Artificial Intelligence — a way to save and make money in B2B?

Artificial Intelligence has been in the news a lot recently and there seems to be an inexorable rise of the machines touching all aspects of life and society, from the weekly shop to marketing technology. For B2B marketers, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be used to generate more prospects, which lead to more conversations and ultimately more sales. It could also be used to automate low-level customer services queries and admin tasks.

Recently a Japanese insurance firm1 took the decision to replace 30 members of staff with an AI platform. In parallel IBM’s Artificial Intelligence platform ‘Watson’ now has its own dedicated business unit and over $1 billion has been invested in it. AI platforms such as Siri and Cortona are becoming more widely used as smartphone technology continues to proliferate and becomes cheaper.

AI is here to stay and as computing power becomes greater and more accessible, the more widely it will become adopted. But how can the advances in AI be used in the world of B2B Marketing and is there anything you can do right now to take your first steps into the world of AI?

Is it just a shiny new toy?

Three or four years ago ‘Big Data’ was all the rage and two or so years before that the question ‘what’s your mobile strategy?’ was the hackneyed phrase in the intersection of technology and marketing. Is AI just the next shiny new toy? Given the inexorable rise of automation across all industries (scan your own shopping as you make your way around Tesco) or the PA in your pocket (Siri, Google Assistant and Cortona) we think it would be foolish to ignore it.

Where we are now

This infographic by Red Stag Fulfilment is useful. Use cases for AI are currently very much in rooted in the world of direct to consumer eCommerce and entertainment. However, the infographic highlights four key ways in which AI is currently being utilised:

– Personalising the customer experience
– Creating virtual buying assistants
– Making conversions and improving order fulfilment
– Analysing big data

All the above are relevant in a B2B context.

Where to start

Apparently, a server powerful enough to run IBM’s Watson will cost you $1 million so this may be a little bit of a stretch for companies without very deep pockets. The top of the funnel for many B2B prospects is a web experience so we thought this was a sensible place to start.

AI for web experiences

‘Chatbots’ (a bit like Siri) are being employed by large-scale entities on the web to minimise the time spent by front line customer services staff answering low-level customer queries, but could the same technology be used to enhance a potential prospect’s experience of a website? Chatbots on websites generally take the form of a ‘Live chat’ pop up – which may, but probably don’t, have a human interacting with the web user. Chatbots are generally sophisticated pre-programmed stock responses to frequently asked questions.

The correct application of this type of technology could genuinely enhance a user journey in a B2B context. If a prospect lands on a website and the Chatbot recognises that the web user is checking out a product portfolio, it could, conceivably, directly ask the user if they would like to view a case study. Alternatively, the same concept could be utilised to dynamically serve content to a user (web user is on a product page, dynamically serve a case study), perhaps using ad serving technology and browser cookies, to enhance their overall web experience — the Chatbot without the chat, if you like.

Ones to watch

We try to steer clear of making bold predictions around new technology vendors or platforms (trying to second guess digital trends would require a powerful crystal ball) but two examples caught our eye.

If you run a WordPress site this plugin might be worth looking at as a first step into the world of AI. In a nutshell, Knowledge Base turns your FAQs into a set of ‘smart’ FAQs. Popular customer queries can be built into this plugin and front line customer services staff can ‘spend more time selling and less time sending repetitive emails’. We could see this application being useful for B2B organisations with many customers, or even for internal communications around new products.

Transversal2 is a Cambridge and Boston-based tech company who have taken the concept of machine learning to an Enterprise level. Their technology is predicated on three pillars: Understand, Anticipate and Improve. According to Transversal, implementing their technology on your website can lead to 35% more traffic from natural search. They also claim that questions around your product or service can be answered twice as quickly as without it. We would imagine most B2B marketers would want to increase their organic visibility and help potential customers answer questions quicker.

Price-wise the two solutions are poles apart. Knowledge Base is a plugin that can be purchased online for £125 and we strongly suspect engaging the services of Transversal would add some zeros to that figure.

Both solutions genuinely solve a problem; they make the dissemination of information for website users easier.


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Why B2B businesses are well positioned for AI

B2B organisations, especially in the world of manufacturing, have been utilising AI to improve production for many years. It doesn’t take a huge leap of faith to apply the learnings from the factory floor to the offices of the sales and marketing department. Reducing wastage and optimising customer experiences should be common goals across all facets of a company and AI, used correctly, could help achieve this in a marketing communications context.

Summary

Arguably full-scale AI installations are not required for most B2B organisations in a Transversal and John Lewis style implementation. B2B companies have a much tighter target audience whose motivations and drivers as web users are different than in a B2C context. What is common to both is that users are on a website because they want to do something, research and discover, benchmark or buy. AI technology can help website owners make it easier for their users to do these things.

We can see some of the machine learning aspects of AI technology, especially around the personalisation of content, becoming more widely adopted in the world of B2B marketers soon. If you would like some more thoughts on how new technology can be used to help you get closer to your customers, please get in touch — we promise you will be speaking to a human.

1. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-38521403

2. https://www.transversal.com/resources/case-studies

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