Article

Virginia Zacharaki
Virginia Zacharaki 9 February 2021
Categories B2B, Content, Technology

5 Ways B2B Has Changed Because of AI Technology

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not a new concept, and it certainly isn't something that marketers just started to utilize. The field of Artificial Intelligence was first presented in 1956. By the time Apple created Siri and introduced it to the public, AI was already a familiar concept, used in every aspect of life and, of course, in marketing.

​If you think of the way Netflix' recommended shows works, you will understand just how useful AI is.

In a way, AI can suggest products with which consumers can connect and create an emotional bond. It can also allow brands to use content marketing automation that will produce copy, visuals, or even ads that will be valuable and enticing to their audience.

But what happens when the audience is another business? Is the B2B model something that has changed because of AI?

B2B: A Definition and its Ties to AI

B2B means "Business to Business". The B2B model essentially includes commercial transactions between businesses. In simpler words, when one business sells to another.

Many companies can be both B2B and B2C (Business to Customer, that is). One prime example is, again, Apple. Apple can sell products to businesses and customers alike.

So, in that context, what are B2B's ties to AI, and how crucial is AI for business?

(Source)

As evident from the graph above, AI is useful for all of the pain points a marketer will consider when creating the brand’s marketing plan. Unsurprisingly, all of the pain points a business will take into account when trying to achieve growth are the same ones.

Does AI Affect B2B Sales Stack?

B2B sales teams are among the first ones to be benefitted from AI and the amount of data gathered, as they can use information as insights that will allow them to understand the customer's individual needs and wants.

AI can also help teams realize where they went wrong in the past and how to communicate with prospects in a productive, conversion-boosting way. Not to mention that with the use of AI, it's easier than ever to create pipelines and measure team performance.

But the more aspects of B2B sales are influenced by AI tools, the more the need for a new, improved sales stack that will incorporate all five fields that have been affected by AI.

Nowadays, the sales team might not need to find leads anymore, but they will need - so far, at least - to make sure the leads are qualified. An intelligent sales stack will need to include tools that will cover most scenarios, from lead generation tools, powerful CRM (of course), to predictive analytics and screen sharing software.

The sales stack a B2B company needs is not a one-size-fits-all deal. It's more of a constant A/B testing process, in the sense that every B2B business is different.

Suppose you're heavily invested in inbound lead generation. In that case, you will need tools that will allow you to prioritize and arrange inbound requests while qualifying leads, as opposed to an outbound-based B2B company that will require a strong dialler and a great CRM tool.

B2B marketers that study data and use AI and machine learning can see results quickly and effortlessly. However, this can't happen if the marketers can't perceive the ways in which AI has already changed the field of B2B marketing.

But what are the five areas that have been affected the most by AI technology? And, most importantly, what does the future of B2B sales look through the eyes of AI?

Customer Insights

There is no way for a marketer to create a content strategy and plan actions that will lead to calculated results without using data. Building a funnel can be tricky, especially when there is no way to understand how a prospect can go from action A to action B.

This is where AI plays a huge part. Since the goal is to be there for your prospects every step of the way, you need to know what these steps are.

Study your data and analytics and determine the pain points. If they're looking for a product like yours, look at your content and your competitors' content. Then look at your product and the one of your competitors. How is it different, and how is it similar? Does your product or your content (or both) provide solutions?

The key detail that makes AI the best tool to answer those questions is that it can let marketers see trends emerging from the data, and it allows them to create segments so small that there will be little to no room for errors.

Combine your AI findings with a quiz or a survey that will help you create even smaller segments. The smaller the segment, the more targeted and tailor-made the content and, eventually, the more seamless the experience.

The most prominent example is Nike and its NikePlus membership program. The fitness giant created the NikePlus membership that could offer rewards and benefits - such as personalized training advice - in exchange for some customer insights. 

 

(Source)

The customers needed to give up details about their training programs, favorite hobbies, even measurements for a better buying experience.

All that information allowed Nike to see an increase in their conversion by simply using customer data and making tailor-made suggestions. Of course, Nike, much like Apple, is both B2B and B2C.

Personalization

Why would a B2B company need personalization? Yes, I am sure you're wondering.

All models, B2B or B2C, have started turning H2H (Human to Human), meaning that everyone who depends on vendors to fulfill their needs is requesting a more personal approach.

Therefore, a sales pitch that can be read over the phone or sent over in an email to X number of people doesn't quite cut it anymore. And a personal approach is easy to happen, so long as you implement personalization tactics.

AI helps B2B companies create emails, landing pages, sales pitches, and everything else they may need in a timely manner and using relevant content. The patterns in data mentioned above will do the trick, as it's what can show marketers everything they need to be one step ahead.

Not to mention that content that is tailor-made can increase trust between businesses in the same way it can increase trust when used in B2C models.

This type of hyper-personalization that stems from AI can increase sales like a trick. Knowing every step your customers take in the sales funnel means that you can be one step ahead, re-creating your strategies and applying them at just the right time and for the right reasons.

Better Lead-Gen Strategy

Lead generation can be a hassle for both B2B and B2C companies, which is logical since nothing can be possible without leads.

