As autumn leaves turn color and fall to earth, every cloud marketer’s mind turns to the New Year and launching her new cloud software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution. Talkin’ Cloud reached out to a number of leaders in the space to get their thinking on how outbound communication trends will shape up in 2017. What follows exemplifies the best of those thoughts.
Customer Serve Thyself
A large trend that’s become more pervasive as time goes by remains the idea of customer self-service. Beyond that, the concept that the buyer should have the ability to reach out to her solution provider when and where she wants to also has taken root. This will include smartphone short message service (SMS) and other mobile text options.
“More companies will implement SMS as a customer support channel,” says Jeff Kear, founder, online startup Planning Pod, which provides online event management SaaS. “Although email is still the predominant channel for responding to support queries, many businesses have found that enabling customers to reach out in their preferred mode of communication helps retain those customers. And because many Millennials would much prefer to text than email or call with questions, companies will build out SMS support.”
Even as modern purchasers increasingly feel empowered to communicate with brands via voice, text and social, video will also become a more mainstream channel.
“Just as social media brought on a new way to communicate with customers, video will be a powerful tool to truly ease pain points in an easy and efficient manner,” says Kevin Gavin, CMO, Five9, a cloud-based contact center software provider. “In 2017, more businesses will move to adopt video as the new normal in customer service or risk getting left behind.”
Everybody’s Talkin’ ’bout Chatbots
A companion phenomenon to messaging, chatbots have become another trend to watch in 2017 as to how cloud solution providers serve their customer bases. Chatbots with a modicum of artificial intelligence can allow customers to quickly answer frequently asked questions and even troubleshoot some basic problems. For example, cloud-based accounting solution provider Xero announced Hey Xero, a chatbot that integrates directly with Facebook Messenger, to help leverage its knowledgebase of more than $1 trillion of transactional data it has collected for accountants in 2015 and 2016.
“The emergence of enterprise messaging apps has created a new avenue for marketers to reach their audiences in an engaging way,” says Diana Wolff, president, LRG Marketing, an integrated marketing agency. “Chatbots can use artificial intelligence and machine learning technology to ‘converse’ with customers, helping them get the information they need quickly and conveniently within the messaging app without ever browsing your site or searching Google.”
It’s Not Sold Until It’s Sold at Retail: Channel Trends
While an expression from the old days of brick and mortar establishments, the adage “It’s not sold until it’s sold at retail” still holds a lot of meaning in the age of cloud computing. It has special applicability to the technology channel, where 90 percent of revenue can come through middlemen. And in cases, wholesale application providers have made it more complicated than necessary, according to some cloud reseller experts. So a trend toward simplifying channel resales seems in the offing, in their opinions.
“Cloud service providers have voiced concerns that vendor partner programs are too complicated, putting their sales channel into separate tiers for solution providers, resellers or service providers,” says Gil Levonai, CMO, Zerto, a provider of disaster recovery software for the cloud. “As a result, in 2017 more vendors will start to simplify their partner marketing program structures into a single program for everyone, which will streamline and provide fuller access to sales, marketing and technical resources.”
Cloud marketers must also systematically disburse marketing development funds, providing funds at a company level to reinvest in building a cloud business, on the order of about three to five percent back in marketing funds depending on meeting criteria, according to Levonai. Others have also stated that incenting channel partners in marketing to build their outbound capabilities remains vital.
This Time It’s Personal
Even as Talkin’ Cloud has covered that cloud outbound efforts remained a general discipline in 2016 based on tried-and-trued principles of going to market, the trend of personalizing the experience for each buyer may come to fruition in 2017. However, others have posited that the idea of one-to-one buyer engagement in all channels would have taken hold as early as 2015.
“Personalization: much touted, not much touched,” says Astrid van Dorst, managing director, CloudAnalysts.com, a digital marketing consultancy. “It’s 2016, but we all still get unpersonalized email—even from reputable brands. One size fits all. Companies that have started on the path of embracing personalization, will be learning that it goes beyond putting a person’s name in an email.”
While not reality so far, the benefits of such an ultra-targeted marketing protocol compel cloud practitioners. It can curb the excesses and eradicate waste of current promotion practices.
“Personalized communication eliminates worthless spam that often plagues marketing,” says Aman Naimat, senior vice president of technology, DemandBase, an account-based marketing solution provider. “Personalized conversations already happen between strategic account managers, but in 2017 these conversations will grow beyond a select group of people.”
For example, each of a company’s 10 million website visitors can expect to have a unique conversation with a brand based on their specific needs, as Naimat sees it. From dynamic ad copy to one-to-one emails to customized website experiences, hyper-personalization will occur at scale.
What will change to make this real in 2017? Artificial intelligence (AI). The most interesting and valuable use for AI remains enablement of marketers to have one-on-one personalized conversations with buyers who know their pain points, goals and ambitions, according to Naimat.
So in 2017, many companies will grasp that personalization will tilt the balance in their favor online. And they will actually start using marketing automation to professionally personalize the outbound experience, according to van Dorst.
“Leaders will analyze how to best leverage segmentation tools and personal information to present dynamic, meaningful and helpful content to customers,” van Dorst says. “This to further them in the next stage of their buyer journey.”
Who’s Your Data?
Nearly all have heard the maxim that “It’s not what you know but who you know” and found it true. A corollary for the SaaS age could exist in the idea that “It’s what you know about who you know” and the data which backs up that knowledge. So who’s your data about your cloud customers? And you’ll need an answer to feed the AI machine. Because big data will become table stakes for cloud marketers in 2017, according to Blair Linville, chairman and CEO, Tectonic, a big data analytics provider specializing in cloud consulting and other services.
“The future of all enterprise processes will be driven by AI, which requires the highest quality of data to be successful,” says Darian Shirazi, CEO and cofounder, Radius, a provider of predictive B2B marketing tools. “AI is where all business processes are headed. However, with the recent push of AI advancements for business, many companies have not addressed how they will ensure the data their AI models are built on is high quality. Data quality is key to accurate insights.”
More companies will focus on maintaining accurate, valuable data, so that AI lives up to its promise of changing and improving business, according to Shirazi.
Others concur that in 2017 cloud marketing will be all about data and personalization. For example, huge amounts of data points get generated no matter what channel—social, email, text—that allow brands to personalize interactions for engagement, in their view.
“And it’s not just being reactive; brands will increasingly be able to tell me things I don’t know about myself and anticipate my needs,” says Alan Berkson, director of community outreach, Freshdesk, a cloud-based customer support software provider. “That’s what data is for. That’s the unwritten pact with brands when I share my data. You should know what you know about me and use it to our mutual benefit.”