Smart technologies became popular in sales long before ChatGPT blew up the market. Artificial intelligence and neural networks helped speed up lead scoring and personalize customer interactions, analyze customers’ behavior and determine what information and via what channel should be sent to which customer for them to make a purchase. All of that was happening in retail. But what if you are in the business of selling timber to furniture manufacturers? Or oil products?
It has been a belief for a long time that cutting-edge technology is not something suitable for the wholesale market, with a long deal cycle and final purchase decision being made by several people. The cost of an error could be too high. But technologies are developing rapidly and slowly making their way from the B2C segment to B2B. Smart tools are not an exception. Let’s find out how AI has changed an industry that could not even boast simple automation tools for many years and where word of mouth used to serve as best marketing.
AI in Russia is in the highest demand
In 2023, AI developers almost literally made a quantum leap when the new version of the ChatGPT language model was released. Even skeptics, who had long considered AI a technology with overheated expectations, went silent after the capabilities of this neural network were demonstrated. The smart tools of 2023 can do lots of things: they can write a copy, answer any question or render images in a suggested style. The images may even come out with the right number of fingers on hands. All this variability of tasks is only stirring up businesses’ interest in smart tools.
Some industry market players started to see significant risks in out-of-control use of artificial intelligence though. For example, according to a recent report by the Central Bank of Russia, using the innovation may lead to incorrect interpretation of neural network output, security breaches and ethical risks.
However, a 2023 study by the Higher School of Economics shows that 65% of respondents do use smart technology, even if as an experiment. The Russian government estimates that the level of AI implementation in the Russian economy is already 20%. Thirty percent more organizations plan to implement AI within the next three years.
Such intense interest in AI met support from the state that has almost tripled the funding for AI projects in the past two years. Next year, the government plans to spend RUB 5.2 billion ($56.7 mln) on the industry’s development. In addition to that, the government is working on a state concept of AI. Creating an AI Specialized Center is expected to help with the industry’s development in regions.
All these developments indicate that AI is in the highest demand, according to Gartner, not only in the world but in Russia as well.
How AI made its way to B2B sales
It was a long road for AI to wholesale trading that took at least five years since smart technology boomed in the retail segment. The thing is that digital transformation in B2B sales is slower in general. There is a belief that automation has a negative impact on the quality of interaction with customers. B2B has a complex and long sales cycle, and the final purchase decision is made by a group of people. It is considered that the result depends directly on the personal communication between the seller and the buyer.
In actual practice, it is not always so. In the past decades, an entire generation of people appeared who are accustomed to working with online tools. Most B2B buyers (up to 55% according to various estimates) prefer to interact with the selling company without intermediaries. Moreover, according to our own data, if a company lacks automation, sales representatives have to spend 70% of their time on processing orders and do not have resources for a quality work with customers. It results in lost deals and burnt out employees who are overloaded with routine. Moreover, it is almost impossible to control this process because all communications and agreements are documented in e-mails, instant messengers and over the phone.
Therefore, wholesale business is forced to look towards automation. Basically, B2B companies are adopting the experience of the consumer segment, which already underwent automation several years ago. First of all, they meet the basic digital needs by introducing accounting systems and B2B portals.
After this, they pick IT tools that help improve the company’s performance without capital expenditures or a significant restructuring of business processes. AI is capable of performing many repetitive tasks, from collecting data to creating reports and answering common customer questions. Theoretically, this frees up sales reps’ time they can spend on dealing with strategic tasks and communicating with clients; according to our estimates, up to 4-6 hours weekly.
Plus, a number of AI developments, including ChatGPT, are currently available in test mode at a minimal cost or even for free. This allows businesses to test them, understand their value, and decide whether they want a full deployment. This is why artificial intelligence is quickly taking over B2B sales.
AI in B2B: Application scenarios
Artificial intelligence is already being actively used in wholesale trading. Here are just a few functions it can take on:
• Generation of email messages
In the process of scaling and growing the customer base, any wholesale company sooner or later faces the fact that sales managers have to prepare a lot of personalized letters or messages for clients, partners or suppliers. They include individual offers, information about promotions and discounts, invitations to events, etc. All of this takes dozens of hours of work per month.
