Why the office equipment channel can’t afford to ignore it.
A revolutionary thing happened in the last couple of months of 2022 that went almost entirely unnoticed by the humble office equipment channel: OpenAI released for free ChatGPT 3.5. Quietly, at least at first, “generative AI” would become the hottest topic since the birth of the internet. The quiet wouldn’t last long. ChatGPT quickly became the fastest growing app in history, securing over 100,000,000 subscribers in less than two months. That’s faster growth than Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, TikTok, and Instagram. Some say it’s the biggest evolution in technology since the iPhone, and others, the internet itself.
You might be thinking that this AI thing is just a fad, the next hype cycle. We’ve seen a fad or two come and go, right? Reusable copy paper was a fun one. I, like you, also remember when people thought Siri and Alexa were going to be embedded in every copier, and that never really took root. And much to my personal dismay, the idea of a flat-rate program for managed print only ever had limited uptake (though I’m still hopeful it will trump cost per page in the long run). Tools like ChatGPT are easy to put into the same pile of unrealized hype cycles. Right?
Wrong. Unlike Google Glass, the Metaverse, Web3, NFTs, and other failed tech trends, generative AI is different. Why, you ask? What makes tools like ChatGPT, Bing Chat, Dall-E, Midjourney, and other generative AI tools different than the other fads we’ve seen? Why must we in the office equipment channel be paying more attention? Let’s dig in.
Big league investment: Microsoft was one of the first major investors in OpenAI, the company that gave birth to ChatGPT. They initially invested over $1 billion, and after the onslaught of subscribers kept rushing in, invested another (rumored) $10 billion. This is Microsoft we’re talking about. The same company that transformed itself to one of the leading cloud application providers in the world. Say what you will about Microsoft, but it’s been pretty good at latching on to trends with long-term rewards. Google has also invested heavily—although a little late to the dance—and will soon have generative AI built into its entire suite of productivity tools, and yes, its search engine too.
LinkedIn has already invested in AI assistance for profile generation (for paid subscribers), and Meta Platforms (Facebook) is quietly picking up AI steam too. Oh, and most recently, Elon Musk is rumored to have purchased over 10,000 GPUs (Graphic Processing Units) for a secret Twitter AI project. With all these heavy hitters going all in on AI, we can rest assured the horse has left the stable, and there’s no putting it back in.
Generative AI is Easy to Use
The main reason technologies in a hype cycle fail is simple: The audience they serve is too small. The Metaverse? Cool if you’re a nerd who doesn’t mind wearing a VR headset in place of living IRL (in real life). Web3? Can you even tell me what that is? Probably not, and very few people could or should care, really. When was the last time you bought an NFT (non-fungible token)? Exactly.
The reason those hype cycles faded as fads is that they were too myopic and limited in the audience they could serve. ChatGPT is not. All you have to do is open a browser window, type in a few sentences, and whatever you ask for is spat out in seconds flat. For example:
ChatGPT prompt: “Please give me the three common office printing and copying technology innovations in the electronic age and benefits of each.” This example gave me the following response:
ChatGPT response: “In the electronic age, there have been numerous innovations in office printer technology. Among the most significant are:
- Laser Printers: Invented in the 1970s by Xerox researcher Gary Starkweather, laser printers revolutionized office printing by providing high-quality, fast, and efficient printing solutions. Laser printers use a laser beam to create an electrostatic image on a photosensitive drum, which attracts toner particles and then transfers them onto paper. This technology offers sharp text and graphics, making it ideal for professional documents and high-volume printing.
- Inkjet Printers: Developed in the late 1970s and commercially available in the 1980s, inkjet printers offered a more affordable and compact alternative to laser printers. Inkjet printers work by propelling droplets of ink onto paper, producing high-quality images with a wide range of colors. This technology is especially suited for color printing, photographs, and low- to medium-volume printing tasks.
- Multifunction Printers (MFPs): Also known as all-in-one printers, MFPs have become increasingly popular since the late 1990s due to their ability to consolidate multiple functions into a single device. MFPs typically include printing, scanning, copying, and faxing capabilities, making them highly efficient and cost-effective for office environments. As technology has progressed, MFPs have also incorporated features such as wireless connectivity, cloud-based services, and mobile printing, further enhancing their utility and convenience.”
If your marketing team was to search Google with the same question, they’d have to sift through sponsored sites, SEO optimized garbage, and hundreds of links to sort through to come up with the same simple list. You could copy and paste the response above (after fact-checking the response, of course) into an email for a customer that is looking to understand the basics of why they would choose one printing technology over another.
And thanks to ChatGPT, this is something every average salesperson can produce. This mass appeal and ability to shorten research cycles alone was enough of a reason to realize why generative AI isn’t going away.
Your Customers Will be Using AI to Research Buying Options
Let’s say I have a customer who is told they should buy an HP CM8050 but would like a few comparative models. They go into ChatGPT and type the following:
ChatGPT prompt: “Provide 4 alternative MFPs that have a monthly duty cycle similar to an HP CM8050.”
- “HP CM8050: Up to 200,000 pages per month
- Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C5535i: Up to 150,000 pages per month
- Ricoh MP C4504ex: Up to 200,000 pages per month
- Konica Minolta Bizhub C368: Up to 150,000 pages per month
- Kyocera TASKalfa 3552ci: Up to 175,000 pages per month”
ChatGPT prompt: “Can you provide print resolution for each?”
- “HP CM8050: Up to 4800 x 600 dpi (enhanced)
- Canon imageRUNNER ADVANCE C5535i: Up to 1200 x 1200 dpi
- Ricoh MP C4504ex: Up to 1200 x 1200 dpi
- Konica Minolta Bizhub C368: Up to 1200 x 1200 dpi
- Kyocera TASKalfa 3552ci: Up to 1200 x 1200 dpi”
Now, the example is deliberately ridiculous and out of date (Note: This is a good time to mention that ChatGPT is only current to September 2021 as it’s not connected to the WWW, yet…) but still shows the power of ChatGPT, and other generative AI tools that our customers will be able to use to do their own homework long before we’re invited into the sales cycle. For basic comparison work, it really can’t be beat and is so much faster compared to googling for the same results.
Before ChatGPT, coming up with alternative models to consider would have taken your customers weeks. Now? Mere minutes. Think about that for a bit. It will change how we engage with our customers, when we engage with them in the sales cycle, and what our value is as their trusted consultant.
As an office equipment dealer, understanding generative AI and how it will change our customers’ buying habits will be essential as the technology only becomes more powerful and pervasive. Of course, there are huge opportunities to explore using AI for your own business benefits as well. It can help make customer support easier, faster, and more economical. AI can help your marketing teams shorten research and drafting cycles for marketing content. It can even help your sales teams better understand competitive pressures and options without having to spend hours and hours doing research.
You owe it to yourself, your business, and your customers, to take generative AI seriously and do the learning necessary to benefit from its arrival. Are you ready?