I recently had a discussion with an industry expert who was careful to differentiate between “what some people call AI” and “real AI.” There’s no argument that there’s been a lot of AI hype out there, and one of the negative side effects is that it makes it a lot harder when you attempt to sell AI solutions.
Where AI is on the “Hype Cycle”
Gartner has defined a hype cycle that emerging technologies tend to experience. When innovation is triggered, expectations for the new technology are low, but then they become inflated when the buzz starts. Vendors will begin to use the new technology in their marketing to try to capitalize on some of the attention, and then the media will give the technology even more headlines because companies seem to be bringing the technology to market — and eventually, you reach full-blown hype.
Inevitably, however, expectations nose dive into the “trough of disillusionment” when those inflated expectations aren’t met. When vendors bring viable products to market, expectations begin to rise again — at a more reasonable rate — and then plateau as the technology delivers results.
When it comes to AI, Gartner puts GPU accelerators, ensemble learning, and speech recognition on the final slope heading toward the plateau, with virtual reality just a little behind.
However other AI solutions, such as computer vision, predictive analytics, augmented reality, and knowledge management tools are in the trough of disillusionment. Just about everything else AI-related is still in the initial curve, heading for the fall into the trough.
So, if you have an AI solution — a real, working, AI solution with a bona fide value proposition —how to do you sell AI when your target market may be “disillusioned?” Here are four ways to get your message out above the hype.
Inbound marketing is based on the idea of educating your audience, not selling to them. Basically, you post content on the internet that your target market would search for and devise a way, such as using calls to action (CTAs) that collect their contact information in exchange for more in-depth educational content that they download.
If you sell AI, you know you are dealing with skeptics, burned by the initial hype, so they probably aren’t going to download a whitepaper titled “Why AI is Great.” But they will be drawn to a title that reflects that you understand their challenges and you have a solution.
The technology itself can be exciting, but remember when you are trying to capture a prospect’s attention, it may not be the time to try to wow them with your technical expertise — and lose them with terms they don’t’ understand. Start with what your solution can do for them.
If you can cite specific examples of competitors that are responsible for some of the initial hype and, ultimately, some of the letdown, tell how your solution — and your company — is different. Back your claims with facts, again, being careful not to talk over your prospect’s head, but explaining why your solution is worth a second look.
Also be careful not to bash the competition. I came across a source recently that reminded technical sales teams that competition-bashing can backfire: Your prospect may have actually used the competitor’s solution, and your mocking may seem like you are calling them less-than-intelligent for giving it a try. Stick with just saying why your solution is different and better.
Share the story of how (and when and where) your solution has worked for your clients. It’s best to have their permission to use the company’s name in a case study you can share with prospects. Case studies will be most effective if you truly tell a story. Start with the challenges your client faced, the solution you designed, and the problems it solved. Get as specific as you can with results, providing numbers that show improvements in productivity or revenue as well as benefits that are harder to quantify, such as happier customers.
You can talk about your software for hours, but allowing prospects to actually try it and experience what it can do can move them toward a buying decision much more quickly. A demo of your solution can convince prospects that your solution will have value for their businesses. If possible, plan a demo that uses each prospect’s data and workflows so they can see that the solution is a good fit for their operation.
The hype curve may make it somewhat of an uphill battle when you sell AI, but solutions with real value will capture interest. Prospects may have started ignoring the hype, but they won’t ignore efficiency, productivity, and increased sales that add up to more revenue and better margin. Lead with that.