B2B Marketing Technology in 2021: 5 Key Focuses

Marketer Using Laptop Keyboard

If the 1982 movie Blade Runner and its dystopian depiction of what the world would look like in 2019 were accurate, this is what we’d have been living through last year:

via GIPHY

Needless to say, our predictions of society’s future state, and technology’s long-term evolution, are not always on the money. While certain aspects of Blade Runner’s vision might’ve been frighteningly accurate, Los Angeles is not yet inhabited by flying cars or giant video advertisements projected onto the entirety of skyscrapers.

With that said, today’s marketers can much more easily look ahead to 2021 — suddenly only a few short months away — and make educated guesses about what the year will hold. Many of the marketing technologies that will transform business and drive strategies are already on the rise, if not gaining mainstream traction.

Martech 2021: 5 Trends to for B2B Marketers to Watch

Businesses and marketing departments might be facing spending restrictions and budget cuts amidst the turmoil of 2020, but marketing technology is not an area that’s widely being affected. On the contrary, in fact: The latest Pulse Survey from ClickZ found that marketing technology budget shares rose from 32% to 42% between May and late July.

Where are organizations investing, and which technologies will rule the roost in the coming year? Here are five evidenced trends I’ll be following:

1 — Content experiences are at the forefront

In ClickZ’s research, this is the category that was leading marketing technology’s growth here in 2020.

“People being indoors and looking for new ways to educate themselves about the current climate and consumer content can safely be considered as one of the reasons businesses are tirelessly looking to enhance their target audiences’ experience,” wrote Kamaljeet Kalsi.

ClickZ Image

(Source)

This isn’t such a novel concept — TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden was among those preaching experiences as the future of content marketing many years ago — but technology is continually improving our ability to deliver content in ways that are more interactive, immersive, and impactful.

I think back to last week’s blog post on storytelling, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s assertion that video games offer the most promise on this front. Technology will continue to bring more capabilities to the table in terms of gamification, interactivity, and innovation.

Making content consumers feel like participants rather than onlookers holds the key to heightened engagement.

2 — Facilitating a socially distant world

Will there be in-person events in 2021? It’s possible but doesn’t feel very likely right now — certainly not at the scale of annual conferences and summits we’ve come to love. As brands keep working to build relationships with prospects and customers from a distance, technology will need to do much of the heavy lifting.

We’ve already seen some great new tools and capabilities arise this year in terms of teleconferencing, live-streaming, and virtual events. What else might emerge, with a litany of tech companies now centering their focuses on what has suddenly become a ubiquitous need?

In a way, this development helps to level the playing field for smaller businesses. While it may not be feasible for a startup sales enablement shop to organize a massive gathering like Dreamforce, bringing people together through interactive virtual events is a different story. In fact, this format can actually make it easier to follow up, convert, and attribute results concretely.

It’s not just about technology that helps engage customers from afar. It’s also about technology that helps marketers collaborate and work together in distributed settings. And adopting these tools will benefit companies and agencies long-term, because the remote work trend was already on the rise long before COVID struck.

In 2021, marketers will truly equip themselves for the future of work. We’re already well on our way; according to a recent survey, “companies reported that responding to the new circumstances of the pandemic accelerated their digital communications strategy by 6 years on average.”

“As brands keep working to build relationships with prospects and customers from a distance, technology will need to do much of the heavy lifting.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

3 — Data privacy and cybersecurity gain urgency

Data exploitation became a huge story after the 2016 election, and I regret to inform you it’s likely to bubble up again this fall. Even outside of that, cybersecurity has been a growing concern for many years and becomes all the more pertinent as customer data is increasingly decentralized and cloud-based.

While these matters have often fallen under the purview of IT in the past, marketing needs to have a seat at the table and a voice in the discussion. Sending a convincing message that it’s safe to do business with your brand — sensitive data won’t be shared, lost, stolen, or misused — and backing it up is essential to building trust in the new world of business.

4 — Simplicity and synchronicity are vital 

In its latest marketing technology landscape visualization, Chief Martech charted some 8,000 different solutions in the wild. Eight thousand!

ChiefMartec Image

The beauty of this vast landscape is that marketing technologies now exist to address almost any need imaginable. The downside, of course, is that the sheer volume and range of options can feel completely overwhelming. The balance between not enough martech and too much martech is a delicate one.

In the near future, streamlining will be the name of the game. How can you carve down your tech stack to the true essentials? Which solutions can cover multiple needs for your team? How can you solicit a continuous feedback loop so users are able to openly communicate when a tool isn’t working for them, and action is taken rapidly?

Finding the answers to these questions will help marketing organizations find greater efficiency and effectiveness with martech in 2021.

