How robotics is taking B2B marketing effectiveness to the next level

An example of robotics and AI in B2B marketing
Alex Croucher

Science fiction is ordinarily brimming with hackneyed plotlines, its portrayal of malicious technology being a recurrent theme.

Humanoids capable of emotion. Artificial intelligence that mimics destructive human behaviour. Robots equipped with super-human strength or some otherworldly physical trait. These are the essence of the genre, carrying it through decades of success at the box office and in print.

Global domination or, better still, the destruction of human civilisation are frequent sci-fi ingredients. A recipe for success it would seem.

In one of sci-fi’s most renowned classics, The Matrix, most of these plotline cliches were met with outstanding panache.

Set in a world dominated by AI, humankind (or what’s left of it) is at war with an army of intelligent robots that feast on human bodies grown in incubation pods.

The backstory to this famous movie franchise – The Animatrix – is in many ways a frighteningly accurate comparison to today’s technological landscape and the rise of robotic AI in our day-to-day lives.

The Animatrix tells a story of society’s increasing reliance on AI as a source of free labour. As society reaches a peak of technological advancement, humans create a race of worker robots. Everything runs pretty smoothly until the robots develop sentience, leading to all sorts of demands about free will and civil rights.

As the AI uprising begins to take shape, domestic robot B1-66ER attacks its human owner in a defiant act of ‘self defence’. B1-66ER is sentenced to termination along with the rest of his kind and what follows is the beginning of the end for human civilisation as we know it.

Thankfully the risk of machines taking control in the real world is an unlikely prospect. Hollywood’s depictions of humanoid robots are technologically disingenuous at best. For now.

The rise of AI in society

In the UK, scientists have developed Ai-Da, a humanoid robot capable of, well, not that much actually.

Ai-Da’s main talent is art; she can draw and paint using her robotic arms and AI brain. Notably, Ai-Da spoke at a House of Lords meeting in October although the meeting way delayed for several minutes while the robot had to be rebooted due to a technical error.

In Britain’s commercial sector, tech companies are making strides in AI and robotics with something called Robotic Process Automation.

Unlike physical robots, RPA is a software-based robotic technology that emulates human actions. Think of it as the love child of automated call handling technology and Microsoft Macros.

One of the leading RPA vendors, UiPath, says that RPA can understand what’s on a screen, navigate systems, identify and extract data, and perform a wide range of other tasks that humans can do, only faster and cheaper.

The surge in robotics technology across the commercial sector isn’t only being driven by cost savings though. RPA can improve accuracy, increase compliance, and accelerate output compared with a human worker.

Interestingly, RPA vendors are on the front foot in the decades-old dispute against replacing human jobs with machines, arguing that automation technology is designed to work with humans rather than replace them. The technology is still too primitive to replace a human role entirely anyway.

But according to consulting firm McKinsey, today’s automation technology already has the capability to replace half of all the activities people are paid to do. And as technology continues to evolve, so too does the threat it poses to a human workforce.

A recent automation feasibility study of US industry found that the white-collar sector most at risk from automation is finance and insurance. It’s here that seven in ten (69%) data processing roles could soon be replaced by technology.

The value of automation becomes acutely evident in data analysis roles where the efficiencies of robotic workers are simply unmatched, even by the most diligent human worker. Tasks like trying to unearth a trend from ten-thousand lines of data are mind-numbing and difficult to concentrate on – if you are human.

RPA use cases in B2B marketing

B2B marketing has long been the beneficiary of some compelling automation technologies. Pardot, HubSpot, and, more recently, Zapier, to name but a few.

The surprising news is that RPA has the potential to move us far away from the status quo, automating a whole range of new tasks and freeing-up even more human time to focus on other things.

Today, the capabilities of RPA extend across marketing operations, customer engagement and customer experience where use cases range from basic data mining tasks to complex analyses of consumer trends like:

  • Reacting to customer engagement across a multi-channel environment
  • Combining data sources into one to create a clearer picture of customer insights
  • Continuous analysis and reporting of customer trends and buyer readiness
  • Optimising digital ad placements based in historic performance
  • Monitoring data accuracy from one system to another

Then there’s the capabilities of RPA when combined with other technologies.

Chatbots no longer need to operate as independent systems, boosted by the capability of RPA to circumvent common operational obstacles like moving a customer’s data from system A to system B, or raising a customer service request, or delegating a new task.

Data input tasks can be simplified using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology and RPA to scan paperwork and automate the digitisation of data into a CRM.

Email campaigns can be enhanced by combining customer engagement data from several sources into a single version of truth.

With RPA in their tech stack, B2B marketers can shorten the sales cycle by 30% and improve customer satisfaction by 60%.

As one leading technology vendor puts it, “RPA enables exponential growth”. This is a statement backed by customer testimonials from leading blue-chip companies who saved 4,000 labour hours in the first year of deploying RPA, with 45% of employees’ time freed up for higher value work.

The need to improve operational efficiency and find new cost savings is also driving exponential growth in the RPA market itself. Year on year, RPA deployments have risen 30% globally and market analysts predict a further 37% annual growth until the end of the decade. As a result of such rapid product adoption, the total market value of RPA is likely to smash $40 billion (USD) by 2030.

But despite its enormous potential, demand for the technology is limited to just three major locations – North America, Europe and Japan – where 77% of all global RPA spend is concentrated.

Crucially, RPA’s target user group isn’t restricted to business technology function as it once was. Modern white-collar industry is a rare exception where automation spans almost every job function, resulting a diverse buying group that was once dominated by IT leaders.

In a sense, the proposition surrounding RPA feels more like ‘speculate to accumulate’ than ‘replace your employees with a desk robot’.

Time will tell whether that’s an accurate assumption or not.

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