Five years from now, every customer will go to a corporate website and be greeted by name and by company--the start of a totally bespoke, interactive digital experience. Most of it will be automated, of course, and if you're a buyer, there may be no need at all to engage with a human being until you're 90 percent through the sales process.

The days of Willy Loman--the traveling salesman who carried everything on his back from the marketing pitch to the handshake closing the deal--have been dead and gone for ages. When was the last time you sat across anyone for a three-hour lunch? By 2020, marketing-driven companies' tailored and largely electronic operations will make some of today's one-size-fits all Web experiences seem as wasteful, dumb and outdated as the broad-cover brand advertising of Mad Men in the 1960s and 70s.

A lot of the tools for that future already exist. Today's technology allows the B2B and B2C marketer to look at customer segmentation in substantively more detail than ever before--primarily in three ways. The first is by size: Is the customer or prospect from a small, midsized or enterprise company? Entire websites are being customized for that entry point. The second is by industry type: Are you dealing with a pharmaceutical company, a capital goods manufacturer or a financial services company? Lastly, there is segmentation according to buyer type: Is the customer a sales professional or executive, a marketing executive or professional?

Current technology is great not just for prospecting; it's every bit as good at nurturing current customers along the sales process. Segmentation tools already enable you to identify any visitor--whether they found you through a LinkedIn or Google search, opened an e-mail or downloaded a white paper--through inferences made via reverse IP. That's a level of specificity that's never been available before, and it lets you expressly target or re-target ads. Beyond that, you have the ability to keep a visitor excited and engaged with your company--and ever-present in the lives of existing customers so that you can sell them new products and offerings.

The massive data sets out there used to be pretty basic. They might've told you what vertical industry someone represented. Now we have far more granular tools; we can tell that he works not just a life sciences company, but one focused on sequencing the human genome. This can help you become a much smarter sales-driven organization. Your inside reps can exploit their knowledge of these verticals in the follow-up, not just your most junior business development or lead qualifiers, but someone higher up who knows something about the company or industry.

That's what Jesse Lipson, VP and GM of Documents at Citrix focuses on, "When I started ShareFile, I hired a data scientist years before I had an executive assistant," he said. "We tested and scored just about every piece of data we had about prospects and learned some very interesting things as we optimized our sales funnel. For example, we found that people spelling their name with all lowercase letters or using a certain brand of credit card had a different propensity to buy our product. Data-driven decision making is giving us an unprecedented ability to serve our customers better and close more sales."

The technology is forcing companies to change on the inside. A modern marketing organization can't survive anymore without its own data scientist. Management by objectives is a thing of the past; you now have to demonstrate concrete ROI in segmentation strategies in order to predict who is likely to buy your product or service, reach those particular customers and move them through the sales funnel to the close.

Five years on, there will be an even higher degree of specialization with market-focused companies. In my own organization, InsideSales.com, I've aligned leaders with each customer segment--small, medium and large. As a result, the different sales channels compete with each other for budget dollars, negotiating with the segment leaders about resources that should be spent on SEO, e-mails, social media or pay-per-clicks.

Sound complicated? Actually, it's a process of simplification. Most companies are locked in an endless feud between marketing and sales. You've seen the finger-pointing and heard the griping: The sales team says, "Marketing is always giving me crappy leads"; the marketing team complains, "The sales team can't close anything."

But the trend toward segmentation, already in evidence at the most forward-leaning organizations, creates a productive truce between the warring parties. It forces everyone onto the same script, working toward the same objectives. When the marketing and sales teams have common goals and can hold each other accountable, the old fight between the Hatfields and McCoys comes to an end. Everyone pulls in the same direction.

A crystal ball? Maybe. But in my opinion, this is how the best companies will thrive in 2020.

Published on: Apr 13, 2015