We may not give it a lot of thought, but artificial intelligence is already part of our daily lives in a number of ways.
When it works well, it makes our life slightly easier – from trying to anticipate our needs (e.g. Amazon’s suggested products or Netflix’s recommended shows) to preventing us from being victims of fraud (e.g. our bank’s fraud detection systems).
As a result, our experiences as consumers and humans becomes more seamless and pleasant. It doesn’t take long to get used to this, to the point that some of us are now starting to expect a certain level of personalisation prompted by artificial intelligence systems in our interactions with brands in the B2C space.
As AI technologies become the norm, B2B companies will be expected to provide the same level of smart automation as their B2C counterparts. Most professionals are well aware of this; according to a recent report by Demandbase, 80% of B2B marketing executives predict artificial intelligence will revolutionise marketing by 2020.
Yet, only 10% of them are currently using AI for their business. Even more interestingly, a recent Forrester study reported that nearly 75% of B2B buyers prefer to buy online when purchasing products for work, yet just 25% of B2B companies actively sell online.
B2B marketing and sales departments that will become early adopters of AI are bound to see amazing results very quickly. But in order to get started and to build a strong business case for this type of technology within your organisation, it is essential to understand how it can benefit your business right now, and not in a futuristic tomorrow.
There are two areas in particular where AI and machine learning can help B2B sales and marketing teams achieve their ambitious goals right now:
1. Better insights, better strategy
Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Customer report highlighted that by 2020 57% of business buyers will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate their needs. It is not uncommon to read about this being the ‘era of the customer’, and companies that can really put their clients and prospects at the centre of their marketing and sales efforts are bound to win big in the short term.
With the right kind and the right amount of data, B2B businesses will be able to design strategies that will anticipate the needs of their customers at an unprecedented level. The same way our ‘Discover Weekly’ Spotify playlist seems to know us better than we know ourselves, B2B vendors can use behavioural analysis and machine learning to understand their customers’ pain points and suggest ad hoc solutions in a cost-effective and efficient way.
As much as ‘predictive analytics’ sound like something out of a 1970s sci-fi film, truth is that they are already part of our lives. When building the audience for a specific Facebook ad or letting Mailchimp optimise the best time to send out your monthly newsletter, all you are doing is allowing a software to suggest a course of action based on the data it already has.
As time goes by and the amount of data available to us grows to unimaginable amounts, this process is only bound to become more and more refined.
2. More time to do your (real) job
Since the beginning of time, good technology has been amazing at helping us be more productive. What was true for the invention of the wheel is certainly still relevant in the age of software that can learn from the outcome of their own assumptions and actions (aka artificial intelligence). Both sales and marketing teams can see a spike in productivity when implementing the right kind of AI tech.
When it comes to sales teams, a well-functioning process including AI technology can save hours, if not days, on a weekly basis spent on prospecting. Who has clicked on your email, who has engaged with your LinkedIn post, and was there a commonality between the pieces of content that raised that person’s interest?
What was, until now, up to a salesperson’s instincts to identify and understand can be easily turned into consumable data to be analysed by a smart programme. The result is that sales teams can spend a lot more time on building meaningful relationships and starting real conversations with prospects and customers while gaining a deeper understanding of their existing pain points.
Through AI-powered smart content discovery, sales teams can source the most relevant information to share with their prospects on social media to address their challenges in a timely and non-intrusive way.
But sales teams are not the only ones to benefit from smart machines crunching data faster than any human being (however smart they may be). When freed by the burden of data cleaning, marketing teams can spend more time on what makes their job so great: creativity.
Good machine learning helps you understand your audience and your buyer personas at a much deeper level and develop a message that will be relevant to them at the most convenient time. When data sorting is being taken care of in a time-saving way, marketers’ time can be freed up and be spent on creating original and truly outstanding ideas.
In contrast to what a lot of us may think, AI is already part of our lives.
Those B2B companies that see its potential and take concrete steps towards implementing these new technologies within their sales and marketing departments will be the most likely to succeed in the next few years.