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Why small businesses are primed to lead the ‘intelligence revolution’

Sanj Bhayro, SVP small to medium business, EMEA, Salesforce, explains why SMEs are perfectly placed to lead the technology charge

Why small businesses are primed to lead the ‘intelligence revolution’

Like me, you may have recently read that fintech provider iZettle has received €30 million in funding from the European Investment Bank (EIB) to increase its use of emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). This part of the EIB’s strategy – just one element of its Investment Plan for Europe – aims to provide funding to start-ups and SMEs that will help boost the region’s tech economy. I’m particularly excited to see how this funding can help small businesses innovate and grow rapidly.

Over the years, I’ve worked with hundreds of small companies across Europe and, more often than not, I find they make tech investment decisions based on what they need right now, rather than what they will need in the future. In fact, 85% of small businesses admit to still using outdated systems such as Excel or email for sales and contact management.

However, if these businesses want to blossom into the FTSE 100 leaders of tomorrow, they need to have a plan for investing in the right technology now. One of these technologies is AI. It has the ability to make every small business operate beyond its capacity to be faster, smarter and more in tune with its customers. And with 50% of consumers saying that they’re likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t anticipate their needs, it’s essential for small businesses to move towards deploying AI tools. It’s clear to me that as the ‘intelligence revolution’ begins to take hold, those that aren’t set up to take advantage of AI and related technologies will get left behind.

To do this, SMEs need to get their IT systems in order. This requires two key things: making sure that all customer data is shared across the business; and that there’s an open, flexible cloud infrastructure in place that the intelligent business tools of the future can easily plug into.

Discovering the value of open data

Whether you’re a start-up or a global enterprise, B2B or B2C, customers are at the heart of successful businesses. Customer data is, therefore, incredibly powerful, especially if a company shares this insight across every team. It gives you a picture of customer behaviour as a whole, enabling you to better understand their motivations.

Employee engagement business Perkbox doubled its sales through the effective sharing of customer data across every department. With this newfound access, Perkbox employees can easily see which products are most popular, where customers are having issues and how this links to churn rate. Through better customer knowledge, Perkbox not only had incredible sales success but has also managed to halve churn rate thanks to lead nurturing and more personalised customer emails.

When you bring AI tools to bear on customer data, you can supercharge your customer understanding. For example, with AI-generated suggestions, sales reps can focus on closing the strongest leads while service teams can anticipate individual customer queries and resolve issues before the customer realises they have a problem.                 

Thanks also to opening up its data, corporate-meeting technology startup Meetoo used predictive analytics to grow its user base by 400% last year. Automated customer journeys provide the company’s leaders with valuable insights into how customers respond to different communications and content. By using AI and predictive analytics, Meetoo employees are able to evaluate the sales pipeline and assess marketing campaign results in a couple of clicks. The marketing team is attending 23% fewer events, but its win rate is up by 66% thanks to the targeting benefits of the technology.  

Investing in future-proof technology

While modern AI tools no longer need a host of engineers and data scientists to implement and run them, some small businesses won’t feel quite ready to dive into the technology right now. However, it’s still a good idea to ensure their IT infrastructure is ready for when they are. A flexible and scalable cloud-based platform is therefore crucial for future-proofing.

Cloud technology also allows SMEs to increase or reduce the number off services they need almost instantly and easily add AI features without hassle. For a small business with a high degree of seasonality, this flexibility can also help manage costs.                   

For Treatwell, speed and scalability were key reasons for adopting a cloud-based approach to its IT infrastructure and implementing this technology was about so much more than increasing volume. When it deployed its cloud-based platform, Treatwell took a phased approach to implementation, focusing on the sales basics. Now, with an annual growth rate of 240% and two million people visiting its website every month, there's huge demand on the service. Using scalable technology has reduced the time it takes for Treatwell employees to onboard new affiliates and smart reporting has freed staff from repetitive administrative tasks to focus more on initiatives that can grow the business.

Small businesses that are savvy about the tech infrastructure they invest in now will be better placed to take advantage of emerging technologies like AI. It’s these technologies that will enable them to become the big companies of the future. The intelligence revolution will soon be part of even the smallest of businesses and there’s no reason why they can’t be ready to lead from the front.