November 17, 2020

Businesses Counting on New Wave of AI-Enabled Tools to Juice Sales, Reduce Customer Churn

Salesforce, Microsoft and Oracle have embedded additional AI capabilities in their sales software in recent weeks

Providers of customer-relationship management software in recent weeks have brought out new artificial-intelligence tools as they try to meet businesses’ increasing demand for products that can improve their sales operations.

Makers of software used to manage sales teams and track customers have been embedding AI-powered capabilities into their products for some time. But the pace of AI rollouts has quickened as customers still dealing with the economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic look for better ways to manage their sales efforts and forecast customer demand, according to Brandon Purcell, a principal analyst at Forrester Research Inc.

Since the beginning of October, Inc. and Oracle Corp. embedded additional AI predictive capabilities into their CRM systems. SAP SE acquired Emarsys, a company with an AI-embedded marketing platform. And Inc., Adobe Inc., and Microsoft Corp. brought out a line of CRM systems, called C3 AI CRM, designed for specific industries, such as financial services, manufacturing, and utilities.

Artificial intelligence can help sales teams better spot leads, market products and reduce customer churn, Mr. Purcell said.

U.S. Bank, whose parent is Minneapolis-based lender U.S. Bancorp, said customer behavior has changed during the pandemic, with less foot traffic in branches and more online banking. It is relying more on AI, and the machine-learning capabilities in Salesforce’s CRM, to identify patterns in customer activity. It is looking at customers’ profiles, balances, transactions and other data to spot people who might be open to doing more business, as well as those who might be leaving the bank. U.S. Bank said the software has helped on both fronts, but declined to quantify the benefit.

The bank has been anticipating an increase in digital banking, said Kai Sakstrup, U.S. Bank’s chief strategy officer, but Covid-19 accelerated the trend.

Salesforce is the CRM applications software market leader, followed by SAP and Oracle, according to International Data Corp.

The world-wide market for CRM application software market is projected to go from $60.29 billion in 2019 to $61.95 billion this year, a 2.75% increase, according to IDC, which expects the market to grow at a 7.1% compound annual growth rate over the next few years. Overall IT spending is expected to show year-over-year growth of just 0.3%, to $2.34 trillion, in 2020, the technology research firm said.

IDC doesn’t have a specific forecast for AI-embedded CRM software. But, said Tom Siebel, chairman and chief executive officer of artificial intelligence company, the current demand “is staggering.”

“The next generation of CRM,” he said, “is all about AI-enabled CRM.”

C3 AI CRM combines Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 CRM product, Adobe’s Experience Cloud customer-experience application and’s AI engine, which analyzes sales data to help businesses identify high-quality prospects, predict demand, forecast revenue, and target their marketing efforts.

Salesforce last month added to its CRM an AI tool that analyzes the content of email and push messages before they’re sent to assess the likelihood that customers will open the message and click on a link or take another action. This followed the introduction in June of an AI call-coaching tool, which analyzes transcripts of sales representatives’ calls and suggests better ways to sell based on a collection of best practices and resources.

Oracle earlier this month added a new feature to Oracle CX Sales that’s designed to generate a probability score for how likely a prospective deal is to close. Machine learning analyzes the actions of a corporate prospect, such as past purchases and the number and length of product demonstrations the customer watched.

“Our overall development cycles on AI infused features is faster now than it was two years ago,” said Rob Tarkoff, executive vice president and general manager of Oracle Cloud CX and Data Cloud.

At SAP, Adrian Nash, head of strategy for SAP Customer Experience, said the newly acquired Emarsys platform will work with SAP’s Sales Cloud CRM package.

And Microsoft in the last two months added to its Dynamics 365 suite AI tools for predicting customer churn and routing customer-call requests to the proper team.

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