The Brightest Trends of 2018

January 2, 2019 Maile Johnson

With the new year here, we’d like to take a quick look back at 2018 and the trends that it’s brought to the sales and marketing landscape. From big data and AI to ABM and cross-department alignment, some significant changes took place. Let’s dive in.

1. Companies Leveraged Data to Deliver a Superior Customer Experience

Companies now have more data at their disposal than ever before, and with it comes the opportunity to create a better and more personalized customer experience. With the help of machine learning and AI-driven technologies, customers can now be presented with ads, content and search results that are relevant to their needs, shopping habits and purchase history.

The challenge for most companies lies in one of two areas:

  1. Siloed data
  2. Inaccurate data

As an article from MarTech Advisor discussed, when data is kept in silos, it’s virtually impossible to identify patterns and trends on a granular level. On top of that, the data that companies do have isn’t always accurate: One study found that 23 percent of marketers in the U.S. and U.K. cite data quality as the greatest challenge to personalization. But, if companies work to unify their siloed data and ensure that the data they’re collecting is high-quality, they can achieve a whole new level of interaction and create a truly exceptional customer experience.

2. AI Gained Serious Headway in Sales and Marketing Tech

While AI has yet to go mainstream, it’s already transforming the sales and marketing landscapes in unprecedented ways. According to The New Economy, AI is behind three “megatrends” in sales and marketing:

  1. Automation: By allowing machines to automatically perform tasks previously performed exclusively by humans, organizations can quickly and efficiently provide customers with intuitive support, product recommendations and more.
  2. Forecasting: With an extensive backlog of historical data, AI can identify patterns and make predictions for potential future scenarios. In this way, companies can predict customer behavior and make more accurate sales forecasts.
  3. Personalization: As mentioned above, AI-driven technologies can help companies provide customers with personalized content, ads, search results and more based on their shopping habits, purchase history and other factors.

3. ABM Became a Top GTM Strategy for Revenue Teams

Account-based marketing (ABM) isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it’s now more important (and popular) than ever before. According to data collected by Salesforce Pardot, 24 percent of companies have ABM programs that are either well underway or advanced, and 45 percent have ABM programs that have just started. That leaves just seven percent who have no plans to start ABM and 24 percent who are thinking about starting.

Companies are putting more than just time into ABM, too: Marketing teams observed a 45 percent increase in ABM budget from 2017 to 2018. 

And, since ABM demands cooperation between companies’ sales, marketing, and customer success teams, it meshes well with another trend that’s quickly gaining traction: Revenue operations, or RevOps (more on that later).

4. Achieving Sales and Marketing Alignment Was the Name of the Game

As an increasing number of companies worked to align their sales and marketing teams, the pursuit of that alignment became a major trend of 2018.

One article from Forbes provided six steps organizations can use to achieve sales and marketing alignment:

  1. Negotiate space for feedback: To create alignment, it’s critical that managers work out a constructive way to provide each other with feedback across departments.
  2. Reset with transparency: If the relationship between department leaders is strained, it must be resolved and replaced with one that’s honest and transparent before alignment can be achieved, ideally over the phone or face-to-face.
  3. Start small: Sales and marketing managers shouldn’t criticize each other’s entire leadership style right off the bat. Instead, they should start with small tidbits of feedback about things like meetings or deliverables.
  4. Adapt for style: Every leader has a different style, and that’s okay. To succeed, sales and marketing managers need to work together while accommodating each other’s styles.
  5. Show appreciation: If the sales and marketing departments can acknowledge and appreciate each other’s work both publicly and privately, that can go a long way toward building a trusting and collaborative relationship.
  6. Align around the customer: Ultimately, sales and marketing alignment is about the customer, and all conversations around efforts to achieve alignment should reflect that.

By following those steps and approaching alignment as an iterative process rather than an all-or-nothing movement, companies can bring their sales and marketing departments together not just for one or two projects but for years to come.

5. Organizations Used a RevOps Strategy to Support Their GTM Mix

With ABM and sales and marketing alignment being such prominent trends, it was only natural for RevOps to gain momentum in 2018 as well.

In short, RevOps is the integration between sales, marketing and customer success operations. That cross-department functionality makes it ideal for helping to achieve the alignment that so many companies are looking for.

It’s also proven to be invaluable in analyzing and integrating companies’ go-to-market (GTM) strategy, too.

As LeanData CMO Karen Steele explained in our recent webinar, “Scaling Revenue Operations and Planning for 2019 and Beyond,” the number of GTM routes to choose from has exploded in recent years:

From social selling and content marketing to sales automation and ABM, organizations now have a staggering amount of possible GTM routes, many of which require multiple departments to work in concert.

As LeanData VP of Product Hendrick Lee outlined on our blog, companies must analyze and evolve their GTM strategies on an ongoing basis or risk falling behind.

Knowing this, it makes sense that RevOps, with its ability to bring teams together and integrate multiple GTM routes, can be instrumental in ensuring a successful GTM mix.

In 2018, the sales and marketing landscapes experienced astronomical change, with both abandoning one-size-fits-all tactics in favor of ever-changing, agile strategies and personalized customer experiences.

As companies continue to optimize their go-to-market initatives by adopting more sophisticated technologies and strategies, we’re sure that 2019 will bring about even more exciting transformations. Going forward, all companies would be wise to remember that sales and marketing alignment is essential, data is their friend and AI is the future.

About the Author

Maile Johnson

Maile leads LeanData’s demand gen, marketing ops, and field marketing efforts. A Bay Area native, Maile grew up surfing waves in Half Moon Bay. She earned her MBA while living abroad in Australia and her bachelor's at UC Santa Barbara. Today, she applies her expertise to growing and expanding demand for LeanData.

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