A neural network can study samples of texts from a specific person and generate new texts, making them unique but consistent with the given style and content. Moreover, the work of AI may be indistinguishable from messages written by a person. Using AI helps reduce the cost of manual writing and speeds up the process of communication with clients and partners.
• Ready-made scripts for managers
Making sales scripts and handling complaints in B2B is usually challenging. The products are complex, communications are long and personalized, and it is not clear what questions customers may have. Such communication is not subject to strict scripts.
The AI model is able to study a huge amount of historical data on interactions with various customers, structure it and analyze it taking into account the context, product information and target audience. With some additional training, it is possible to create optimal flexible scripts.
• Creation of SEO content for websites and landing pages
A neural network can generate a 2,000–4,000-character text in just one minute or faster. The content that AI creates is unique; prompts can additionally provide for the possibility of rephrasing or changing the style of presenting information. Such articles created by AI will easily pass anti-plagiarism checks. In addition, neural networks are capable of generating Title, Description and other meta tags, as well as SEO headlines with a high CTR based on their own calculations and algorithms.
The only drawback is that neural networks are already capable of lying. In early 2023, an American attorney was facing charges over the use of ChatGPT to prepare a list of past court cases, each of them made up by an AI-powered chatbot. Therefore, an author or a marketer has to check the facts, make adjustments and do stylistic editing. Yet, in any case, this process will be at least two or three times faster than making content from scratch.
• Creation of product cards for online stores and marketplaces
Companies, particularly those that offer an extensive range of products, spend a huge amount of time creating standard descriptions for B2B portals and marketplaces. a neural network is capable of doing this task, with texts including specific client requests and preferences. AI can also accurately and discreetly place SEO keywords in the descriptions. In this regard, AI can help managers save up to two payrolls as additional copywriters or managers won’t be required when moving business online.
• Creation of interactive product and advertising models
Modern AI-powered image processing models can generate new images based on existing samples. This can be used for creating various visual materials, such as promotional photos or videos, as well as virtual 3D models of products made through generative modeling. The latter can be applied for online product display, among others.
• Creation of an internal sales database
Today, every company keeps a lot of data, regulations and instructions, making it difficult for employees to instantly find the required file during negotiations. Meanwhile, smart technology allows for building a structured library powered by a smart search engine. No exact match is required to look for a specific document as the neural network already understands the meaning: you can simply ask about the company rules regarding customer discounts, and receive the said rules with resource links and reports. In addition, such a database will allow for storing historical data on clients, orders and other essential information for an indefinite period of time. This will allow managers to promptly respond to clients – which, in turn, will improve the latter’s loyalty.
What comes next?
AI is becoming an essential part of managers and marketers’ daily routines at B2B companies. Within the next few years, we will see several development trends:
- A fully functional assistant for marketers in SEO optimization. The neural network will both create texts and engage in promoting them to target audiences.
- Additionally, AI will be capable of building unique product catalog for each customer based on the analysis of their search queries, the request history of buyers with similar tasks, as well as the seller’s range of products. Accurately targeted recommendations will also appear in the shopping cart.
- Forecasting the demand for a particular product based on historical data and current user behavior analytics. This will allow for optimizing production processes as well, with production line load planned depending on the product demand.
- Monitoring and managing customer online reviews of the product. The current use of AI will only grow further to this end.
- Automated selection of the best B2B online store template by business and product parameters. When launching the portal, a user has to fill in a few forms, such as the number of contractors and amount of products. Upon loading the catalog, the system will select the best portal template for specific business characteristics.
Smart technologies help wholesale and manufacturing companies make their communication with customers faster and more effective, and develop new approaches and materials for product promotion. There are already numerous tools in the market, such as ChatGPT, Russian DALL-E, Fusion Brain, Starryai, NeuroTexter, SberBusinessBot, YandexGPT, and many others. The key is to know where to apply AI and make the most of it. This requires testing tools in various processes, doing customer development, and assessing their effectiveness.
By Evgeny Losev, CTO, Sellty