the fence and forgotten. Marketing must be involved throughout the entire customer journey from the first engagement with the brand until the deal is closed and revenue is realised.

Managing the customer journey from initial engagement to lead to closed-won deal is particularly complex in the Business to Business (B2B) world. Typically, Business to Consumer (B2C) organisations target an individual. In contrast, B2B companies are targeting accounts. Those accounts have buying committees that are comprised of multiple individuals, each with different needs and use cases. Being able to personalise the customer experience for each of those individuals in the context of their account is critical to B2B marketing success.

Emerging technologies including Artificial Intelligence (AI) and blockchain can help marketers to better connect individual activities to accounts and to enable more intelligent interactions with customers, leading to decreased time to close deals and increased revenue.

AI and blockchain – looking past the hype to unlock potential

Ultimately, technology needs to improve the customer experience, adding value to every interaction with your business. Applications such as machine learning (a form of AI) can make a difference in how quickly you are able to take a prospect through the funnel and automatically serve up information to help close deals faster. The amount of data flowing through systems has gotten to the point that humans cannot process it at a fast enough speed. AI and machine learning can quickly process large volumes of data and make it useable for sales and marketing teams. As an example, at Dun & Bradstreet we are trialling auto-reply chatbots, with the idea being that a smart bot interacts with new customers and decides how to best respond, using variables such as tone and style of language to gauge the best reply. This technology is used if a salesperson was unable to successfully engage with a prospect after a certain length of time to help ensure those leads continue to be nurtured and don’t fall through the cracks.

In addition to AI, blockchain is another emerging technology that shows promise for marketers as it allows buyers and sellers to become more directly connected. As mentioned, the challenge in the B2B context is tying an individual buyer to the company for which they work and determining their role at that account, which would enable marketers to more successfully interact with these high value accounts holistically.

Blockchain allows marketers to uniquely identify an individual using a public key. That key can then be used, along with a unique business identifer, in order to track the potential prospect and their buying behaviour. This enables B2B companies to track a person in the context of their business so that the actions for that account can be easily traced.

The real value of data; any technology is only as good as the foundation it is built on

Blockchain and AI both have one thing in common – they rely on access to the right data to fuel their operations. Tools such as machine learning can help marketers make sense of large volumes of data quickly, but it can only work if the foundational data is accurate to begin with.

It’s important that companies consider several things when building a data foundation for their technology. First, they need to go beyond their own first-party data. That data gets stagnant the minute it enters the system and, unless you are supplementing it with trusted third-party data, you are not getting a complete picture of the account. Second, they need to make sure the data is standardised. What I mean by this is that there needs to be a common language and common understanding of what is in the systems. For instance, it should be understood that IBM and International Business Machines are the same company. This is extremely important in getting that holistic account view. Finally – and this is probably the step most often missed – companies need to connect the data across departmental silos. As marketing needs to control more of the customer journey to realise revenue, it’s imperative that all partners in the process (sales, product, customer success, etc.) are seeing the same view of the data.

Investing the right way

While the potential power of blockchain, AI and other emerging technologies is exciting, we need to caveat any investment alongside the importance of data. Many marketers focus so much on the technology, but there is this false expectation that the newest and latest technology can solve marketing challenges on its own. Technology is a powerful component, but there is also the data component that requires the right structure, connectivity, people and process. To get the most from your marketing investment, you need to invest in the entire package of people, processes, technology and data. Otherwise, you’ll get only a fraction of the value from your investment.