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  • Ruth Napier

It's life Jim, but not as we know it - an initial AI playbook for professional services

Updated: Jul 19, 2023

Like your favourite Sci-Fi series, AI has been sitting quietly under the radar for some time but the last few months have Siri, Alexa, Grammarly et al morph somewhat with the high profile launch of a multitude of AI services, apps and plugins unleashed onto a somewhat unprepared public. Welcome ChatGPT, Bard, Jasper, DALL-E, Midjourney etc

The court of opinion is deeply divided between those experimenting with the possibilities that AI can unlock immediately, the ones investigating and unlocking value for the next six to 12 months and the doom mongers predicting a fair percentage of jobs in the creative and marketing sector (amongst others) which are likely to disappear or transform completely.

So what should a director or head of bd and marketing do about it? What should they be encouraging their team to do and think? Here's my take on how to get started.

Starting out in AI: playbook for professional services

1. Accept that the genie is out of the bottle.

Putting your head in the sand or pretending that it won’t affect how your teams go about their work is unrealistic. We have developed warp capability so its no use travelling at sub-light speed.

Plus this is public, so everyone knows about it and your firm will likely have the usual mix of curious, fearful, opportunistic and 'over my dead body' mindsets.

You might not have a complete picture today but unless you've had a really easy career to date on the plus side you have already made it through other disruptive changes, so have a playbook to use. The main difference this time is that its happening to all of us and FAST. Counter any feelings of having a mountain to climb by starting small

2. Get up to speed

You need to get to grips with the possibilities and challenges, and equip yourself with a sufficient level of expertise about what AI powered services, widgets and plugins might be relevant to how your firm goes to market. And put in place a way to keep abreast of changes. This will be important for you to demonstrate your authority, will form the basis on which you take decisions and will enable you to provide strategic advice to your internal clients.

  • Talk to your service providers about their AI roadmap and how they can help.

  • Understand the buzzwords but also what lies behind them - prompts, iteration and hallucinations.

  • Seek out, follow and learn from relevant experts you trust – or ask trusted sources to recommend them to you. There are some free training resources on offer from digital marketing agencies who have experimented already and are helpfully sharing best practice.

  • Start small and involve your team in assessing AI that shows promise for marketing and BD. Prioritise areas of interest. Set time limits/guidelines and avoid rabbit holes.

  • Actively monitor new developments and competitor activity.

Remember that no-one will have the complete picture that’s relevant to your situation. And it is rapidly changing as new products launch. Last month's fave was Crystal Knows, this month its Humantic.

3. Address fears

For your team the immediate threat/challenge is a personal one and relates to their role: your graphic design head may feel more unsettled than your head of bids, your head of content might feel under pressure to reinvent themselves whilst your practice BD team are seeing only the potential.

  • Ensure you give your team members the time they need to make adjustments, reassure them where you are able to and keep dialogue open.

  • Encourage experimentation with the most promising of public AI tools (subject to any restrictions imposed by your firm) and any company AI pilots

  • Split experimentation across your teams and ask for ideas and opportunities, and risks

  • Identify where and how generative AI to cut down time or speed up content generation. Your competitors are likely already doing it.

Make the business case for experimentation but remember to reassure partners and your COLP that you are not going to share confidential information outside of the firm.

4. Collaborate internally

If your firm has an innovation team/department then this will be on their agenda. Bigger firms will already be experimenting with their own AI. Smaller firms may be relying on a head of IT or operations to advise.

  • Make sure you are part of this conversation. Get involved if you aren’t already and plug into any gaps to make sure that marketing and business development activities are benefitting.

  • Get involved early with any compliance or HR guidance on AI use before it is finalised.

5. Recognise limitations

  • Open AI can reuse your output or prompts with other users, including the public version of Chat GPT: its important not to share any confidential information on Open AI platforms. Company AI sits within your firewall and learns from your data/interactions.

  • Generative AI experimentation takes time as AI by its nature is a learning system. Initial results are not likely to be as good as when you have skilled up on how to get out what you need (prompts) and have fed the system the information it needs.

  • AI generated content on OpenAI platforms is not your IP nor authored by you. Best practice is usually to acknowledge its use. Copyright is unclear with image rights owners looking to protect their IP - so keep an eye on cases such as Getty Images v Stability AI regarding its Stable Diffusion system.

  • Be aware that AI can replicate human behaviours: it can make up information (hallucinating) or contradict itself when questioned. Asking for sources in your prompts is one way to counteract this.

6. Remain different, and human

Professional services is a people to people business so needs to remain human. Most firms are trying to distinguish themselves by generating unique content and search engines are already using AI to answer searches. AI can be used to highlight those who simply recreate or curate the content of others – Google has already indicated that unique content will be seen as much more valuable than simple rewriting someone else's blog article.

  • Create unique content. Funnily enough you can use AI to help identify opportunities for different topic angles or combinations - if the result is insubstantial then its got promise.

  • Cultivate thought opinion writers and thought leadership.

  • Curate your website content and blogs carefully. Recent algorithm updates reward informational value. For the best SEO benefits, ensure your original content is published there first and clearly marked with a prominent author.

7. Anticipate client impact and opportunities

So what should be on your radar as far as clients are concerned?

  • The norm will rapidly become that clients will know how you compare to your competitors on published pricing, reviews, service standards, and rankings. Clients can ask AI to do this with a fairly simple prompt. AI-enabled comparison sites are not far away.

  • Clients will ask how you are using AI within your business. If you are cutting costs to deliver the same level of service then expect to be challenged on pricing. Ways to head this off in advance include getting your value messaging ready (e,g. how AI helps improve client experience or the speed of service delivery),

  • Explore co-creating AI solutions with a key client – they will benefit from the enhanced experience and will feel more valued.

  • Revisit chatbot suitability, if you dismissed it previously.

  • Look into AI-enablement for proposals: if an SME can use AI to turn a proposal around quickly, then they may expect you to do so too.

  • They may be experimenting or using AI apps to understand the personality types they deal with. Your client facing teams need to be aware of this and should be using too (where budgets allow). Use of AI apps like Humantic or Crystal Knows can help improve communications and get relationships off to a flying start with prospects (and existing clients) these not only profile but provide conversation hints for different situations.

Good luck and feel free to add any suggestions to the above.

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