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Distribution AI: Generative AI Use Cases Today and Tomorrow

Everyone’s talking about AI, but what exactly can distributors use it for? Our SVP of Distribution breaks it down.

There’s a lot of buzz around AI. Yet, all that excitement and speculation do little to illustrate the technology’s practical value for distributors. Conversations often center around use cases that, at least on their face, don’t have anything to do with the sector. 

As a Salesforce implementation partner, our role is to break down the buzz and help our customers better understand the actual practical value of this emergent technology for your business. AI currently has the capacity to facilitate distributors’ day-to-day operations. As the technology continues to evolve, we believe it may even gain the capability to solve operational pain points that, before, had no easy answer. 

As we go, I’ll explore how Salesforce AI unlocks value for distributors today, exploring various use cases and how generative AI provides support to key pain points. Then, we’ll dive into speculation, unpacking predictive AI's evolving capabilities and explaining how it could be applied in the future. 

Today: Generative AI Creates Summaries For Clear, Actionable Intel

Image description: A brief breakdown of how Gen AI works. Check out this infographic for more!

Generative AI (Gen AI): artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to analyze large amounts of data, understand relationships between words, and produce high-quality content in response to user prompts.

You’ve probably heard of siloed Gen AI tools like Chat GPT and most likely associate them with content creation. Large language models' capacity to produce content on demand almost instantaneously is equally exciting and useful.

But the real strength of Gen AI for distribution isn’t content creation — it’s summarization. 

Gen AI can cut through vast amounts of data to provide users with high-value information at the moment they need it. When integrated throughout employee workflows, Gen AI has the potential to provide clarity and support with summaries, product recommendations, and high-level insights. This is why Salesforce has made such an effort to incorporate Gen AI throughout its entire suite of products.

(For more information on Gen AI, check out our blog “Generative AI: What Do You Need to Know?”)

Now, let’s break down a few practical scenarios in which distributors can use Gen AI within Salesforce to advance their daily operations.

Convert Insights Into Action With Email Summaries

Using Salesforce Inbox and Salesforce Einstein, users can log emails to a record (Opportunity, Account, Contact, etc.), then click the “generate summary” button on the record to output a summary and “story” of a specific interaction or series of interactions. This saves the user valuable time combing through each activity entry, allowing them to proceed more quickly from insight to informed action

Summarizing Sales Calls And Defining Next Steps

When a distribution sales rep takes a call, they can record the conversation using their laptop or smartphone and actively transcribe it with an AI-assisted tool. Gen AI can then leverage that transcription to create a meeting summary within Sales Cloud, highlighting important points and potential next steps. 

After doing so, the system can automatically log the summary within Manufacturing Cloud as an activity entry onto a record, making it instantly accessible to relevant stakeholders.

Deriving Meaningful Conclusions From High-Level Analytics

When Sales Managers view reports within Tableau, they gain the ability to leverage an AI chatbot window to the side of the data. Using natural language (i.e., ordinary or everyday speech), employees can ask a built-in chatbot questions about the data on hand, ranging from surfacing specific information to making inferences and drawing conclusions. 

The chatbot can then compare similar data with a different variable (for example, deals managed by different sales reps). This speeds up a sales manager's ability to draw meaningful, actionable conclusions from data.

Providing Real-Time Sales Support

As a CSR takes a customer call, Gen AI and Sales Cloud can pull past sales information for the customer, product specifications, and documentation to help support sales reps throughout the discussion. After the phone call, AI can then generate a brief summary, identify key next steps, and even surface relevant resources (knowledge articles for business processes, product documentation files, etc.) that staff can share with the consumer.

Tomorrow: Predictive AI And Emergent Use Cases

Predictive AI: Artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to analyze vast amounts of data to identify patterns, anticipate customer behaviors, and predict future outcomes.

At Gerent, we know that AI can support several aspects of operations today — but we also believe in taking a future-forward approach to innovation, forecasting how AI’s role might change and evolve as systems become more sophisticated. We believe that while many of the capabilities distributors can leverage today are powered by Gen AI, the future of AI for distribution will hinge heavily on predictive AI. 

Many of the generative capabilities we’ve listed above also leverage some of AI’s predictive power: proactively recommending resources to sales reps, for example, or highlighting key points in a transcript. Those features rely on AI’s ability to analyze data and identify patterns to determine, without manual input, which information will most clearly suit user needs.

Predictive AI's power (and potential use cases) will only grow over time, especially as global investment continues to increase. Looking toward the future, here are some ways we see distributors able to capitalize on artificial intelligence's analytical prowess within Salesforce. 

Please note that all of the below are predictions of future-facing capabilities, not currently available features.

Image description: A visual breakdown of predictive AI’s potential for distribution. For more, check out our infographic!

On-Demand Virtual Expertise

We believe that, given time, AI will act as a “virtual expert” for both consumers and employees. You will be able to use an AI-assisted chatbot to surface product information, business processes, and project specifications, all with an automatically generated, easy-to-parse summary. 

Inventory Optimization

AI could also combine historical data, seasonality, and pipeline product data to make predictions on the required inventory levels and purchase order windows based on lead times. With AI assistance, you’ll reliably be able to fulfill inventory at the right time while also cutting down on unnecessary “white space.” Additionally, you could use AI to optimize your warehouse layout for space, product velocity, and related products.

Dynamic Pricing

By relating quote and opportunity product pricing data points to closed won/lost projects and affiliating those points with specific accounts (or related third parties), AI can help you optimize your price points and strategy.

Supplier Performance Management

Using collected information on pricing, lead times, on-time fulfillment, order accuracy, invoice accuracy, and more, AI can assign suppliers a “quality” rating and predict optimal or sub-optimal times to use a particular supplier.

Embrace AI To Unlock Superhuman Service

As time passes, AI will become less of a cutting-edge, innovative option for organizations to get ahead and more of a competitive necessity. I believe that the leaders and organizations that get in on the ground floor now, using AI-powered Salesforce tools to their full potential ahead of the competition, will gain a serious advantage.

I hope this brief primer gave you some insight into how AI can unlock great opportunities for you and your organization. If you’re interested in learning more, don’t hesitate to reach out; our goal is to help you supercharge your sales teams’ ability to exceed customer expectations and provide the white-glove service you’re known for. 

And if you can do that better than before with AI — well, why not?

Interested in learning how AI can support your organization’s pain points? Check out our distribution microsite, or give us a call!

About the Author

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Nicholas Holbik-Siu

Director of Distribution, Gerent

Nick brings a wide range of distribution experience to his current role at Gerent, including 13 years at a large plumbing and HVAC company. There, he did everything from driving a truck to working in a warehouse to managing distribution and overseeing new technology. While in that role, he saw firsthand what Salesforce could offer the business in terms of automation opportunities — and how it empowered employees to cut through the clutter and focus on what matters.

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