No longer struggling to keep up with the whims of digital buyers while providing leads to sales teams, B2B marketers are stepping into a new role of architecting engagement with customers, Forrester Research says.

Business-to-business marketers are entering a new digital-powered role as “steward of the customer relationship,” Forrester Research Inc. says in a new study.

B2B marketers have historically played a back-seat support role to their colleagues in sales and product development, focusing on providing customer leads while struggling of late to keep up with the whims of digital buyers, says Lori Wizdo, a Forrester vice president and principal analyst who authored the study, “Predictions 2018: Digital Disruption is the New Normal for B2B Marketing.”

B2B marketers are shifting from supplying leads to the load-bearing sales force to architecting engagement across the customer life cycle.

Lori Wizdo, principal analyst, Forrester Research

But armed with new digital tools—like artificial intelligence designed to help predict what targeted customers want and automate highly relevant marketing pitches to them—B2B marketers are shifting “from supplying leads to the load-bearing sales force to architecting engagement across the customer life cycle,” Wizdo says. Artificial intelligence, or AI, is a term used to describe software that learns from the data it compiles to improve on its own such functions as recommending products to particular customer segments or even individual customers.

The best B2B marketers, Wizdo says, are using the latest marketing tools and data on customer demand to develop buyer personas—or segments of customers sharing similar interests—and buyer journey maps, developed with web analytics data, that show how customers interact with multiple sources of information leading to a purchase. “When personas and buyer journey maps are combined, the result is a set of clear instructions to design a customer engagement strategy for each distinct phase of the customer journey,” she says.

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In another study Forrester released earlier this year—“Q2 2017 B2B Customer-Obsessed Operating Model Online Survey” —Forrester found that 54% of B2B marketers aligned their marketing strategies to the needs of their targeted personas. “We expect that number to rise to 75% in 2018, mirroring the growth rate we saw in 2017 in the adoption of customer journey maps,” Wizdo says.

Wizdo adds in the recent B2B marketing “Digital Disruptors” report that many vendors of B2B marketing technology are planning to weave more AI technology into their software applications. That will help B2B marketers improve how they target customers and customer segments with personalized content in the venues most likely to garner their attention. “AI is now poised to enable contextual marketing across the entire customer life cycle by autonomously creating, delivering and optimizing personalized customer engagement,” she says.

Such strategies, she adds, will enable marketers to hand over to sales teams leads that are more likely be what she calls “conversation-qualified” and “ready for sales engagement” with sales reps.

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