A few years ago, it would have been difficult to predict what a strong impact marketing automation would have across organizations of almost every size. The one thing most of us can be sure about is that its growth will only continue over the next 12 months.

According to TFM&A’sThe 2015 Marketing Technology Report,” for example, 61 per cent of those surveyed admitted they are not using marketing automation at all. They might be persuaded when they see what it can do for their bottom line. A report called Rethinking the Role of Marketing released earlier this year said 69% of the top-performing B2B firms use marketing automation for customer acquisition and 50% for retaining those customers.

Although the new year is still a few weeks away, there have been some trends emerging in 2015 that should help small and medium-sized businesses better prepare for marketing automation’s evolution.

Prediction: Growth In Content Marketing Will Boost Marketing Automation Success

While many SMBs can easily recognize the value marketing automation can bring, it obviously works best when the technology is paired with content designed to engage specific buyer personas and directed tactically at various steps in the buyer journey. Content marketing that focuses on customers’ interests is still nascent in Canada, but that’s set to change. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 51 per cent of B2B firms plan to increase spending on content marketing in 2016. Those bigger budgets will help marketers create campaigns that are more targeted and relevant than ever before.

Prediction: Account-Based Marketing Will Become The Norm

There’s an ugly phrase to describe the way marketing has often been done in the past: “spray and pray.” In other words, some companies have used marketing automation in a scattershot approach rather than aiming at the primary decision-maker in their customer’s organization. The other mistake is to focus solely on one decision maker without realizing there are multiple (though select) people involved in certain buying decisions. Account-based marketing (ABM) is a process that recognizes these buying groups and uses a series of content pieces and touchpoints to nurture sales opportunities more strategically. Research has already shown more 80 per cent of marketers say ABM initiatives outperform other marketing investments. This will pick up a lot of steam in 2016.

Prediction: Advertising Technology Propels Marketing Automation Even Further

Programmatic approaches to advertising have already changed the speed and effectiveness with which organizations can buy and sell online inventory. Retargeting, meanwhile, has meant online ads “follow us” as we go from one site to another. This can be disconcerting if the ads in question aren’t really things that interest a customer, but marketing automation will help facilitate ad retargeting that corresponds to wherever a particular prospect might be in the sales funnel – research, evaluation, consideration or purchase. A story on MarketingAutomation Insider helps explain how this works in more detail.

Prediction: Technology Will Become More Intuitive And Intelligent

Just as search engines seem to get smarter the more people use them, the way marketing automation platforms gather data and analyze it to produce insight will become more nuanced and specific. A recent post on the blog TargetingMantra suggested marketing automation’s predictive capabilities will reach a point where SMBs will know a lot more about their most valuable customers, from browsing history to purchase history. And all of it will be available in the kind of easy-to-use interface they’ve become accustomed to on popular social media programs or within their favourite smartphone apps.

Prediction: The Sales And Marketing Divide Will Start To Close

Maybe this is being optimistic, but one of the often forgotten promises of marketing automation is how it can build on the data in your CRM and help marketing teams deliver the kind of results that help sales team close more deals faster. As they co-develop target account lists and strategize together, sales and marketing teams will also spend more of their time refining the way they optimize their use of marketing automation to continually improve performance.

Of course, there are bound to be a few surprises for marketing automation users in 2016. Based on the traction they’ve already started to see this year, however, they will probably only be good surprises.

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