Using Artificial Intelligence to Convert Sales Leads

FOSTER CITY, CA—There’s a new era emerging in hospitality and it’s centered on technology, with an emphasis on how to provide a high level of service while increasing efficiencies for the business. The golden age of digital—online booking, robots, mobile apps and keyless entry—has been heralded and promptly adopted by major hotel brands eager to stay on the leading edge.

Meet Jennifer. She’s actually not a she; more accurately, Jennifer is an “it” that’s powered by artificial intelligence (AI) harnessed by Conversica, a technology company based here that provides AI software that uses a persona to engage inbound leads in the sales process.

“Our flagship service is a sales assistant using the SaaS model and it becomes part of the customer sales team. It has a name, email address and title. We’ve found that female names tend to have better response rates,” said Conversica CEO Alex Terry, whose clients include IBM and Sysco.

Here’s how it works: The AI assistant automatically contacts, engages and follows up with leads using natural conversation until the lead converts or opts out. The sales assistant captures the lead’s incentive and sentiment, Conversica extracts key information such as best times to call, and then the AI assistant hands off the lead to the appropriate person to close the deal.

The other thing, noted Terry, is that the AI assistant isn’t going it alone, and a team of people handling the exceptions backs it up. “There’s always a percentage of messages that are confusing for the AI, so we have a human team for when the AI is not confident and needs to forward it on to the sales person to do whatever is necessary to move  the lead forward, close the deal and increase revenue.

With artificial intelligence being a broad category, it means different things to different people. Conversica drilled it down to four categories and applied a focus on the natural language processing text classification. “Our focus is in and around conversational AI, building smart conversations back and forth,” he said.

Every client gets to name their Conversica sales assistant and, according to Terry, based on testing more than 100 million interactions over the last six years, they have data on what names will work best and what conversations will create successful outcomes, and they provide that support. However, it’s ultimately up to the client to select a name and the conversations they’d like to implement for their particular business.

“Once people are aware of what we’re doing, we’ll do a live demo and talk them through it. In a week to two weeks, the client is up and running. Most of the process involves scheduling time with the team and the actual work to get the AI assistant integrated with our clients,” he said. “We work with SalesForce, HubSpot and a wide range of CRMs and marketing solutions to make it easy for our clients to get leads connected to sales assistants. We have a large number of existing conversations and existing message templates.”

Conversica also uses analytics to help drive the AI conversations and are nimble enough to change them over time and try out new ideas. “We do A-B testing to let them know if their suggestions were better or worse than the baseline conversations we have,” he said.

Currently, the AI assistant is only available in English, but new languages will be forthcoming as the demand is significant. Terry noted that Conversica has 15,000 sales reps using the AI service who have reached out to 23 million people on behalf of their clients. “We don’t know anyone else who has the same scale of implementing these AI conversations. We’ve got the world’s largest data set around sales conversations and that’s part of why customers are growing with us.” 

—Corris Little