AI Driving the Next Industrial Revolution

A Recap of AI Advancements

The past few years have witnessed quite a stride for artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning. The biggest “surprise” is no doubt the historical wins of AlphaGo, a machine powered by AI and deep learning, over a prestigious professional Go world champion. If you are brave and lucky enough, you can also test self-driving Ubers at Pittsburgh or San Francisco. Meanwhile, Human-level performance was achieved by AI in conversational speech recognition and computer vision.

2016: The Chatbot Year

2016 has also been deemed the year of chatbot, partly thanks to the advancement of AI and deep learning being applied to natural language processing, with Slack, Microsoft, Facebook pivoting towards building intelligent bot over messengers, not to mention tons of companies building smart chatbots for all kinds of domains including sales, marketing and shopping, recruiting, etc.

Some of the Big Players in AI

All major companies are pouring resources into AI research, for example, Google open sourced TensorFlow, Microsoft CNTK, Baidu PaddlePaddle, AWS MXNet, Facebook supporting both caffe and Torch, Nvidia providing GPUs and toolkit optimized for deep learning. With the amazing advancement and lowering barrier to apply cutting-edge AI techniques, AI will be driving the industry revolution beyond just IT, just like steam engine powering the 1st industrial revolution in the late 18th century, electricity and assembly lines enabling mass production in the 2nd industrial revolution in the late 19th century, communication/internet, new forms of energy transforming our society in the 20th century.

What’s Next for AI and the Sales Domain

Now that we’ve journeyed through some of the recent advancements in AI, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with sales? What is the relationship between AI and the sales domain?

As AI advances, So Can Your Sales Productivity

Although you may now be accustomed to instant search results in a blink of an eye, personalized recommendations, and all the other AI-powered goodness that the likes of Google, Amazon Alexa, or Apple Siri are putting at our fingertips, much of this still seems fresh and unchartered to those in the sales domain.

So, the important question remains, how can AI help sales? Here at Clari, since inception, we began with a laser focus on data science and machine learning. AI has actually been embedded into all aspects of our product. Just to name a few examples:

Machine Learning to Quantify the Chance of Winning

Based on historical sales records, and email and calendar-based user activities, one can tell how engaged a prospect is on a particular deal. We are able to identify how each individual’s deal is trending by comparing it to similar deals in the past. Sales managers and executives can also get insights into historical patterns to determine which current pipeline opportunities are risky and likely to slip into the next quarter.

Projection into the Future

For sales managers and executives, the first top-of-mind question is whether my team will achieve quota. Hence, a projection of where quarter revenue will land, gives a starting point to understand how well the team and company is doing. With AI, we are not counting on “gut feel” anymore. Now, the hunch-based number calling becomes data-driven. By simulation (recall that one of AlphaGo’s success, which is due to its capability to play Go with itself and improve skills), we can compute the expected end-of-quarter revenue and best/worst case scenarios.

AI to Help Task Prioritization

At Clari, we provide different types of scores through machine learning to quantify how likely one deal will close by a certain date (typically by end of quarter or a specified close date). On top of that, a sales rep can slice and drill down into different segment of deals to determine which ones need more attention. These kind of insights can be delivered seamlessly to your palm by the right timing and context, through email, Clari’s mobile app, or Clari Connect.

ClariBot: a Conversational UI for Sales

With ClariBot, an intelligent bot which serves as a smart sales assistant for reps, managers and execs, we can surface not just actionable insights, but also further integrate with other daily tasks of salespeople, like scheduling meetings, checking opportunity status/updates, or identifying the right contact. Thanks to advancements in AI, a conversational UI, either by text or voice, is possible today.

Self-driving Sales Update

Ask any sales rep — one of the major pains is updating sales records. This kind of daily routine, is time consuming — and keeps reps in front of their computers, instead of in front of customers. Simply put, the state of sales record data hygiene is usually a mess. Most of the time, CRM opportunities aren’t updated often enough to add value to managers who are looking to understand what’s really happening. For instance, even if a company believes its sales cycle to be 3 months, we find that a significant portion of opportunities are actually created and closed within a few days! The lack of proper and in-time update, blinds managers and executives, and sets up that recurring scenario where a scary percentage of committed deals are slipping. That’s why we have an ambitious goal to make the update automatic (one click/swipe), by leveraging AI to detect critical updates through email exchanges, telephone conversations, or additional objective digital signals captured in other systems. Ultimately, Clari can be a self-driving car to update sales records, and deliver insights to the right person in the right context.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg of tapping AI to accelerate sales — not to mention resolving other related problems — including lead generation and qualification, account management, resource planning, sales coaching, recruiting and others.

Now that we’ve shown you some of the possibilities, is your sales team ready to take on AI?

Will AI Replace Sales People

Recently, HBO’s sci-fi thriller television series WestWorld, showcased a park in the future where androids (hosts) are almost indistinguishable from human beings. With so many exciting AI breakthroughs, some even optimistically suggest that we are inches away from passing Turing Test, and reaching singularity. One natural question arises — will AI replace human beings? Particularly in the sales domain, will AI take over the jobs of the salesperson? The short answer is no and yes (at least in the near future).

First of all, the use cases surrounding AI for sales are still centered around human beings. AI is an enabler, not a replacer. AI empowers salespeople to be more efficient, focus on the core task of selling, and helps them effectively allocate their time and resources. Thus, AI, should be interpreted as augmented intelligence, that will assist salespeople to be smarter and more productive.

On the other hand, from the technology standpoint, there is still a big gap. Anybody will take a deep breath when hearing the news of a Tesla driver getting killed in an accident with the autopilot engaged. AI systems require careful curation and training. Otherwise, they may go wild and insane, like Microsoft’s chatbot Tay. AI can do well for specific tasks, by learning from tons of data, just like AlphaGo, but not for generic tasks with limited data to chew on. This is particularly true in the case of sales.

Nonetheless, successful salespeople will be those who embrace AI technology. In the near future, AI will not substitute for selling skills, but it will become one of the core skills of selling. Future A-players will differentiate from B-players by how they can effectively leverage AI for sales execution. Naturally, those who shy away from AI-driven guidance will not survive competition. They will be replaced, not by AI, but by other salespeople who embrace the edge that AI gives them.

The AI wave is here. Will you be ready?