AI-driven marketing transformation: From vision to execution
Practical insights and recommendations from a CMO on piloting AI in marketing for a B2B SaaS company
by Carrie Mahon
The journey of integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into your marketing tech stack is not just about automation – it's about augmenting the human expertise at the heart of your strategy.
As AI technology continues to advance by the day, its potential impact on the marketing industry is nothing short of transformative. From streamlining processes and tasks to providing valuable insights and predictions, AI has proven to be a powerful tool for marketers.
The benefits of implementing AI in marketing are undeniable, but the journey towards integration can be challenging. You’ll want to approach AI adoption with a clear and pragmatic plan.
Piloting AI in our marketing department came down to five major stages: evaluating the need, assessing tools, piloting the selected tool, educating your team, and looking for AI capabilities within your existing martech stack.
Let’s explore these stages and what your organization will need to consider at each level. As a chief marketing officer (CMO) that has embraced the use of AI to support our marketing team, here are my observations from our own team’s experience on that same journey over the last 9 months.
Stage 1: Evaluate the need for AI in your marketing organization
With the rise of big data, automation, and consumer behavior analysis, AI has become an important part of many organizations’ modern marketing strategies. As AI continues to develop, marketing departments may feel pressure to implement AI into their martech stack – but doing so without planning and forethought can prove unwise.
Rather than focusing first on the capabilities of the various AI-related technologies available to you, you’ll want to think about your team and their unique business needs first.
The conversation around AI in marketing often orbits futuristic automation and data crunching. However, as a CMO who has navigated these waters, I can attest that the real story is far more nuanced.
It’s about people — enhancing the expertise of our teams, making our strategies more intelligent and informed, and elevating the creativity that fuels our campaigns. An essential part of AI integration is reassuring your team members that AI is not here to replace them, but rather to augment their skills and abilities, enabling them to perform their roles more effectively and creatively. The implementation of AI should accentuate your employees’ strengths rather than devalue them. For example, our company uses Drift bot technology to collect leads online. But this isn’t our only way to communicate and it doesn’t remove our team members from the process – our customers still love hearing from us. Instead, it helps make connecting with our customers easier and more efficient while enhancing the overall customer experience. Any implementation of AI should benefit both your customers and your team.
Before implementing AI, take stock of your existing martech stack. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What tools are already in use?
- Where are the gaps that AI can fill?
- Are your team members equipped with the skills necessary to adapt to and leverage AI effectively?
Rather than start by focusing on the AI technology itself, you’ll be better off first focusing on the specific goals of your organization and seeing what AI solutions might fit. Walk through the following steps for your evaluation:
- First, Identify what systems your team currently uses, and how ready they are to incorporate a new tool. Look at where you have efficiency gaps and where opportunities to streamline or improve the way you operate may exist.
- Once you’ve identified your systems, now you’re ready to audit your existing martech stack. What are the capabilities you’re currently leveraging? Don’t simply add technology for technology’s sake. Determine what tools will provide the most value for your team in their day-to-day roles. Embrace tools that increase your marketing department’s ROI.
- Once you’ve conducted your audit, ensure that any AI-related objectives align with your business goals. Whether you’re looking to increase lead quality, speed up your sales cycle, or enhance customer retention, your AI initiatives should propel these forward. Set clear, strategic objectives. AI in marketing isn't about having the latest gadgets. It's about finding the right fit — tools that complement your team's strengths and align with your marketing goals.
- Finally, talk to your team. I worked with our team to regularly communicate and understand how they were using the tool, where they were having success, and where they were having challenges. Our team also tracked where they were able to increase efficiency in creating both one-off and campaign-based content assets.
Stage 2: Assess the available tools
Our team started our journey by looking at the platforms available to us and where our team needed assistance. We identified copywriting as a major need – our teams wanted the ability to quickly develop well-informed content that was consistent with our brand voice and tone. We didn’t just want to produce a large volume of content. We wanted to create content that was well-written and value laden.
We did our due diligence, assessing many different platforms. We performed a proof-of-concept test to evaluate each, asking the following questions:
- Does the platform/provider have a strong professional reputation?
- Does it offer the right features and capabilities?
