Looking forward ten years, while tough to predict with absolute accuracy, one thing is true: B2B sales reps want selling to be easier, faster, and less manual. On the flip side, customers want the simplicity, speed, and ease of doing business that they have grown accustomed to in the consumer world.
For those reasons, I predict that for B2B companies such as manufacturers, distributors, and services companies, in ten years AI will dramatically change how business is conducted with less process friction, more data literacy and greater business resiliency.
Today, there is a tremendous amount of process friction. That friction happens in the back office, as pricing teams, product managers, sales operations, marketing managers and more spend countless hours generating reports pointing sales reps to the opportunities they should pursue as well as the right price across channels. Sales reps must then toil away, analyzing reports, entering lines of RFPs into systems, typing loads of information into CRM systems. Customers feel this friction as well when pricing exception requests and negotiations take days, if not weeks, to turn around. On eCommerce, customers don’t commonly see prices, products and promotions that reflect their unique relationships with the company and must resort to back to traditional channels.
Less Process Friction
In ten years, this status quo will be completely transformed, with companies automating these rote activities, resulting in significantly less process friction. We will see companies using AI, machine learning, and advanced API capabilities to automate negotiations between customers and digital channels. Sales reps will utilize chat to interact with various systems like mobile apps and CRM; they’ll be able to engage with these systems in a casual conversation to both input information and retrieve it. For example, calling up the specific products they should sell and at which price, from customer to customer. Imagine a sales rep simply speaking into their smart phone, “I am about to walk into XYZ customer, tell me the latest information on this account.” In ten years, AI will be advanced enough to respond, for example, with the top three things to know about the account and suggest additional items this specific customer is likely to buy.
From an eCommerce perspective, it is clear today that in ten years, most business will be conducted through digital interactions. Not only because of the disruption from players like Amazon or other born-in-the-cloud players, but also as both employees and customers shift to be comprised of the Millennial and Gen Z generations. This shift will be an additional tipping point for B2B companies, traditionally late technology adopters, to embrace AI and accelerate the urgency for digital transformation. As they increasingly reimagine the traditional processes, systems, and means to generate intelligence, these companies will be able to better compete with some of the new players on the scene who’ve been eating their proverbial lunches in the past decade.
More Data Literacy
As the practical, pragmatic adoption of AI in business grows, ten years from now, roles that are not AI- or data science-specific will have a significant increase in data literacy. We’ll see call center reps calling upon the output from AI models to retrieve product and pricing guidance, marketing and product managers interacting with AI guidance in sophisticated management applications to create promotions and quickly disseminate them to sales reps and eCommerce. We will see executives utilizing AI to predict the outcomes of their strategy to adjust for the most optimal outcomes before deploying. These roles, while traditionally non-scientific, will be interacting with data to get answers to their questions quicker than ever before. Today, there’s a vast world of data, but in ten years, we’ll see an evolution in data literacy and how people access that data, interact with it, and retrieve answers that help them do their jobs more efficiently and profitably than ever before.
Finally, in ten years, reduced process friction to smooth the selling process, a greater embrace of AI techniques like price optimization, and a seamless process for customers to buy the products they want, will result in an overall win for the B2B market. The sum of this AI evolution is that it will be an overall win for the marketplace, with manufacturers, distributors, and services companies more resilient to the disruption from outside forces.