“The balance between not enough martech and too much martech is a delicate one.” — Nick Nelson @NickNelsonMN Click To Tweet

5 — Artificial intelligence keeps growing and embedding

The buzz around marketing technology seems to vary from month to month, with a new category or niche entering and then exiting the spotlight. One that never seems to lose its luster, however, is AI. This is because the technology is powerful and endlessly applicable.

We already see AI being widely leveraged in modern marketing strategies — chatbots, predictive analytics, deep learning, etc. — but the potential remains so much greater, and I believe we’ll continue to see it realized in the coming year. One threadline I’ll be keeping a close eye on is formative AI, cited as a trend driving Gartner’s hype cycle of emerging technologies in 2020.

“Formative AI is a type of AI capable of dynamically changing to respond to a situation,” according to Gartner. “There are a variety of types, ranging from AI that can dynamically adapt over time to technologies that can generate novel models to solve specific problems.”

How could formative AI come into play for marketing in order to drive more personalized and memorable B2B marketing experiences? Go ahead and dream on it. That’s what separates us from the machines, after all. (Or at least one of the differences pondered by Blade Runner and its source material.)

Marketing Technology Will Always Have Its Place

This chaotic year of 2020 has served to reinforce the immense value of technology in my day-to-day. Without having easy access to chat apps, video-conferencing platforms, shared documents, and other digital tools, a day in the life of a content marketer during the pandemic would be far more challenging and inefficient. Instead, I’m basically able to do my job seamlessly without much disruption, other than the lack of seeing my coworkers’ faces IRL.

I do miss that very much, and for all the talk about technologies to watch in 2021, I’m most hopeful for a return to semi-normal human interaction and physical proximity. Up until then, and after, martech will help us continue to keep audiences (and ourselves) educated, entertained, engaged and connected through the digital space.

I don’t know about flying cars or skyscraper billboards, but I can say with confidence that the future of marketing and its technologies is going to look a lot more like 2020 than any years preceding.

For more insight into what the next year may hold, click over to our post from Lane Ellis on 8 Things B2B Marketers Need To Know About Reddit in 2021.

The Real Value of Martech & Automation? The Humanization Potential, According to Liz Cope

Liz Cope at B2BMX

Standing before a room of eager-to-learn marketers at B2B Marketing Exchange, Liz Cope, Director of Marketing Technology and Operations at Ingersoll Rand, was an open, honest, vulnerable … human.

“This is so embarrassing,” she said, admitting that some fundamental marketing functions were missing the mark at her multi-billion-dollar company.

Liz’s candor helped audience members feel right at home and not alone. After all, we’ve all been disappointed to learn that one of our core marketing functions or strategies needed to be reworked, rebooted, or reimagined entirely. Her candid approach also tied well into her session’s theme: Martech, Process and People: Humanizing the Journey to Channel Transformation.

Liz’s presentation was robust, detailing key technologies, processes, and the organizational structure she and her team have put in place to transform their channel marketing strategy. But her message was simple: Automate to humanize.

And in a time where marketers are being challenged to deliver more personalized, customer-centric experiences to create connections and drive results, this premise deserves consideration.

The Real Value of Martech & Automation is Human

Marketing technologies exist to automate time-consuming processes; to eliminate and alleviate the level of human touch necessary to complete a task or series of tasks, while also delivering more intelligent insights. So, how can automation be a gateway to humanization? The answer is quite simple, for Liz and her team.

“We can use martech to automate work for our internal employees and channel partners to free them up to engage in valuable human interactions with customers,” she stated. “We can automate to humanize our brands.”

And they’ve put this mantra in action.

The Humanizing Journey

Ingersoll Rand, a manufacturing company that’s been in business for more than 130 years, gets most of its sales and revenue through indirect distribution channels—meaning the company has to manage a global network of distribution partners.

To arm those channel partners with the tools they need to be effective and successful, Liz and her counterparts have been working hard to ensure the right marketing technologies, processes, and people are in place.

Another major driver of their hard work is the desire to build a customer-focused business. According to Liz, a new batch of research shows that companies that are perceived as easier to do business with will have three-times more share-of-wallet in the future. And Ingersoll Rand wants to capture that share.

“When we’re genuinely invested in our customers—invested in putting them first—we can gain their trust. And we can earn their confidence and mindshare to increase our market share and share-of-wallet,” Liz declared.

So, where are Liz and her team at on their “automate to humanize” journey and what results have they seen?

While Liz admits they’re just getting started, they’ve begun by focusing on two improvement opportunities:

  1. Improving lead management. On average, it was taking at least three days for leads to get routed to the right partner.
  2. Enhancing accessibility to marketing collateral. According to Liz, there were several different systems being used to provide resource materials, each requiring a separate login and password.

