AI is everywhere, but as I’ve written before, it won’t replace jobs in business development. Instead, it’ll simply augment existing human capabilities, allowing us to do more with less, closing more leads, finding more relevant projects, and building more win-win situations for everyone. Perhaps we can even achieve that three-hour workday so famously imagined by economist John Maynard Keynes–but has proven elusive so far.
Whether or not we drastically shorten our workweeks, however, one thing is clear. The effective, strategic use of AI promises that overstressed, harried BD professionals will be able to free themselves from the rote tasks of the job, and instead concentrate on doing what AI cannot: building relationships.
In particular, AI excels at crunching reams of data and delivering custom analyses and reports. For this reason, AI will be particularly valuable in an area like market research. While this may seem obvious, humans must rest and take breaks to carry out vital functions like eating and restoring concentration. Machines have no such limitations: not only can they always maintain a razor-sharp focus, but they can also scan and analyze documents far more quickly than humans.
In many ways, AI is a natural fit, as much of market research is very repetitive work. Fred Barber, a managing director of AI firm response:now, estimates that writing reports comprises some 75-80 percent of market research. With the help of AI, Barber believes that a company that provide research at one-third of the cost and three times as fast as a team composed solely of human analysts.
The data seems to bear Barber out. While it is the case that in most cases, humans can learn more quickly than AI (there are some exceptions, like Google’s AlphaGo Zero) for now, AI is peerless when it comes to crunching numbers. Be it heart scans or dense law contracts, this sort of analysis really comes down to brute force: throwing more processing power at the problem will speed things up. Even if you increase the number of humans on your team, there’s simply no way to go through all that data. Some experts estimate that every two days, humanity collectively creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization until 2003.
Consider a hypothetical BD professional who specializes in finding telecom technology companies that will benefit from the wave of 5G communications network upgrades soon to take place. While this field may seem narrow, in reality, it is anything but: this person’s field of responsibility could include anything from companies that produce the latest composite materials (fiber-optic cables or even graphene wires) to services companies, to software companies that help make it all happen.
As a result, this person likely would have little time to stay abreast of the exciting new companies and developments in this field. Sure, they could set a Google Alert–if they want their mailbox to be inundated with tangentially relevant information and leads. Alternatively, they could turn to AI. Using pre-programmed parameters, a sophisticated algorithm could browse hundreds of databases, countless news articles, and seek out the most profitable leads.
Equally important, the creation of such features like Natural Language Processing and Natural Language Generation promise to upend our society’s perceptions of what machines can (and cannot) do. Rather than spending hours over Powerpoint presentations, BD specialists can even task AIs to analyze the tone of materials on a company’s website and external-facing materials (brochures, shareholder letters, articles, and the like), and to generate information in a similar tone, customizing their work to the client in question.
But the potential of natural language abilities doesn’t stop there. One tactic that BD pros (as well as salespeople and recruiters) might use is an email blast. Of course, the downside with this approach is the lack of personalization: no one likes being solicited in a group message, and for that reason, these emails tend to have low response rates.
Using AI with natural language capabilities, however, can widen the sales funnel and reduce attrition rates. Not only can such algorithms pass the Turing test, tricking would-be clients into thinking that they’re written painstakingly and with care by a human, but they can tailor such communications to the party in question. In fact, natural language processing and generation has grown to such a degree that computers can identify emotions with a high degree of precision. From there, it’s only a short step towards evoking such emotions in your potential clients–a critical skill that any BD pro understands.
In fact, I’m going to invest in my first AI BD software tomorrow (CyberMonday 2018). It’s called x.ai – and their tagline “scheduling sucks” pretty much sums up what most BD professionals agree is one of the more painful aspects of the BD role. Up to this point I have been a very happy user Calendly which everyone should also check out if you’re looking to dip your toe into the BD tech water. I have been a Calendly user for years, and that software has saved me an incredible amount of time and hassle. I will report back on my experience with x.ai.
The AI revolution has left no stone unturned and no field untouched. Business development, especially in the areas of market research and client outreach, is no exception. No, an AI cannot replace you, nor can it build relationships and create a winning strategy as effectively as you can. But an algorithm can take the devil out of the details, crunching numbers, writing reports and pitch decks, and even establishing initial contact with a lead.
Thankfully, for most everything else, business development requires humans.