Beyond Buzzwords: Making AI Matter to Your B2B Buyers

Do you talk about the AI aspects of your solution in a way that customers care about or understand? If not, talking about AI will not help you garner attention.

It seems that every B2B solution provider references AI or machine learning in their marketing, website, or other communication. The pressure to make a claim about how your solution uses AI is understandable. ChatGPT, Copilot, and Gemini are in the news every day. So are stories about how AI is transforming business because of its potential to automate tasks, find insights in data, and generate ideas, to name a few use cases. But what does all this AI potential mean for your buyers? Do they know?

Simply inserting AI into your value proposition, messaging, and sales materials because it is a hot topic violates the basic tenant of effective communication: Focus on the customer’s needs and wants. Buyers of B2B solutions don’t want AI per se. They want a business problem solved. The classic marketing proverb is, “Consumers do not want the drill; they want the hole.” You need to tell your customers and prospects what the AI aspects of your solution do for them and why it is better than their other options or what you provided before. Don’t leave it to your buyers to figure it out on their own.

Here is a contemporary example from a recent podcast sponsored by a large, established recruiting firm. The firm’s ad said:

“Our AI-powered matching technology matches the best candidates to your positions.”

If we could go back two years ago, their ad would have likely said:

“Our advanced matching technology matches the best candidates to your positions.”

If we went even further back, their ad would probably have said:

“Our expertise and experience enable us to match the best candidates to your position.”

The current ad doesn’t tell the potential buyer anything about the benefits of AI compared to their previous solution and the technology competitors presumably still use. Why is AI better than advanced matching technology? It leaves it to the potential buyer to make assumptions about how much improvement will be made in speed, precision, accuracy, acceptance rates, etc. It assumes that the buyer will either intuitively understand the scope of magnitude improvements that AI will bring to the recruiting process or simply be so wowed by the inclusion of the term AI that they will want to investigate the solution.

There is a historical parallel to how software providers positioned their value proposition when companies were shifting from on-premise, server-based solutions to SaaS and cloud-based solutions. Many functional solution providers put the nuts and bolts of how their solution was delivered at the center of their GTM value proposition: We are a SaaS company! Buyers were left to figure out why they should care. Some SaaS use cases were easy to identify, such as enabling a remote sales force to log into the CRM and reducing the need for IT resources in the server room. But for buyers of functional platforms and solutions in the marketing, finance, or operations department, whose staff came to the office or plant every day, the benefit of SaaS was murky at best. Functional buyers described SaaS and Clous as buzzwords. They cared about the solution’s features and functionality and how it addressed their jobs to be done, not how it was delivered.

Blockchain provides another example. A few years ago, coverage of blockchain was almost ubiquitous. It was splashed across the covers of business school journals and in the lead sections of the business section in national newspapers. Blockchain was better. More secure. It was going to change the way businesses operate. But there was never a coherent narrative about how blockchain would give a company a competitive edge, improve efficiencies, or improve operations. As such, the usefulness of blockchain’s marketing value faded rapidly.  

Our research with B2B buyers across a range of solutions makes one thing clear—you cannot assume that your buyers will understand the value of having AI incorporated into your solution. You have to connect the dots for them. e.g., because we have AI incorporated into our tool, it does [insert process or job] and is [insert the functional benefit such as faster, better, more accurately], which means that your team can [insert impact on goals and jobs-to-be-done].

If you cannot identify how incorporating AI into your product benefits your customer, it could indicate one of two things. Perhaps all of the benefits of incorporating AI into your solution accrue to your company instead of on the customer’s side. It makes you more efficient, more profitable, more competitive. This would raise questions about the value of including any references to AI in your messaging. Alternatively, it may highlight a lack of understanding of the customer’s objectives and job-to-be-done. If this is the case, it may indicate that customer interviews are needed to gain a more thorough understanding of why they use your solution.

Even among firms that do the best job of talking about AI in their messaging and connecting it to customer value, AI as a theme likely has a short shelf life. Not too far in the future, talking about your AI capabilities will sound like a software firm touting that it delivers its solution via the cloud.