February 8, 2022
Artificial intelligence has appeared in popular culture for decades. Even today, the word “AI” often arouses images of human-like robots interacting with people in their homes and workplaces. However, artificial intelligence isn’t just a Hollywood trope – it’s a sophisticated tool businesses can use to improve workflows and operations.
Although real AI can’t think or function in a human-like way, it can be trained to understand complex data, make advanced predictions and solve specific problems. As a result, artificial intelligence can help distributors connect with customers, automate lengthy processes, grow revenue and improve profit margins. As artificial intelligence evolves, its practical applications in B2B are limitless.
B2C companies have used AI to understand customer patterns and make data-driven recommendations, resulting in massive growth for B2C businesses – especially those with an ecommerce presence. For instance, Amazon’s AI-powered recommendation engine generates roughly 35% of its sales – making this system a multibillion-dollar asset.
Fortunately, the success of artificial intelligence in B2C has driven software developers to adapt AI models for B2B as well. For distributors, AI can break down complex data to help you understand customer behavior, employee performance and order-to-cash cycles. It can also automate manual processes, so your sales team can spend more time on customer-facing activities.
Here are the top 10 ways to use AI in B2B:
Deep learning models are artificial intelligence designed to collect and process complex data. One of the most significant advantages distributors have over B2C companies is their wealth of data. Distributors often have years of sales information available for AI models to process. Over time, these models can identify patterns and use this information to predict future sales and customer behavior.
In operations, managers can use data analytics to gain insight into sales and productivity while identifying problematic areas. AI can also enhance your sales team by providing overviews of customer shopping patterns, cross-channel interactions and reordering needs.
Once AI models have processed enough data, they can identify patterns in customer shopping behaviors. For example, AI-driven recommendation models can use a customer’s browsing data and purchase history to make highly accurate upsell and cross-sell recommendations. By providing a helpful, personal ecommerce experience to your buyers, you can improve customer loyalty and capture a larger wallet share.
Artificial intelligence significantly improves internal operations by automating manual processes and providing greater insight into operations. For example, financial and legal departments can use AI to identify fraud and run background credit checks on new customers. They can also automate credit approval and invoice processing – so you can speed up your order-to-cash processes.
HR departments can use AI to scan applications for keywords and phrases to see if candidates are a good fit. Bots can also automatically approve or respond to inquiries and time-off requests, allowing your HR reps to focus on more strategic endeavors.
For distributors, AI can expedite order-to-cash cycles and minimize supply chain disruptions. Remote inventory management systems allow you to see into customer inventories and optimize stock levels without dealing with costly travel fees and restrictions. In addition, automated reordering based on pre-set minimum and maximum quantities will ensure your customers always have what they need, without the risk of stockouts.
AI can improve warehouse management in various ways. First, employees can utilize AI to reduce the time and effort spent on manual inventory tracking. AI automates data entry – eliminating the need for employees to walk through a warehouse, keeping track of items with a pen and paper. The system will track consumption and determine when to reorder supplies.
Second, AI-driven robotics can perform much of the manual labor needed to move inventory and load trucks. This reduces the risk of work-related injuries while freeing up your employees to be redistributed to more strategic tasks. AI can also monitor computer systems and machinery to determine when maintenance is required.
One of the best ways to enhance your marketing strategy is with AI targeting and recommendations. By analyzing how users interact with your business online, AI will provide your marketing team with insight into what customers are shopping for and what they may be interested in. Your marketing team can then use this information to personalize ads and reach a wider audience.
While advertising that focuses on personal details works well for B2C customers, Gartner found that B2B shoppers prefer content that helps them in some way. With AI analytics, your team can better understand your customers’ struggles to create marketing materials that are both personal and helpful.
Because distributors often have millions of SKUs across various disconnected channels, quality control can be challenging. Thankfully, AI models can connect all of your product listings, communications and order-to-cash processes so that you can ensure data accuracy across departments.
Customer experience plays a significant role in both sales and promoting a positive brand image. When customers contact you with a problem or a question, they expect your team to respond to them quickly and effectively.
To ensure buyers get the support they need, your CSRs must have relevant information available when responding to a service request. AI can improve this process by instantly providing your team with valuable information about the customer’s purchase history and support tickets. As a result, your CSRs will have the data needed to respond confidently to inquiries.
Excellent AI models will not only help you attract new customers, but they will improve your relationships with existing ones as well. For example, AI models can examine customer data from every channel – outside sales, inside sales, marketing, customer support, ecommerce, etc. – to learn about shopping behaviors and interests. By centralizing data and analyzing a complete data set for each customer, AI provides your team with a well-rounded view of every customer.
By understanding what your customers are buying, when they need to reorder and how they prefer to shop, your sales team will have the tools to pinpoint possible upsell and cross-sell opportunities and provide a more consultative experience. With AI, you can be more helpful to customers while improving your bottom line.
When you integrate AI into your workflows, you will begin to see a boost in net-new business across your company. This is because AI analyzes customer data to inform sales and marketing teams which customers to contact, when to contact them and what offer to pitch. Artificial intelligence is by far the best way to enhance digital marketing, prospecting and cross-selling to gain net-new business.
Benco Dental is the largest privately owned dental equipment and supplies distributor in the United States. For years it effectively relied on traditional sales and marketing techniques to do business. Unfortunately, as the company grew and added hundreds of thousands of new SKUs to its database, sales reps found that they didn’t have access to the data needed to pitch new products or accurately address customer concerns.
Benco Dental implemented AI into its organization. Benco took a phased approach to implementation and started by embedding AI-powered recommendations into its ecommerce platform. Eventually, Benco’s sales reps began utilizing AI to improve account management and provide customers with higher-quality support.
As a result, Benco enhanced its customer experience and is now earning 728% more revenue per sales call.
AI is the future of business. Successful integration leads to better performance, sales, customer satisfaction and revenue. McKinsey estimates that companies that adopt AI solutions early will see a 122% increase in cash flow within 5-7 years. Companies that adopt AI late will likely only see a 10% increase, while those that fall behind will see a 23% loss.
Industrial buyers expect the same level of care and personalization as B2C buyers. They want distributors’ websites to be streamlined, informative and user-friendly. To keep up with customer expectations, an increasing number of distributors are using AI to gather better data and make more informed business decisions.
If you’re ready to implement AI-powered solutions for your business, the first step is to find a partner you can trust who knows your business. Compared to B2C companies, distributors have unique business challenges and needs. For instance, distributors often work with thousands of customers and have millions of SKUs. As a result, traditional ERP systems have a hard time operating on the level needed by industrial B2B companies.
B2B buyers have more complex problems to solve and can be more challenging to market to than B2C customers. For example, industrial buyers may regularly move from project to project and require new products and solutions at various stages of production. Others need distributors to oversee and optimize their point-of-use inventories. Navigating fluctuating product needs and continual replenishment can be challenging without AI.
When looking for a technology partner, it is necessary to find someone who understands the unique challenges distributors face.
The future is now. How will you use AI in your business?