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One of the hottest marketing trends in 2017 is marketing automation. But wait, you’re thinking “that’s already a thing.” True, but marketing automation continues to evolve and expect to see more open source marketing automation, artificial intelligence, chatbot implementations and other new marketing automation capabilities enter the scene.

According to a 2016 Ascend2 Marketing Automation Trends Survey, the most important strategic goals companies outline in their marketing automation strategy are:

• Increasing lead generation (61%)
• Lead nurturing (57%)
• Sales revenue (47%)
• Improving customer engagement (36%)
• Marketing productivity (29%)
• Improving measurability (28%)
• Campaign targeting (22%)

This new wave of marketing automation can be difficult to navigate if you don’t work in it every day, it’s always changing and requiring B2B marketers to adapt their skills and capabilities. If your company is adopting marketing automation to manage prospective leads efficiently, we are sure you’ve quickly realized there’s more to it than a simple technology purchase. Ascend2’s study found respondents said, “the most significant barrier to marketing automation success is the lack of an effective strategy (52%).”

Here are two marketing automation capabilities we think B2B marketers should consider investing in this year:

AI & Chatbots

If you aren’t familiar with chatbots, they are the next big thing. They are computer programs designed to simulate a conversation with human users, especially over the Internet. AI-driven messaging bot platforms support meaningful conversations between your organization and a prospective customer. AI and chatbots are a game changer for marketing automation. They allow you to optimize marketing campaigns for higher conversion rates and better ROI. AI for marketing automation can run and optimize your AB drip campaigns, here’s one example:

• Schedule a drip campaign
• Create A and B emails
• Set the time frame to send emails
• Set the conversion goal

These steps are no different than what you would do without AI; the difference is AI can automatically and continuously test the campaign and optimize it without any extra effort from you. AI can also automatically complete the campaign once you reach your goal.

Machine Learning

Machine learning is just really cool, and many of our software clients are deploying the capability. One of our clients has created a machine learning algorithm for e-commerce fraud detection. If you’ve interacted with the Google self-driving car, that’s machine learning in action. Machine learning is the data analysis method that automates the build of analytical models. Think data modeling, but all automated.

The algorithm learns iteratively from the data provided and finds hidden insights without being programmed where to look for those nuggets of decision-making gold. Think about the rock star you would be if you could deliver data-driven insight, shining a light on a trend or market growth opportunity that wasn’t visible before.

Some practical applications include websites recommending items you might like based on previous purchases. They are using machine learning to analyze your buying history – and promote other things you’d find interesting. For e-commerce marketers, use it to up-sell and cross-sell with online recommendation offers like Amazon and Netflix give consumers. The future of retail relies on the ability to capture data, analyze it and put it to use to create a personalized shopping experience.

While marketing automation technology has come a long way, a surprising few marketers have expertise in deploying marketing automation. Very few are equipped with basic knowledge and still have a long way to get optimum results with its adoption. In 2017, B2B companies will need to invest in developing the knowledge and skills of their staff to keep up with advancements in automation technology.

At 48 West, we are certified marketing automation experts with experience implementing and working with many of the most popular marketing automation capabilities on the market.