Between an online visitor’s initial product research and the point where she clicks a Buy button, there are likely several digital interactions between buyer and seller. But AI, if used correctly, can go a long way toward converting those visitors to loyal buyers, Forrester Research says in a new series of AI reports.

Artificial intelligence is changing the game for B2B marketers, Forrester Research Inc. says.

B2B marketers have more tools than ever for engaging customers and building lasting relationships with them, but “ever-more-shrewd” buyers are demanding more relevant information with expectations of personalized assistance, Forrester says in a new series of reports on using artificial intelligence technology and strategies to better understand and interact with buyers.

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Allison Snow, senior analyst, Forrester Research Inc.

AI can help B2B marketers design effective marketing and customer communications that turn traditional methods upside down, Forrester says in “B2B Insights Deep Dive: Use AI to Drive Engagement,” by Forrester analysts Allison Snow and Emily Miller. That report is one of a series of three reports that Forrester released last week on the use of AI technology and processes in B2B digital commerce; the other two reports focus on working with AI to “activate emotion” and to “demonstrate empathy” as ways to produce more valuable interactions with customers.

Under traditional marketing methods, “it’s standard practice to pick a message, campaign, or promotion and then create audiences by selecting attributes from a CRM system,” Forrester says, adding: “Appealing to the ever-more-shrewd B2B buyer requires the reverse. For truly engaging experiences, B2B pros need to understand customers and design messaging and experiences tailored to them—in other words, start with the audience, not with the message. It’s a complicated approach, and it requires not only an updated mindset but access to more insights than B2B pros can infer without advanced analytics technologies.”

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Text analytics and helpful chatbots

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Emily Miller, research analyst, Forrester Research Inc.

The B2B consumer journey “isn’t a direct line between a search and a Buy button,” Snow and Miller write. “Nearly three-quarters of global B2B marketers with a lead-nurturing program say it takes, on average, five or more nurturing interactions before sales qualifies a marketing lead as being ready to pursue,” they say in the report, citing a 2018 survey of B2B buyers, the “Forrester/B2BecNews Q2 2018 Global B2B Buy-Side Online Survey.”

Among the report’s suggestions:

  • As B2B buyers navigate through extensive digital content, B2B sellers can better connect them using such AI tools as text analytics and national language processing to learn about customers’ interests and better generate useful dialogs with them rather than seller-driven monologues.
  • Chatbots using AI technology can identify customers’ personality traits and what drives their emotional responses regarding product selection and service, then refer them to the most appropriate website content or a live customer service or sales rep.

As AI tools develop more insights into customers’ interests, helping a seller to engage customers better, the same AI technology will then build more valuable insights on top of those improved customer engagements, helping the seller produce more relevant content and dialogues, Forrester says.

Relevance is the key to ongoing engagement

“Through this journey, relevance is key to ongoing engagement—the driver of clicks and conversions,” Snow and Miller write. “Further, the element of engagement powers relationships post-sale and fuels customer renewals, emotional connections that increase loyalty, and delightful experiences that lead to advocacy.”

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They caution, however, that AI is not an easy road to “full automation” in efforts to better understand and develop interactions with customers. “There is still the deep, hard, human work of connecting your value proposition to the specific needs of prospects and customers in the form of content and experiences, with all the nuances of buy stage, segment, channel, and content,” the report says, adding: “Artificial intelligence is not a solution looking for a problem. It’s a collection of technology and tools to apply to existing problem sets.”

To improve engagement with prospects and customers, the report suggests using AI technology “to make progress against an existing two-pronged challenge: 1) uncovering signals of preference and drivers of clicks and conversions and 2) designing experiences based on those insights to connect with customers and keep them engaged.”

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