It's hard to exaggerate just how much we learned in 2020. From the acceleration of digital transformation, to distributed work, to the broadening use of A.I., and more, the impact of 2020 will be felt for decades to come. There are five trends that stand out and that I believe will impact us well into 2021. Here's what I think is in store for this year and beyond:
1. B2B sales as we know it is changed forever.
Before Covid, most sellers relied upon high-touch behaviors to close prospects. Think fancy lunches, entertainment, and lots of face-to-face interaction. Even if you weren't wining and dining, you were most likely flying from place to place for a one-hour meeting. The pandemic has changed all that, forcing a high-touch process to become digital-first. This has accelerated the third era of marketing, in which brands must meet customers on their terms, and learn to close deals in a purely digital environment. And even when we are able to gather again safely, there is no flipping a switch back to the way things were. Life -- and selling -- will maintain an increased digital element thanks to forced adoption in 2020.
2. CMOs will be held accountable for revenue.
Organizations were under more pressure than ever in 2020 to drive revenue. This has resulted in a reassessment of all operations with an eye to what actually moves the needle. It means that everyone within an organization is now responsible for revenue in some form or fashion. This is especially true for marketers, who will now be held to unprecedented levels of scrutiny to demonstrate ROI and engage current and prospective customers across the entire life cycle -- beyond simply new business, but across retention and expansion as well. CMOs need to ask themselves: Are you in service to sales, or are you a peer with a seat at the table? Those who align their efforts to revenue will be part of marketing's migration away from sales support and into revenue acceleration.
3. The CRM as we know it is on borrowed time.
The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by nearly a decade. Now that teams and buyers are all remote, solutions need to be built to live online, and operate using technology like A.I. to allow teams to focus on revenue-generating tasks. The CRM -- or as I think of it, the "filing cabinet in the sky" -- is being replaced with dynamic conversation models that aggregate data, infer conclusions, and require less stewarding from humans.
4. A.I. will create an employment shift, freeing humans to take on more impactful jobs.
A.I. is causing job displacement. But, as history has shown, displacement does not mean destruction. In fact, automation leads to job creation. While administrative responsibilities like email databasing and logging CRM data are being replaced by A.I., the upshot is that we'll see a complete restructuring of how we view work, resulting in new opportunities that require the innovation, agility, critical thinking, and EQ that only a human can provide.
5. A.I. bias will cause problems that will require industry collaboration to prevent.
There are several ways bias can infiltrate A.I., both intentionally and unintentionally, through backdoors in the development process. As an industry, we need to come together to set best practices to prevent bias and ensure the responsible and trustworthy use of A.I. It starts with educating software and A.I. engineers, product managers, and designers about biases known to infiltrate A.I. From there, it could include more tactile steps like the exclusion of personal data related to race, color, religion, sexual orientation, or other categories in A.I. processes. In 2021, we'll see time and money invested into subverting A.I. bias, along with increased hiring of engineers with the right experience and training to help prevent it.
We may not want to revisit 2020 soon. But the lessons we learned throughout it and the change it brought to the tech industry will inform what happens this year and for decades to come.