B2B Marketers Are Embracing AI

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Though artificial intelligence is still considered relatively new compared to other CRM technologies, many B2B marketers are embracing it thanks to early positive results, according to a new report from Forrester Research.

B2B marketers need the technology because they simply don’t have the human resources needed to meet buyers’ growing expectations for responsive, personalized experiences, according to the research firm.

Additionally, the technology is critical for in-depth analysis of the growing amount of structured and unstructured data that firms are collecting today, Forrester says.

AI makes it possible for B2B marketers to optimize interactions between companies and their customers to improve precision, streamline workflows, and execute critical marketing tasks, Forrester says.

The research firm found that two-thirds of companies (67 percent) use AI to help drive marketing processes and activities, while more than seven in 10 were planning to moderately or significantly boost their use of AI in their marketing efforts.

Most B2B firms see AI as enhancing their marketing capabilities, with 60 percent indicating that the technology had a positive effect. Perhaps just as telling was that none of the respondents said AI had a negative effect on their marketing programs (28 percent said it had a neutral effect).

B2B marketers leverage AI capabilities to better understand, reach, and engage buyers and customers while enabling the internal team members who interact with those audiences to deliver expected results, Forrester says. “From data enrichment to prioritization to bi­directional communications, AI-powered technologies are making predictions and decisions to automate actions based on the needs of the audience and marketers.”

The most common uses of AI in B2B marketing, according to Forrester, are these:

  • targeting, including advertising and contact syndication (40 percent);
  • personalization (36 percent);
  • marketing automation/tactic orchestration (36 percent);
  • conversation automation, including conversational AI, chatbots, and virtual assistants (33 percent); and
  • audience insights (31 percent).

With AI and other technology becoming pervasive for marketers, the role of marketing has changed significantly, the firm also found. Thanks to the technology, marketers can better provide customers with optimized engagements, Forrester says. “AI is one of the most powerful capabilities available in these systems. It allows and optimizes real-time customer interactions across touchpoints and channels and provides insights to assist marketers in making smart decisions more quickly.”

AI capabilities are most often used with the following technologies:

  • CRM systems (54 percent);
  • marketing automation platforms (40 percent);
  • search engine optimization (33 percent);
  • social media suites (32 percent); and
  • conversation automation solutions (20 percent).

Half of all firms buy technology with AI already embedded, according to Forrester. A little more than a third (35 percent) rely on in-house technicians to add AI capabilities to existing and purchased technology, while 29 percent rely on pretrained AI models through services and/or platforms from third parties. Other organizations buy packaged vertical/horizontal AI solutions (15 percent) or hire AI consultancies, insight service providers, or other professional services firms (10 percent).

Though AI offers B2B marketers many benefits, the technology poses many challenges as well, Forrester acknowledges.

The technology is ineffective without high-quality data, but just 16 percent of respondents said their data was optimized for AI. Most categorized their data as “adequate.”

Among the other challenges facing B2B marketers with AI-enabled capabilities are a lack of skills to implement and operate the technology (13 percent); privacy concerns using AI to mine customer insights (10 percent); unintended, potentially negative and unethical outcomes (9 percent); and limited access to the necessary data (8 percent).

Lack of confidence in the outcomes is another challenge for B2B marketers, according to Forrester. Only 8 percent of respondents said they were “totally confident” in AI-generated outcomes; 25 percent said they were “mostly confident” in such outcomes; and 25 percent said they had “varied confidence,” meaning they trusted some outcomes but not others. 

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