With artificial intelligence all over the news these days, you may be wondering what it can do to help your small business grow. The short answer? Plenty.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is already deeply woven into our personal lives. Siri and Alexa understand us so well thanks to a type of AI known as natural language processing. When Amazon suggests a “personalized” purchase item, that’s AI too. And when you ask a service like Spotify to create a channel based on a well-loved artist, it’s AI that chooses the tunes.
Connect those dots, and you’ll realize AI collects large quantities of data and distills the answers we need. It works much faster than any human, automating mind-numbing tasks and searches to save us valuable time. So naturally, those benefits translate perfectly to the business world.
(Full disclosure: Spotify is a customer of Salesforce, and Salesforce partners with Amazon Web Services and Apple.)
At Salesforce, we help our customers incorporate out-of-the-box AI tools to become more efficient and grow their businesses. Based on our research, we have found that 55% of small and midsize businesses say insufficient time is a hurdle, constraining their business activities, which is why we believe AI tools can be a huge advantage.
Here are some tips on putting the magic of AI to work.
Boost your conversion rate with predictive lead scoring.
Lead scoring — with its time savings and return on investment (ROI) potential — is often one of the AI disciplines that I see small and midsize businesses (SMBs) employ first.
In traditional lead scoring, marketers assign high ratings to the leads they think are most promising and lower scores to the rest. Scores are based on the leads’ activities and interactions, together with a fair amount of guesswork. The problem is that the amount of the score that’s based on activities is typically assigned just once. So, if you make the wrong assumptions about the value of an activity, or the impact of the activity changes over time, a lead can have an inflated score that is not indicative of success for sales. Or the value of the lead could be underestimated. When this happens, reps end up focusing on underqualified leads and miss out on better ones that never surface.
In contrast, AI-driven predictive lead scoring drills into your lead conversion history, uncovers patterns and factors that predict success, and ranks leads accordingly. As new data comes in, the AI system keeps refining its model and recomputing lead scores. Let’s say you publish a new demo video, and soon, it’s generating more conversions than anything else. The AI tool recalculates lead scores in real time to reflect this.
Predictive lead scoring is most effective when it is integrated into everyday processes. Sales and marketing teams should consistently use and evaluate their lead scoring systems to ensure these systems are helping them use their time and energy efficiently. From my perspective, finding new ways to increase conversion rates is something every small business should do.
Use AI sales forecasting to make your numbers every month — and then some.
AI can also make a bottom-line difference in sales forecasting. It gives sales managers accurate and emotion-free data points to balance against their reps’ subjective predictions. AI forecasting works by analyzing all the data in your customer relationship manager (CRM), identifying the activities and behaviors that correlate with success and modeling those to predict which current opportunities will most likely close.
A key here is to run your forecasts early enough, and AI will help you figure out how to improve the predicted outcome. Let’s take an example I ran across recently. Suppose your pipeline has fewer leads than usual and you’re worried about making your numbers. The AI tool may tell you this isn’t a problem; you just have larger-sized opportunities.
Using this insight, you change your strategy to focus resources on these bigger accounts, maximizing the odds of closing them by the end of the month. For small businesses, especially those that are still calculating forecasts manually from spreadsheets, having this type of insight can be game-changing.
Scale up customer service and keep satisfaction high with AI chatbots.
Keeping customers happy is as critical for growth as winning deals. Research tells us customers like live chat support, but when they use it, they expect an immediate response. Smaller businesses don’t typically have the resources to keep a full staff of agents on duty 24/7. That’s often why many choose to use AI-based chatbots to front-end their support.
With built-in intelligence, AI chatbots are great at deciphering semantics and grammar, determining what the customer wants and serving up fast, accurate responses. If and when a customer requests a live agent, the chatbot can quickly route them to one, paired with an issue summary and helpful contextual data for the agent. With the right information, the agent can solve the problem in short order. The customer gets what they need, and you do, too: more support queries fielded without hiring more agents.
When deploying chatbots, put the customer experience first. While chatbots can help streamline your service teams, the customer still needs to get the information they’re looking for and be connected with a staff member if their issue is complex. Consider chatbots that provide options, like menus, so customers can easily select top requests and understand the chatbot’s capabilities.
Harness AI to grow your small business faster.
These are just three examples of how AI can drive greater success in less time for sales, marketing and customer service alike. And it’s only the beginning. I tell our small business customers to think of AI as a force multiplier — not just versus peers, but in going up against larger rivals. In my opinion, the more AI tools you add to your arsenal today, the greater your competitive advantage will be tomorrow.