Elnur - stock.adobe.com
Microsoft Viva Sales, to be released Oct. 3, joins the likes of HubSpot and Salesforce in investing in a long-ignored facet of sales tech: the end-user experience.
Viva Sales, a CRM automation tool, includes a number of AI-powered features to cover tasks that salespeople have to perform manually, such as data entry into CRM apps and taking notes during calls. The AI taps Microsoft natural language processing, speech recognition and other machine learning tools to, for example, keep track of actions taken in Teams collaborations, or plumb email and calendar data that connects with a particular sale.
HubSpot's Operations Hub has AI tools to autofill and cleanse CRM data. Salesforce also acquired Troops.ai earlier this year to build Slackbots that could resemble some functionalities of Viva Sales in the Slack environment.
Taken together, these CRM automation tools signify a long-overdue movement among tech vendors to upgrade the sales rep experience, said Dan Gottlieb, senior director analyst at Gartner.
CRM platforms mostly focus on benefits for the enterprise in their new features, but a surge in remote work and a job market that favors the sales rep led the industry to innovate.
"We definitely see the beginning of a significant investment in applications for the end users," Gottlieb said. "While that may seem silly to say -- given the size and scope of CRM applications in general -- this is an example of what I think we're going to see a lot more of in the next wave of CRM sales tech."
Dan GottliebSenior director analyst, Gartner
Automating manual, menial tasks
AI that helps sellers eliminate clicks and app switching in their typically complex daily software workflows is a big victory for sellers, Gottlieb said. Viva Sales' ability to surface Outlook calendar data and use AI to rationalize whether it should or shouldn't be stored in the CRM could save a lot of time for sales reps who use it.
Startups such as Dooly and Scratchpad have their own takes on AI tools for CRM automation, he said. In general, the revenue operations tech space is going through merger "mayhem" right now as big vendors seek to annex adjacent territory and functionality by acquiring such startups.
Any automation that eliminates the need to manually take notes, summarize calls or schedule follow-ups will make CRM data more accurate, said Kate Leggett, Forrester Research vice president and analyst. It gives sales reps more bandwidth to close sales.
"This allows the seller to concentrate on the conversation at hand -- and the insights that they bring to the conversation," Leggett said, "instead of reactive note taking that is often done at the end of the day, [which can be] error prone and incomplete."
Seismic partnership for sales enablement
Microsoft also partnered with Seismic, a sales enablement cloud platform. Joint users of Seismic and Viva Sales have pre-built integrations that provide content suggestions to help close sales more quickly, streaming live recommendations during phone conversations. It also offers training, onboarding and other sales collateral.
Viva Sales integrates with Outlook and Teams, whose users outnumber Salesforce's Slack 13-to-1, by some counts. That said, Salesforce users far outnumber Microsoft Dynamics 365 CRM. So, the trick will be for Microsoft to woo joint Salesforce and Microsoft Office 365 users to add a Viva Sales subscription to their stack to improve the experience of sales reps on the front lines.
"[We're] really breaking down the silos between office data and CRM data," said Lori Lamkin, corporate vice president of Microsoft Dynamics 365 customer experience applications. "We can use AI to crunch these two separate data sources and provide a much richer set of insights and historical understanding of the customer that can help you be more effective."
Don Fluckinger covers enterprise content management, CRM, marketing automation, e-commerce, customer service and enabling technologies for TechTarget.