Microsoft Corp introduced Viva Sales, a new program meant to connect its Office and video conferencing programs with customer-relationship management software — its own and that of rivals, a step that could help it garner revenue from Salesforce Inc. clients.
The program, available to preview next month, lets users of customer management programs synchronise information between those products and Microsoft’s Outlook address books and calendars or Teams conferencing and chat. Viva Sales also uses artificial intelligence tools to scan calls and interactions with clients, analysing customer sentiment to see what actions and marketing material are working well, and provide feedback to the sales representative.
Viva Sales is free for those who already use Microsoft’s Dynamics customer relations software. Pricing for Salesforce customers will be detailed later this year when the software is generally available, Microsoft said.
The new product offers the Redmond, Washington-based company a shot at capturing some revenue from users of Salesforce’s market-leading customer management software, which Microsoft has been trying to catch for nearly two decades. When Microsoft tries to win over Salesforce clients, some say they are interested in these kinds of features, but aren’t planning to rip out the customer relations software they already have, Judson Althoff, Microsoft’s chief commercial officer, said in an interview. Salesforce is also adding artificial intelligence capabilities to its programs and last year acquired business chat app Slack to integrate with its offerings.
“Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose,” Althoff said. “If they choose to stay with Salesforce, they can still purchase Viva Sales separately and get all of the advancements that we’re bringing to bear, as well as the full integration with Teams and Office that customers have been asking for a long time. We do think this will be a big incremental revenue driver for us.”
The program lets sales reps mark certain contacts as customers in their Outlook contact list, which will enable interactions to be synced with their customer-management program. Viva Sales connects with calendars, sees when customer meetings are coming up and shows the user which of their other contacts or LinkedIn connections are related to the customer. During a meeting held on Teams a sales rep can view all of the data related to the customer.
AI researchers have expressed concern about accuracy and bias issues in various sentiment analysis algorithms and a product with those issues could raise concerns if the analysis is used to determine decisions on compensation or influences performance reviews. Althoff said Viva Sales enables the analysis it provides sales reps to be reviewed for accuracy.
It also lets users grade recommendations and learns from the scores.
Microsoft has been using the product with its sales teams for a year and has trained the AI, reducing some early issues, Althoff said. That means external customers won’t have to redo much of that work, he said.
“In our early experimentation days, we would get some pretty crazy recommendations in terms of the next best action,” he said. But “the system learns wicked fast and within a very short period of time, we were getting pretty astute recommendations.”
While initially Viva Sales will work automatically with Dynamics and Salesforce, the program includes the ability to manually connect data to other programs, Althoff said.
Microsoft hopes the tools help eliminate much of the manual data entry and searching for information currently done by sales reps.
“Companies are really trying hard to thread the needle on employee productivity and well-being at the same time, and we feel like this is a capability that actually helps make salespeople’s lives more effective, more efficient and more enjoyable,” he said.