We were recently given a sneak peek at the future of B2B commerce when Salesforce partnered with Coca-Cola to transform its inventory management operations. Using AI technology powered by Einstein, Coca-Cola unveiled a cooler equipped with image recognition technology that automatically monitors items in stock and replenishes them when necessary. It’s an excellent example of a practical application of AI in the B2B space. Starting with inventory management, smart brands can use technology like Einstein to completely revamp the customer experience.
Software, CPG and manufacturing companies alike are on a never-ending journey to stay a step ahead of evolving market trends and customer demands. To maintain market share, companies should look at the innovations that are shaping the future of commerce and ensure their current platform is flexible and adaptable enough to empower them to embrace change. Here’s a look at how AI will continue to shape the B2B commerce industry.
AI will transform business operations
Technologies like AI and machine learning are streamlining business processes and changing how companies operate. Spending on AI and cognitive systems is expected to reach $46 billion in 2020, up more than 700% from 2016, according to a new analysis report by International Data Corp.
While these technologies are still in the early adoption phase, they have the power to inform several components of the commerce experience. AI arms businesses with endless amounts of data -- combining customer insights with contextual data such as inventory, weather forecasts, regional patterns, sporting events, crop reports and more. Over time, AI optimizes algorithms so they can trigger actions based on these insights (i.e. optimizing order mix based on extreme weather conditions such as high heat, cold or hurricanes).
For businesses, this data can inform in areas such as product pricing, when to stock inventory, and what to promote and recommend to customers. For B2B buyers, AI makes it easier to manage inventories and can even automate the reordering process to guarantee stock levels don’t fall below a specific point.
Conversational commerce enhances customer engagement
Beyond the operational changes, machine learning also will transform how businesses and buyers interact. Using the power of machine learning algorithms, businesses can develop a more interactive and hyper-personalized shopping experience.
We are starting to see this with the rise of “intelligent buying assistants.” Instead of a static commerce experience, the digital buying process is increasingly conversational. Customers can directly communicate with SMS bots, Amazon Alexa, Google Home etc. to help navigate and inform their purchasing journeys. Since these bots are powered by AI they can push an update onto a mobile device or suggest an order based on the most up-to-date and relevant information. The combination of AI and conversational commerce not only streamlines the entire purchasing process for buyers, but makes it easier for businesses to predict buyers’ future demands and needs. This helps companies establish a more agile, pertinent customer relationship, increasing customer loyalty and engagement long term.
The maturation of AI for B2B commerce
When looking to the future of commerce, it can be overwhelming to think about how to stay on top of the latest technologies, industry dynamics and customer expectations, especially since the B2B commerce industry is on a rapid growth trajectory.
While much of this AI technology is still in its infancy, movers and shakers in the industry are making strides with innovations that enable more informed, streamlined B2B commerce experiences. There are several recent examples of companies trying to move the needle through AI and machine learning. Salesforce recently released new applications for third-party developers to more easily leverage its Einstein capabilities. And Google Glass just released the second iteration of its smart lenses for enhanced safety and efficiency on the factory floor. As AI technology continues to mature, B2B companies that can leverage it to enhance efficiency will come out on top.
But rather than getting bogged down by the latest and greatest innovations, companies need to focus on developing a strong digital commerce foundation that can easily integrate new technologies as they arise. The key is agility. Position your company to embrace whatever changes may come in the fields of AI, conversational commerce and beyond with a flexible IT setup. With this agile approach to commerce, forward-thinking companies can push the envelope while mitigating risk, allowing its leaders to be prepared for changes that define commerce in the years to come.
Ray Grady is President and Chief Customer Officer at CloudCraze where he spearheads business development, customer success, professional services and continued global expansion in the US and EMEA. Prior to CloudCraze, Ray was senior vice president and general manager of Acquia, one of the fastest-growing SaaS providers in the world. Before Acquia, he co-founded Acquity Group, which went public in 2012 and became the second-largest independent digital agency before being acquired by Accenture Interactive in 2013 for $316M. With 15 years’ executive experience in B2B commerce, Ray builds high growth teams, scales businesses and helps clients achieve digital success. He began his career at Bottomline Technologies, followed by Whittman-Hart. Ray earned his B.A. in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire.