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3 Things You Need to Ask About AI If You're an SMB
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By: Mike Kaput

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May 12th, 2020

3 Things You Need to Ask About AI If You're an SMB

You hear a lot about the power of artificial intelligence, but can the technology actually work for smaller companies?

It’s common to get excited about what’s possible with AI. But then you run into reality. Your business doesn’t have the right data. It doesn’t have enough data. Or, the solution sounds great, but is priced for enterprises with deep pockets.

That leads a lot of SMBs to ask us:

Is AI for me?

The answer is:

It depends.

The good news is that there are some great AI-powered tools you can use if you’re small or medium-sized business.

But there are also plenty you can't use at all.

How do you figure out which is which?

This list of questions should help you approach AI the right way if you're an SMB looking for answers.

1. What are you trying to achieve?

As much as we love AI, we’ll be the first to tell you: 

You shouldn’t try to buy AI-powered technology just to have AI. You should try to buy AI-powered technology that helps you solve real business problems in a smarter way.

What do you want to achieve in your business? Before you even think about AI, think about the real problems you face every day. Problems like:

  • Website traffic is down.
  • Leads are flat.
  • Sales have dropped off since last quarter.
  • Email open and click rates are poor.
  • Social media accounts post a lot of content, but get few followers.
  • Advertising isn’t working.

Start with a problem you need to solve. Then see if AI can solve it better than the traditional technology out there.

Our AI Score assessment tool is a great way to get started doing that. It’s an interactive assessment tool that helps you explore and rate dozens of AI use cases, then recommends possible AI-powered vendors to explore.

2. How can you pilot AI cost-effectively?

You'll want to pilot AI before you implement it across your business.

Great AI pilots cover three areas:

  • Understand AI. You don't need to be a rocket scientist or a rockstar programmer to gain a practical understanding of how AI works and how it benefits your business. What you do need is a simple, practical definition of AI and how it works.
  • Confirm your use cases. Once you broadly understand AI, you need to identify and confirm the value of use cases in your marketing operations where the technology could be applied. This often starts with evaluating the tasks you do every day and their likelihood to be automated.
  • Find and question vendors. With solid use cases, you then need to find AI-powered vendors and ask the right questions to determine if their technology is suitable for your needs (and is actually AI).

We’re biased, but we highly recommend you follow expert guidance to design and execute an AI pilot project, rather than trying to figure it out yourself from scratch. That’s why we put together this free 60-minute Piloting AI webinar that offers a practical framework for designing your pilot.

3. Does the AI tool need data from you to function?

AI needs data — lots of data — to function.

Without a lot of data in the right format, you can't use many AI-powered tools.  And, getting a lot of data in the right format is expensive and time-consuming.

That means you want to start looking at AI tools that use their own data or publicly available data to make their predictions.

It's why we ask every vendor we profile on this site:

Are there any minimum requirements for marketers to get value out of your AI-powered technology?

Many times, you will need a certain amount of traffic, email addresses, ad spend, or lead information in your CRM to get results.

But not always.

Some tools don't need anything from you to work.

Below are a few companies we’ve profiled that you might want to investigate. Each one answered our question by saying they don’t have any minimum requirements to use:

  • Calendar — Save time on meetings with AI.
  • Crayon — Spy on your competitors with AI.
  • Pattern89 — Predict content performance with AI.
  • Zoovu — Boost ecommerce sales with AI.
  • 6sense — Improve account-based marketing with AI.

While you can't use every tool out there if you're an SMB, the AI revolution isn't leaving you behind. You just need to know where to go looking for it.

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About Mike Kaput

Mike Kaput is Chief Content Officer at Marketing AI Institute and a senior consultant at PR 20/20. He writes and speaks about how marketers can understand, adopt, and pilot artificial intelligence to increase revenue and reduce costs. Full bio.

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Disclosure: Marketing AI Institute writes about and recommends AI-powered marketing and sales technology. In all cases, content and recommendations are independent and objective. In some cases, Marketing AI Institute may have business relationships with companies mentioned, which may include financial compensation, affiliate compensation, or payment in kind for products or services. View a list of Institute partners here and MAICON sponsors here.