There’s no turning back: We are officially neck-deep in the AI-ification of everything.
Gaming companies are mining user data for insight, medical imaging companies are using machine learning to detect cancer and SaaS businesses are increasingly augmenting their human salesforce with machines that turn leads into customers.
According to some estimates, more than 75 percent of companies are using artificial intelligence for business development, workflow automation and to improve customer experience.
But not all AI is created equal, and there is still a lot of learning to be shared in the world of tech about what works and what doesn’t.
To learn more about how AI is transforming the sales and marketing worlds, we caught a fireside chat between Mark McQueen, President & Executive Managing Director of CIBC Innovation Banking, and Gregg Ames, Chief Sales Officer of Conversica, at the Canadian Innovation Exchange in Toronto.
The discussion ranged from Ames’ recent experiences building up Conversica’s AI tools for sales and marketing companies, to his time with marketing automation company Marketo. But AI’s importance across multiple industries was the topic capturing all the attention.
Here are the major takeaways from the fireside chat:
People and machines are meant to work together
According to Ames, the notion of the hybrid workforce – where humans work with artificial intelligence – should be exciting to everyone. While the conversation often starts with the discussion surrounding job replacement, Ames said it’s chiefly a question of growth.
“It’s about doing more, not about replacing humans,” he said.
Conversica is an AI-driven lead engagement platform used by marketers and sales teams. The platform promises to “find and secure customers more quickly and efficiently by automatically contacting, engaging, qualifying and following up with leads via natural, multi-channel, two-way conversations.”
The company has raised $72 million in financing, including an $8.5 million from Wellington Financial (now CIBC Innovation Banking).
Ames argues that AI-based solutions are better at accomplishing certain tasks, which ultimately frees up human capital to do things people are better at.
For example, traders who work at exchanges today aren’t working on their own – they’re benefitting from the help of algorithm and AI systems that automate workflow and aim to surface insights that people can use.
Within Conversica itself, Ames says humans will focus on high-value functions such as engaging with customers, and don’t have to bother with AI-driven efforts to take on menial tasks such as scheduling follow-on appointments.
In automotive, where the bulk of Conversica’s customers came from, Ames said that AI is being used to help companies build valuable, long-term relationships and engagement with customers.
In finance, companies are turning to AI as a way to better manage collections and engage with customers to create payment plans.
There are countless use cases where AI helps humans make better decisions, faster.
We’ve moved from automation to AI
If anyone can speak to the evolution of marketing and sales in technology, it’s Ames – he was employee No. 60 with Marketo, a marketing automation business, for nearly six years. The company was acquired by Adobe this year for $4.75 billion after building out a network of 500 partners and 5,000 customers.
Ames thinks the disruptive potential that automation delivered to marketers and salespeople five years ago is comparable to how AI is reshaping businesses across multiple industries today.
Ames said he’s learned a lot about how to bring a disruptive new market idea to businesses, but he’s doing things a little differently now.
While Marketo pushed hard for new customers, the approach at Conversica is different.
“We were on a much more aggressive arc for growth than we are at Conversica today,” said Ames. “The economics we took there were much more aggressive.”
With Conversica, Ames’ sales team is focused on deploying with customers where deep impact is possible, and having so many customer deployments allows the business to make predictions on where success is likely to emerge for Conversica’s customers.
“Make sure the juice is worth the squeeze”
Conversica’s AI Sales Assistant is now used by an more than 1,200 companies worldwide. The company is currently operating in North America and recently acquired Chilean rival Intelligens. The company is also looking to open a new office in the U.K.
But rapid growth is not the plan, said Ames.
Not every customer is created equal, and Conversica makes a big effort to place the right bets when it comes to picking its customers.
Rather than bending the company’s initial mission statement to suit any and every client’s needs, Ames said the company is looking to push its original concept and to repeatedly sell it as it scales.
The goal is to ensure the company can continue to deliver on its core message, that AI sales and marketing tools are helping customers build better businesses.
Acceleration and AI: The digital transformation of sales in 2020
77% of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since last year.
When the pandemic started, most industries had to work quickly to adapt to the now-ubiquitous ‘new normal.’ Whether that meant adjusting to work-from-home or using new tools to better reach and respond to customers, agility — and digital transformation — was at the forefront.
And sales departments, no doubt, had a significant shakeup.
According to Salesforce’s recently-released, data-driven Fourth Edition State of Sales report, 72% of sales reps say success metrics have changed in light of economic trends. The report — generated from a survey of almost 6,000 B2B and B2B2C sales professionals from around the world — also found that 58% of sales reps expect their roles to change permanently.
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Reps, are you feeling less confident closing your deals? That’s because selling in ’20 is a new ball game. Enter ➡️ the 4th #StateOfSales report! Visit the link in bio 🔗 for the full report and see how Trailblazers like @McAfee have enabled their reps with Salesforce in challenging times.
When results are narrowed to sales professionals within the technology sector, 55% of respondents say their customer relationships are stronger than in 2019, and 60% say they expect their role to permanently change.
.@salesforce’s fourth edition State of Sales report has up-to-date insights on how sales organizations around the world are adapting to a new selling landscape during a global pandemic: https://t.co/DcsqqImNzC pic.twitter.com/HTL7E6CDN0
— Salesforce News (@SalesforceNews) September 22, 2020
Looking specifically at the state of DX in sales, 77% of sales leaders say their digital transformation has accelerated since 2019. This aligns with the overall trend of DX adoption being expedited as a result of the pandemic — a topic we’ve covered. (See here, here, here, here, and here.)