However, scoring more leads through tactics like affiliate marketing or tools like landing pages doesn't necessarily mean scoring more sales. Brands need to generate leads that will be both plentiful and relevant to the business.

Imagine, for example, a company that sells car parts generating all kinds of leads, from car companies to computer companies. Would computer companies be interested in its content or the product itself? The answer will be no.

AI is a convenient tool that can help the company mentioned above that sells car parts generate leads that will actually move down the sales funnel and become customers.

With the help of AI, B2B companies can not only excel in lead scoring, but they can also prioritize and give their sales teams a clear plan on how to approach sales and prioritize the leads to go after.

Using AI can also allow a marketer to shorten the sales cycle by predicting desires and, in the end, keeping buyers happy by suggesting what they need, when they need it.​It can also help the sales teams by automating tasks such as checking for qualified leads - this, for example, can be solved by adopting a CRM database.

Simplifying tasks for a sales team will allow employees to reach just the right lead at the right time, without wasting time on menial tasks that can be automated.

Chatbots

Remember Siri, the Apple assistant mentioned above? Siri is a form of AI-powered assistant that changed the landscape of communication between the user and the tool.

Marketers could say the same about chatbots and the way they changed the gathering and processing of data.

Chatbots are one of the most foolproof ways for businesses to assist their prospects and existing customers while automating the support process for their employees and gathering some much-needed data and feedback that will not fall into the cracks.

B2B businesses use chatbots as the first point of communication between a prospect and their brand, saving time and effort for customer support teams to deal with more pressing matters instead.

The data gathered by communication with chatbots allows marketers to make educated decisions and understand where every lead is in the sales funnel and understand individual needs. They also give customers a chance at an interactive conversation with what appears to be a member of the customer support team.

Rare Carat is one of the brands that used chatbots first. Again, we’re talking about B2C sales here, but the premise still stands. And if it worked for a brand in the very competitive diamonds business, imagine how well a chatbot can work for your B2B business.

(Source)

​Using AI technology, Rare Carat created a chatbot that was able to help a buyer purchase a diamond that would be within their budget while simultaneously guiding them through the criteria behind the pricing of the diamonds.

The chatbot's functionality relies on data generated through Rare Carat's products and customers' past purchases, allowing the new customer to make an informed decision that will feel educated and, most importantly, personal.

AI-powered assistance can make sure that both a B2B support team member and a B2B customer will remain happy with their interaction with the brand - the former by addressing the most pressing matters and finding solutions for them, the latter by having their questions answered, provided they're simple enough for the chatbot to solve.

Better Content

Since AI is a powerhouse for data collection and hyper-personalization, content creation is one area where AI can help elevate the result.

Personalized content that creates a seamless experience is vital in all steps of the sales cycle, from the first contact and brand awareness that leads to engagement to the replenishment emails that repeaters love.

Search for the trends in your data and the microsegments you've created. Use predictive analysis to remain one step ahead. Finally, create content that will seem as if it can read your prospects' minds.

Of course, AI cannot replace a data scientist or a content marketing consultant and a creative copywriter, nor can it show techniques on how to write brilliant content. But it can be a handy tool to help creativity take off while combined with some data-driven decisions.

AI can also allow content teams to plan a better content strategy that will engage throughout the sales cycle, bring in more prospects, and strengthen brand awareness.

Use predictive analysis to predict a prospect's desire for content, and don't forget: The data from your AI tools can make all the difference between the content your prospects have seen before and the content your prospects long to see.

The Future of B2B Sales Through AI

Machines are here, and they are listening to customers by gathering data and being on the frontline. After all, it is no secret that online research, nowadays, supersedes offline research like it used to be and can optimize the rest of the procedures: finding and meeting with suppliers and buyers can be a breeze, just because AI tools helped you make an educated, data-backed decision.

But how can B2B sellers incorporate AI in a manner that will work for them?

  • Invest in creating seamless experiences. The way your customers interact with your brand needs to be the same, both online and offline. For example, if you use chatbots, make sure that communication with customers is natural and that the tone is no different than that of your salespeople. If your CTAs on your website and emails are gentle nudges and not energetic, pumped-up messages, train your salespeople to use the same verbs.
  • Invest in a website that will entice and sell with zero effort. This is pretty self-explanatory. "Closing the deal", so to speak, needs to be effortless, both offline and - perhaps most importantly - online. 

Using AI technology for B2B sales will not eliminate B2B salespeople. On the contrary, by freeing their time and allowing them to deal with more challenging cases and developing their outside-the-box, strategic thinking, B2B brands can create teams that will drive more revenue and deal with genuinely important customers.

We're led in an era where B2B salespeople (and salespeople in general) are treated more like experts on a subject matter. And no customer doesn't want to be talking to an expert.

All in all, the future of B2B sales lies in personalization, seamless experiences, and content that can entice by being tailor-made. But most importantly, it lies in educating your sales teams and making them the essential point of contact, using AI and its findings.

The Takeaway

B2B companies used to take in leads that could or could not be qualified, create content that could or could not entice, and have their sales and support teams deal with all the queries under the sun.

​In a world where industries need to adapt, adopt new technologies, and always stay a step ahead of both their competitors and their audience, B2B is one of the industries that has just started to reap the benefits of AI.

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