Keeping it fresh, optimizing your performance and generating new opportunities are the top challenges faced by every B2B sales and marketing team. And if you’re ambitious, driven and looking to make an impact this year, then there are some key trends that need to be on your radar.
Here, we’ve pulled together an overview of what are set to be some of the hottest trends and strategies for sales and marketing teams in 2018. From the most effective team structures, to channel spend priorities and the new technologies that are creating serious waves. It’s time to take your results up a gear.
1. Sales & marketing teams are aligning
You’re stronger together – it may sound like a political campaign slogan, but the positive influence of team structure and having different departments working closely together, is now starting to be fully recognized.
With the growth in content marketing and other online lead generation techniques, this alignment - between sales and marketing but also any other customer-facing departments – is more important than ever.
And teams are starting to capitalize on it - when we interviewed over 100 B2B businesses for our 2018 benchmark report, we found that 40% of sales and marketing teams are now operating as one department, with shared targets and budgets.
But what’s more important, marketing or sales?
If you’re wondering where your priorities should lie in 2018, when it comes to sales and marketing, the answer depends on several factors, including what your business model is, and what your products and services are.
Within B2B organizations, the sales department has traditionally taken priority. However, the potential opportunities marketing has to speak directly to leads and prospects (via everything from social channels, to email and the phone) is becoming increasingly important. Which makes alignment between the two teams even more crucial.
This can be new territory for many organizations, who still need to get used to the idea of marketing speaking to clients and leads. But companies who embrace it are achieving excellent results, as the quality of the leads being passed on to sales increases when marketing is involved. Find out how to get your marketing and sales working as one team in our free guide below.
2. Channel spend will be dominated by the ‘big 3’ (email, content and event marketing)
Email marketing, content marketing and event marketing look set to be the biggest channel investments companies make in 2018.
Email marketing - 17% of businesses plan to spend 50%-70% of their budget on email marketing this year. The focus remains on generating leads, building a database and keeping in touch regularly with that database.
Content marketing - It wasn’t that long ago that marketers were starting to think about content marketing and whether they should be investing in it. Today, it’s a no brainer. The tactic continues to drive business for organizations of all shapes and sizes, so it’s no surprise that it’s one of the key marketing trends to watch in 2018. Almost a third of businesses will be investing between 30%-60% of their budget on it.
Event marketing - A fifth of teams will be spending 20% of their budget on events and exhibitions. As a tactic, events can work amazingly well for B2B organizations, especially when used to combine online and offline marketing techniques. The hottest trend, especially for those selling a very expensive product or targeting organizations with long sales cycles, is to go for smaller, highly targeted events. Bringing existing customers face-to-face with potential clients can be a highly effective way to move them down the sales pipeline.
3. Video marketing
Video is fast becoming the most popular format for receiving and processing information and its use looks set to soar in 2018, with applications being seen across all stages of the sales funnel.
A survey by Google has revealed that 70% of B2B buyers and researchers are watching videos during the sales process, with 48% watching for more than 30 minutes.
Many B2B businesses are starting to catch on and are recognizing the opportunities presented by video marketing. There is, however, still a long way to go. The good news is, it is becoming easier and easier to use video and it doesn’t require costly equipment or specialist agencies to be onboard to start creating and using it (depending on the end result you’re seeking).
Here are two of the key ways video marketing is set to make an impact in 2018:
- Prospecting - Incorporating video into prospecting can lead to increased results – even adding the word ‘video’ to an email subject line can increase open rates. According to Forbes Insights, 60% of respondents say they will watch a video on a web page before reading any text, while 65% say they will visit a business’ website after watching social video.
- Live video streaming – Most social media sites now offer a live streaming option and it’s estimated that 13% of web traffic from video comes directly from live videos. It can be a great way to drive engagement by providing an authentic experience. For example, you can give viewers a genuine insight into the people behind your company, such as a ‘behind the scenes’ at the office or an event, or by running a meet the team session, or hosting a Q&A with one of the technical team.
Plus, don’t forget video can also be used to:
- Educate – Video can be a powerful tool for sharing information in a more visual way, some obvious applications include onboarding, training or troubleshooting videos.
- Share news – If you have a company announcement to make, then back up that press release with a video, to engage with a larger audience.
- Position the company as an authority – Mix up your content offering to help it achieve the greatest potential reach. Use the written word, infographics and video to share thought leadership pieces.
4. Marketing automation
Investing in technology continues to be high on the agenda for many B2B businesses and marketing automation is a core part of that. It is not only here to stay, but is becoming increasingly important for teams wishing to optimize their results.
In a nutshell, marketing automation is a way to build and nurture valuable client relationships, both with prospects and existing customers.
For teams working on multiple leads, it offers a way to provide tailored messaging and communications, while dealing with the masses - supporting a shift from mass marketing to mass personalization.
You can use marketing automation to create behaviour-based workflows. This means certain actions can be triggered when prospects behave in a certain way, ensuring all the messages you send are personalized, highly relevant and fitting to the particular stage of the sales funnel.
In 2018, automation tools are set to become even more intelligent and sophisticated, using cross-channel data. This includes tracking users across different devices and being able to adapt, depending on what device is being used and past behavior on that device.
The number of automation tools available is also on the rise, with some interesting applications starting to pop up, especially in the area of social media. Tools such as SocialDrift now allow marketers to automate various interactions, and will use information about the target audiences and company to help organically grow follower numbers and encourage engagement. Clever stuff.
5. Artificial intelligence (AI)
AI is just one of the fascinating new technologies on the horizon that promises to help teams uncover and capitalize on new opportunities.
Interest is already high - a survey by SmartInsight asked businesses which marketing trends would be the most important to them in 2018, and artificial intelligence and machine learning was ranked number three, behind big data and content marketing.
So, how might it work in practice?
- Intelligent personalization of the web experience – A report by Evergage revealed 33% of marketers are using AI to deliver personalized web experiences, with 63% citing this had led to increased conversion rates
- PPC advertising - Artificial intelligence marketing platforms can provide an approach to media buying that requires little human input. AI can analyze, manage, and optimize paid ad campaigns
- Content creation and delivery – AI can replicate human communication and could soon be responsible for producing a majority of the content a business needs, whether that’s email content, social media posts or business reports. In terms of content marketing, the technology could also look at data and understand an individual, then take charge of delivering the personalized content they’ll want to see
- Customer insights – AI can help spot the most likely leads to become customers and also those who are disengaged and are most likely to drop off the customer list. This means timely action can be taken and more accurate forecasts can be made
Of course, with new technology and innovations emerging all the time, this may only be the start. For any ambitious sales and marketing team, the key is to keep an eye on new developments and think how you might use them to your advantage.
Every tool and idea won’t be right for every company, but remember, if you go for it then make sure you give it 110%, as the only way to ensure you reap the maximum benefit is to fully embrace the opportunity in front of you.