The current economic environment enables many large companies to succeed, while many small and medium businesses (SMBs) are suffering. Adding to this divide are the changes created by AI. Right now, larger companies are investing in AI because they recognize the opportunity to dominate a market using this technology.
Big companies have many advantages when it comes to AI. They have more data (a critical factor for success), more talent, more opportunities for improvement, and more investment capital. If you are running an SMB, how can you possibly compete against these larger companies using AI?
Fortunately, SMBs can leverage AI vendors and consulting firms to implement AI without hiring massive teams or breaking the bank.
According to a survey by Vistage, SMBs are using AI primarily in the following four areas: business operations, customer engagement, talent management, and finance. Let’s look at what some companies are doing and some vendors and consultancies to consider.
Manufacturing firms are using AI to optimize the entire manufacturing process’s performance, including predictive maintenance, inventory management, and supply chain management.
Any company that sells a product or service can apply AI to build better products and bring them to market sooner. Once a product is in the market, incoming data about product use will determine the relative importance of various features. For products on the product roadmap, digital testing and predictions of prototype results can significantly reduce time to market. Vendors focused in this space include LeanDNA, Noodle.ai, and Petuum.
All companies are looking to bring in new customers and take care of current customers. When AI can help sales teams focus on highly qualified prospects rather than spend time determining who is most qualified, close rates improve. Further, AI can augment what a sales rep is doing by suggesting next-best actions to move a prospect through the sales funnel.
Once you have a customer, they want a unified, consistent experience dealing with you. By collecting real-time data and making predictions about what customers will do and what they are likely to want next, you can provide them with invaluable service. Companies focused on this space include Salesforce, Pointillist, and InsideView.
For most SMBs, their most valuable asset is their employees. They want to recruit the best candidates, but they want to help optimize their performance and retain the best employees. In recruitment, AI can search massive databases for just the right candidate better than humans can.
In employee performance metrics, AI can help schedule a mobile workforce to ensure the right people show up at the right place at the right time. AI can provide early employee attrition risk detection and define workflows to improve retention. Companies focused on this space include Ideal, Skedulo, and Praisidio.
According to McKinsey, the CFO can be one of the biggest beneficiaries of AI as they can become a successful forecaster of events rather than a mere reporter of facts. Also, AI can help enhance decision making like fraudulent credit card transactions, lending, and underwriting. AI can learn from transaction-level data to create real-time forecasts of revenue, expenses, and cash flow.
Imagine your company needs to reduce costs by closing retail outlets. You need to determine which stores to close and which to leave open. Traditional metrics are helpful, but now you can predict what will happen with customers in the region being served by a particular store – if you were to close that store. Would those customers go to a more conveniently-located competitor, or would they shift their buying patterns to move online or even drive a little farther to stay loyal to that store brand? Companies focused on this space include Valkyrie, Clockwork.ai, and Accenture.
It isn’t easy to go up against a larger competitor. AI has created a unique opportunity for SMBs to win the fight against bigger companies. If you move now, you may be able to catch up to them. If you don’t move now, they will leave you in the dust.
Glenn Gow is a former CEO and has been a board member of four companies. He is a Partner at Clear Ventures and he coaches CEOs. His specialty is working as a board member to help guide companies through technology disruptions, especially AI. Follow him on Twitter or LinkedIn or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.