You already benefit from the use of artificial intelligence every day, whether you know it or not.
Any movie Netflix recommends for you is selected by machine learning algorithms. Product suggestions on Amazon use AI to predict what you’ll want to buy next. Spotify relies on machine learning to craft the ultimate personalized playlist based on your exact music tastes.
In each case, AI learns your preferences from data on your activity, behavior, and purchases, as well as what people who are similar to you have done. Then, it customizes and personalizes your buying experience. The technology repeats this for millions of other consumers, offering a one-to-one experience at scale.
In fact, AI has been used so successfully by B2C companies that we now expect this type of uber-personalized experience as standard from brands.
Why does this matter to B2B marketers?
Consumers live in the B2C world of Netflix, Amazon, and Spotify. But they expect to get the information they need, when they need it, on-demand—regardless if they’re buying B2C or B2B.
This type of personalization at scale is available only with artificial intelligence.
Which means if you’re a B2B marketing leader, you’d better be thinking about how to use AI in your operations.
1. Buyer Control Is the New Normal
Buyers are in more control than ever.
Across B2C experiences, consumers want to select great recommendations for content and products on their own, in their own time and in their own way. The best brands point out recommendations, but they don’t hold your hand.
When you surf Netflix, you’re offered a seamless set of content recommendations that help you decide what to watch next. On Amazon, you’re painlessly offered new products while viewing what you initially came to the site to buy. These two experiences, and hundreds of others by top B2C brands, are defined by a lack of friction.
Buyers face zero confusion about what to watch, buy, or view next. They’re completely in control. And that behavior is increasingly seen in B2B buyers as well.
According to Forrester, 68% of B2B buyers prefer gathering information online, on their own, up from 53% in 2015. Meanwhile, only 16% find interacting with a sales rep superior to independent research. And the latest Gartner research shows that buyers are spending 67% of their time doing that independent research and meeting with their buying committee, but just 17% of their time meeting with potential vendors.
To put buyers in control, you need to know what they want. The only way to learn that is by analyzing consumer data, then acting on that data at speed and scale. This is what AI technologies excel at, and what they do is impossible for humans to do manually.
For Netflix and Amazon customers, AI offers the promise of hyper-personalized journeys that adapt to changing buyer needs almost in real-time. B2B consumers demand the same level of personalization and control that they do when purchasing in the B2C space.
So why should B2B buying experiences be any different than highly personalized B2C ones?
The simple fact is: They shouldn’t.
2. You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know
In B2C, AI is also able to surface insights humans never knew existed in the first place. Thanks to AI’s ability to process large amounts of data, this technology can find new audiences and preferences that are hidden to the human eye.
That’s why Spotify surfaces songs that become your new favorites, though you never would have listened to them on your own. Netflix does the same thing with movies. And Amazon finds relationships between products and buyers that human analysts would have missed.
This isn’t limited to B2C companies. B2B brands have the ability to leverage AI to learn what they don’t know about consumers, too. These types of insights drive revenue and engagement, and they provide an incredible competitive advantage to the brands that leverage them first.
3. There’s Too Much Friction In the B2B Buyer Journey
It’s not just about the fact that buyers are in control or that AI can tell you more about buyers than humans can. It’s about the fact that there’s just too much friction in the B2B buyer journey without AI.
That’s because many B2B buyer journeys are still manually created by marketers who are guessing what buyers want. Often, they get it wrong, which leaves buyers without the information they need or being prompted to fill out forms they don’t want to fill out.
It’s unfair to consumers and it’s unfair to B2B marketers. Today’s digital, multi-channel B2B buyer journeys have near-infinite combinations of paths and outcomes. B2B marketers don’t stand a chance of untangling this complexity on their own.
But, just because it’s unfair doesn’t change the outcome.
Every time B2B marketers fail to reduce friction during the journey, revenue potential suffers.
This is taken as gospel truth in the world of B2C. If your buyers aren’t in control and your journey is full of friction, you’re leaving money on the table.
Why should B2B marketing be any different?
To learn more about creating frictionless buyer experiences, see this profile on how PathFactory hyper-personalizes the B2B buyer journey using AI.
Nick serves as the Chief Product Officer at PathFactory, a content insight and activation platform that helps B2B marketers understand the role of content in the buyer's journey.