(Image via Salesforce)
In addition, “81% of respondents say sales technology needs have changed significantly since last year, and that they’re implementing changes faster than in 2019.” Among sales operations, 84% say DX has accelerated since 2019.
One technology that’s seeing increased adoption in sales is AI. Its use has grown by 76% since 2018, the report found. According to Salesforce’s summary, “salespeople consider AI’s most significant impact to be improved understanding of customer needs — which speaks to the speed of change and importance of insight into customers’ evolving situations.” Among high-performing sales organizations, 57% report using AI to “improve internal processes and customer experience.”
Digital transformation is vital for COVID crisis recovery in Latin America and Caribbean
“The crisis has created the momentum for long-overdue reforms that can help spread the benefits of digital transformation to achieve inclusive and resilient growth,” says OECD Secretary General.
A new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows digital transformation is the key to quicker recovery from the COVID-19 crisis for Latin America and the Caribbean.
Produced jointly with the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (UN ECLAC), the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF), and the European Union (EU), the report details the harsh impact of the pandemic on marginalized populations.
Titled Latin American Economic Outlook (LEO) 2020: Digital Transformation for Building Back Better, the report found that microenterprises were hit especially hard — 2.7 million are likely to close, at a loss of 8.5 million jobs.
“The socioeconomic crisis makes a new development model more urgent than ever,” said Alicia Bárcena, Executive Secretary of ECLAC. “Digitalisation could be a powerful tool to overcome the structural challenges of the region, only if it is considered as a comprehensive way to foster progressive structural change, through policies for the generation of new sectors, quality jobs, the development of capacities and innovation.”
According to Ángel Gurría, Secretary General of the OECD, “the crisis has created the momentum for long-overdue reforms that can help spread the benefits of digital transformation to achieve inclusive and resilient growth.”
“It also highlights the urgent need to bridge the digital divides between territories, families, students, workers, and firms.”
The role of DX
How can digital transformation help Latin American and Caribbean communities?
“By stimulating business innovation and new consumption models, transforming production systems and value chains, re-organising economic sectors, and introducing new conditions of competitiveness,” the report found.
— OECD_Centre (@OECD_Centre) September 25, 2020
One way digital tools can help is providing support for better access to services, such as healthcare and education, in addition to putting the people at the center of policymaking.
— OECD_Centre (@OECD_Centre) September 27, 2020
As Luis Carranza, Executive President of CAF added, “digital transformation offers a unique opportunity to boost productivity and to provide better public services in Latin America and the Caribbean. With Covid-19, the region has accelerated its digital processes, but there is still a long way to close the gap with advanced economies.”
“A rough road ahead”
There are certainly challenges in the way of advanced digital transformation acceleration.
Take internet access. In 2018, 68% of the population in LAC used it regularly, behind the OECD average of 84%. Inequality is also evident here. 75% of the richest population in Latin America use the internet compared to only 37% of the poorest population.
In terms of digital transformation, over 20% of jobs in some countries are likely to be automated in some fashion. As a result, investment in education and training in digital skills is crucial.
In order for the digital transformation agenda of the region to be successful, the report details recommendations for better coordination of efforts, and how these need to align with National Development Plans. There’s also an emphasis on the importance of international partnerships to the success of DX efforts.
Accenture Cloud First launches with $3B investment
New business unit is designed to help clients rapidly become ‘cloud-first.’
While not a cloud technology company, Accenture is known as a leading partner of most major cloud providers around the world. This investment will form Accenture Cloud First, described in the company’s press release as:
“a new multi-service group of 70,000 cloud professionals that brings together the full power and breadth of Accenture’s industry and technology capabilities, ecosystem partnerships, and deep commitment to learning and upskilling clients’ employees and to responsible business, with the singular focus of enabling organizations to move to the cloud with greater speed and achieve greater value for all their stakeholders at this critical time.”
Cloud First will be led by Karthik Narain, a tech industry veteran who most recently headed up Accenture Technology in North America.
Announcing @Accenture Cloud First, a new team of 70,000 backed by $3B investment – bringing our clients the full set of capabilities they need to become cloud leaders at speed and scale. https://t.co/Bxwmukdrzk
— Paul Daugherty (@pauldaugh) September 17, 2020
(Paul Daugh is Group Chief Executive – Technology & CTO at Accenture)
Cloud computing has seen a massive increase in demand — especially with the surge in remote working and need to cut costs, both as a result of COVID-19. Numbers from Gartner show that the worldwide public cloud services market is forecast to grow by 6.3% in 2020. The total in dollars? $257.9 billion, up from $242.7 billion in 2019.
As Accenture CEO Julie Sweet is quoted in Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter, “today we are 20% in the cloud. We are moving to 80%…instead of happening in a decade, it is going to happen in five years.”
“This is the Henry Ford moment of the digital era,” she added.
In Accenture’s press release, Sweet emphasized how the pandemic has brought to light the importance of accelerating digital transformation across all organizations and industries.
“COVID-19 has created a new inflection point that requires every company to dramatically accelerate the move to the cloud as a foundation for digital transformation,” she says, “to build the resilience, new experiences and products, trust, speed, and structural cost reduction that the ongoing health, economic and societal crisis demands — and that a better future for all requires.”
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