By Chris Harrington

In today’s competitive market, SMBs need to operate with an “enterprise mindset.” Even more than large corporations, SMBs depend on fast, predictable growth to achieve high valuations, adequate funding, market attention, customer confidence and talent acquisition. But, too often, leaders responsible for SMB growth think they aren’t ready to adopt Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning, or that AI isn’t a fit for their business model. These sceptics object they don’t have the data required for analysis, or that machine learning is too complex, costly and provides too little value to the business.

The truth is, AI is an equal-opportunity engine of growth with the power to spawn a new generation of industry giants. AI isn’t simply about improving efficiency; it’s about top line growth with the answers to overcome the biggest challenges faced by SMB leaders today. Fact: SMBs will benefit from AI the most, adding productivity to lean teams, smoothness to overall workflows and an edge to outsmart the every-pressing competition. While there are literally hundreds of ways to put machine learning to work for SMBs, these are the seven critical growth challenges that can be solved by AI, making it easier to scale and run an emerging business.

  1. The need for speed. From customer adoption to fundraising to brand recognition—SMB success is all about speed. Businesses need to get to predictable revenue faster. They must understand customer needs, reduce risk in their business model and address problematic accounts faster to retain fickle customers.
  2. Outsmarting the market. SMBs must master every avenue of growth, from competing for new customers, to keeping and expanding existing customers. Machine learning provides strong competitive advantages and growth opportunities. For example, marketing teams with insight from AI can target campaigns more efficiently ensuring they’re reaching their customers with the right information and offers, at the right time. AI can also help sales reps make better informed decisions about the best opportunities, pinpointing and prioritizing information from across CRMs and customer databases so they understand the steps they need to take to engage more customers and have successful meetings—building strong, long-lasting relationships in the process.
  3. Extend lean resources. SMBs fight the enduring battle of small budgets spread thin over too many priorities and lean teams juggling too many priorities. AI is about helping people work smarter by surfacing customer insights, predicting outcomes, informing better business decisions, connecting with more customers and deepening 1-to-1 relationships. When headcount and budgets are tight, automating monotonous tasks that free people to focus on complex relationship building with customers, is critical for SMBs.
  4. Access to customer and prospect data. For years AI was a buzzword, full of promise but short on value. Just like every engine, AI requires fuel to deliver results. For AI and machine learning that fuel is data, but small businesses often lack the data required to leverage AI. Now, with access to global crowdsourced and third-party data sources, SMBs can scale their customer database overnight, tapping into billions of buyer behavioral data points to create a ready-made source of information on a universe of customers, such as their buying patterns, purchase history and preferences. Using insights into buyer behavior with competitive or complementary products, SMBs can also identify customers more efficiently based on their data to predict future action.
  5. Low brand recognition. The best brands are built on a combination of value delivered, brand awareness and exceptional customer experiences. By using AI to target brand building to just the right audience and ensure they have a presence wherever they go, SMBs can increase their outreach and expand their customer base.
  6. Augmenting employee’s knowledge. If a business can’t attract the most elite people, especially in core growth functions like sales and marketing, it can always put AI to work to give its talent an edge. Companies can give their employees the insight needed to outsmart the best by using AI to empower their prospect- and customer-facing teams, creating a better, more informed buying experience and closing more deals.
  7. Inspire and expand your best customers. Retention is key and insights from AI can allow SMBs to make the most of their best prospects by encouraging feature adoption and predicting with accuracy whether customers are about to bolt. The lifeblood of any business is its customer support and AI-powered support can send appropriate comments, sense mood and engage customers directly in conversations with instant response-time. This is essential in retaining unhappy customers who are on the verge of abandoning a brand.

Leveling the playing field

The window of opportunity is closing to leverage AI to stay one step ahead of customer needs, find lucrative prospects and multiply the productivity of a company’s best sales reps. While the competition is distracted with manual CRM updates, cold-calling uninterested prospects, and the hunt for new leads, your business could be using AI and collective buyer intelligence to its advantage. Early adopters of AI have already seen the benefits and SMBs can’t afford to wait any longer.

Chris Harrington is the Chief Operating Officer at, the only AI Sales Platform powered by Collective Intelligence. Most recently, he served as President of the $2 billion business intelligence leader, Domo. Chris served as a member of the board of directors for Spredfast prior to its merger with Lithium. Twitter: @CCH360

SMBs growth stock photo by Billion Photos/Shutterstock