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Dreamforce16 - InsideSales aims to cut through AI noise with launch of Playbooks

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez October 2, 2016
CEO Dave Elkington explains InsideSales’ latest pitch to sales - Playbooks, a next generation sales acceleration platform designed specifically to cater to help sales people become more productive, by monitoring their behaviour across the web and proactively making suggestions.

InsideSales, a cloud software vendor that focuses on sales acceleration products, is an interesting company to watch. It counts Salesforce and Microsoft as two of its biggest investors, and it is garnering a lot of interest around its predictive analytics platform - Neuralytics.

And unlike other companies that are now getting wise to the buzzwords ‘AI’ and ‘machine learning’, InsideSales has been in this game for over 10 years. What makes it interesting is that it has 10 years worth of crowdsourced (but anonymised) customer data from which its platform is continuously linking and learning from.

CEO Dave Elkington calls this InsideSales’ High Definition data - which is different from most other AI software vendors, as they tend to focus on company specific data, rather than the network effect of cross-customer understanding. Elkington said:

I think there is a bit of a misperception in the market that the algorithm is the goal. The algorithm is not the goal. The algorithm is a step toward the goal. The data is, in fact, the goal. Which is why you saw Microsoft spent such a premium on LinkedIn. People don't quite know what to do with Twitter now, but I think they are very intrigued by it because they have such a unique data set.

What we have is one of the most unique data sets, particularly in the machine learning and the enterprise machine learning space. We've got well over 100,000,000 unique North American profiles that have been crowd sourced by our customer sales people.

It's not unlike any network effect. Has Facebook got the best user interface? Probably not. Does Google have the best search algorithm? Maybe, maybe not. It's irrelevant.

Once you have enough data associated with that network effective data, it becomes the value of Google, it becomes the value of Facebook. Ultimately the value of LinkedIn and Twitter. Ultimately that's our value.

And so, companies that recognise that the AI trend is important, but ultimately don’t know how to build up this networked effect on their own platform, are simply masking much simpler technologies as predictive tools, according to Elkington. He said:

I have a bias, as you can expect, but there's a lot of pretenders in AI. There's things like Apache Spark which is an open sourced algorithm platform, where companies are jamming in an algorithm. When you read AI out on the market I think there's a lot of noise. I think people in companies should do it correctly. The more data you have the more accurate it becomes. I think if you peel back the layers, I think you're going to find 80 to 90% of the people doing machine learning and AI, that’s actually not the case.

However, that being said, Elkington is pleased that there are more entrants to the market, as he believes this validates InsideSales’ strategy. In particular Salesforce’s recent Einstein announcement was of note, given InsideSales’ close relationship with the SaaS vendor. Elkington said:

This is all validation that predictive is clearly the next generation of enterprise software. I think in some ways you can either curse that people are coming into the market.Or you can be like hey this is clearly a massive market. Now Salesforce is an amazing partner of ours, they're a huge investor. I think Marc Benioff has been a huge proponent and is the mentor of the company. They're a great partner, they're an amazing ecosystem. Honestly we don't totally know what Einstein is and isn't yet, but I think it's huge validation for the predictive space.

Next generation sales

InsideSales has just launched its next generation sales acceleration platform - Playbooks - which is designed specifically to cater to help sales people become more productive, by monitoring their behaviour across the web and proactively making suggestions.

It is also designed with millennials in mind, a younger generation that Elkington believes is behaving differently in the sales department. He said:

A lot of companies they'll evolve new releases and things like that - that’s not what Playbooks is for us. Playbooks is actually a ground-up rewrite, completely brand new product. The reason this came about is that what we're finding is there's a fundamental change in the way people are selling in the market.

We're able to show huge revenue uplift, productivity uplift. What we're finding is the way people are behaving seems to be tied somewhat to the change in the demographic of the seller. So a lot of the new sellers are millennials. And frankly, millennials don't behave the same way as Gen-Xers, who don't behave the same way baby boomers do.

What we found was millennials aren't necessarily tied into one spot; in one platform. Traditionally an InsideSale rep going to assist in their CRM, they're going to dial, they're going to e-mail, they're going to educate and then they're going to be very, again, highly productive

What we found is millennials are actually moving around the web quite a bit. We actually spent thousands of hours watching and talking to our customers. We went through a full rewrite process. What Playbooks fundamentally is is a solution that follows sales people throughout their day. To key to the whole thing is it's based on predictive recommendations.

InsideSales has been designing the system for a year and has been in a closed beta for the last 4 months. Elkington said that the company is already seeing “dramatic results” with the customers currently using it - in terms of contact rates, productivity, engagement and revenue. Elkington believes that this is down to the platform enabling sales people to provide their contacts with relevant messages in a personalized way.

He said:

Playbooks is a product that prescribes very specific and unique actions on a customer by customer, or prospect by prospect basis, unique to the seller. The idea would be that maybe the sales person shows up and they spend some time on CNN, reading some articles. There may be one of the companies that's in their territory and Playbooks is going to identify that.

It will say ‘hey did you know this company that you're reading about is actually one of your prospects? You should maybe mention this article to the person you're talking to there.’ Then it will actually let you see that person and you get some more information. Then our system can recommend an appropriate interaction. Maybe it's a phone call, maybe it's an e-mail, maybe it's a social media interaction.

Then later that day they're spending time in their CRM and it's going to let them know that that prospect had just opened that e-mail and has read the article that they forwarded.

So the idea is whether they're on CNN or ESPN or Facebook or LinkedIn; Playbook is interacting with them. Seeing where they're engaged, identifying their prospects or potential prospects, and then helping optimize the interaction process in that selling process. So it's fundamentally different. Rather than a system of record, we're following them everywhere we go.

My take

Definitely a company to keep an eye on. As Elkington notes, if you’ve got the data, that’s the hard part done - making it that much harder for anyone else to compete.

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