- Does it have a strong AI roadmap that aligns with our goals?
- Does it have a dedicated customer success manager (CSM) and adequate training resources?
- Is it secure and compliant, with the appropriate data protection policies in place?
How did our team implement an AI copywriting tool? First, we scheduled training sessions and took the time to learn the functions of the platform. This was to ensure we were using it correctly to derive the most value out of it. Then, once we were ready to begin using it, we set up a Slack channel to share best practices and better understand the platform and technology behind it. We also stayed in close contact with representatives of our chosen platform to provide feedback on the tool and customize it to fit our needs.
Before you begin to implement AI tools into your martech stack, it’s essential to underscore that the expertise of your marketing team is irreplaceable. Remind them these tools don’t exist to supplant, but to support and enhance the skills and knowledge of the team. When introducing or referring to AI within your team, frame it as a support system. Always emphasize the need to value human insight first and foremost.
AI isn’t a replacement for human expertise, but a tool to enhance and supplement their efforts. While AI can provide valuable insights and recommendations, it ultimately requires human judgment and creativity to make strategic decisions.
The experience of your team matters – their strengths, weaknesses, and greatest needs. Think of AI as a tool in your toolbox to strengthen your existing capabilities rather than as an all-encompassing panacea for any and all challenges facing your business. The nuanced understanding and strategic thinking of your subject matter experts (SMEs) serve as the cornerstones for your campaigns. AI’s role is to complement these strengths rather than replace them.
Below are some other considerations you’ll want to make as you assess potential AI tools.
Focus on efficiency
You’ll also want to implement AI to automate time-consuming, manual processes. This allows your team to focus on high-value projects that require their unique creative and strategic input.
Quality over quantity
Some may see AI as an ability to produce a large volume of content in a short amount of time, and while AI does provide that ability, it serves a more important function. The aim is not to produce content or data at scale indiscriminately, but instead to refine and target marketing efforts more effectively.
AI use cases in marketing
Here are some areas in which you can fill immediate needs within your marketing team:
- Copywriting. Using AI for brainstorming and crafting compelling email campaigns and engaging social media posts.
- Visuals and creative. Leveraging AI to streamline the scaling and sizing of images for your various communication channels quickly.
- Streamlining workflows. Automating manual processes to prioritize high-value creative work.
Involve your legal and IT security (ITSEC) teams
Engage your legal and IT security teams in these initial stages to make certain your AI tools comply with data protection laws and maintain the privacy and trust of your customers, as well as the confidentiality of your internal information.
By involving your legal and ITSEC teams early, conducting thorough risk assessments, and educating your team, you can address these challenges proactively, avoiding problems later.
Stage 3: The pilot use case approach
When you make the call to implement AI, it helps to take it one step at a time. With our marketing team, we used an AI copywriting tool as a pilot program that could function as a use case. We observed some best practices for starting that process.
How to identify a pilot use case
To begin, start small. Don’t try to do too much too soon. Your pilot use case should involve a tool that won’t be too difficult to integrate with the rest of your martech stack.
Choose a marketing function that could greatly benefit from AI and has a measurable impact on your business. By identifying high-impact use cases — perhaps an AI tool that enhances content personalization or optimizes media spend — you can set up controlled experiments. These pilots must have clear objectives, success metrics, and the participation of cross-functional teams to truly test the AI's effectiveness.
Benefits of the pilot approach
One of the key benefits of taking the pilot approach is that it allows you to conduct a “pilot before purchase.” That means that before you go all-in on adding a comprehensive suite of AI tools, you can conduct a pilot with a smaller shortlist of solutions. Pilots help you understand the practical value of an AI solution and its impact on your operations.
This approach can also help you identify opportunities for quick wins. Aside from establishing a better understanding for how a specific solution works, you can also help improve your operations by choosing an impactful pilot use case that aligns with your strategic goals.
Evaluating the best fit for your pilot
There is a plethora of AI tools out there. Evaluate solutions not just on their technical merit but on how well they integrate with your existing systems and processes.
When evaluating tools, partner with vendors whose product roadmap aligns with your future needs. The AI landscape is evolving rapidly – confirm that your chosen vendors are committed to innovation that complements your growth trajectory. The services and capabilities a vendor can provide in the future are just as important as what they can do for you now.
