The world of B2B has changed immensely in recent years, but even with the speed that B2B sales and marketing have evolved, the pace of change is set to accelerate even more over the next decade. In a discussion about how B2B companies can differentiate themselves, John Hall explains,
“The B2B sales and marketing landscape has seen more disruption in the past five years than it has experienced in nearly a century. First, the pandemic brought unprecedented challenges for customer engagement. Now, rapid technological advances like artificial intelligence have permanently shifted how B2B buyers interact with vendors and how complex sales occur.”
AI is a driving force behind the lightning-fast change that we’re seeing as everything from personalized recommendations and automated customer service to predictive analytics and data enrichment has begun sweeping B2B organizations en masse. And yet, the widely hailed “Father of AI” Sam Altman has been quoted as saying that, “Today’s AI models are the stupidest they’ll ever be,” which indicates that there’s much more on the horizon than many of us could ever even imagine.In the coming years, AI is only going to get smarter, more robust, and enjoy more widespread adoption. As a result, companies utilizing AI already are best posed for future success. In fact, in a presentation that Simon Floyd, Microsoft’s General Manager of Manufacturing and Mobility Industries for The Americas, gave to CAMPS (Center for Advanced Manufacturing Puget Sound) members, he revealed that “87% of organizations believe that AI will give them a competitive edge.”
As AI becomes more integrated in business functions, we’re all in the same position of learning as we go and making the adjustments needed as we do to get the most out of these powerful tools. Here’s a look at what I think is most important for B2B organizations as they learn to navigate AI usage across their sales and marketing functions:
Why Use AI?
These days there’s virtually nothing that AI can’t do, except customer service …and it can even do that too (24-hours a day!) if it has the right data set to learn from and the right programming to train it. So, what are the main reasons why today’s organizations are implementing AI?
According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, business leaders’ priorities for AI usage are:
- Increasing employee productivity.
- Helping employees with necessary but repetitive/mundane tasks.
- Increasing employee well-being.
- Eliminating time-spend on low-value activities so employees can devote more time to high-value activities.
- Augmenting/enhancing human capabilities.
- Accelerating employee pace of work.
- Enabling employees to access and recall institutional knowledge.
- Helping to understand if employees’ work is aligned with organizational goals.
- Removing the coordination challenges of hybrid work.
- Increasing inclusivity.
This set of priorities may surprise some people who assume that AI is meant to replace human labor. However, industry experts and the general populace alike agree that AI won’t replace people. Instead, it will be used to fill in the gaps, augmenting people in their roles to make them better employees. As Harvard Business School professor, Karim Lakhani, succinctly explains it: “AI won’t replace humans – but humans with AI will replace humans without AI.”
Making The Value Case for AI in B2B
According to recent research, 51% of B2B sales and services leaders surveyed feel that they’re not keeping up with new customer demands and expectations as a result of complex buying cycles, lack of actionable data insights, difficulty engaging with buyers virtually, and non-automated sales processes. The same research also indicates that buyers’ desires are changing in the following ways:
- 46% demand greater post sale services/support.
- 34% demand a more consistent buyer experience across all channels.
- 24% have a greater demand for self-service purchasing.
- 20% have a greater demand for automated customer service.
These sales challenges are areas where AI can help!
In every department AI has value, but in sales it can be especially beneficial, because it can help with training, aid in content creation, forecast future buying trends, find and pre-qualify prospects, coach sales reps, and fill in for sales management gaps to truly make omnichannel expansion possible.
Where to Use AI
In these early days of AI, it’s going to be relatively expensive to implement it broadly across the organization, which means that companies without extensive resources will need to make key decisions about where and how they implement AI. Larger organizations are going to have an advantage with AI at first because they have the right resources and policies in place to implement it. But mid-sized and small companies will need to identify where their gaps are and understand what they need to improve on specifically over the entire spectrum of functions within their organization because they aren’t going to be able to put the same resources toward it. They will need to prioritize where AI is going to provide the best return across:
- Customer Engagement
Every organization’s needs will be different depending on what they are lacking or where they are weakest. Selecting which one is most important to fund first, will depend on their size, business stage, and goals. The emphasis should be on how efficiency, scale, sales effectiveness, and overall business outcomes will improve using AI.
Small and mid-sized organizations should be selective about the platforms they use or migrate to, ensuring that anything they utilize has AI capabilities because they cannot afford to have internal AI. While there’s a plethora of free platforms available, with minimal investment these days companies can get into CRM platforms like HubSpot that offer all the benefits of integrated AI to offer data analytics and improve forecasting to fuel business growth.
Leveraging AI in B2B Sales
Typically, only about a third of a sales rep’s time is actually spent selling – the rest of it is spent on other activities like attending meetings and performing administrative tasks. However, AI is an extremely powerful tool that can be leveraged by sales teams to mitigate the strain that these non-selling activities place on sales reps to:
- Access advanced data enrichment.
- Enhance performance with conversation intelligence.
- Automate sales enablement.
- Improve pipeline management for forecasting.
- Streamline sales engagement.
The result is greater efficiency, less grunt work, more effective planning, and, unsurprisingly, greater job satisfaction as a result.
With numerous and significant benefits to realize it’s hard to believe that there are organizations that are avoiding AI altogether. And yet, data shows that there’s significant resistance. Recent data from Harvard Business Review shows that 67% of B2B sales and service leaders surveyed think automation of administrative sales tasks is very important but only 28% have it in place extensively already.
The main challenge seems to be hesitance to provide access to company data. Organizations that do not want to make their data available to AI platforms that they implement are going to need to move past that by vetting platforms and providers effectively so they can feel comfortable moving forward. If they don’t, they’re going to be left behind by their competitors that are more willing to embrace these new tools.
Easy Ways to Integrate AI
If your organization is still skeptical there are some simple ways to get started.
More platforms and business technologies are utilizing AI than ever before, which means that many of the tools you currently use may already have AI functionality built in (or plans to roll it out in the future). Look for opportunities to use these new capabilities to improve business efficiency or outcomes.
There are several AI technologies rolling out soon that will be revolutionary for small businesses. For example, Microsoft’s Copilot has been released, bringing AI to their full suite of productivity products – Teams, Word, Outlook, Excel, and PPT. This is going to bring an extremely powerful tool into the hands of anyone who has Office 365, which means that Copilot will likely be how many small businesses get their toes wet with AI. This is good news for companies that don’t feel the need yet to use AI except that they know that they should be jumping on the bandwagon.
Similarly, ChatGPT 4 is going to be a game changer. For solopreneurs and small businesses ChatGPT is already an inexpensive way to get AI implemented, and the new version is going to be far more robust in its capabilities, paving the way for better and more widespread AI use across organizations of all sizes.
Key Takeaway: The Most Important Thing Every B2B Organization Should Know about AI
What is the single most important thing about AI that B2B companies should know? They need to get started NOW! Businesses need to figure out what they need AI to do, find the right solution, and start the implementation immediately.
When you need help aligning your B2B sales and marketing functions as well as integrating the latest tools and strategies to accompany them, please reach out to me. I would love to start a conversation to better understand where you are on your revenue growth journey. As a fractional Chief Revenue Officer, I help organizations modernize their revenue strategy to increase profitability and accelerate growth. Let me help your organization today!