5 Tech Trends for CMOs to Prepare for Next Year

This article was originally published on MarTech Advisors by Sean Zinsmeister, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Infer.

Sean Zinsmeister, Senior Director of Product Marketing at Infer discusses five technology trends which can be expected for CMOs in 2017.

As another year comes to a close, it’s always fun to reflect on the changes our industry has seen and how it’s likely to evolve even more over the next twelve months. The topic of marketing and sales technology has been hotter than ever as many new tools have emerged in areas such as account-based marketing (ABM), many applications have faded from the limelight, and the big vendors have all made big artificial intelligence (AI) moves.

Here are five specific trends I think we’ll see in 2017 as the martech landscape continues to advance:

1. AI will (still) be the new black

One topic that was covered ad nauseam in 2016 was AI. We’ve heard about the power of AI from all of the enterprise software incumbents, which each introduced flavors of predictive analytics and “AI” into their platforms, as well as from wannabe vendors trying to ride the wave. While it’s important to be cautious about all of the AI hype (especially when it comes to use cases that sound like science fiction), the reality is that this technology is going to evolve even faster from here on out.

AI as foundational technology has been around in the consumer world for over a decade, but it’s just in the past few years that innovative business-to-business companies have started using it to achieve specific business outcomes. Keynoters at this year’s IBM World of Watson conference highlighted ways in which AI is already delivering impressive business value, as well as examples of how it might help a CEO decide whether to buy a competitor, or help a doctor diagnose a patient’s symptoms in the next three to five years.

2. Marketers will do some stack pruning

More and more of the companies I talk to lately all have the same confession: “We simply bought too much tech.” Some of them got caught up in the ABM-tech craze but never saw the value it promised, so they’ve started looking for ways to make their current stack more intelligent. In fact, the average stack these days is made up of around 17 disconnected, underutilized applications.

By streamlining their martech stack to minimize complexity and improve connections between applications, smart companies are honing their best-of-breed strategies and technologies. Their stacks are like fully automated battleships with technologies helping to automate key functions – i.e. the most sophisticated navigation system, the most powerful engine, etc. And with a layer of predictive intelligence that spans all of these components, the battleship (or sales and marketing organization) can achieve better accuracy, targeting, performance and engagement than would ever be possible without actionable insights to rely on.

3. Open architectures will become a must-have

Related to the stack pruning trend is the new reality that modern sales and marketing technology buyers require all their tools to talk to one another. Just as Slack delivers messaging everywhere, buyers want all of their martech apps to support pervasive experiences, rather than be constrained within the walls (or user interface) of a single logo.

This mindset shift is also fueled by the pain of disjointed customer data. While 75% of marketers say that understanding customer behavior over time is very important to growth, only 12% feel that they have a strong capability in this area. At the same time, studies find that the top barrier to a single customer view is having technology to integrate customer data points in real time, and the top obstacle to achieving marketing’s goals is access to more advanced analytics for smarter decision-making. These problems will increasingly be solved by an open architecture approach to martech.

4. Salestech and automation vendors will consolidate

In 2016, we saw several young sales technologies either get acquired or close up shop, and I think we’ll see that trend accelerate in the coming year. While a few leaders like Outreach are rising to the top as valuable add-ons to the major CRM platforms, other new players will struggle to enter a crowded market in the battle to own front-line reps’ workspace. The solution to this cluttered technology landscape won’t be yet more “clouds,” rather it will be all about keeping sales communications and activity in one place with CRM as the foundation for everything. That’s the best way to avoid reverting back to the days of reps who take their “rolodex” (or salestech activity history) with them when they move on to their next job.

5. Demand gen will experience a democratization of tools

When it comes to the other end of the customer funnel, I expect big changes in the many technologies companies use to find net-new leads for demand generation. Filling the top-of-the-funnel is expensive, and no marketer enjoys paying big bucks to black-box lead vendors that deliver quantity versus quality leads. Demand gen teams want more insight to where the data is coming from so they can diversify their lead sources, cherry pick the best leads from each vendor, and ensure they’re getting the best contacts and accounts that match their ideal customer profile. In 2017, new vendors will meet this need by bringing far more transparency into the list buy model.

Of course, these are just a few of the many ways that technology is changing daily workflows for sales and marketing teams. There are broader trends that are also influencing go-to-market strategies, such as recent social media and content crackdowns, the rise of podcasting marketing channels and an account-based marketing normalization. The talk around ABM has hit a wall because it has all been done before by sales departments that have been implementing account-based strategies for quite some time. There just aren’t that many new best practices to employ when it comes to helping accelerate a B2B company’s upmarket strategy.

Here’s to fewer buzzwords, and many more real success stories and advancements to marketing and sales technology in the years to come!

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