Are SMBs Up To AI? Only A Quarter Are Using It, But More Want To Try

It might seem obvious that small businesses are adopting slowly to AI. But they want to try it, judging by An AI Awakening, a study from Constant Contact, conducted by Ascend2.  

Of those polled, 26% are currently using AI and 44% are not deploying it but would like to start.  

Only 14% of those surveyed have no interest in starting. And 16% are unsure. Small businesses share these worries about AI: 

  • I’m concerned about the security of my data — 44% 
  • The technology is too expensive to implement — 41% 
  • It would take too much time to learn/implement — 32% 
  • There are no AI/automation tools built for small businesses — 27%
  • I don’t feel they would help my business — 26% 
  • I don’t think it’s ethical to use AI/automation — 12% 

Meanwhile, many of those using AI are now applying it and/or machine learning to email marketing, although more are using it for social media:

  • Social Media — 52%
  • Content Creation (writing or images) — 44% 
  • Email campaigns — 41% 
  • Ad targeting — 35% 
  • Analytics — 34%
  • Website forms — 34% 
  • CRM — 30%
  • SMS/text campaigns — 25% 

But they feel they need improvement in several areas, one being email. Of the B2C companies polled, 30% say they seek improvement in email, versus 32% of the B2B respondents. 

However, 59% of the B2C firms want to improve their social media marketing, as do 48% of those in B2B.  

In addition, 41% of the B2C players and 40% of the B2B seek improvement in their website experience,  

Third in this list is customer relationship management—31% of the B2C SMBs want to do better, along with 37% of those in B2B.  

But they face greater challenges, and the smaller firms are most overwhelmed. 

Of those with 1-9 employees, 70% say their biggest hurdle is attracting new customers. They are joined by 57% of outfits with 10-49 employees, and 50% of those with 50 or more.

In addition, 42% of the SMBs with 1-9 staffers cite marketing to their target audience as an obstacle to overcome, as do 41% of those with 10-49 employees and 34% of firms with 34%. 

Strangely, 37% of the largest SMBs list converting leads to sales, compared to 33% of the smallest and 36% of those in the middle.  

But smaller companies are most likely to lack access to funds/capital — 28% of those with 1-9 employees do, versus 17% of bigger companies with 50 or more workers.  

And, in general, SMBs say these areas typically require the most time and attention: 

  • Attracting new customers — 31% 
  • Hiring and retaining staff — 17% 
  • Converting leads to sales — 14%
  • Marketing to target audience — 11% 
  • Access to funds/capital — 8%
  • Complicated and/or ineffective digital marketing — 7%
  • Lack of expertise in digital marketing — 6%
  • Improving the customer experience — 6% 

Here’s the good news-- most firms have saved time and worked more efficiently with AI, including 79% of those using it for less than six months, 55% of those employing it for six months to a year and 46% of firms with more than one year of use.

However, those using it for more than a year were more likely to have grown their business (43%), compared to 33% of companies with 6 months to a year and 21% of respondents with less than six months of use.

Firms with greater time invested in AI also have gotten to know their customers better. And they have made fewer errors across the board. 

Larger SMBs have been able to grow their business faster and compete with bigger companies as a result of using AI, while smaller companies are saving time and working more efficiently.

Ascend2 surveyed 486 small business owners and decision makers. Of these, 24% were in B2B, 45% in B2C and 31 were an equal combination of both.

The respondents included firms with 1-9 employees (42%), 10-49 employees (29%), 40-99 employees (15%) and 100-250 employees (14%). 




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