How CRM Vendors Support Sales with Artificial Intelligence

How CRM Vendors Support Sales with Artificial Intelligence
September 6, 2018 Krisztian Toth

2018 will be the year of artificial intelligence (AI) in customer relationship management: those CRM vendors that are not able to upgrade quickly enough, will lose customers and stay behind forever. On the other hand, many have been upping their game already.

CRM vendors


AI being the winning technology in the field is a claim also made by CRM market leader Salesforce and IDC, based on a recent joint study. The statement has proved just as well to be a safe bet: according to the study, 28% of the respondent companies already have AI in place, while 41% plan to have it in the next two years.

Salesforce is citing the ultimate argument of AI boosting businesses by USD 726bn extra revenue and USD 265bn of cost savings between 2017-2021, mainly through improvements in productivity and customer engagement. In total, that means a USD 1.1tn of revenue boost.

Besides these convincing figures, recent acquisitions and investments in the AI marketplace by the likes of the largest CRM vendors have also pointed toward a bright future of artificial intelligence.


Make AI Listen, Analyse, and Speak

We love AI because it is capable of things we get soon bored of and accomplish those tasks 24/7. Whether it would be routine automation of conversations, analysis or insights, it is there, but it also enables the equal distribution of insights, faster decision-making, and pattern recognition by its collaboration features.

From the customers’ angle, it means “someone” is always there when they have a question as AI keeps early-stage consumers busy by talking and listening to them (see chatbots). Sometimes it simply handles claims, sometimes it qualifies leads from these conversations (even identify those who are eligible for certain discount), and generates them automatically in the CRM.

Some AI’s are even more intelligent or have learned enough along the way to be able to assess the highlights and pitfalls of the consumer journey. With such an analysis, companies can find the best workflow for conversions or see what content is the most successful (relevant). From that information, the AI can be programmed to run campaigns alone.


AI Use in CRMs Spreading Like Wildfire

The Big Five

Salesforce introduced its own Einstein in 2016 and has been heavily promoting its features ever since. Einstein is able to customize advertisements and recommendations, replace manual data entry, give customer insights, and prioritize leads, among others. But Salesforce doesn’t stop here: it has recently introduced a new feature that integrates customer service tasks in the regular service offering and allows Einstein to handle routine requests building on customer history, natural language processing, and machine learning, the official statement claims.

Salesforce and Microsoft have also made a deal with IBM to use their Watson technology for campaign automation, that includes automated messages on all available channels and gives a new type of insights for marketers. The users can collaborate better with sales by getting an overview of the strategies and find new ways to improve it.

In fact, one of the major announcements of this summer was Microsoft committing to AI-based analytics as something it believes will improve the life of the end user (i.e. the salesperson, the marketer, or the customer service agent) and not just the bosses reading the reports. The tools to provide this experience include chatbots, predictive lead scoring based on communication traffic patterns, and automated welcome emails, among others.

For some time, Adobe has also been on the market with its AI-based API, Sensei, that allows the creative professionals to be more efficient and insightful. Sensei’s specialty is to analyze images and animations, recognize their aesthetics, but it can also define the sentiment of other documents if needed. In a recent effort to extend Sensei’s reach within the developer community and to improve the performance of the AI tool, Adobe further committed to its partnership with hardware maker NVidia. Lip sync, face awareness, or auto-tagging are some of the features to be developed further.

Improving operational efficiency and predictive insights is also in the focus for SAP that has its own AI-based assistant, Leonardo. Named after renaissance hero Da Vinci, the tool combines (since last year) artificial-intelligence with IoT, analytics, the blockchain, and machine learning, to accelerate digital transformation for businesses. Leonardo is now used to find business problems within an organization and is then able to compare it with an industry-specific database and define the technologies and methods to solve them. SAP takes pride in data safety as well, as it gives users the opportunity to utilize data that is at their own premises, in the systems used every day.


Smaller Scale, Bigger Dreams

All of the above is just the surface of what is happening in the CRM space right now. Public announcements of AI-enhanced software are coming out every week, showing the smaller players are just as well aware of the direction they should take.

It might very well worth it, as the example of Pegasystems shows, that has just been named the market leader of customer engagement by analyst firm Ovum mostly because of its AI capabilities.

Zoho has also announced an upgrade to its Zoho One suite, by extending Zia, the AI assistant’s services to the whole cloud platform. Zia was first introduced as a feature of Zoho CRM only and to help sales reps with suggestions based on client data.

Newcomers to the market already have AI in their initial offerings and investors are keen to support such projects. One of the latest announcements is of Spiro Technologies that claims downright the title of “the first AI-powered CRM”: it has raised USD 1.5mn in seed funding that will be used to add even more AI features to the product.

The trust in the increasing demand from the consumer side that requires the latest technology to stay ahead of the competition also makes CRM vendors try to meet the clients halfway by adding third-party AI-services into their offerings.

The selection they can choose from is impressive already: according to Get CRM’s recent compilation, AI providers have targeted at least 15 business functions with their technology. Speech analytics, for example from Cogito or Uniphore’s Akeira, is one field with a great potential, allowing companies to optimize call outcomes with real-time guidance or improve call resolution rates for service centers.


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