05/04/2017 05:55 EDT | Updated 05/04/2017 05:55 EDT

Key Ways Small Businesses Can Tap Into The Power Of AI

Any small business owner understands the importance of time. There's always too much to do, not enough hours in the day and rarely a free moment to consider ways to make things better. While you can't clone yourself to complete your endless to-do list in one day you can leverage a way to automate your day-to-day tasks.

That's what artificial intelligence (AI) is all about. It's hard to pick up a newspaper these days and not see AI or machine learning-related headlines. As a small business owner you're likely thinking "it's not for me" or "I might want to look at it down the road". After all, this bleeding-edge technology looks like it will take a while to roll out and likely carries a steep learning curve.

Who has the time for that, right? If you plan to grow and compete in the digital economy, you'll need to find the time. AI isn't just touching consumers' lives, it's also helping visionary small businesses to engage with customers in innovative ways - today.

For example, new AI platforms can provide small companies with some customizable models for learning from every interaction to deliver valuable insights and predictions about customer behaviour. These tools will help you understand your customers better, deliver higher levels of service and grow your business.

Here are a few ways small business owners can tap into the power of AI:

Change your mindset to change the game

Small business owners have been known to let technology trends pass them by and then try to play catch up when it's convenient or they have the time - but that can't happen with AI.

AI becomes even more critical when you consider the toll it takes on a business when teams spend hours sifting through data in emails or spreadsheets to accomplish critical tasks, like hunting for top sales leads or determining which marketing assets will best appeal to prospects.

AI can solve this problem by automating these tedious processes. But oddly enough, many small business owners remain on the sidelines. According to a recent Salesforce study, more than a third of small business owners worry about not having enough time in the day but a whopping 61 per cent say they're not ready for AI.

This kind of mindset needs to change. Today, many companies headed by millennials, the first generation to grow up with connected technology, are already considering the benefits of AI for turning mountains of disparate customer data into a goldmine of intelligent leads and actionable insights.

If your company isn't already considering AI to help automate costly, time-consuming processes, it is highly likely you're at risk to be outpaced by a competitor who simply gets it.

Don't reinvent the wheel

One of the many advantages of AI lies in the fact that businesses can leverage it without adding more technical complexity to their operations. That's particularly important considering 83 per cent of the small businesses surveyed don't have IT staffs to help them when technical difficulties arise.

When AI is embedded in a very natural way within an existing core tool, concerns about technical complications decrease. There's no grappling with framing the business problem, determining which data is available to solve it, and coordinating infrastructure to support it. With AI, small businesses can automate basic tasks, enabling them to work smarter, better connect with their customers and future-proof their business.

That's the route Salesforce took in launching Einstein for example, a set of advanced AI capabilities that fully integrate into our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) apps and leverage all the information that's already available in our business' systems. So teams wearing multiple hats can get up-and-running fast and to get more done in less time.

Drive more leads with AI-fueled insights

Nobody likes going to a trade show or other industry events, leaving with 500 leads and finding out they're not qualified. You could waste days or weeks learning that fact the hard way: by calling all of them and being told "no."

Lead scoring solves this by using AI algorithms to analyze CRM sales data and make qualified recommendations about which leads are likely to convert into an opportunity and sale. This allows you to go from sticky notes and spreadsheets to a powerful 360-degree view of customers. For example, you can track activities, key contacts, get social insights from LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter -- all in one place. Small businesses can also use AI to determine recommended next-best actions based on customer sentiment, competitor involvement and overall prospect engagement. It's almost like having a data scientist on your payroll who is working for free.

Capabilities such as these are just the start of how AI will prove to be a huge benefit for smaller companies. This technology is coming on fast, and it will undoubtedly continue to evolve, making it impossible for most Canadian small business owners to ignore it.

With the latest advances in AI-driven technology, there's never been a better time to explore the opportunities at a lower risk. And while you may not be able to clone yourself or your best employees anytime soon, AI could be the next best solution - allowing you and your teams to take your business to the next level.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook