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How AI Innovation Can Boost Productivity and Sales for Your SME

How AI Innovation Can Boost Productivity & Sales for Your Small Business
With unified data strategies and advancing CRM systems, the foundation is being laid to further explore the potential of deploying AI into SME business operations. (Stock Image)

SMEs are thinking big when it comes to AI innovation. Find out how small businesses are getting creative to drive productivity and sales.

Productivity, innovation, and sales propel small businesses to greater heights. When productivity lags, small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) can struggle to maximise their potential. And in a rapidly changing world where competition is fierce and sales reps face increased customer expectations, anything less than ‘exceptional’ isn’t good enough. Indeed, according to a Salesforce report, 65% of customers globally expect companies to remember previous purchases, be aware of seasonal needs, and understand their unique buying preferences. Yet, unfortunately, over 60% say that today’s companies treat them as a number rather than an individual.

But how can SMEs boost productivity to achieve their goals? And how can productivity lead to better service and improved sales? With Artificial Intelligence (AI). 

While AI isn’t a new technology, its growth has gained considerable momentum in the last twelve months. SMEs are starting to recognise the opportunities available from adopting it. In fact, 71% of SME marketing teams globally have a fully defined AI strategy. With unified data strategies and advancing CRM systems, the foundation is being laid to further explore the potential of deploying AI into SME business operations.

Let’s look at how exactly AI innovation increases productivity and helps SMEs improve their sales and provide better customer experiences

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How can SMEs equip sales and service reps with AI tools to foster innovation?

For SMEs, innovation has always been an essential consideration. After all, small businesses have to make the most out of limited resources. And finding creative solutions to problems is where innovation truly begins. Just ask the makers of Play-Doh, which was initially developed as a wallpaper cleaner. Or the Slinky, which was created to stabilise nautical devices. Or even Slack, developed as a simple internal messaging tool for a games company (and acquired by Salesforce in 2021). 

Nowadays, innovation is supercharged by AI, which serves you and your teams as a virtual assistant, a content creator, or even a lightning-fast analyst, dramatically boosting productivity levels. With its widespread availability, we’re living in a time when AI is open to all — any business can enable its sales and service reps to be innovators. In fact, according to a Salesforce report, 53% of SME sales worldwide are expected to be using AI by the end of 2024.

There’s already a plethora of prebuilt apps and cloud-based platforms directed at sales reps and service agents. Selecting the right one depends on your unique business challenges or the specific needs of your customers. But once you’ve got the tools you need, and they’re combined with your existing infrastructure and data, you give yourself and your employees the power to discover creative solutions and ‌unlock new levels of productivity. 

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Get the team together

Innovation starts with collaboration. And now AI can be leveraged by all teams, technical and non-technical, across all industries: AI innovation is everyone’s business. For SMEs, this means it’s time to bring the team together and see what it can achieve with AI. Here are five ways you can create a more innovative workplace with your new technology investments: 

  1. Reimagine legacy IT systems: Cloud-based AI platforms connect teams, provide new insights, and build capabilities for content creation. By modernising your IT to include AI, you help drive creativity, collaboration, and productivity. If your company still relies on outdated IT infrastructure, consider upgrading to Sales Cloud or Service Cloud platforms.
  2. Create a cross-trained workforce: It’s never been easier to upskill the workforce. Rather than dedicating entire days to developing new skills, employees can start using intuitive AI tools right away, enhancing their abilities as they go. With reskilling and education platforms such as Trailhead, you can create a culture of continuous learning to ensure your employees stay ahead of the AI curve.
  3. Generate trusted prompts: Trust is critical to AI innovation. 68% of customers worldwide say advances in AI make it more important for companies to be trustworthy. With Salesforce Prompt Builder, you can leverage AI-infused actions built into the flow of your work. This creates accurate, relevant prompts grounded in your own data, but also protects it with zero data retention for a trusted AI solution. 
  4. Have a ‘hack’ day: If you’re familiar with running a SWOT analysis, you know how productive it can be to bring different small business departments together. By gathering employees from various teams, you can tap their collective brainpower to identify productivity gaps and develop AI-powered solutions. Each department faces unique challenges, so why not have a day dedicated to hacking these issues and brainstorming solutions together? 
  5. Leverage AI chatbots: By integrating AI-powered chatbots directly into your CRM, you can provide personalised, intelligent responses to customer (and employee) challenges. Speed up issue resolution and help your teams do more by utilising AI-generated answers and automating routine tasks. 

AI innovation doesn’t require a massive budget

Unfortunately, many of today’s businesses don’t believe they can meet their innovation goals, even while realising how important innovation is.

McKinsey report reveals that globally:

  • 80% of business leaders believe that their business models are at risk
  • Nearly 85% say that innovation is critical for growth
  • Only 6% are satisfied with their company’s innovation performance

In a time of tight budgets and shifting sales models, these statistics reveal the issue at the heart of many SMEs. We need to innovate to succeed, but we can’t afford for those innovations to fail. 

The rapidly changing landscape means that businesses need to change with the times, lest they fall behind their competitors and customer expectations. But macroeconomic factors — materials inflation, skills shortages, supply chain disruptions — mean they’re exercising plenty of caution, afraid to pay the price for a failed innovation initiative.

The good news for SMEs? Innovation doesn’t have to be costly. Studies have shown that innovation isn’t tied to budget. SMEs are emerging as leaders in AI implementation, shaking up the business landscape. Unlike larger enterprises, SMEs often face fewer bureaucratic hurdles. This agility means they’re quicker to deploy innovative technologies, like AI, so they can address market changes and shifting customer demands faster than their bigger competitors. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to AI innovation. 

SMEs can lean into their agility. They’ve more room for creativity and out-of-the-box thinking. World-changing companies can often begin with a single idea. And the best thing about ideas is that they don’t cost a thing. SMEs shouldn’t fear innovation; they should run towards it.

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Creating a cycle of productivity and innovation

AI innovation shouldn’t be off the agenda for SMEs; it’s here for businesses of all sizes. AI can empower sales reps to get closer to their customers, assist marketers in creating engaging, personalised content, and help customer service teams resolve issues quickly and effectively. Freeing up employees from more mundane tasks means they can focus on higher-value work. They can be more creative and innovative. And as that innovation pays off, productivity will rise again.

Innovate with AI. Drive productivity. Increase sales. Repeat.

The ‘small’ aspect of ‘small business’ doesn’t have to refer to a business’s productivity. For more information on how Salesforce can help your small business with AI innovation, see here.

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