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How Can Generative AI Help Distributors?

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. Given this lack of technical and industry-specific clarity, it’s no wonder that some distribution leaders today might wonder how this game-changing technology will impact their businesses. 

At Gerent, 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, and as the technology continues to evolve, we believe it may even gain the capability to solve scenarios that, before, had no easy answer. 

As we go, I’ll break down how Salesforce’s AI-powered tools unlock 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 the evolving capabilities of predictive AI by explaining how it could be applied in the future. 

Today: Generative AI creates summaries for clear, actionable intel

In many of the use cases we will break down, Salesforce leverages Generative AI (or Gen AI) to amplify the already powerful capabilities of the platform. Gen AI is artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to analyze large amounts of data, understand the intricacies of language, and produce high-quality content in response to user prompts.

But the real strength of Gen AI for distribution isn’t necessarily content creation – it is summarization. Gen AI combs through your organization’s data pool to learn, associating words with meaning and gaining an understanding of how they interact with each other. The more connected it is to your organization, the smarter it gets – and the greater the benefits for distribution staff, leadership, and stakeholders.

At near-instant speed, 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 the workflow, 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 Dreamforce and Gen AI, check out our blog “Generative AI: What Do You Need to Know?”)

Now, let’s break down a few practical scenarios where distributors can reasonably start using Gen AI within Salesforce to advance their daily operations.

Accelerate from insight to action with email summaries

Using Salesforce Inbox and Einstein, users can log emails to a record (opportunity, account, contact, etc), then click the “generate summary” button on the record to give a summary and “story” of what has happened so far. This saves the user valuable time combing through each activity entry, allowing them to proceed more quickly from insight to action.  

Summarizing sales calls and highlighting next steps

When a 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 accessible through your organization’s centralized system.

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 (ordinary or everyday speech), they can ask a built-in chatbot questions about the data on hand, ranging from pinpointing specific information to making inferences and drawing conclusions. The chatbot can then compare similar data with a different variable (i.e., deals managed by different sales reps). This speeds up the ability of an individual contributor or sales manager to draw meaningful, actionable conclusions from data.

Providing real-time sales support

As CSRs take customer calls, 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 and identify key next steps. Gen AI then automatically connects those next steps to content (knowledge articles for business processes, product documentation files, etc) that staff can share with the consumer.

Now, it’s worth noting that these are only a few of the practical use cases for AI-powered tools in distribution. Once equipped with Einstein, Manufacturing Cloud, and Sales Cloud, distributors can apply Gen AI to a wide variety of potential use cases – and it’s likely we’ll only discover more as organizations get more familiar with the technology.

Tomorrow: Predictive AI and emergent use cases

This is where we begin to dive into speculation. 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. 

Predictive AI is artificial intelligence that uses machine learning to analyze vast amounts of data, then leverages insights to identify patterns, anticipate customer behaviors, and predict future outcomes. 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. Seeing the proverbial winds change, organizations are already jumping on AI, with 75% of leaders incorporating AI into their long-term strategies.

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 its 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 the analytical prowess of artificial intelligence within Salesforce. Please note that all of the below are predictions of future-facing capabilities, not currently available features.

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 and warehouse 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. Not only will they be able to utilize the full capabilities of Gen AI now, but they’ll also gain a headstart on leveraging the evolving potential of Predictive AI. 

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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