If this is not the next big thing, I don’t know what is.

When the CEO of a $50 billion company says those words, you listen. Especially when that CEO is Marc Benioff, the company is Salesforce, and the quote is about a new artificial intelligence product called Einstein that the company just launched in front of 170,000 people at Dreamforce.

Artificial intelligence was undoubtedly the hottest topic at Dreamforce 2016 with numerous companies piggybacking on the Salesforce Einstein announcement to showcase their own AI capabilities. Digging a bit deeper into the details, though, three key themes emerged from the year’s biggest technology event that are relevant for B2B marketers:

1) Artificial intelligence = Predictive analytics

Predictive analytics has been a hot space for the past couple years, attracting over $100 million in venture funding and garnering accolades from Gartner and Forrester in their most recent B2B marketing Hype Cycle and TechRadar reports, respectively.

But with Salesforce billing Einstein as “AI for Everyone” and the public now recognizing AI’s impact in B2C applications from Siri to self-driving cars, it seems the B2B predictive marketing category is evolving to use the term “AI” to describe its core feature set.

Numerous legacy providers began using the term “AI” in their messaging, and there were also several new entrants to the predictive space who introduced their offerings by touting their AI capabilities.

Even though predictive analytics is becoming a widely recognized category of B2B marketing and sales technology, these adjustments in product messaging mean that buyers should be prepared to hear the term “AI” used more often to describe feature sets that were previously called “predictive.”

2) Data is the differentiator

Although dozens of companies at Dreamforce were touting their predictive/AI capabilities, very few were attempting to differentiate their offerings based on modeling, machine learning, or algorithmic performance. Rather, most companies in the predictive/AI space are arguing that data is the differentiator.

Radius has seen data as the differentiator from the beginning, and our CEO Darian has regularly said that we’ve taken the hard – but right – path in building a source of truth for B2B data that underpins our predictive marketing platform. The latest progress on this front was detailed in our “Customer Network Effects Report,” which highlighted how our network of one billion B2B interactions has validated data in the Radius Business Graph to increase accuracy to 95% and expand audience reach across digital channels by 19x.

3) The Martech landscape continues to change

An interesting aspect of the Einstein announcement is that it was only possible because of a series of ten acquisitions that Salesforce made during the past two years:
Marketing Trends From Dreamforce 2016 - Salesforce Einstein

In fact, the Salesforce spending spree continued during Dreamforce itself with the announcement of its acquisition of data management platform Krux.

This approach to building out an AI platform through acquisitions speaks to a broader trend that B2B marketers should understand: the lineup of marketing technology providers — especially AI/predictive vendors — is likely to change substantially before Dreamforce 2017.

The writing is already on the wall for this trend:

  • Microsoft bought LinkedIn earlier this year and is expected to incorporate the latter’s data into the Dynamics CRM product
  • Vista Equity took Marketo private earlier in the year, which might be a precursor to an eventual sale to a larger B2B software provider (Microsoft again?)
  • Salesforce even considered buying Twitter, in part for the latter’s wealth of social data
  • At the same time, new players are entering the predictive/AI space such as Demandbase and Leadspace who were previously focused on marketing execution and data enrichment, respectively

All of which is to say that the landscape for marketing technology buyers is likely to become more complicated before it clears.

Here are my predictions for 2017:

  1. Companies that previously focused on marketing data (CRM/cleaning/enrichment) will realize they have a key competitive advantage that enables them to offer higher-value predictive/AI capabilities on top of their existing data products and services
  2. Providers of marketing execution technologies (MAT/advertising platforms) will seek to add AI/predictive capabilities to their platforms to differentiate their core offerings and help users maximize value when using these technologies
  3. Dedicated predictive/AI companies will seek to acquire more and better data to fuel their algorithms and machine learning capabilities so the accuracy of their predictions will continue to increase

Looking into the future

My own predictive capabilities are far from perfect, so we’ll see if these trends continue into 2017. Regardless, it’s exciting to see that B2B marketing and sales technology has become such a dynamic space that will continue to evolve before Dreamforce 2017.

Identifying the top trends and announcements is just part of the conversation – it’s equally important to implement these new ideas. But how do you get started?

Hear directly from the people building future B2B products in our upcoming webinar, and learn how you can identify & prioritize impactful revenue initiatives.