Oracle CloudWorld happens this week in Las Vegas, and there will be lots of product announcements covering many things we don’t necessarily or directly care about in CRM. That used to be truer than it is now because, over the last few years, the software industry has been converging on its own singularity.
Back-office data drives front-office processes and vice versa, and new hardware constellations define what’s possible. That leaves us to pick and choose what’s most interesting in our context, and fortunately, a plethora of PR and search can fill out everything else.
So, for example … If you understand that sales and marketing is a give-and-take between vendor and customer, you might be interested in Oracle’s approach to adding AI to those disciplines. They’re also making a big AI push in service (see below).
Up to this moment, the reality was that a customer held all the cards, and try as we might, some sellers spent too much time on people who were not in the market. Of course, a seller could then find various ways to do a bad deal, such as discounting or providing other incentives. However, a business that did that too often would eventually have a hard time remaining in business.
At the same time, though, numbers can also work against the seller. They typically have more opportunities than they can deal with, and some leads, maybe good ones, inevitably fall through the cracks.
The holy grail of selling for many decades has been the idea that sellers could improve their lead sorting so that the deals they didn’t chase were the right ones to let go of. That can never be a perfectly done task, at least by humans.
Now, Bring in AI
Identifying the right opportunities is what AI can do much better than people, if only because AI can do this while humans are sleeping. If sellers can be sure they are working the best available opportunities, they know their time is being optimized.
Effective use of AI in early stages, like opportunity identification, also sets the stage for success in later stages of the sales process, such as delivering the right information at the right time.
This week, Oracle is announcing that it has added AI in critical spots like Intelligent Sales Orchestration, Guided Campaigns, AI-Powered Account Linking, and more. All of it is intended to help sellers do the right things with the right customers at the right time.
In service and support, which can be big time sinks for many organizations, Oracle emphasizes speed to deliver the correct information or service — for example, helping agents to author and edit responses to customers much faster than manual approaches. AI can also do a better job of curating knowledge articles rather than reinventing the wheel by generating something very similar.
Another capability that I find very useful is AI’s ability to summarize an account over many interactions so that the right help can be administered in a reasonable time. I can resonate with this. Imagine being put on hold so that a service rep can read your file and come up to speed to service your issue, and you see the benefit for all parties.
Transforming Lead Qualification With AI
That’s what Oracle seems to be aiming for with its AI-driven CX. It also seems this will upset the apple cart, perhaps in a good way. For decades, we’ve been debating the merits and characteristics of marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL), sometimes with the fervor of a low-calorie beer commercial back in the 1980s (for those who weren’t paying attention back then, there’s YouTube).
Just getting sales and marketing to agree on what a qualified lead is and getting sellers to communicate that to marketers has been the subject of many of these columns over the years. There were meetings, communications channels, and metrics not that long ago, but not today. In Oracle land, it seems that if a lead is qualified, it turns into an opportunity because the AI system says so.
That might not be a perfect formulation, but with AI, you can expect things to improve over time, and I suspect it will be better than anything that’s come before. If one hundred leads boil down to a small handful of opportunities, subsequent AI-driven steps ought to be able to deliver the true deals that meet a sales organization’s parameters for all-out pursuit.
What Could Go Wrong? Well, being the last sales organization to take advantage of AI would be the greatest disaster. Of course, this means some re-education for newbies, and if you’ve been arguing about leads long enough, de-education is in order.
For instance, suddenly, we don’t care much about the MQL/SQL discussion because the number of leads becomes almost whimsical. Sure, marketing wants to know how many leads each program generates, but sales will just want to know how many opportunities it gets in aggregate.
Streamlining the Sales and Marketing Synergy
So, a different discussion is being teed up between sales and marketing. It will be a better discussion, too, since there can be near-total transparency.
Being able to access information about leads and opportunities without chasing your counterparts in sales or marketing should make us all more efficient and effective.
It’s unlikely that AI will close many deals for us, but better efficiency and effectiveness throughout the marketing and sales process may be all we really need.