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Five steps to bringing new AI technology to market

For many, AI is the new boogeyman.

Five steps to bringing new AI technology to market
[Gorodenkoff / Adobe Stock]

New technology—especially artificial intelligence—can manifest fear in customers’ minds and get in the way of successfully selling. AI’s wonders have been oversold in the past and some are resistant to try it again. Even an experienced salesperson following best practices can be stumped by these obstacles. I learned through my own mistakes that a few extra steps are key to overcoming the challenges in selling new technology.

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When I founded StoryFit, I knew the data insights from our AI platform would help leaders in entertainment and publishing adapt and fine-tune their stories to attract the best and widest audiences. Although we are a science-based company, our data insights stem from human responses and aid our customers in making creative decisions—an area often reserved for humans.

After talking to other AI founders, I’ve heard similar struggles of overcoming the adoption hurdle with clients. From healthcare to automotive, customers who were asked to adopt AI into their human processes were resistant and distrustful. After years of mentoring other companies, I’ve identified the extra steps involved and the psychological motivations behind bringing new partners to new technology.

EDUCATE

For many, AI is the new boogeyman. We all know how much emotion plays a part in sales. Unfortunately, fear is often a starting place for customers worried that the technology product could replace their jobs and uncomfortable buying something they don’t understand. For us, this challenge was even more dramatic as our clients in the media industry actually created some of these fictional robot villains toppling our way of life.

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The truth is just as futuristic but less scary. AI products coming to market now are tools to improve our lives—either relieving us of the minutiae of our work or delivering improvements beyond human capabilities.

BUILD TRUST

Building trust seems like Sales 101, but there’s an additional component to proving that you’re a trustworthy partner and company. Many customers want to understand the AI product before they buy. I can give simplified explanations of how it works, but those who truly want to understand are really at an impasse. In our case, a specialized team of Ph.D.s built these models, and their explanations are often too complex for someone outside their field.

Rather than giving a post-graduate course on an algorithm to your clients, it’s more important for them to understand how your product fits into and augments their current decision-making processes. Then you’ll be able to build trust by showing how the AI product delivers data that improves upon what they already use or insights they already know. This will help prove the reliability of the product and its usefulness in their existing approach.

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The next step is showcasing not only where this product provides value to their existing process, but also where it works even better.

In this phase, it pays to slow down. Ensure each component of the trust-building process worked its magic.

UNDERSTAND THE ORIGINS OF FEAR

Let’s assume through this previous process that we’ve tackled new technology fears and concerns about being replaced. Imagine the client is won over. They understand the product. They trust it will work. But, there’s a catch. They don’t think others at their company will like or understand the product.

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They’ve essentially transferred their original fear to everyone else. I’ve dubbed this the “I understand, but they won’t” fear.

Social scientists have shared two theories for why this happens: the spiral of silence theory and the third-person effect.

In a “spiral of silence” business case, customers may fear social isolation within a company or threats to career success with monetary repercussions. Rather than going out on a limb to introduce new technology that could cause layoffs, they stay silent and stick with the old, tried methods.

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The third-person effect proposes that people tend to believe that publicly held opinions or media messages have a greater impact on others than themselves. In practice, the person you are pitching gets the value of the product, but they think others in the company might not. This assumption leads the person to resist being the champion you need internally to sell and support your new (scary) product.

SUPPORT CHAMPIONS

The entertainment industry has undergone massive layoffs during and since the pandemic as companies reshuffle amid changing viewing habits. This creates a precarious work environment ripe for insecurity.

It’s helpful to recognize the tenets of “spiral of silence” and “third-person effect” theories so that this phase doesn’t end the conversation. To help our champion feel safe in supporting us within the company, our sales approach necessitates that if we begin meeting with the client’s creative team, we also talk to the technology team, which may have a different set of questions.

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It’s incredibly powerful for your potential champion to see others nodding their heads and getting excited about a new product before they risk their professional reputation for a new product or company.

BRING SOLUTIONS

If you’re in a position to secure client testimonials, they can add a lot of credibility toward building trust and overcoming the fear of social isolation. Often, clients are happy to share their positive experiences, how they navigated their company’s adoption, and the steps to build support across the organization.

Lastly, hiring the right data scientists to work with creative teams is essential. As an AI company, we hire scientists who can talk about the results in creative, humanizing, and actionable ways.

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A good salesperson recognizes the psychology of sales, but I’ve seen (across multiple AI companies in very different verticals), that selling new technology requires a little more patience, often more time, and certainly a deeper understanding of the humanity underneath it all.


Monica Landers is founder and CEO of StoryFit, a technology company which provides AI analytics for the media and entertainment industry. 

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