Artificial intelligence: The secret sauce for small businesses

Sanj Bhayro discusses how artificial intelligence can give small businesses an advantage against larger players.

When most of us think about artificial intelligence (AI), it’s consumer applications that spring to mind: robot assistants, self-driving cars and pizza delivery drones. But AI is actually starting to have a massive impact on businesses – and as AI tools become more available, it’s creating opportunities for small businesses too.

These days growing businesses are facing challenges on all fronts. Customers’ expectations are rising rapidly. There’s increased pressure to be more streamlined, in order to compete in a global market. And the pace of customer acquisition is faster than ever before.

You might be wondering what all this has got to do with AI. Well, I believe this technology is the secret sauce that helps successful businesses meet these challenges. AI has the potential to drastically increase employee efficiency, preserve costs, and grow a loyal customer base. Here’s how:

Super-charging the customer experience with AI

AI is helping companies make better decisions, faster, by automating the role of the data scientist. Using customer data, this technology can quickly and accurately find correlations your teams might have missed. It can then use this insight to predict customer preferences and create a personalised experience for them.

For example, based on its data analysis your AI app might find a customer may have a product issue and suggest a way to resolve this. With this information, you can immediately take steps to resolve the issue before it damages the relationship with the customer. There’s no more waiting for the customer to tell you they’re unhappy. When you can anticipate outcomes, you can resolve any issues before the customer is even aware of them. With rapidly rising customer expectations, this matters. In fact, Salesforce research shows that more than half of all customers will switch brands by 2020 if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs!

Growing your customer base

Just as AI can make recommendations based on your customer data, it can do the same with your sales data. These days, sales teams are sitting on reams of information on buyer behaviour. When businesses run this information through an AI app, they get predictions that generate qualified leads.

Meeto is a British company that develops apps for real time audience polling. It plans to use AI to make its sales pipeline more effective. For example, an account manager might use Salesforce Einstein to analyse which sectors have proved the most lucrative and recommend which lead to talk to first. Einstein could even provide the probability of that lead converting and the expected value of the deal. All this can be achieved in a few seconds, at the single push of a button or a simple voice command. Meeto grew its user base by 400% last year, and with predictive analytics, hopes to achieve even stronger numbers in 2017.

Streamlining the business

Customers tell me that a major pain point for every small business is balancing day-to-day needs with rapid growth. Often they feel like there is just too much to do in the working day.

The good news is that AI, now more accessible than ever for small businesses, can help. For example, machine learning tools on your CRM can seamlessly log email and calendar activity in the right customer record. It then analyses this data to recommend the best actions and even handle some of the more tedious tasks. In this way, AI can act as an admin assistant for some of those time-consuming manual processes – finding the data and stats you need, reminding you to call certain customers and prospects, and ensuring nothing falls through the cracks. Essentially AI can help everyone within the company to be more efficient and effective.

Recent research from Forrester shows that 12 per cent of businesses are already implementing AI technologies. I believe these companies have a great advantage. Not only are they reaping the benefits of AI, by being early adopters they are able to compete with bigger competitors. Add to this the fact that these days AI is affordable for even the smallest businesses and you can see why the small companies adopting this technology are poised to become the next generation of big businesses.

Sanj Bhayro is SVP of commercial sales EMEA at Salesforce.

Further reading on artificial intelligence

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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