What SMBs Must Know to Join the AI Revolution

It comes as no surprise that nearly three-quarters of small and midsize businesses (SMB) will invest in software and apps over the next year, according to this June 2018 Vistage survey. But would you have guessed that — along with CRM — artificial intelligence (AI) tops the list of technologies that SMBs are planning to invest in?

Joe Galvin, Chief Research Officer at Vistage, attended Dreamforce ‘18 to discuss the whats, hows, and whys of AI for small and medium-sized businesses in a session titled, “Customer Insights: How AI Is Revolutionizing SMBs Today”. Joe was joined on stage by Admir Hadziabulic, Director of Support Services at HCSS, and Ali Moshfeghian, Chief Operating Officer of Xtreme Lashes — both Salesforce customers who use AI to power their businesses.

Joe opened the session with a bold affirmation: “AI is in your future.” It may not be tomorrow or next week, but eventually, AI will be part of what drives SMBs to the next level. Are you ready to embrace the future? Here are a few key learnings from the discussion to help your small business join the AI revolution.

Business Intelligence is not Artificial Intelligence

Let’s start with a working definition of what AI is — and isn’t. Vistage defines AI as “computers that perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, and decision-making.” In a business context, AI can be used for anything from customizing home automation systems based on real-time usage data to predicting customer behavior using data gathered from past purchases, loyalty programs, and other behavioral signals.

If you think this sounds similar to business intelligence (BI), you’re not alone. Admir put his finger on one of the key differences between AI and BI. “With BI, you have to depend on somebody to analyze the data and then tell you what to do next. Whereas, AI is prescriptive. It tells you, ‘This is what you should do next.’”

At Vistage, they lay the difference out like this:

Business Intelligence

  • Predictive analytics
  • Answers the question: What will happen going forward?
  • Example: Based on past performance, your business is  likely to lose these particular customers next quarter.

Artificial Intelligence

  • Prescriptive analytics
  • Answers the question: What would happen if I took a particular action?
  • Example: You’ve considered offering a new pricing model to certain at-risk customers. For this to work, AI could show you how many customers you might retain as well as what rules should govern who you offer the new pricing to.

Getting comfortable with human-led predictive analytics can be a great first step towards finally embracing AI’s prescriptive methodology. For example, HCSS successfully used BI to identify at-risk customers and also raise NPS scores, which paved the way for deeper dives into data. “BI gave us the confidence to know that the data was correct,” Admir said. “AI now lets us expand on that knowledge to look at every single thing we do in a new way.”

His team is now immersed in the beta version of Salesforce’s AI-powered Einstein Predictions Builder, which helps them manage 3,000 customers without spending unnecessary amounts of time going through the data manually. The end goal: to make it possible for HCSS to predict what the customer is going to ask next.

Don’t be Intimidated by AI

Getting started with AI in your SMB is a lot easier than it probably sounds. If your business runs on a platform like Salesforce, most of the heavy lifting is already being done for you. Your business data already lives on a platform where AI models are there for you to tap into. As Ali put it: “Get in there and experiment! Don’t be intimidated by AI.”

In fact, that’s exactly how Xtreme Lashes got going with AI. Their first attempt was foiled by improperly formatted data. But they didn’t give up; they kept going. In fact, a tip from the Trailblazer community helped them clean up their records, making their second attempt a lot more successful. “Start with a small use case where you have decent data — it doesn’t have to be perfect,” Ali advised. “Use the resources on Trailhead to help you along the way and just poke around and try it.”

Start Early, Start Now

Xtreme Lashes regularly holds four-day training workshops around the U.S. to give stylists hands-on training in both technique and after-care for clients. Oftentimes, the trainers use before-and-after pictures to assess the stylists’ works. “There’s a lot of admin work by the trainer to upload and classify the images,” Ali said. “And they’re doing this after running a 12-hour class session.”

Fortunately, his team found an AppExchange solution that trains Einstein to classify images using AI. “It does a pretty good job classifying someone with eyelash extensions versus someone without them,” Ali said. Not only is AI saving the trainers from some of the tedious work of image classification, but it’s also giving them time back to prepare for the next day’s class.

Both Admir and Ali emphasized the need for agility and experimentation in today’s fast-changing business landscape. “If you’re not always pushing yourself to try new things, you’re going to become a dinosaur,” Ali said.

Admir reminded Dreamforce attendees that there’s no better time to get started with AI than today: “Start early. Start right now. The competition is already working on it, too.”

Learn more about how AI can help your SMB by downloading the full Vistage report here. Want to hear more from Joe Galvin, Admir Hadziabulic, and Ali Moshfeghian? Watch the full Dreamforce session recording: Customer Insights: How AI Is Revolutionizing SMBs Today.

Photo via Salesforce

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