SMBs: It’s Time to Embrace AI Technologies or Risk Falling Behind

By Jamie Domenici

It’s nearly impossible to scan the news without seeing a headline around the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and the impact this technology is having on our daily lives. From pizza deliveries by drone to robots picking up dry cleaning to Google’s self-driving cars, the advancements in consumer-focused AI are quite remarkable.

AI even works hard in the background, creating a memorable experience for consumers, as seen with Spotify and Amazon’s ability to recommend things based on purchase history and shopping preferences.

Perhaps less sexy — but just as important — AI is also revolutionizing the workforce and how companies interact with customers. Although it’s still early in the adoption phase, AI has the potential to drastically increase employee efficiency, preserve costs, and grow a loyal customer base.

Recent research from Forrester indicates that 58 percent of businesses have considered AI technologies, but only 12 percent are actually implementing these systems, creating a big opportunity for companies that are early adopters to pull ahead of their competitors. Artificial intelligence can be used to discover and predict business patterns, recommend best actions, and handle some of the more tedious tasks burdening departments. Also according to Forrester, AI systems can improve customer experiences, reduce customer churn, and increase customer lifetime value.

To stay ahead of the competition and build a returning customer base, companies must remain at the forefront of innovation — and for small and mid-sized businesses, this is just as crucial. Being early adopters not only differentiates SMBs from their peers, but lets them compete with industry Goliaths, which is vital for staying relevant in today’s crowded market.

Here are four simple ways SMB owners can implement AI today to maximize efficiency and grow their businesses:

1. Use AI to find more customers.

Businesses today have better, smarter ways to attract new customers. In our data-heavy world, salespeople have a tremendous amount of information on buyer behavior; just add AI, and you’ve got accurate predictions and qualified leads. Marketers can segment and build audiences based on likely future actions and automatically adapt the journey so customers receive the right offer at the right time.

Sound backwards, but AI can even help organizations reach customers in a more human way. How? Because when managers arm their sales teams with the intelligence they need to find qualified, workable leads faster, reps can engage deeper to close more deals. Score.

2. AI helps you win more business.

What if your sales platform were so smart, it knew the deals you were working on just by your email, calendar, and phone interactions? That’s all part of the package with AI.

It’s true: AI can automatically build your pipeline so you can focus on closing more deals, rather than on entering and scoring data. Short staffed? AI can act as a sales assistant, finding the data and stats you need, reminding you to call certain customers and prospects, and ensuring nothing falls through the cracks. Basically, AI helps sales teams understand what steps they need to take to close more deals with more customers.

3. AI helps you keep customers happy.

How do you know when customers aren’t happy if they don’t tell you? In decades past, customer service departments were half-expected to employ mind readers to understand customer needs and head off issues. Now, AI can capture signals you and your team might miss, finding correlations and sentiment in customer data.

For example, if your customer support tool can predict how customers are feeling based on recent interactions they’ve had with you, you can use that information to build stronger relationships and reduce churn. If it seems like a customer may not feel so great about your company, you can take proactive steps to turn the relationship around — instead of waiting for him or her to tell you they’re unhappy. When you can anticipate outcomes, you’ll know where to focus your energies to keep customers happy.

4. Connect your systems to magnify the AI effect.

Clearly AI is pretty powerful — and those effects are magnified the more connected you are. At a basic level, AI helps marketing know which leads to nurture, helps sales understand which opportunities have the most potential, and helps customer service know which customers need attention. From there, businesses can create even more impact by extending this information ring to other departments.

Finance, for example, can immediately follow-up when the sales team closes an opportunity; or HR can better work with departments to manage employee assessments and talent acquisition. Just think: If you could increase the productivity of every department in your company, you could grow your business that much faster.

While AI is still the early stage of adoption, these technologies are not to be feared, but instead praised for the promise they bring. Regardless of the number of employees or the amount of zeros listed in the IT budget, companies of all sizes can begin embedding their businesses with intelligent technology.

SMBs, pick something that’s attractive to your growing business. Whether it’s one of the points above or a complete platform with built-in intelligence, now’s the time to act. Think smart, be smart, and enlist AI.

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Originally published on allbusiness.com.

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