The Distribution Blog

How Distributors Can Get an Immediate ROI from AI

May 12, 2021

Table of Contents

Despite rising enthusiasm around artificial intelligence (AI), companies have struggled to gain a quick return on the technology. But many remain optimistic. More than 90% of executives worldwide expect to get some value from it, according to an MIT Sloan Management Review and Boston Consulting Group report.

Companies that are successful with AI share three things:

1. A Lot of Data

To improve the recommendations they offer, AI solutions need large sets of data that are continually updated. The more data, the more intelligent the solution.

The good news for distributors is that they already have large data sets, making it easier to plug and play AI solutions. Over time, an AI solution collects and centralizes data from all sales channels; analyzes the data to predict how, when and what each customer will buy; and delivers those recommendations so that reps and customers get what they need.

2. Aligned Company Culture

The more a tool is used, the better the results for the company. That’s true for any technology and applies to AI, as well. Organizations that help employees understand the value of AI, build AI adoption plans and create a strategy for ongoing training even after the technology is deployed will realize a ROI on their investment more quickly than those who don’t.

McKinsey also found that the most successful companies:

  • Involve cross-functional teams to guide the adoption of AI
  • Include employees on the implementation team
  • Tap a C-suite champion for AI initiatives

It’s also a good idea to try AI in stages to increase adoption. For example, enable inside sales, start checking off cross-selling and upselling wins, and then expand the tool’s use to field sales.

We’ve found that distributors that take this staged approach will find that change management post-implementation is relatively easy. The right AI tool won’t require a big change to existing sales processes, and a sales rep will see immediate gratification, as order values increase and prospects convert. That increases buy-in.

3. The Right AI Solution

AI solutions are accessible to distributors of all sizes. The right vendor will:

  • Offer an AI solution built for distribution that accounts for multiple sales channels and high SKU count.
  • Use deep learning and natural language processing. Because distribution businesses have more complex patterns than can be captured in simpler models, basic machine learning or business intelligence tools won’t cut it.
  • Secure your data and help find and integrate more data. Unify all customer data in one place.
  • Work with you to train your teams to ensure the entire team adopts the solution.
  • Ensure the AI engine is working based on the goals set at the start of the project, adjusting as needed after implementation.

In a global survey by McKinsey & Company, the highest-performing companies with AI have achieved greater revenue increases and significant cost decreases.

If you’re not adopting AI because you’re concerned you won’t get ROI or you’re waiting for the technology to mature, stop procrastinating. You already have the data. If you prioritize alignment in the organization and invest in a solution that checks the right boxes, you will be far along the path to getting ROI from AI.

And, early adopters have the advantage. Because distributors can implement AI in very specific areas, such as enabling sales reps or to improve recommendations on an e-commerce website, they see returns as high as 10X in as little as six weeks. That’s an ROI you don’t want to miss out on.

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