The term “artificial intelligence” conjures up images of Hal from 2001: A Space Odyssey or C3PO from Star Wars. In the movies, AI powers machines to think for themselves and act independently. This type of AI is known as general AI and doesn’t exist (yet).
But, but there is a thing called narrow (or weak) AI which is gaining steam and more importantly, can power your SMB.
Narrow AI is software programmed with the ability to run a specific task and this kind of artificial intelligence is all around us. A decent chunk of business software these days even incorporates AI into their offerings. So for instance, if you’ve ever interacted with a chatbot on a website or had one of your software solutions ping you when a customer performs a high-value action, you’ve interacted with AI.
AI has been in use by large businesses for a while, but its best applications may be for small and medium companies. Artificial intelligence can take over the tedious tasks that add up to hours of work for SMB teams. It can also analyze the data that your company is taking in and provide insights that help your business grow.
So let’s talk about exactly how AI can help your business today, and how AI trends may shape your business tomorrow.
1. Use AI to analyze your business data
Most businesses today have collected a massive amount of data about their customers and their behaviors, as well as data on sales, inventory, productivity, and more. This data is instrumental in understanding what makes your business successful (and what doesn’t) and what makes your customers tick.
Unfortunately, this information is essentially useless without AI. There is simply too much data for any human being to sift through and analyze it in any relevant timeframe.
Artificial intelligence, on the other hand, capable of taking all this raw data in and quickly shaping it into useful reports for your team to read. A wide variety of software types – from point-of-sale (POS) systems to social media automation systems –are equipped with AI capable of analyzing the data they collect. There is even software available exclusively for analyzing data, like Google Analytics. Some examples of reports pulled by artificial intelligence include:
- Website visitors broken down by country
- Products sold per hour in your store
- Response time of your customer service team
- Email opens broken down by contact lifecycle stage
- Website heat maps
These reports then inform an SMB’s business decisions. For instance, 35th+Butter, an SMB retailer in Washington State, is able to use their POS’s AI analytics capabilities, particularly the product performance report, to inform their inventory purchases.
To ensure your systems are equipped with analytical AI, look for software providers that include reporting in their offerings.
2. Personalize your customer communications with AI
More than simply analyzing data, small business AI can utilize data strategically throughout your communications and content to personalize your messaging to the reader.
AI utilizes your data for personalization in two ways. The first is that it can include stored data tokens throughout communications. Tokens are placeholders within text for discrete pieces of data stored in your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) that the AI fills at send.
For instance, an email subject line could say, “Hey [First Name]! Eat Free Ice Cream Today.” The AI in your email marketing system would then fill it so when the email goes out, the subject line actually reads:
“Hey Janice! Eat Free Ice Cream Today.”
“Janice,” of course, gets pulled from your CRM database.
The next way artificial intelligence can personalize your communications is by automatically segmenting customers and reacting to those segmentations.
Many communication tools today offer something that is usually known as a “smart list.” (Occasionally, it may be called a “dynamic list”) Smart lists are constantly reading your contact database in the background. As new contacts are added to your database or current contacts hit mile marks, perform certain behaviors, etc. the artificial intelligence in the system will grab those contacts and put them on an appropriate list.
Once a contact is on a smart list, a whole world of personalization becomes available to you. AI can personalize segments of text, imagery, or a CTA to your contact’s list memberships both on your website and in messaging.
Some examples of how this works:
- If you send a newsletter to both customers and leads, AI can include a CTA to purchase for leads, while showing your customers a support desk phone number.
- When a sales qualified lead visits your pricing page, AI can show them a chat bubble with their sales rep, while unknown visitors will receive a chatbot bubble.
- If a repeat customer views a product and then goes to leave the website, have an exit intent pop-up appear with a discount code for them.
More than just personalizing the content of a message, many communication tools are now equipped with AI that is capable of choosing the time you should send out your messages. For instance, artificial intelligence can run what’s called a time zone send, where the system sends the message out at a chosen time in the contact’s time zone, rather than that time in your time zone.
Further, AI is equipped now to analyze the data of your past send times and contact’s open times and provide you with the ideal times at which your various types of messages should be going out. Time-optimized sends can raise click-through rates an impressive 16-22%!
3. Automate busy work with AI to save time
AI is incredibly talented in parsing and utilizing your data, but it’s also got another great ability: running your busywork.
Automation software enables you to build a workflow instructing the software on how to do a repetitive task. Workflows begin with a trigger and include at least one action. To mimic the human ability to make choices about how to perform a task on the fly, if/then statements can be included throughout the workflow.
For instance, when someone fills out your contact form, you can have your marketing automation solution reply immediately, rather than having to email everyone individually. That workflow would look like this:
Trigger: Visitor fills out the contact form
Action: Send a thank you email
Action: Wait 1 day
Action: Check to see if the contact opened the email
If/then statement: If the contact did not open email
Action: Send a follow-up email to the segment
Software reads and acts on each step individually so for workflows like this, it’s incredibly important that you place each action exactly when it needs to be done. Missing even one step can be detrimental.
In the workflow example above, if you remove the action to wait 1 day, the software will check immediately after send to see if the email has been opened. Because it is highly unlikely that your contacts are instantaneously opening their emails, the software will then immediately send a follow-up email to everyone.
There is a wide variety of systems out there that can be taught to run a repetitive task for you and you can identify them because they will specify that the tool can automate something. Some examples include:
- Inventory management systems can often reorder products when they hit a certain threshold.
- Payroll software can run payroll for you and even cut your employees’ checks.
- A finance app can analyze your bank activity for you and recommend ways to save (or automatically save money for you).
While task automation has been historically parsed out between specialized systems (each of the above tasks is run by a separate system, for instance) general task automation tools are beginning to come onto the market. It may not be long before a single software solution is capable of doing much of the boring grunt work it takes to run a business.
AI the small biz sector becomes more capable every year. We likely aren’t far out from having software that can not only cover our basic tasks but also provide us with business advice based on our data. With more time for strategizing and innovating, it’s quite likely that AI will help SMBs grow rapidly.