AI is coming, though not in the apocalyptic, Skynet, get-off-the-grid, “the machines are going to rise up and use us as batteries” way we feared because of the Terminator and Matrix franchises. In fact, for most people, AI is already a part of your daily life. If you use Siri, Google Assistant, or Alexa, if you shop on Amazon or subscribe to Netflix, if you have Nest or Ring, or if you are on Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube or Google, you’re already benefitting from AI.
AI, or artificial intelligence, is the science of making machines smart. When machines are fed data and then allowed to create their own algorithms to make choices based on that data, a concept called machine learning, it opens up amazing possibilities. Machines can take vast amounts of data and analyze it in ways that can help humans make better choices. For instance, if you tend to watch certain types of movies, Netflix can take that data and suggest other titles you might like based on past viewing. If you can talk into a device AI interprets your words into meaningful suggestions, like a restaurant to go to or music to listen to. Or you can enable a self-driving car to interpret what it “sees” around it and respond accordingly.
Big companies with more resources readily use AI to create opportunities and give them a competitive advantage, but how can this be applied to smaller companies? If you’re in a small business, you may wear a lot of hats like marketing, HR, accounting, and IT. With AI, the time and money you spend on those things can be minimized considerably while using more data to make better decisions. Here are a few of our favorite things AI can be used for as well as some of the companies that provide it:
- CRM: CRM, or customer relationship management, is a good first step for adding AI to your business. If you already have data about your customers and want to continue to engage with them, AI can help with that. Salesforce, Zoho, Copper, SugarCRM, HubSpot, Salesmate, Insightly and Infer all work to increase customer retention.
- Communication: Chatbots built on AI engage customers on your website in a convenient and easy way without adding headcount. It also helps to weed out the uninterested and nurture those who are more willing to buy. Hubspot, Drift, and Rulai are simple and economical.
- Marketing: Many companies use AI to help you with your marketing, using the data from your CRM, your website or your email list: Amplero, Drift, Insightly, Optimove, SugarCRM, and HubSpot are some of the companies that do this.
- Lead generation and sales: Do you want a service that can qualify leads so you can spend more time on the most likely new customer? OptinMonster, Salesforce, Salesmate, and Hubspot specialize in that.
- Data collection and analysis: Too many data streams to deal with across systems that don’t talk to each other. Look to IBM Cognos or Amperity to help make sense of it all.
- Recruitment: Many services can automatically scan resumes to find the best candidate fast. TextRecruit, Arya, RampUp, and Textio are great options.
- HR: HR management, benefits, and communication are some of the things that you can expect with services like Zenefits, Gusto, and BambooHR.
- Competitive analysis: Know more about your customers and what they’re doing online through Crayon, which looks across websites and social media platforms to see what your competition is changing so you can better market yourself.
- Video creation: This is one of our favorites. With Lumen5, paste your blog post into their site and AI will take key words you’ve highlighted to help you build a video that will tell the story.
These solutions are built with small businesses in mind, and some even have a free version of their services as you’re just starting out and exploring their use. And they’re just a few of the possible applications using AI, with more being developed every year. As AI continues to evolve, its use will be critical for small businesses to leverage in order to be competitive in the market. By embracing some of these early on, you can start to integrate it into your business so that you can stay relevant.