Measuring your pilot’s success
As you measure the success of your pilot and applying the lessons you’ve learned from any challenges along the way, keep the following key points in mind:
- Track performance against KPIs. Regularly monitor your pilot's performance against your predefined metrics.
- Gather qualitative feedback. Quantitative data is essential, but so is qualitative feedback from the team using the AI tool. Their insights can reveal user experience improvements and practical challenges.
- Learn and scale. Whether the pilot is a resounding success or encounters challenges, you can use the results to learn something about your team and the tool. Analyze the outcomes, document the lessons learned, and use them to refine your AI strategy for broader rollouts.
A pilot use case approach is a pragmatic method to integrate AI into your marketing efforts. It allows for controlled experimentation, providing a proof of concept for further AI adoption.
Stage 4: Team enablement and achieving buy-in: Building an AI-savvy marketing team
Team education and enablement plays an integral role in harnessing the full potential of AI in marketing. When your team feels empowered and a part of the process, they’re more likely to buy-in.
Below are a few tips on how you can establish a dialogue with your team and help them more easily integrate any new AI tools into their roles:
- Commit to continuous AI education and training for the marketing team. Provide comprehensive training tailored to different team roles.
- Encourage experimentation and learning from pilot failures. Provide widespread access to AI tools to foster team familiarity and expertise. Remind your team that it’s okay if they aren’t experts and seeing immediate results – mastery often comes with time and dedicated practice.
- Ownership fosters acceptance. Emphasize team engagement in AI tool selection and utilization. Adopting AI in your marketing strategy isn't just a technological shift but a cultural one. To guarantee a smooth transition, actively engage your team and address any hesitations head-on. Include team members in the selection process of AI tools and the design of the pilot project.
- Provide continuous support. Establish a support system where team members can receive help when they encounter issues. This could be in-house experts or direct support from your AI vendors.
- Celebrate milestones. Recognize both team and individual achievements as you implement AI. Taking note of big wins reinforces positive engagement and the value of AI in your team’s efforts.
- Communication is key. Encourage frank, open dialogue. Foster an environment where team members can voice their concerns and curiosities about AI. Encourage questions and provide clear, jargon-free answers about how AI will affect their roles and workflows.
- Showcase benefits. Illustrate the tangible benefits of AI, such as time savings, enhanced data insights, and the potential for improved campaign results.
By engaging in open communication, providing the necessary training and support, including your team in decision-making processes, and commemorating progress, you can create a supportive environment. Such an atmosphere not only facilitates the successful adoption of AI in your marketing operations but also helps your team remain confident and competent in leveraging AI technologies to their full potential.
Stage 5: Harnessing existing martech AI capabilities
Of course, finding new ways to incorporate AI into your marketing team’s work doesn’t always have to involve adding new software or technology. You can also explore the AI features that may exist within your current martech stack.
Many platforms and programs are adding AI functionalities as they expand their offerings in an attempt to keep pace with their competitors and deliver more value to their users. You can identify opportunities to enhance your marketing processes with these functionalities as they become available.
Take stock of your current martech stack and what AI tools and features they may possess. If you don’t know what AI features they might have, you can do the following in the programs or software systems you use:
- Review their product documentation for any mentions of AI functionality.
- Look for release notes or product updates to see if any AI features have been added.
- If you have a dedicated customer success representative, reach out to them to ask about how their product may use AI.
Once you understand what AI features exist within your current tools, educate your team on how to maximize the use of these features – once the features have been vetted and approved from a legal and information security perspective. You can do this by sharing online training or documentation.
Integrating AI into your marketing efforts requires thoughtfulness and a team-first mentality
For our team, we’ve only begun to embrace AI in marketing, but we continue to look for ways it can help us innovate and grow. Thus far, we’ve been able to achieve success using it due to our team’s willingness to experiment, learn, and share their results.
AI in marketing is a journey of transformation – not just for our tech stacks, but for our teams and strategies. By thoughtfully integrating AI, you’re not just chasing the next big thing — you’re building a smarter, more creative, and more efficient marketing future.