Expert Advice for Medium and Midsize Businesses

6 Ways to Automate Your SMB with AI

Time is something no business owner ever has enough of. While you can’t add more hours to your day, you can pack more into your hours by using artificial intelligence (AI) tools to make your small-to-medium business (SMB) more efficient.

Here are six areas to consider automating:

1. Administrative Automation

One of the easiest ways to get started with automation is by tapping into the AI tools available on smartphones. There are thousands of downloadable apps—many free—to handle administrative tasks, such as calendaring, scheduling meetings, sending notifications, and setting reminders.

You can also explore built-in voice-activated apps on your smartphone whether it be Siri, Cortana or Google Assistant. Just say the word (literally), and these assistants can help you search the web, schedule out your days, and handle other daily tasks. These assistants also have more advanced features you can set up to have your voice commands handle more complex tasks.

Learn more about virtual assistants and how they can benefit your business.

2. Marketing Automation

Automating lead generation and management tasks, such as capturing, scoring, tracking and nurturing leads, frees your marketing team to spend more time actually building out memorable, targeted campaigns instead of handling busywork. For example, you can automate responses to prospects and leads and set up drip nurtures, while automatically tracking all of their interactions to find out what elicits engagement. AI tools can also improve conversion by analyzing and synthesizing information about a prospect’s behavior to deliver relevant, personalized marketing messages at on the right channel at the right time.

3. Sales Automation

AI takes sales automation to new levels. For instance, AI-powered “virtual sales assistants” can increase salespeople’s productivity immensely. They use machine learning capabilities to determine the best steps to take and make recommendations to the salesperson, such as when to contact a customer or the best wording to use to close the sale.

Thanks to natural language processing, salespeople can talk to their virtual assistants conversationally—they can ask to pull up customer records, show daily calendar information, set reminders, organize meetings, and more. Imagine having an assistant on your team who is available around the clock and never needs time off.

Listen to the podcast, Solving the Business Problems Keeping You Up at Night.

4. E-commerce Automation

For an e-commerce website, an AI-powered agent or chatbot can boost customer satisfaction and get people to complete their shopping cart. Chatbots can answer customer questions in real-time, make suggestions, and up-sell or cross-sell customers by learning from their past behavior to predict new needs. Enhanced product recommendations and personalized experiences build customer loyalty and create repeat purchases.

5. Customer Service Automation

Is handling customer service calls, emails, and online chats a big part of your business? Then customer service automation can be a real game changer. Automated customer service chat is not new, but today’s AI tools are even more sophisticated, using natural language processing to respond to voice commands, questions, or searches. Your business can use AI to prioritize customers in the queue and route them to the appropriate department or representative. Simple questions can be handed off to AI, giving live agents more time to handle complex customer service issues.

6. Accounting Automation

Accounting and bookkeeping involve lots of time-consuming, tedious tasks that frequently lead to human error. The more you can automate your accounting and bookkeeping functions, the better. For example, syncing your business bank account with your accounting software saves time and reduces errors, while automating scheduled payments helps to better manage your cash flow.

But, AI can go way beyond this to achieve “continuous accounting,” where transactions flow into your accounting system automatically in real-time. Machine learning identifies patterns, makes forecasts, and automates activities, such as adjusting payroll or routing invoices to the correct person. All of this gives your accounting staff more time to add value instead of doing “grunt work.”

To make automation work for your business:

  • Start small, automating processes that are not mission-critical. Expand automation as you become more comfortable with the concept.
  • Educate employees on how automation will give them more time to focus on the most interesting aspects of their jobs.
  • Set goals for automation and measure KPIs on a regular basis, striving for continual improvement.

For more insights from Rieva, check out her SMB Experts page.

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