I've read a fair amount of listicle predictions posts and feel like there’s a gap in what’s been written about, so I'm putting myself out there and adding my two cents. Beyond just identifying the trends, I'll do my best to give you, the inbound marketing professional, some actionable advice along the way.
Here are my predictions for growing your business via inbound marketing for 2018, and they’re further explored below:
- Disintermediation will become a bigger trend
- Commerce and content will become more closely intertwined
- Automation will become more automated via artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
- Smart dialing will become more widely available
- Universal inbox for chat becomes important
- Almost everyone in B2B will be doing e-commerce
- Sales will move from consultative to helping
- The form will be on its way out
- Mobile almost takes over
Prediction: Disintermediation will accelerate; B2B publishers will become less traditional
With more and more companies investing in content marketing, the role of the traditional trade journalist will diminish further. But publishers will continue to want to rent you their audiences for lead generation and brand building, just using different tools and offering new ways to spend your marketing budget (interestingly most focus on in-person events as well as online lead generation). The smarter of these organizations already look a lot like inbound marketers; when I think of publishers moving to this model I immediately think UBM or Haymarket Media.
Recommendation: Our position is that organizations with significant sales (greater than $15 million) should seriously consider publishing their own online custom magazine(s) or industry portals. These unique-to-you media properties enable you to achieve the benefits of being a publisher. Your efforts will enable you to build and own an audience you can monetize directly and for the life of the property. While this trend is obvious with brands like Red Bull, Harry’s or L’Oreal in the consumer space, or IBM or Dell in B2B, firms of smaller scale can achieve the same benefits, too—and likely these will be relatively more profound.
Prediction: Content and e-commerce will become more closely intertwined
The SEO value of an online store is relatively low when compared with content, especially video. Retailers and B2B enterprises with e-commerce storefronts will find that in order to optimize the value of their stores and beat their competitors, they must publish content about their products.
Recommendation: In categories as diverse as health and beauty (Harry’s) to consumer electronics (Adorama), owners of online stores are using content to help drive traffic to their websites and sales online. The reality is that content has always greased the skids for sales at retail. Whether it’s Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer, Hammacher Schlemmer’s catalog or the wonderful descriptions of Murray’s Cheese, evocative writing sells at retail. After you've mastered the basics of selling online and driving paid traffic by advertising, you’ll want to increase your ROI by building content that enhances the sales of your best-sellers.
Prediction: Marketing automation will become more automated via artificial intelligence
The problem with marketing automation is that to do it right, you need to budget for a lot of manual labor. All those landing pages, forms, analytics and nurture workflows are hard to design and build. And in many cases, they are fairly repetitive, making them ripe for automation.
Recommendation: Unless you have the motivation and budget to build AI into your marketing and sales automation, it might be time to replace your marketing and sales automation platform. At last year’s INBOUND conference, HubSpot announced its acquisition of Motion AI, a visual chatbot company. It recently announced the acquisition of Kemvi, a company that scans news for company updates to enhance sales performance (no blind spots when calling on prospects). HubSpot in particular is using AI and machine learning to make sales and marketing more effective and efficient, creating competitive advantage for its users.
Prediction: Smart dialing will become more widespread
Yes, sales still needs to use the phone to reach prospects. But it’s increasingly hard to connect with the right people.
Recommendation: Be on the lookout for CRMs that incorporate features like those found on Insidesales.com smart dialing software. I’d expect that more vendors will either integrate with this firm or adopt many of its key features (intelligent call queuing, presenting call as local number, predicting which calls are best to make at any time, one-click leave a voicemail, etc.). If you’re using Salesforce.com and have a decently large inside sales team you definitely need to check these guys out. It’s truly a no-brainer – the ROI is terrific.
Prediction: Universal chat becomes important
It’s not just the millenials that don’t like to fill out forms. More and more older adults are taking up chat to get questions answered and to buy things. And this isn't just happening on brands’ websites. It’s increasingly occurring on Facebook and should be expected to proliferate. Your buyers will want you to be where they are, when they are there.
Recommendation: Experiment with AI-enabled chatbot solutions like Drift or HubSpot’s soon to be released Conversations, which integrate chat from a wide range of sources including social media, Slack, website chat, and email. These tools enable you to take better advantage of the traffic your content and social strategies are driving to your website by enabling immediate engagement and driving to sales.
Prediction: Almost everyone in B2B will be doing e-commerce
Pressure is relentless on the c-suite to reduce costs and friction in the sales process. And friction is what you get when people are inserted into sales processes that can be automated.
Recommendation: Take a fresh look at your sales workflows. As an example, you might have a freemium offer that requires a phone call to upgrade to a paid solution is a ripe candidate, for automation. There also might be standard configurations of SaaS products that can be sold online that currently aren’t. By moving these transactions to e-commerce, you can free sales to focus on larger opportunities and upsells/cross-sells to the customers which self-serve their initial purchase.
Prediction: The lead generation form is on its way to extinction.
We’ve all seen CTAs that start out with great performance and then decay over time. The lead generation form will have to evolve to remain a viable tool.
Recommendation: Experiment with solutions like Drift to move lead generation to chat and form-filling automation like that offered by LinkedIn. When you implement AI in chat to capture lead information, the exchange of information becomes part of a conversation instead of an emotional boundary to cross. Using LinkedIn’s autofill and lead gen forms you’ll get better information with higher conversion rates.
Prediction: Sales will move from consultative to helping.
With buyers firmly in control of the information-gathering part of their process, your sales team needs to go from pushing its solution to providing assistance in making the right choice. Not only will this open prospects up, but will increase the likelihood that you’ll get good reviews online.
Recommendation: Train your sales team on lead handling best practices as well as the new “warm calling” sales outreach that’s promoted by many sales trainers. Add training on social selling and qualification. Build content that is aligned as closely as possible to the way salespeople actually sell so it gets used by sales to support moving toward the close.
Prediction: Mobile and app traffic will become as much as 80 percent of your visitation.
Recommendation: Format your website and content for phones and don’t worry if they don't look perfect on the CEO’s desktop. Use your Google analytics to make the case for a mobile-first web and content world. Format PDFs like deep one-page sites so they scale well to screens of all sizes. Use tools like the LinkedIn autofill and lead gen forms that are proven to convert on mobile, and experiment with your own landing pages to create ever-better conversion rates. And if this isn't enough, Google just announced that soon mobile performance will factor into where your site comes up in search results.
2018 will be a year of innovation in marketing automation. Marketers will need to place their bets wisely to achieve the same ROI as in the past, never mind increasing it. With thousands of marketing technology solutions available, it will become more important than ever to get good advice from practitioners like us who see what's working in multiple accounts and can put that experience to work for you.
Want to talk about this article or anything related to growing your business with great content? Book a 15-minute meeting with me at this link and let’s talk shop!