Salesforce.com’s CRM Platform Gets an AI Makeover

Salesforce.com this week enhanced artificial intelligence (AI) functionality across the various components of its CRM system and added image recognition capabilities to the mix. Powered by the vendor's Einstein engine, the spring 2017 update aims to "democratize" cases that have traditionally required the expertise of an "army" of data scientists, says Allison Witherspoon, director of product marketing at Salesforce.com.

Salesforce's Einstein engine absorbs the data companies collect in their CRM system to learn from it and automatically build out unique algorithms and models that align with their workflows, processes, and challenges. It can then surface recommendations, predictions, and insights directly within business user interfaces.

According to Witherspoon, the release delivers "the first complete enterprise CRM with AI as its backbone." With it, "we're able to take our customer success platform and make it the intelligent customer success platform"—that is, valuable to sales, service, marketing, and commerce professionals.

Sales Cloud users benefit from three added functions: Opportunity Insights, Account Insights, and Activity Capture. The system can act based on customer sentiment, competitor involvement, and prospect engagement data to score leads and help reps understand which ones are worth focusing on, while recommending follow-up actions. For B2B sales teams, Einstein can factor in news relating to the company’s financial results, or mergers and acquisitions activity, for instance. End users can sync their email and calendars to automatically capture data related to customer meetings and interactions.

Service Cloud gains from the addition of Einstein Supervisor, which aims to help call center managers stay informed regarding key metrics and thus improve agent productivity and customer satisfaction. Combining smart-data discovery technologies Salesforce inherited with its September acquisition of BeyondCore with real-time, omnichannel operational insights, the upgrade gives users predictive instructions on agent availability, call handling times, and other call-related areas of concern.

Salesforce's Marketing Cloud has been bolstered with Journey Insights, the goal of which is to help campaign managers better understand and act on the specific decisions that lead customers to buy products or services. The update takes features Salesforce picked up from Krux and implements them directly into the vendor's core marketing offerings.

Salesforce's Commerce Cloud is now equipped to give retailers more direction with merchandising and product bundling decisions. It analyzes order history, product, and customer data to help retailers tweak their website displays, in-store layouts, and online marketing campaigns.

According to Witherspoon, customers have already begun to see results thanks to these offerings. Silverline Consulting reports that its sales reps have saved two to three hours per week on manual data entry, resulting in a 30 percent higher close rate, thanks to Opportunity Insights. San Mateo, Calif.–based sports merchandiser and retailer Fanatics has used Einstein's email marketing capabilities to power product recommendations, which are responsible for generating 15 percent of the clicks they get. Black Diamonds, a sporting equipment retailer, has seen a 15 percent increase in revenue thanks to intelligent product recommendations.

Witherspoon highlights the potential of Einstein Visions: "Einstein Visions is all about bringing the power of deep learning to every Salesforce developer, so they can build AI-powered apps faster than ever," she says. It uses image recognition capabilities to help companies uncover insights about their customers and improve processes for dealing with them.

Visions currently includes three features that can be embedded within apps. Visual Search filters allow customers to take photos of products to find where they can buy them online, or in a store. The Brand Detection feature can analyze images users have posted in online communities, social media settings, message boards and the like to help companies better understand how customers are discussing their products online and improve marketing and service efforts. Product Identification also analyzes images to help sales pros and service agents evaluate product presentation and selling potential, manage inventory, and assess issues.

"You can train Einstein on your own images" in 5 to 20 minutes, Witherspoon says. She demonstrated one use case: A solar panel installation company selling to homeowners with slanted roofs can train the system to find all corresponding buildings identified through Google Maps and embed those leads into the CRM system along with other lead scoring info.

"The possibilities are endless when you think about what this can do for service—in terms of recognizing broken or faulty products, automatically creating cases, and routing those to the right agents," Witherspoon points out. In the marketing realm, "we're actually working on taking Einstein Vision and incorporating it with our social listening product (Social Studio), so that every marketer can train" models on recognizing their logos and the logos of their competitors on social media.

Additionally, "we have team of researchers that are focused on text, and what it can do with sentiment analysis," Witherspoon says. This can be useful, for instance, in identifying the tone expressed in customer emails and using it to adjust lead scores.

Salesforce yesterday also announced a global alliance with IBM, with the goal of extending their AI capabilities to customers. The partnership allows Salesforce to integrate insights from IBM Watson into its CRM system, drawing from structured and unstructured data from sources and industries including weather forecasts, healthcare, financial services, and retail.

Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM, said in a statement that the alliance would lead to "an unprecedented understanding of customers."

"Within a few years, every major decision—personal or business—will be made with the help of AI and cognitive technologies. This year we expect Watson will touch one billion people—through everything from oncology and retail to tax preparation and cars. Now, with today's announcement, the power of Watson will serve the millions of Salesforce and Einstein customers and developers to provide an unprecedented understanding of customers."

 Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com, called the deal "the best of both worlds" in a statement:

"The combination of Einstein and Watson will make businesses smarter and our customers more successful. I'm thrilled to form an alliance with IBM—no company's core values are as close to Salesforce's as IBM's. It's the best of both worlds."

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