Written by: Kevin Gardner
We live in an era in which technology is redefining how we do business. Our connectivity via the Internet is making human interaction both more and less personal, changing forever the art of marketing and the metrics upon which businesses determine success. Even traditional brick-and-mortar stores are losing massive ground to the juggernaut of online retail and the promise of infinite variety and instant gratification for consumers. For new startups, attempting to break into the market now can seem like a confusing prospect. However, when these new technologies are well understood and well implemented by entrepreneurs, they can genuinely level the playing field for newcomers. Here are just a few ways that cutting-edge technologies can move your business into a new era.
Digital Marketing Tools
Marketing has gone digital in a big way over the past few decades. The most visible forms of this shift are in the realm of online customer interaction, where every business is expected to have a webpage and a social media presence where consumers can directly interface with the company. Text message marketing is expanding as well, to the tune of responses to text messages being over seven times likelier than responses to an email campaign. One fascinating way that digital marketing tools are helping marketers themselves is in the area of lead tracking. Using a mobile sales app, you can organize leads geographically on your smartphone. Leads can be contacted on multiple platforms from the app itself, thus saving time and eliminating awkward lists.
Virtual Conference Rooms
Virtual meeting rooms are online spaces where multiple people collaborate in real-time from remote locations. If you're reading this in 2020, you're likely all too familiar with holding meetings and events online. The utility of this kind of tool goes far beyond its value in an emergency, though. Back in 2017, a Forbes Insight survey discovered that 80% of respondents stated that video conferencing is becoming the norm for internal communications in the workplaces, a figure which climbed to 84% in regards to communication with external parties such as customers. It may seem counterintuitive to assume that people would rather do business meetings virtually, but if you consider the amount of money saved on travel, food and lodging associated with corporate travel, the advantages to a webinar are clear.
Sales Team Management Software
Team management tools are becoming popular for the same reason that digital marketing tools are. They streamline what is otherwise a time-intensive and difficult coordination of a workforce. Sales rep tracking apps can help business owners find out just how efficient their team is. Leaderboards can break down sales performance quantitatively by person. Perhaps the best tools for sales reps themselves come in the form of online territory mapping and the ability to link everyone on the team together via text communication. Add to these high-end tools the simple utility of built-in calendar and alert functions, and the power of digital team management becomes all too apparent.
Artificial Intelligence for Customer Service
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is slowly, quietly changing customer service forever. Chatbots have been around for decades, but only recently has artificial intelligence technology advanced to the point that these programs can be almost as good at solving customers' issues as a live operator on a phone line. In fact, new research is showing that people actually prefer the option of talking to a chatbot before engaging with a human customer service rep. That's because as AI program sophistication increases, its ability to emulate human empathy and engage in problem solving skills also grows. Machine intelligence can learn, allowing it to grow in its efficacy at accomplishing a task. In addition, a chatbot is available on demand with customers not having to wait on hold in order to ask a question. We're not at the point where robots can actually replace humans in business, but they can certainly make life and work a bit easier for us.
In computer terminology, a blockchain is a list of records (termed "blocks") linked together by cryptography. It was described by Harvard Business Review as "an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way." All of this means that blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize the security of commercial transactions, among other possibilities. It offers security at a level that the magnetic strips on credit cards alone simply can't. Some in the IT world predict that in two years it could even replace traditional credit cards or at least bring an effective end to credit card fraud. Lofty dreams for sure, but close enough to reality that you need to be prepared for it to become a reality soon.
Augmented Reality Systems
Augmented Reality is an interactive digital experience in which a real-world environment is enhanced by computer-generated perceptual data. In other words, an augmented reality program can overlay information onto a display of real life. This can often be accomplished via a hands-off headset device such as a head-up display (HUD). Imagine a world where you could put on a pair of glasses, walk down the street and see the current menu of a restaurant just by looking at it. Picture yourself walking past a shop and seeing an advertisement pop up for a newly-arrived product right in front of your eyes. The future of marketing is just around the corner.
Also known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing is one non-digital technology that promises to change society and business in the near future. 3D printers use simple feedstock, such as plastic or resin, to fabricate an object layer by layer on demand. As materials science advances, the technology will become capable of printing complex machinery from its component molecules while the customer waits. The effects on business supply chains will be drastic. No longer will inventory have to be shipped across the country in bulk with wasted product a likelihood when sales slump. A desired item can simply be printed in a discrete quantity from an online blueprint. It's hard to believe that this isn't science fiction, but this technology is already well past the experimental phase and is beginning to become a very lucrative industry.
Nobody can truly predict what the future of business will be. New technologies and their knock-on effects are advancing at a pace that previous generations could scarcely imagine; that being said, it behooves everyone in the business world to learn how to leverage these new technologies as they become available. New tools lead to new strategies, and new strategies lead to a true abundance of options for the savvy business owner!