Dreamforce 2017 - AI adoption is being driven by C-Suite, but best owned by IT

Profile picture for user slauchlan By Stuart Lauchlan November 5, 2017
Bluewolf's 6th annual State of Salesforce report puts AI high on the C-suite agenda, with the focus very much on CX improvement.

AI is, inevitably, a big theme this year at Dreamforce and interest among customers is backed up by this year's State of Salesforce report from consulting firm Bluewolf.

Based on data from more than 1,800 Salesforce customers worldwide, 77% of companies already using AI expect to increase their spend over the next 12 months, while 20% of those not using AI intend to make an investment.

The State of Salesforce report indicates that while IT retains responsibility for Salesforce rollouts, the interest in AI is coming from the very top of the C-suite. What’s interesting is what the main business benefit is currently seen to be, with nearly two-thirds of C-suite execs seeing AI as an enabler for better customer care and satisfaction.

After that, there’s a massive gap before sales opportunity qualification shows up in pole position on 11%, followed by overall effectiveness on 10%.

Perhaps somewhat alarmingly, those are followed by a wildly-generic ‘Other’ on 7%, which seems to suggest something of a leap of faith. But then, according to Bluewolf, only 36% of users actually measure the ROI of their Salesforce investment! (The rest just guess?)

So, for now at least, Salesforce customers want AI to improve the CRM experience and not much else. The report states:

The C-Suite recognizes AI as a leadership opportunity for differentiating the customer experience. In the next 12 months, 59% of C-level executives expect to purchase AI or platforms that have embedded AI capabilities, and have a keen eye for enhancing the central hub of direct customer interaction: customer service and support. Their vision of faster, smarter decision-making capabilities extends to self-service that empowers customers and employees equally.

Focus areas

Despite this CX focus, the study results do point to other use cases for AI. For example, Kurt MacAlpine, Executive Vice President Head of Global Distribution, WisdomTree is quoted as looking to AI to support operational efficiency:

With AI, our global distribution efforts are enhanced with precision around both who and how to engage to better serve our investors and prospects.

Of particular interest is the so-called “super-charging’ of the sales funnel, using AI tech to support guided selling, with the main benefit in sales coming from better qualification of leads according to just over a third (35%) of respondents in sales roles.

Based on the Bluewolf numbers, just over half of respondents (53%) in sales roles who are already using AI expect to invest more over the next 12 months. That said, that’s a pretty meaningless stat without context. The study report predicts a 17% increase in the number of sales people using AI over the next year, but without providing a base level of current usage.

Alongside the potential for AI in sales sits its impact on marketing where Bluewolf spins the idea of a “new marketing power couple” in the shape of Account-Based Marketing coupled with AI:

The buying cycle is more complex than ever before. Customers are doing their own discovery and search, making it harder for marketers to distinguish between intent to buy and general curiosity. More and more, marketers are realizing the advantage of enhancing their marketing technology stacks with AI. Account-Based Marketing with AI can serve as a recommendation engine to engage with the right person at the right time throughout the buying cycle

That being the case, it's puzzling that less than a quarter (24%) of respondents in marketing roles say they plan to integrate AI into ABM over the next year, so the “power couple” seem to be rather more ‘friends with benefits’ than rushing into wedded bliss.

That said, a third of marketing organizations with plans to increase AI spend over the next year say they’re doing so in the expectation of AI having “the greatest impact on qualifying prospects”.

Being able to beef up predictive capabilities is a major driver for marketing organizations polled, with 75% of qualified respondents saying they look to Salesforce to predict and automate, while 62% say their investment is to enable them to anticipate.

Of course all these AI ambitions are fine in theory, but need to be rolled out in practice and that’s where the IT department comes to the fore. The most successful companies will be those where IT ‘owns’ the Salesforce platform internally, suggests Bluewolf:

Business units are increasingly relying on IT to integrate speed, agility, and the competitive advantage of AI-powered capabilities into how they deliver customer experiences. Sixteen percent more employees understand the opportunity for AI to benefit their business if IT is at the helm of their Salesforce org.

And we’re back to ‘friends with benefits’ again with the idea that AI is just that to the wider Salesforce platform:

Thirty-five percent of IT professionals expect to purchase AI or platforms that have embedded AI capabilities within the next 12 months, with the biggest opportunity for multi-channel innovation being AI. The best companies are enhancing both employee-facing and customer- facing applications with intelligence capabilities that can surface insights using Salesforce data to automate tasks, augment knowledge, and deliver more personalized experiences and timely, relevant offers to customers.

One last finding - AI is also likely to feed a desire to rationalize (consolidate) Salesforce estates within organizations, with 60% of respondents with multiple instances of Salesforce indicating this is likely to occur within the next 12 months:

The rising importance of centralized data and the ability to cross sell and service customers across multiple channels is causing organizations to reconsider their Salesforce footprint. Specifically, AI is spurring a trend toward consolidation and re-centralization of CRM data, enabling valuable intelligence to be extracted from a complete set of customer data.

The good news for Salesforce here is that 64% of companies who do plan such consolidation also say they plan to invest in AI capabilities, with just over a fifth of respondents (21%) saying they don’t intend to do so.

My take

This is the sixth State of Salesforce report. As before, there are some interesting data points scattered throughout. Equally there are some inherent frustrations, such as the lack of specific numbers in certain categories that render some of the reported percentages essentially meaningless. It’s heavily B2B slanted (64% of respondents v 15% B2C).

And most annoying of all, it’s US-fixated with 83% of the respondents coming from North America and 17% from the entire rest of the planet. So unless your organization has a ZIP code, it’s advisable to approach the trends emerging here as not necessarily applicable to your local market. Seriously, Salesforce is a global company with an expanding presence in Europe and AsiaPac. This study needs to reflect that next year.

It will also be interesting to see what Salesforce makes of claims such as only 36% of users quantify their Salesforce ROI. That’s not really on message up Salesforce Tower. There’s been an interesting ‘tension’ between Salesforce and Bluewolf over this study over the years. 2017 is unlikely to change that, no matter the AI alliance between Salesforce and IBM (which owns Bluewolf).  Then again, the 'AI is the main agenda item' mantra isn't going to go unappreciated at a Dreamforce that will be dominated by the same idea.