Artificial Intelligence the ultimate empowerment of the B2B social media marketers?
With ever changing demands and behaviour of customers, a marketers life has always been interesting, to say the least. From time immemorial, the marketers are doing everything to know the minds of the customers and to attract them to the products they are selling. They have always been innovative to use whatever tool is available to them. In recent years, when technology has taken over the entire mankind, obviously salesmen and marketers cannot lag behind. They have been using all sorts of technology to understand the behaviour of their target audience. Social Media, Analytics, Data Management Platforms (DMP), marketing automation are to name a few. AI is the latest buzz word that seems to have taken over the world. Whether it is virtual personal assistant, fraud detection, medical science, self-driving cars or even art, AI is gaining traction everywhere. So how can the marketers be left behind? But is it just a buzz word? Or is there some substance to it? Lets explore.
Stages of B2B marketing
Lets look at a typical B2B marketing cycle. Normally it is a long one and can take up to several months or even years depending on the product the company is selling. We can roughly divide it into the following stages.
- Attract This is when you attract the strangers to your brand or product. This can also be called the stage for generating Awareness about your brand/product/service.
- Consider When the strangers are curious enough about your brand and may turn into potential buyers. There is a need to engage with them at the right level, providing them with the right kind of information they are looking for (personalization) eventually resulting in lead generation.
- Transact Turn potential buyers to actual buyers by closing the deal. This can be a long period, leading to several months.
- Nurture Nurture the relationship with the buyer and grow it. This is important for Account Based Marketing. A delighted customer may also become your brand ambassador in future and recommend your company to others.
Figure 1 – A typical B2B marketing cycle
Social media has been around for quite some time now and B2B marketers have been using them extensively. Especially in the first two phases above, from creating awareness till generating leads, various social media channels have been quite effective for B2B marketers. Most of the companies have been using social media in various ways; by creating brand awareness on twitter and LinkedIn platforms, by adopting various inbound marketing techniques like publishing white papers, blogs, case studies, free product demos, videos on their web site and so on. In the last decade the overall behaviour of the customers, including B2B buyers, has changed with more and more of them spending a lot of time online. As per Forrester report, 75% of the B2B buyers are buying online, with majority of them spending significant amount of time on social media.
Now, how can the B2B marketers leverage on Artificial Intelligence to benefit more from the existing social media channels that they are already using? As we know, Artificial intelligence is designed to simulate a human mind that is capable of thinking, reasoning, pattern recognition, natural language processing and can take decisions like a human mind. Can we extend this tremendous capacity to B2B marketing as well?
Can AI help B2B marketers?
If we examine closely, Artificial Intelligence is already being used to some extent in social media B2B, may be under different names. Data Management Platforms, Predictive Analytics with some amount of AI capabilities have always been used by the marketers. However, of late it has expanded the horizon for the B2B marketers tremendously.
- Real-time sentiment analysis and reputation management
It just takes a match stick to light up the entire forest.
Figure 2 Why you need real time social media monitoring
Today social media has emerged as more powerful than mass media. On social media, every consumer is an activist. Buying decisions are influenced by social media where buyers trust their peers more than they trust the brand ambassadors. Companies have to be extremely vigilant on social media since positive as well as negative feedbacks can spread in no time to millions regarding a brand. Monitoring the buyers sentiments and managing negative feedbacks in real time is essential. Today the marketers are using many such AI enabled social media analytic tools to carry out reputation management. Such tools are scanning hundreds of websites, social media sites, blogs and microblogging sites and reporting buyer sentiments real time.
The social media campaigns have to be built carefully as per your requirement. There could be many neutral sentiments about your brand that can be ignored. Listen into the conversations related to the competitors brands as well. Sometimes there could be a sudden spike in certain activities; E.g. Sudden increase in searches for Swine Flu symptoms in a week might give some predictive indications to the Pharma companies.
- Identify your prospects
One area where AI can help is to identify the potential B2B buyers. A vast amount of information is available in the public domain about your prospective clients in the form of Industry news reports, Industry trends, licensed market reports, reports published by the prospective clients etc. A huge amount of conversations are going on by your prospects about their requirements, pain points and so on. It is essential to listen to these conversations real time, derive actionable insights from it and discover your prospects.
There are different groups in the buyers organization. There are influencers, decision makers and actual users. With AI driven data intelligence, one can identify such groups and design B2B campaigns specifically for each of the target teams with a higher conversion rate.
There is also a huge amount of internal data owned by an organization. A lot of intelligence can be drawn from the meeting with the customers, internal conversations among sales teams and so on.
Lastly repetitive, complex and labour intensive practices by the marketers can be looked at. As a thumb rule, anything that you are doing for more than three times should be automated. Multiple bots are available today (some are for free) for sales, marketing and customer support. One such free AI enabled bot is available at ManyChat.com.
A few AI enabled marketing products
Many AI vendors are leveraging on their products ability to interpret natural language and process the vast amount of data the enterprise owns. The data can be in the form of articles, white papers, case studies or strategy documents.
As per Equals 3, the vendor of the new AI enabled Lucy; it can work as an efficient marketing assistant who can help in market research, segmentation and planning. Using its natural language interpretation capability, it answers any question entered by the user by scanning the vast amount of structured and unstructured data present within the organization as well as outside, on social media. This greatly simplifies the market research activity. Research that takes months by human beings can be completed in a day.
Lucy also takes Data Management platform activity one step ahead by doing accurate segmentation and identifying the buyers for the B2B marketers. It also helps in media planning and coming up with various marketing models. As per the Equals 3 vendor, Lucy frees you to do higher level strategic problem solving by doing the laborious marketing tasks by her.
Another AI marketing product Chorus is leveraging on the conversational intelligence of the sales organization of an enterprise. It listens into conversations going on among the sales teams on platforms like GoToMeeting, WebEx etc. and draws insights and best practices that can be implemented to win more deals.
Luminoso, yet another AI product, is also based on deep analytics and real time understanding of 12 different natural languages.
No solution comes without a challenge. Along with the tremendous potential of AI, there are a few factors that we need to consider as well. One of them is re-skilling of the existing resources in the sales and marketing organization. As per Forrester report, 20% of the salesmen would lose their jobs by 2020. Most of them are engaged in entry level repetitive tasks of market research, survey etc. that are going to be automated. However, there will be a demand for marketing resources with knowledge of Data management, marketing automation tools and various other AI enabled marketing products.
There is no doubt that to be effective, the companies need to have a defined Data Policy in place. However, if the company wants to be among the first to reap the benefits of AI in marketing, then it is better to start early with whatever you have instead of waiting till the entire data policy is in place.
What is the way forward?
So, what is in store for the B2B marketers? Are they going to be obsolete soon? No the B2B marketers will be greatly empowered and free to do something which no software can do i.e. building and nurturing relationships.
We can safely say Keep the human intelligence for relationship building. Let the artificial intelligence do the rest.