Archive for CRM

Microsoft Infuses Products with Machine Learning and the Social Graph

Micsoroft plus LinkedIn Social Graph

This article was recently published on Amalgam Insights.

 

This past week (September 25 – 27, 2017) Microsoft held it’s Ignite and Envision Conferences. The co-conferences encompass both technology (Ignite) and the business of technology (Envision). Microsoft’s announcements reflected that duality with esoteric technology subjects such as mixed reality and quantum computing on equal footing with digital transformation, a mainstay of modern business transformation projects. There were two announcements that, in my opinion, will have the most impact in the short-term because they were more foundational.

The first announcement was that machine learning was being integrated into every Microsoft productivity and business product. Most large software companies are adding machine learning to their platforms but no company has Microsoft’s reach into modern businesses. Like IBM, SAP and Oracle, Microsoft can embed machine learning in business applications such as CRM. Microsoft can also integrate machine learning into productivity applications as can Google. IBM can do both but IBM’s office applications aren’t close to having the market penetration of Microsoft Office 365. Microsoft has the opportunity to embed machine learning everywhere in a business, a capability that none of their competitors have.

For the average knowledge or office worker, having machine learning embedded in the applications that they use every day means help doing their normal daily tasks. Machine learning in of itself is useful for analysis or automation. The real power of machine learning will be most evident when it is available to help with everyday tasks such as scheduling, analyzing data in spreadsheets, managing customers, developing financial projections, enhanced search capabilities, and creating impactful presentations. For corporate workers, this is the type of AI technology that helps them to do their jobs better, making them more valuable rather than obsolete.

The second was the integration of Microsoft 365, Microsoft’s social graph platform, with LinkedIn and Dynamics social graphs. Since Microsoft purchased LinkedIn, the big question has been “how will they leverage it?” The answer is finally here. By combining the Microsoft 365 (contacts internal to the company) and Dynamics (contacts external to the company) social graphs with the personal connections of employees, Microsoft products will help to surface and leverage useful relationships no matter what they are. There are some obvious advantages. First, it means being able to connect the right group of people together to accomplish something no matter how they are linked. By breaking down the walls between the personal, internal, and external relationships, Microsoft will allow knowledge workers to find and foster essential connections that are at the heart of business. The most obvious beneficiaries will be sales and marketing by surfacing paths to and intelligence about people that they need to do business with. Social graphs also represent rich data that can be mined for a variety of other purposes. Since the Microsoft 365 is extensible, other information about people, relationships, and location can be added to the extended social graph. This will create a rich pool of information that can be mined for a variety of purposes. Applications include finding and managing vendors and partners, recruiting new personnel from internal and external pools, identifying better ways to communicate, and seeking out M&A targets.

Microsoft’s announcements are, aside from the quantum computing announcement, more incremental but in a good way. They are taking highly hyped but useful technology and making it relevant to the masses. Both machine learning and social graphs will no longer be primarily the realm of specialized applications. Instead, through inclusion in Microsoft’s most ubiquitous apps especially Office 365, they have the potential to become part of the fabric of everyday work life.

Struck by Lightning from Salesforce.com

Once again, I didn’t go to Dreamforce. It is just too hard. They had over 150,000 registered attendees this year which means getting a hotel room is either expensive or impossible. Everything is difficult when you have a convention that size in any city. While not quite up to late 90’s COMDEX standards (where attendance peaked around 250,000), Dreamforce still pushes San Francisco to the limits. Luckily, Salesforce.com thoughtfully streams the keynotes which is mostly what I care about anyway.

The problem was that it was actually hard to care. The majority of the first day’s keynotes were these feel good, hand waving, chanting, socially conscience speeches and interviews that are fun but have almost nothing to do with Salesforce.com technology and how a customer uses it. The second day was much better because it focused on the products. Even so, I was mostly sleeping through presentations that were much too similar to last year. That is until I was struck by Lightning.

