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Salesforce this week unveiled its seventh annual State of Marketing survey, which examines how marketers navigated the shift to digital during the pandemic. In 2021, sales teams said that data is paramount for creating effective customer experiences, but that meeting expectations is more difficult than a year ago, according to the report.

Salesforce surveyed over 8,200 marketing professionals across 37 countries to gauge how the profession is adapting. The report reveals strategies, channels, and technologies organizations are turning to in the new normal, as well as how salespeople are collaborating to target the right individuals on the right channels at the right time.

According to the survey, 90% of marketers say that the pandemic changed their engagement strategy for the better, with 66% expecting revenue growth over the next 12 to 18 months. As they experimented with new engagement tactics, marketers tracked their goals “more vigorously.” Seventy-eight percent of teams changed or reprioritized their KPIs due to the pandemic, focusing on customer referral rates, customer acquisitions costs, and content engagement.

As customers’ digital behavior ramped up, marketers have followed suit, the Salesforce survey also found. Sixty percent of teams have a fully defined AI strategy, and they’re reevaluating which data to use to target customers as the value of tracking cookies declines. Marketers, only 42% of which are “fully satisfied” with the quality of their customer data, expect a 75% increase in customer data sources between 2020 and 2022.


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“Over two-thirds of of marketers describe their cross-channel coordination as dynamic, meaning that messages evolve based on customer actions,” a Salesforce spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “Marketers have shifted toward known digital identity sources such as email addresses and social IDs and away from anonymized digital identities such as cookies and device IDs.”

Pandemic-related challenges

Despite having to contend with these changes, marketers are finding new ways to collaborate in the work-from-anywhere era, the Salesforce report found. Eighty-two percent of marketing organizations have new policies around remote work, and only 44% of respondents expect to work from an office full-time after the pandemic. However, some salespeople believe that as a result they’re not getting the training they need. Only 27% of marketers report receiving data science guidance, while only 21% say they’ve gotten resiliency training, according to the report.

In any case, the report would appear to confirm that the pandemic has greatly accelerated businesses’ digital transformation efforts. When McKinsey surveyed 1,500 executives across industries and regions in 2018, 66% said addressing skills gaps related to automation and digitization was a “top 10” priority. Forrester predicts that 57% of business-to-business sales leaders will invest more heavily in tools with automation, and that spending on marketing automation tools will grow “vigorously” over the next few years, reaching $25.1 billion annually by 2023 from $11.4 billion in 2017.

According to one source, an estimated 55% of marketing decision-makers plan to increase their spending on marketing technology including AI and machine learning, with one-fifth of companies expecting an uptick by 10% or even higher.

“Eighty percent of marketers say customer experience is the key competitive differentiator,” the spokesperson continued. “Digital channels take precedence as 83% of marketers say their ability to meet customer expectations depends on their digital capabilities.”

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