Many companies find themselves asking the same question: How do we authentically engage with customers throughout their entire buying journey, front to end, to keep them satisfied and buying more?

The answer, up until now, has been complicated.

Today's ever-changing marketing landscape is a complex web of communication touchpoints between a company and its customers, fueled by brand content, social media, Web search, email, and more. Marketing and sales teams are challenged to work together now, more than ever, to create personalized experiences for target audiences and prospects—from idea conception to purchase execution.

To overcome that challenge and become more effective in their engagement with customers, many B2B companies have invested in marketing automation to better understand and get closer to future buyers. And, recently, marketing automation has gotten even better, allowing marketing and sales teams to harness the power of artificial intelligence (AI) by using customer data to predictively engage with prospects to grow revenue and drive ROI.

Increasing revenue is the most compelling reason for implementing marketing automation, according to 77% of CMOs at top-performing companies.

The Marketing-Powered Sales Rep: Use Case

Stanley Black & Decker no longer uses sales reps to make decisions based on a hunch or chance, illustrating a major shift among B2B marketers. Unlike before, its sales team can see whether a piece of targeted content resonates or doesn't with a potential customer.

Depending on whether the intended recipient opened an email, clicked through it, or did nothing at all, Sales knows exactly what to do.

The data collected sends a valuable signal, which may be that the content within the email is interesting enough to check out the brand's site, but it's missing the mark in terms of industry relevance, since the site visit lasted only a few seconds and the content was never downloaded.

To improve accuracy, in this case, Sales can lend expertise to Marketing to help customize the content based on Sales' own experiences and preferences with the potential customer, making the interaction even more personal and meaningful.

Let's look at another use case. You're a sales rep and you get an email template from the marketing team. The email content is tailored to your prospect—including a blog post relevant to the company you're targeting. You also know where this prospect is in the buying cycle, and you have the option send the email from your desktop or mobile device.

AI for Better, Faster Outcomes

It's early days for AI and marketing automation, but AI is already responsible for improving collaboration and output among sales and marketing professionals.

Because AI has the power to see the entire scope of a business, department, team, and its customers, it can help fuel better business decisions, faster.

When potential customers open a targeted email and navigate through the material or delete the email unread, they are sending a message to the sender. Based on those signals, AI-powered predictive lead scoring uncovers and prioritizes the leads most likely to convert into real deals for a business. The best leads are automatically sent to the digital sales rep, along with the most crucial information—including prospect location, past purchase history, and the prospect's job title. AI can not only score leads but also tell sales teams that prospects downloaded a particular e-book or signed up for a webinar, or that they are currently on the website.

For sales reps, there's a big opportunity for AI to drive real-time and relevant engagement with a prospect to drive results. Thanks to lead scoring, sales professionals can contact the most interested prospects based on predictive data generated from learning and understanding user behaviors.

By using AI, sales teams can have more meaningful conversations about a whitepaper that a prospect just downloaded, for example, and speak about what interested the prospect in the content.

AI provides a tremendous advantage for companies to connect when a prospect is thinking about a brand—with information that matters most.

Killer Sales Teams Remain Critical

It's only the beginning, but AI is allowing companies to predict sales with greater accuracy. New technologies are helping marketers and sales teams get smarter about predicting potential customer demands. But, regardless of what new technology is ahead, the importance of high-performing sales teams will never go away.

Though there has always been an overlap between B2B sales and marketing, never before has technology been able to do so much to connect the different parts of an organization.

Not long ago, Marketing would come up with a campaign, which would include themed e-books, whitepapers, a webinar, and maybe a blog post. From there, Sales would sit back and either watch the leads roll in or hear it from upset prospects receiving unsolicited emails. Today, things are quite different.

With the proliferation and ease of use of marketing automation software, marketing teams can successfully develop incredibly personalized and tailored campaigns that help entice prospects and empower Sales to pick up where Marketing leaves off. In turn, sales leads become more accurate and appropriate for reps to pursue. They'll also able to do so more confidently, and with the right information in hand. Marketing automation alone has proved able to drive ROI for businesses.

The No. 1 reason for implementing marketing automation is to increase revenue (79%) and get higher quality leads (76%), according to CMOs at top-performing companies. So, when Sales and Marketing work together on one single platform and turn to the power of AI to better prospect, sell, and engage future customers, the end results are better leads, more sales, and happier customers.

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image of Mike Kostow

Mike Kostow is SVP and GM of Salesforce Pardot, a leading B2B marketing automation solution.

LinkedIn: Michael Kostow

Twitter: @mikekostow