Here’s what they’ve done:

  • When it comes to technology, they’ve implemented a partner relationship management (PRM) system to automatically route leads to partners and house an asset library. As for initial results, the ability to automatically route leads has reduced internal effort by an impressive 30%. In addition, they now have more visibility into how partners are consuming content, so they can personalize communications and support on the go-forward. Finally, they’re in the midst of a martech stack evaluation to understand where there is overlap, gaps, and the most value to be gained.
  • When it comes to process, they’ve identified key priorities to keep them focused and enhance their ability to scale efforts across the organization. For example, they’re building out a “marketing standard work” framework to ensure employees know what steps to take when executing work.
  • When it comes to people, they’ve constructed an organizational structure that allows collaboration and visibility at multiple levels. For example, they’ve established a Marketing Leadership Council to act as a steering committee.

The B2B Marketer’s Takeaway

If your organization wants to become truly customer-focused and deliver more personalized experiences, you need to enable your internal team, partners, and customers to be successful.

While Liz’s insights came from work to transform a channel strategy, any B2B marketer has the opportunity to ensure the right people, processes, and marketing technologies are in place to deliver content and experiences that empower their audiences, humanize their brands, and create efficiencies at scale.

For more insights from the conference, you can follow @toprank, @leeodden@azeckman, and @CaitlinMBurgess on Twitter. Stay tuned for more by following the blog here.

7 Efficiency-Boosting Martech Tools & Platform Features B2B Marketers Need to Consider

Back in 2011, roughly 150 marketing technology solutions were on the market. Today, the growth of this sector and it’s options are staggering. In fact, according to Scott Brinker, the mastermind behind the Chief Marketing Technologist Blog, the martech landscape has grown an impressive 27% in 2018 to include nearly 7,000 solutions.

Of course, B2B  are rejoicing at the increased number of solutions at their disposal. Many have been steadily adding new tools and solutions to their martech stacks as the need arises to help streamline operations, automate the mundane, quickly gain new insights, track campaigns, and generate greater results.

In other words, these tools offer big efficiency gains, giving you the time, insights, or resources to make better marketing decisions.

But whether your martech stack seems sturdy or you’re actively on the hunt for new tools, you may not be keeping up with the latest and greatest tools that you have yet to tap into. Or perhaps you’re missing out on some of the great features that your current go-to tools offer.

So, to help you get the most out of your martech stack and add to its effectiveness, below we highlight a handful of martech tools and platform features that you maybe haven’t thought of or haven’t heard of to drive efficiency (that can drive better results).

3 Tools That Might Be Under Your Radar

#1 – Nimble

Today, 91% of organizations with over 10 employees have a CRM system. And for B2B companies, a CRM is often a basic essential. But are you leveraging it to execute account-based marketing (ABM) programs or build relationships with your audience over social? With traditional CRM systems, this becomes hard to do as there usually isn’t a social selling or marketing function.

Nimble, a social selling and marketing CRM provider that’s been improving and iterating on its product since 2009, promises to change that. After integrating with your email, Nimble identifies the contacts that need to be entered into the CRM system and matches them with social profiles. This enriches your contact information to much more than just a name, title, and email address.

In addition, this social integration allows you to track how your customers are interacting with your brand over social, as well as enables you to scour social networks for potential prospects. You can also segment your customers in Nimble and send them customized email messages, increasing the effectiveness of your ABM campaigns and saving you time.

Nimble Marketing Technology Tool

Image credit: Nimble

#2 – FeedOtter*

Content marketing is no longer a shiny new object. It’s core to B2B marketing strategies. In fact, Content Marketing Institute (CMI) stopped asking marketers whether or not they use it in their most recent research report.

But as a result of wide adoption, it’s a well-known fact that brands have content and lots of it—and cutting through the clutter and making meaningful connections with your audience can be a big pain point. This often requires a healthy, smart mix of email marketing campaigns, on-page optimization, social media amplification, paid social/search, and more.

FeedOtter has one of the easiest and most efficient ways to consistently get your content out there, and you don’t even have to think twice about it. Through an integration with your marketing automation platform (Pardot or Marketo), FeedOtter is able to automate RSS email and send it through your ESP or marketing automation software.

The tool takes your RSS content and curates it automatically into a beautiful, templated email campaign. And for a more customized approach, you can pick and choose which pieces of content you want to include in your emails to create a personalized blog digest or newsletter.

