AI and Machine Learning Outlook in B2B

Brought to you by WBR Insights

We hear an awful lot about AI and machine learning these days. From manufacturing to logistics and sales, there are few avenues of the B2B world which the technology has yet to penetrate.

However, while artificial intelligence has come a long way since the term was first coined by John McCarthy in 1956, it still has a long way to go. Rather than talking machines used to pilot spaceships such as those seen in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, AI is used in more subtle ways such as examining purchase histories and influencing marketing decisions.

This is leading many experts to pontificate as to whether 2020 will be the year we finally see AI and machine learning flourish and achieve their potential in the form of true thinking machines, and whether the technologies will find a more sophisticated role in the B2B industry.

The State of AI and Machine Learning

To adequately predict where we're heading, it's important to take stock of where we are and look at the state of play regarding AI and machine learning in the last quarter of 2019.

The most common applications of enterprise AI cover tasks such as data mining, advanced algorithms, and predictive analytics. These are all tasks that are essential for B2B brands to understand their markets but can eat up serious man-hours when performed manually. With AI and machine learning technology crunching the numbers, trends, correlations, and anomalies can be discovered in moments, allowing marketing and salespeople to go to work putting insights into action.

In fact, 40 percent of marketing and sales departments have gone on the record to state that AI- and machine learning-powered data science is absolutely critical to their success within their respective organizations. These figures broken down by industry are significant as well, with 27 percent of Financial Services & Insurance, 25 percent of Healthcare, and 24 percent of Retail/Wholesale organizations stating that the technology is critical to success.

This means that industry is placing a high priority on data science that is driven by AI and machine learning. The technology is necessary to support a range of regression models, followed by hierarchical clustering and textbook statistical functions for descriptive statistics. Recommendation engines are growing in popularity as companies such as Amazon can provide ever more sophisticated and personalized suggestions. Geospatial analysis and Bayesian methods are given slightly less importance but are still desired by B2B businesses to help them better engage with their customers.

AI and Machine Learning in 2020

Recent research has found that around 59 percent of companies have AI development in action, with the average business having three to four projects in the fire right now. Whether it's the application of chatbots, natural language processing, task automation, data science, or object recognition, those organizations expect to double the number of those projects in 2020.

In B2B sales, the most desired application of AI and machine learning is to streamline the process of prospecting and lead qualification.

Sales departments can use AI tools to rapidly build lists of their addressable contact market, complete with emails, phone numbers, and detailed buyer personas, which can also be informed and created by AI and machine learning. Target buyers and potential customers can be identified, and some of the most sophisticated tools can even "listen in" on sales calls and suggest dialogue options that are likely to resonate with particular clients. AI chatbots can also initiate contact in the early stages of the sales funnel process.

However, it must be remembered that artificial intelligence and other forms of automation lack the soft, human skills that the very best sales professionals require to get to the top of their game. These people know how to expertly balance the logical and emotional side of the buyer's decision-making process. They can decipher body language, detect tone of voice, read between the lines, ask unexpected questions, and challenge their prospect's expectations.

Final Thoughts

Until we have true thinking computers, it's unlikely that AI and machine learning will pose a threat to the flesh-and-blood B2B sales role. This means that it will be a few years yet before we see the technology fully reach its true potential.

Until then, we're going to have to be satisfied with artificial intelligence and machine learning maintaining its supporting role in the B2B world. Maybe one day we will see the arrival of true robot salespeople, but we don't believe that day will come in 2020.

AI and machine learning will be a hot topic at B2B Online 2020, taking place in April at the Chicago Marriott Downtown.

Download the agenda today form more information and insights.

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