Introduction

In 2020, buyer and seller conversations moved almost exclusively online. Now, both parties say there’s no going back.

Customers now expect personalized experiences, 24/7 support, and instant access to the brands they do business with. Why? Because they know what’s possible.

As buying journeys grow more complex, removing friction from your digital channels is essential. Companies that rise to meet these consumer expectations — while differentiating themselves from competitors — will become leaders in their markets.

And many of these companies are looking to Conversational Marketing to improve their digital customer experience today.

In our most recent survey, 8 out of 10 respondents reported having a Conversational Marketing solution. Of the small group who did not have one, 74% want to add a Conversational Marketing solution to their marketing strategy.

In this 2021 benchmark research report — conducted in partnership with Heinz Marketing — you’ll discover how:

  • The B2B customer experience has transformed over the past year
  • Businesses are using Conversational Marketing to create better digital customer experiences and achieve their pipeline goals
  • Your business can engage buyers more effectively to accelerate revenue across the marketing funnel

Methodology

To understand the state of Conversational Marketing in B2B, Drift and Heinz Marketing conducted a survey in July 2021. The following data comes from 503 B2B professionals across multiple experience levels, company sizes, and industries.

What is Conversational Marketing?

Conversational Marketing is one of the quickest ways to move buyers through your sales funnel. Through the power of real-time conversations and customer-centric data, B2B marketers can create meaningful, authentic experiences for buyers at every stage, right when they need it.

Conversational Marketing uses targeted messaging and intelligent chatbots to engage with buyers 24/7/365.

Conversational Marketing solutions empower customers throughout their buying journey and help companies build relationships, pipeline, and revenue through exceptional, authentic user experiences.

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2021 Report Key Findings

  1. Overall frustration with B2B experiences is on the rise: Patience is scarce. And with information readily available across multiple channels, buyers are more likely to disengage and seek resources elsewhere when experiencing frustration with a B2B product or service. Learn more about the future of marketing and sales SLAs.
  2. Quick, authentic experiences are a priority for both businesses and buyers: Customers and buyers want better digital experiences from companies. Like consumers, businesses want effortless interactions — even if they struggle to deliver them at their own company. 
  3. Personalization is a necessity: Personalization is taking the B2B marketing landscape by storm. Demand for tailored content and experiences is on the rise. Personalized engagement will continue to be a major selling point for Conversational Marketing solutions.
  4. COVID-19 accelerated Conversational Marketing adoption: COVID-19 was the catalyst B2B marketers needed to add Conversational Marketing solutions to their marketing strategies. Initially, some marketers thought of these solutions as a quick fix to a temporary problem. But now, B2B marketers understand that Conversational Marketing is essential to their marketing mix.
  5. AI-powered Conversational Marketing solutions are gaining traction: Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new frontier for Conversational Marketing. And those companies who are pioneering AI solutions are seeing stronger engagement between sales and marketing. Of those who currently utilize AI-enabled technology, 82% find their solution to be a very valuable asset in their current sales and marketing strategy.

Overall Frustration with B2B Digital Experiences is Rising

In our 2020 benchmark report, we focused on how the pandemic accelerated “digital transformation” in B2B companies. In 2021, we’ve found that B2B marketers are struggling to pivot their strategies around these new digital experiences and buyer expectations.

With more information accessible at all points of the customer journey, buyers are likely to disengage and seek resources elsewhere when experiencing frustration with a B2B website, product, or service.

Our research shows that consumer patience has worn thin when interacting with B2B businesses:

  • Frustration with accessing basic business information has grown 20%
  • Frustration with website navigation has grown 25%
  • Frustration with old school forms continues to grow by 27%

Unfortunately, Conversational Marketing was not immune to these B2B channel frustrations. Compared to 2020, positive user experience with Conversational Marketing solutions dropped by 10%. When considering all the outlying factors that affected B2B organizations during the pandemic, here are a few reasons for this slight decline in positive user experience:

  • Hasty onboarding and integration into current systems
  • General uncertainty in the market
  • Overall frustration with B2B products and services

We expect experiences with Conversational Marketing solutions will rebound as businesses have more time and proper training to align their solutions in their marketing strategies.