FeedOtter Marketing Tool

Image credit: Medium

* FeedOtter is a TopRank Marketing Client

#3 – RivalIQ

Competitive research is a routine task for any B2B marketer. But knowing what your competitors are publishing, how they’re interacting with customers, what their customers are saying about them, and more takes an incredible amount of time and research. However, there’s a tool that can help eliminate the need for extensive manual research.

Since 2013, RivalIQ has provided competitive social media analytics that allow you to see exactly where you stand in relation to your competitors. You can see how quickly they’re gaining followers, how often they post over social, what their top messages were, what their average engagement rate is, and more.

In fact, you can even see which of your competitor’s posts were paid promotions, giving you insight into their social media strategy. With this information on hand, you can see if you’re moving ahead or lagging behind in performance, allowing you to make adjustments to your social strategy on the fly.

RivalIQ Marketing Tool

Image credit: RivalIQ

4 Underutilized Features From Your Favorite Tools

#1 – BuzzSumo’s Question Analyzer

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2018 Report, 55% of marketers say that content creation is their top priority. Cranking out content is easier said than done, however. You can’t just put out content for content’s sake, you need to make sure your content actually answers a customer question or solves a buyer’s pain point—something we often refer to as best-answer content.

BuzzSumo has been around for a while, but their Question Analyzer was just released in 2017 and it can help you ensure that the content you’re creating serves a real, specific need. Just enter in a keyword you want to target, and BuzzSumo will scour online forums, social media, Amazon, and Q&A sites to surface the most popular questions people ask using that term or phrase.

As a B2B marketer, this is critical information to have that can help shape your content marketing strategy and monitor the topics and questions your buying audience is asking. And this feature can help you gather intel quickly.

BuzzSumo's Question Analyzer

Image credit: BuzzSumo

#2 – SEMRush’s Keyword Magic Tool

SEMRush is easily one of our favorite search marketing tools here at TopRank Marketing. Why? They’re constantly releasing new features that help us create better content and make more effective optimizations. One such feature is the Keyword Magic Tool in their SEO Toolkit.

The Keyword Magic Tool has been around for the past couple of years, however, SEMRush has been expanding the tool to make it bigger and badder than ever before. The tool’s database is now home to 7.7 billion keywords, which the company says is the largest in the world. There are now 118 country databases, too.

The tool is one of our go-to resources for informing our SEO strategies or coming up with new content ideas, saving time and providing meaningful insights. Instead of having to search each individual keyword we could target, a single search in the Keyword Magic Tool will gather all of the related keywords, their monthly search volumes, their competition scores, and even filter them based on categories and questions.

SEMRush's Keyword Magic Tool

Image credit: SEMRush

#3 – Google Analytics’ Custom Dashboards

Google Analytics (GA) is included in nearly every marketer’s toolkit in order to track their website performance, engagement, and so on. But GA is loaded with features and tools that can help you be more productive—and you might not even be leveraging them.

For example, a top GA pain point can be the time it takes time to navigate through the platform to find the results you’re looking for. Plus, the reports take time to customize, load, and integrate with other data sources.

This is where GA’s custom dashboards come in handy as they allow you to aggregate the data you actually care about and put it into one easy table. You don’t need to dig into several different reports to find what you’re looking for. Instead, you can create a dashboard with all of the information you need on a single page. And you can create several of them, allowing you to create segmented and tailored reports based on your specific KPIs.

If you’re already using custom dashboards, you should be asking yourself if you have an opportunity to do more. For example, at TopRank Marketing we have custom dashboards for each of our core services areas.

Google Analytics Custom Dashboards

#4 – Ahrefs’ Rank Tracker

To grow your site’s organic traffic, increasing the quantity and quality of your rankings are a top KPI. But with rankings changing each and every day, your ranking performance is hard to track without a tool to do it with.

Now, well-known SEO tool, Ahrefs, can track your rankings and historical rankings for you. Just last year, Ahrefs released their new Rank Tracker to help you keep tabs on your rankings and the rankings of your competitors—without an immense time commitment.

This tool is especially helpful as it allows you to see your all-time historical rankings for each page of your site and even allows you to segment your rankings based on keyword group, position, SERP type, and more. Want to know how many featured snippets you have? The Rank Tracker can tell you that, too.

Ahrefs Rank Track

Image credit: Ahrefs

Stacking Up Your MarTech Tools

New marketing tools and features are being constantly released, and it’s up to you to evaluate them to see if they’re a good fit for your team and your overall marketing goals. To help spare you from having to do all of the work yourself, the above tools and features are some of the most helpful that we’ve come across.

For more new technologies that can help improve your marketing productivity, check out our list of 54 Artificial Intelligence Powered Marketing Tools.

What emerging marketing tools or new features for old favorites have caught your eye recently? Tell us in the comments section below.