Forrester released its five predictions for B2B marketers for next year and as Laura Ramos, vice president and principal analyst for the firm, puts it, “It’s going to be a turbulent year!”. The rapid evolution of generative AI is at the heart of two of Forrester’s predictions and Ramos explained why it will create turbulence. “We went from desktop computers to laptops, and laptops allowed us to do different things. And then we brought in our smartphones, but those changes happened over a longer period. Generative AI is going to create the opportunity for change at a much faster rate. Figuring out where to focus the resources that you’re using to turn your generative AI experiments into business value is where the pressure points are going to be. Some organizations are going to do really well and get ahead, and others are going to struggle and fail.”
Here are the five predictions.
1. Generative AI will surface insights that dictate one in five new B2B product launches. Forrester expects product teams to adopt generative AI for idea identification and innovation because of its ability to rapidly sift through customer data for insights. Ramos added, “whether you’re getting those insights from information that you have in your own internal systems about customers or using continuous product discovery (a method for identifying customer needs through regular, iterative research activities), we think product organizations are going to be able to synthesize their internal information with what they’re learning from their customers directly. They’ll be able to figure out what customers are really doing with their products and use that to figure out new innovations, new features, new things to bring to market.” But to get these insights, marketers will need to make some system changes. Ramos explained, “They’ll need to figure out how to give to their generative AI system interface access to structured and unstructured information in a way that’s safe and secure, and doesn’t reveal any privacy information, but lets the system look at what’s really happening.”
2. Thinly customized GenAI content will degrade purchase experience for 70% of buyers. The downside of GenAI’s ability to mass produce customized content is can lead to overloading buyers with crappy content. Forrester predicts growing frustration with poorly personalized content will cause more than 70% of business buyers to voice displeasure about the material vendors share, citing specifically that it fails to demonstrate an understanding of their organization’s business conditions or needs. Ramos elaborated, “Marketing folks have always had the problem that they feel like they need to create more and more content to feed the demand generation and sales enablement machines. And the way that they’re thinking about doing it is to go vertical industry or geography. That’s kind of a veneer. Instead, they really need to be thinking about the use cases and needs that customers have and the use cases that they’re solving for.”
3. Legal action over privacy protections will strike a major data provider. As more B2B data providers or marketing platforms wander away from focusing on firmographics to target individuals instead, without safeguards such as stringent consent and preference management or cohort anonymization, B2B companies may find themselves in trouble. Forrester predicts one of these providers will get slapped with a lawsuit or fine as litigious lawyers and governments — eager to strengthen the boundaries around business buyer privacy — renew their efforts around existing laws such as the GDPR or CCPA. Ramos shared, “Data providers and the platform companies have been slowly moving away from the idea of demographic targeting, because people are working from home, and you can’t find them at their company address. So you need to find them in a more individual way which means you’re treading into the area of personal information and privacy. And they’re not doing some of the consent and preference management and cohort anonymization work that they need to be doing to ensure that that personal information is not going to leak.”
4. Two out of five Millennial buyers will demand early access to B2B product experts. According to Forrester, buyers aged 25 to 44 will make up three-fourths of business buying teams in 2024. When engaged in face-to-face buying, Forrester’s data shows that these buyers find personal interactions with product experts more meaningful than all other in-person activities. What are the implications for B2B marketers? “Millennials find that when they get to talk to the experts sooner, they can make the decisions faster,” said Ramos. “So the sales organization needs to have a much tighter partnership with those experts. But you can’t be spending all your experts’ time talking to customers. You must be able to put them in front of customers when they’re really, really needed. In the meantime, there are probably patterns to the kinds of questions that these millennial customers are asking, so how do you put that information in front of them without wearing out your internal experts? How do we get buyers not just talking to the experts, but have more assets, have more videos, have more white papers, that’s going to allow them to know that they’re interacting with content that comes directly from the expert.” Ramos believes there are other ways to scale the experts. “One is this idea of office hours. Some companies, through their customer success or customer marketing organizations, are putting together a series of office hour programs, where the expert comes to the office hour to demonstrate something or share some best practices. And then it’s open for questions. It’s focused on maybe a dozen buyers who are all at a similar point in their buying process.”
5. Half of B2B firms will boost partner ecosystem technology and process investment. Forrester believes reliance on partner ecosystems will see an upward spike in 2024 as economic pressures continue to challenge direct sales growth and as buyer preferences shift to partners that offer more value through richer sets of solutions and services. They recommend that companies able to boost their tech and process investment should: a) adopt multiparty collaboration processes for co-innovation, account mapping, co-marketing, and co-selling; b) rearchitect partner attribution methodologies; and c) integrate novel capabilities such as generative AI and partner-led marketplaces. But many B2B organizations have thought of partners only as an extension of the sales force, expecting them to make their quotas. Ramos warns of the dangers of this way of thinking. “If you think about partners as only transactional, you’re going to miss the opportunity to build deeper relationships between your partners and your customers, and with your partners and yourself. Because in many cases, the partners are building a solution, and they’re using stuff from you and someone else, and even maybe something they’ve put together themselves to deliver a solution that meets a very specific need for a very specific segment in the marketplace. It would take you much longer and many more resources to do that directly and if you’re a large organization, your ability to do that profitably is not as high as it is if you are a partner.”
CMOs are also anticipating significant tumult due to AI but are embracing the challenge. Wendy Steinle, CMO at Domo, is one of them. “It’s incredible to watch the rise and impact of AI, especially at a time where we’re seeing considerable changes in buyer expectations: from who will take a phone call from Sales, to which offers they respond to on our website,” said Steinle. But she’s not intimidated. “I agree we’re in a turbulent time that requires us to re-think our strategies and tactics, but we also shouldn’t get into a tizzy about it. First, marketers must stay true to their core. I’ve always led with the firm belief that ‘people buy from people they trust,’ and keeping that in focus means my team will harness the power of AI to drive our customer-centric approach. Second, stick to a solid planning process. Simply work through that process with a different kind of thinking cap. Ask yourself, ‘In what way can we get smarter, faster or more effective with AI, spanning analysis, recommendations or generative use cases?’ Finally, leverage AI to multiply your impact. I look to ways that AI can help us get more information and augment our productivity and scale. Incorporate AI but never check your brain at the door.“