The sales rep knows you’re bored – Protocol

Hello and welcome to Protocol Enterprise! Today: how companies are selling AI-powered “emotional intelligence” detectors to thirsty salespeople, why Atlassian is still struggling to get hundreds of customers back online, and a potential breakthrough for quantum machine learning.

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There’s arguably never been a better time to be a software developer, and while that’s great for the developers themselves it’s making life really hard for companies that need to hire developers. According to new research from Salesforce’s Mulesoft, 93% of companies are having trouble retaining their good developers over the last two years, and 86% are having trouble hiring them in the first place.

AI seconds that emotion

Virtual sales meetings have made it tougher than ever for salespeople to read the room. So, some well funded tech providers are stepping in with a bold sales pitch of their own: that AI can not only help sellers communicate better, but detect the “emotional state” of a deal — and the people they’re selling to.

Sales and customer service software companies including Uniphore and Sybill are building products that use AI in an attempt to help humans understand and respond to human emotion. Virtual meeting powerhouse Zoom also plans to provide similar features in the future.

  • “It’s very hard to build rapport in a relationship in that type of environment,” said Tim Harris, director of Product Marketing at Uniphore, regarding virtual meetings.
  • The company sells software that attempts to detect whether a potential customer is interested in what a salesperson has to say during a video call, alerting the salesperson in real time during the meeting if someone seems more or less engaged in a particular topic.
  • The system, called Q for Sales, might indicate that a potential customer’s sentiment or engagement level perked up when a salesperson mentioned a particular product feature, but then drooped when the price was mentioned.
  • Sybill, a competitor, also uses AI in an attempt to analyze people’s moods during a call.

But the mere request to record a virtual conversation can alter a customer’s attitude, said Grace Briscoe, senior vice president of Client Development at digital ad company Basis Technologies.

  • “As soon as that recording alert comes up, it puts people on guard,” she said. “I think it would be off-putting for the clients; they would be less candid. I don’t think it would be conducive to the kind of relationship building that we want to do.”
  • While some sales meeting participants might be uncomfortable being recorded, others will be more open to it, said Josh Dulberger, head of Product, Data and AI at Zoom.
  • “Part of it is the culture of the sales team,” he said, noting that recording might not be tolerated when selling to more sensitive industries such as financial services.

Zoom, the king of virtual meetings, said Wednesday it is introducing new features called Zoom IQ for Sales that provide sales meeting hosts with post-meeting conversation transcriptions and sentiment analysis.

  • “We’re looking at things like speaker cadence and other factors in the linguistic approach to try to disentangle one speaker from another,” Dulberger said.
  • For now, the new Zoom features for salespeople do not assess sentiment in real time during a meeting. Instead, they deliver post-meeting analysis.
  • “You will be able to measure that they weren’t very well engaged,” he said, noting that salespeople aim for balanced conversations during which customers talk as often as a sales rep.

What companies such as Uniphore and Sybill are doing goes further than customer service prompts.

  • Uniphore and Sybill aim to monitor human behavior during video calls in real time. And they are betting that even seasoned salespeople can benefit from the guidance of their emotional AI coaching.
  • Dulberger said Zoom also has active research underway to incorporate emotion AI into the company’s products in the future.
  • Briscoe said she recognized the potential value of emotion-AI-based technologies as management tools to help determine which salespeople might be experiencing problems.
  • However, she said, “Companies should hire people who have some level of emotional intelligence. If the people on our team cannot read that someone has lost interest, those are basic human skills that I don’t know why you’d need AI [to facilitate].”

Even if emotional AI guidance is appealing to some sales teams, its validity is in question.

  • “The claim that a person’s interior state can be accurately assessed by analyzing that person’s face is premised on shaky evidence,” wrote Kate Crawford in a 2021 article in The Atlantic.
  • “We’re able to look at faces and classify them into different emotional expressions established by psychologists that are pretty standard out there,” said Patrick Ehlen, Uniphore’s vice president of AI.
  • But Ehlen recognized the limitations of the technology.
  • “There is no real objective way to measure people’s emotions,” he said. “You could be smiling and nodding, and in fact, you’re thinking about your vacation next week.”

— Kate Kaye (email | twitter)

A MESSAGE FROM PwC

M&A and workforce reorganization can create a wealth of opportunities for companies seeking rapid growth, transformation and market expansion. In fact, 47% of executives say pursuing corporate M&As, joint ventures and alliances is their top growth driver in 2022. Unfortunately, nearly half of executives say talent acquisition and retention challenges are the biggest obstacle.

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How not to handle an outage

Atlassian’s Jira outage, which we wrote about last week in this section, is somehow still affecting hundreds of the company’s customers and potentially thousands of developers around the world. Late Tuesday the company finally released more details about the cause and scope of the outage, proving once again that delaying the release of bad news to enterprise customers is worse than the bad news itself.

“Let me start by saying that this incident and our response time are not up to our standard, and I apologize on behalf of Atlassian,” said CTO Sri Viswanath in a blog post Tuesday.

He explained that last week Atlassian engineers attempted to deactivate an old app that worked with Jira Service Management and Jira Software that is now fully integrated into its current services, but internal communication problems and a bad deactivation script actually caused “sites for approximately 400 customers [to be] improperly deleted.” The incident also took out Confluence and Opsgenie, two Atlassian products that customers use to manage their own internal incident response systems.

Compounding the mistake was a lack of automated backup and recovery tools for an incident of this nature, which is forcing Atlassian engineers to manually restore affected customers’ data in order to make sure nothing happens to the data of customers who were not affected by the initial incident. Expect that to change later this year.

Gergely Orosz, a former Uber and Microsoft engineer, might have summed it up best:

“Outages happened, happen, and will happen. The root cause is less important in this case. What is important is how companies respond when things go wrong, and how quickly they do this. And speed is where the company failed first and foremost.”

— Tom Krazit (email | twitter)

Welcome to the memristance

European researchers think they have found a way to advance two futuristic computing concepts — quantum computing and artificial intelligence — through the use of memristors that can simulate the neural networks used in machine learning. As detailed in IEEE Spectrum, they’ve developed a “quantum memristor” that works under relatively normal conditions, unlike the vacuum that is required for a lot of quantum computers to hold their state.

Memristors are electrical components that combine characteristics of memory chips and resistors, and they can therefore both store and process data. The researchers demonstrated how a quantum memristor could achieve the superpositional states required to combine neural networks with quantum computing, although the experiment won’t be a true success until they can prove such a system works with several quantum memristors chained together.

— Tom Krazit (email | twitter)

Around the enterprise

Several cybersecurity companies that work on national infrastructure systems like pipelines and electrical grids, such as Claroty and Honeywell, are urging the federal government to develop standards to better protect those assets from future hacking attempts.

Sales of chipmaking equipment soared 44% last year to $102.6 billion, according to Semi, with sales of equipment to China outpacing the rest of the world.

Intel has tried and failed several times over the last few years to dent Nvidia’s lead in the market for AI chips, and The Wall Street Journal examined its latest plan.

Google developed a new data center networking technology that it believes will achieve lower-latency connections than current technologies can provide, which could be huge for real-time applications currently bottlenecked by the network.

A MESSAGE FROM PwC

ProEdge can help you conduct a skill gap analysis across your organization and gain insights you can leverage to develop forward-looking plans while taking into account the needs of the entire enterprise, including individuals, teams and functions. In an M&A scenario, an upskilling program like ProEdge can also be used to uncover employees’ skills that weren’t utilized before

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Thanks for reading — see you tomorrow!

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