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Brainier Salesforce CRM might find customers to be slow learners

Einstein AI features could be long-term prospect CEO Marc Benioff took to the stage in San Francisco yesterday, using his Dreamforce 2016 keynote address to tout the benefits of his company's Einstein campaign.

Announced last month by the SaaS giant, Einstein is the result of a years-long string of acquisitions and research efforts that will see various AI elements integrated throughout the cloud lineup.

Benioff, who has seen his company invest hundreds of millions of dollars in the effort, described Einstein as "the world's smartest CRM" and "everyone's data scientist".

"I know this sounds like magic," Benioff told attendees, "but so did it sound like magic when we said we were going to give the cloud to everyone."

On a practical level, Einstein will be used in areas such as sales lead generation, modeling business data, or even helping compose email pitches. Salesforce is also making developer tools available for companies who wish to customise Einstein.

The software-as-a-service pioneer hopes that customers will see a natural transition to the new AI-assisted tools in its service. To help make its pitch, Salesforce showcased the efforts of customers such as FitBit, who talked up the effectiveness of the product.

If those companies can make use of Einstein, Salesforce reasons, so can any other company that uses its services.

"AI is actually all around you, and it is helping you every single day," said Salesforce co-founder and head of product strategy Parker Harris.

Despite those efforts to take the fear out of the AI layer, however, Einstein could prove to be a tough sell initially with many of the companies who use Salesforce, and the integration of the AI platform could prove to be more of a long-term proposition.

Todd Berkowitz, research vice president with analyst house Gartner, said that the sales and marketing sectors in particular may be leary of the newly-introduced AI features of the Salesforce services, opting instead to stick with the 'dumb' data tools they are accustomed to using.

"The adoption of AI has largely been in technology," Berkowitz explained.

"For a salesperson, or even a marketer to say I'm going to trust this it takes a leap in faith."

Other companies who run within heavily regulated markets, such as the medical and financial sectors, will be unable to experiment some of the features, particularly those that make use of customer data, for fear or running afoul of data protection rules.

In other words, many of the companies Salesforce hopes will benefit from Einstein will have plenty of reasons not to use it right away.

Though it may not be an instant success, however, does not mean that Einstein will ultimately be a flop. As more companies do warm to the idea of utilizing machine learning within their business tools, having those features already built in and easy to integrate could give Salesforce an edge with companies who do wish to make that incremental transition.

"I think what they are doing is trying to mainstream something that has not yet hit the mainstream," said Berkowitz.

"I think eventually we are going to get past the point where people are using 'dumb' data and practices when better insights are right in front of your faces and all you have to do is turn it on."

When customers do hope to turn those tools on, Benioff and Co. hope they will be in prime position to take advantage, even if it does take longer than they had hoped. ®

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