The wild-haired one
Salesforce isn’t even waiting for Dreamforce to begin the drumbeat over its AI offering which is or will be called Einstein. There is so much to discuss over this turn of events that it’s hard to begin so rather than starting at a conventional jumping off point let’s think for a moment about the name.
You couldn’t have lived at any point in the 20th century and not have some idea of who Albert Einstein was. For most of that time he was regarded as special, a savant, one who could see things that no one else could. But I prefer to think of him as one of the first to build models of reality that he could test his ideas against. History is full of these people most of whom did a one off. But Einstein systematized the approach—he had to because he was a theoretical physicist.
Einstein may have invented the word “thought-experiment” because his work centered on the very small and the very large, things that happened in nanoseconds and things that have taken up the 13 or so billion years of the universe’s life and the billions more to come. Things you couldn’t easily see or handle.
In theoretical physics you don’t set up an experiment in a lab. You look for evidence in nature that you or others discover because your alternative is to build an impossibly expensive collider to smash nuclei together to simulate the Big Bang. You also do a lot of thinking because your imagination is the best modeling tool.
Perhaps Einstein’s greatest modeling effort was to imagine what reality would be like to ride a beam of light. That simple idea led to understanding that the speed of light is the ultimate speed limit in the universe and that if nothing can go faster then all communication is ultimately limited by the speed of light. This includes time or the perception of time. Traveling at or very close to the speed of light causes time to slow down. Einstein did all of this with a few equations and his mind. He was quite a modeler.
In this context I think Einstein makes perfect sense for an AI product name because it enables a business to model the salient points of its reality in dealing with customers and helps us all to make logical deductions that we might have missed with prior brute force methods. Salesforce’s Einstein brings together several types of AI/BI/machine learning/deep learning/machine intelligence and whatever from prior acquisitions including RelateIQ, Implisit, PredictionIO, Tempo, and others.
Here is why I think this is significant. AI of this caliber significantly signals the end of transaction oriented business and conventional CRM that supported it. The better the model of your business the more you can see into the processes you are involved in and importantly the less you’ll focus on any transaction because transactions will be a foregone conclusion. You’ll focus on the process that leads to a transaction, which will help to assure a transaction takes place.
As a practical matter this doesn’t mean you’ll suddenly have superstar sales people who nail every deal. But having good AI might tell you when you’re wasting your time, when a deal isn’t going to be yours. Knowing this you’ll redeploy resources with the confidence that you’ve made the right decision.
Don’t worry this isn’t only about selling, it’s equally important for every aspect of your business. AI in service can tell you not only the next best action or offer, but it can also tell you the customer’s likelihood of being satisfied with the engagement and therefore what else you need to do. AI in marketing has many opportunities but let’s look at one that seems to always get neglected, the installed customer base.
Too many businesses assume that customers will come back for more and many do, but others keep looking for better opportunities. Worse, too often businesses that do big deals with multiple tranches of purchases spelled out in agreements forget where they are in the life-cycle and leave money on the table. There’s no easier way to make your numbers than to sell to existing customers but for some reason, we neglect the low-hanging fruit. AI could be an effective agent for changing that situation.
I don’t know all of Salesforce’s plans for Einstein, although they are a client and they brief me from time to time, it’s a big kimono. But with this early signal, I expect that Dreamforce 16 will have a distinctly AI flavor. That’s not very surprising and the company has been signaling in that direction for a while without making announcements like this. What will be surprising will likely be the many different applications of AI they’ll find and the timeline for releasing it all.