Lightning is the name of the latest iteration of the Sales Cloud Platform. It is, in many ways, a radical departure from traditional CRM. Instead of being a pumped up customer database like most CRM software, Lightning reimagines CRM as salesperson centered. For the first time, CRM is more about selling than record keeping and reporting. I don’t even think it’s fair to call it CRM anymore. Here are some additional thoughts on Lightning:

  • The sales pipeline is now center stage. It becomes a primary tool for the salesperson, not just the sales manager, to manage deal flows.
  • Everything is more analytics driven. Once again, analytics is being moved from a management tool to a way for sales people to meet their targets.
  • SalesforceIQ is a full featured email client baked right into Sales Cloud. This has two advantages to the average sales professional: One, tight integration with their sales tools and two, the ability to capture information from emails into lead and contact fields. The second advantage is the huge one. It drastically helps to automate the most onerous part of selling – record keeping for the boss. Most email clients that are part of CRM apps are pretty basic and clunky. SalesforceIQ is a modern ready-for-mobile application that many sales pros will want as their primary client.
  • Data entry automation, in general, is a big deal in Lightning. Lots of small companies have provided tools to help reduce the typing that sales pros so despise but this is now a core function.
  • The Pipeline Board is a Kanban style display that organizes opportunities as cards associated with various stages in the sales process. It’s like Trello for selling. This makes it easy for sales people to see what is stuck and create actions to unstick opportunities. It also allows the overall management of individual pipelines much easier. This is a killer feature.

One new feature that I’m not a fan of is Sales Engage. It allows sales professionals to create their own email campaigns using Pardot, Salesforce.com’s email marketing platform. I can only imagine the overeager, young, salesperson spamming their prospects. I can’t imagine Marketing will be too fond of having their precious branding efforts undermined by terrible salesperson driven email campaigns either. There is a separation of marketing and sales for a reason folks.

Here’s a few other high and lowlights:

  • Marketing cloud is finally well integrated. Since the majority of the Marketing Cloud came via acquisitions, the pieces were always a bit uncoordinated. Salesforce.com has finally knitted them all together into a more coherent marketing toolbox.
  • Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, showed a lot of class when his demo bombed on him. He persevered without even a hint of annoyance. Many of his peers would have been more obviously irritated. While he was asked a lot of silly questions (“What is the soul of Microsoft?” Really? It’s to make money through technology. Duh!) Mr. Nadella said a couple of things that I thought were noteworthy. I especially liked his idea of the mobility of experience, the idea that your personal experience should follow you from device to device. He also said that revenue and profits are lagging indicators of success. How true. Money only measures, after the fact, your ability to execute. Nice focus.
  • Stevie Wonder was sad. First off, that an artist of his stature should be playing a few songs to warm up the crowd for a tech CEO is painful. Equally painful was his performance. He was often off key and his voice just sounds shot. To make matters worse, some roadie kept fiddling with his gear and interfering with his performance. I don’t know if it was intentional or not but it certainly seemed like Marc Benioff cut off his last song. If so it was a mercy.
  • There is way too much social justice, holding hands, Kumbaya stuff. It’s great that Salesforce.com tries to do good for society and not just institutional investors but really, this is a convention about using Salesforce.com to do business better not church. A little bit is fine. Too much is a waste of time.
  • I predict that Dreamforce can’t go on like this. Sooner or later it will collapse under its own weight and form a black hole. It’s too big to be useful. I worry that most people go for the parties. When I heard Foo Fighters, The Killer, and Gary Clark Jr. were performing, I had a moment of weakness and almost called my travel agent. That’s not a good reason to spend corporate education and travel dollars.

Lightning makes Saleforce.com a company to watch again. It’s what next generation sales tools are about. It should worry both the host of sales automation startups buzzing around Salesforce.com like blowflies and the giant CRM vendors who are still lumbering around like dinosaurs. In some ways, Lightning proves that Salesforce.com can still be a scrappy and disruptive company.