AI company, InsideSales is teaching robots how to sell

17th November 2018 273 views Psalms Kalu

Armed with hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from Microsoft and Salesforce, InsideSales believes it can make computers an intelligent assistant of sorts for salespeople.

The world of the salesperson is filled with maxims of success: "You don't sell a guy one car, you sell him five cars over fifteen years." In the rough and tumble world of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross, the play from which that line comes, such sales tactics are part instinct, part hard-won savvy.

A startup company named InsideSales argues such expertise can be figured out over time by mining sales data, and applying some rudimentary forms of machine learning.

David Elkington, founder and chief executive of InsideSales of Provo, Utah, was in New York last week for his own customer conference. He sat down with ZDNet to explain his thinking. The venue for the meeting was Elkington's suite at the top of the Beekman Hotel in lower Manhattan.

The pointy-peaked tower duplex suite in the elegant 19th century hotel typically rents for $6,500 per night. The inside of the tower resembles some sort of cozy Swiss chalet, or, as Elkington observed, something out of Hogwarts -- a milieu that seemed to please his nerd side.

Elkington, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, was in the midst of pursuing a masters degree in computer science, with a focus on machine learning, in the late '90s at Brigham Young University, when he put aside his thesis to form InsideSales. Back then, his ambitions for AI were grand. "I assumed we could emulate the human brain," he says with a grin. "I was naive, perhaps."

His thesis advisor for that masters is now working for Elkington at InsideSales. The goal today, however, is more prosaic than back then, but to Elkington it is of no less value, perhaps more so, to the company's customers.

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