Quick & Authentic Experiences are a Top Priority for Businesses and Users

B2B buyers want better digital experiences from companies. And businesses want to deliver on those expectations. Today, buyers research products and services on their own time and expect lightning-fast responses to their inquiries.

That’s why one of the most appealing features of a Conversational Marketing solution is revealing buyer insights. Here are the top features Conversational Marketing users care about:

  • 46.3% of respondents say learning more about buyers/customers is a top feature
  • 36.2% of respondents say their solution provides a more human, authentic experience
  • And 50.7% of respondents say they can provide quicker response times to visitor questions

If businesses want to provide a better buyer experience across their channels, they must engage with customers quickly and authentically.

Personalization is a Necessity

Personalization is no longer a “nice-to-have” feature of Conversational Marketing strategies – it’s a necessity. Our research shows buyers’ expectations for quick, personalized experiences have grown by 26%. This is the biggest shift in positive user experience factors next to instant response times.

According to Folloze Research, 77% of B2B sales and marketing professionals believe personalized marketing experiences improve customer relationships. B2B marketers are expected to deliver relevant content to their customers through preferred communication channels that match their buying journey stage.

COVID-19 Accelerated Conversational Marketing Adoption

Spurred by “digital transformation” during the pandemic, more businesses implemented Conversational Marketing solutions to provide a holistic customer experience and drive sales pipeline.

  • More than half of respondents (58%) adopted a Conversational Marketing solution in response to COVID-19
  • 99% of respondents said their Conversational Marketing solution was valuable to highly valuable — with 62% finding it is highly valuable
  • Almost half of the respondents (45.2%) say their engagement rates increased during the pandemic

Why marketers chose to adopt Conversational Marketing depended greatly on their needs at the time. Here, we see a breakdown of the most common triggers.

According to Gartner, COVID-19 increased both the speed and scale of digital transformation, “escalating digital initiatives into digital imperatives.” This holds true in our findings. In 2020, some companies might have seen these new tools as quick fixes to a temporary problem. But now in 2021, most B2B marketers understand their Conversational Marketing solutions are essential to their marketing strategy.

The pandemic forced many B2B organizations to transform the way they capture interest, engage buyers, and convert demand to deliver meaningful results to their bottom line.

AI-Powered Conversational Marketing Solutions are Gaining Traction

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the new frontier of Conversational Marketing. According to a recent benchmark report of AI technology, marketers believe AI-enabled tools will be essential in B2B industries in the next five years.

82% of respondents who use an AI-enabled technology find their solution to be very valuable to their marketing mix. More specifically, respondents enjoy the strong sales and marketing engagement that AI-enabled solutions offer.

Of marketers who saw engagement with their Conversational Marketing solutions increase, 56% experienced increased sales productivity. Other AI-enabled benefits reported were:

  • The ability to qualify customers in real-time (49%)
  • The ease of engaging buyers 24/7 across the globe (41%)
  • Efficient ticket support with online concierge (35%)

AI-enabled Conversational Marketing solutions have the power to automate common marketing tasks, accelerate revenue, and reduce costs. In 2021 alone, Gartner projects AI will create $2.9 trillion in business value. AI-enabled solutions give marketers a unique opportunity to have a competitive advantage by:

  • Creating personalized consumer experiences
  • Increasing marketing attribution
  • Generating greater ROI on campaigns
  • Getting more actionable insights from marketing data
  • Streamlining repetitive business operations
  • Shortening the sales cycle

Conversational AI

AI is transforming B2B marketing as we know it. Overlooking its potential could leave your business at a disadvantage. Learn more in our 2021 State of Marketing AI Report.

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In an age when buyers have greater access to resources, content, and data than they ever have before; when digitization of products and services is becoming a business imperative; and when the future of work is shifting to be entirely remote; B2B organizations must transform the way they capture interest, engage buyers, and convert demand to accommodate the new customer journey and the new customer experience that comes with it.

Get access to the complete report, data, and insights right here. 

The 2021 State of Conversational Marketing

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