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During the pandemic, sales teams have been stretched by the resource-intensive transition to digital. To bridge the gaps in service, some enterprises are adopting AI and automation technologies — often to great success. According to a McKinsey survey, 79% of respondents agree that AI adoption in marketing and sales has helped to increase business revenue. Even before the pandemic, according to sales leaders, AI adoption in sales was expected to grow by 155% in 2020, according to a 2018 Salesforce report.
A number of vendors offer AI-powered sales solutions tailored to particular industries. One rising to prominence is Proton.ai, which offers tools for wholesale distributors to help sales reps and customers navigate managing products across channels. Founded in 2018 by Benjamin Cohen, Proton connects distributors’ customer, product, and transactional data, analyzing the data with machine learning models to provide sales recommendations.
AI-powered sales enablement
Cohen, who studied data science at Harvard, teamed up with a group of engineers to build Proton several years ago. The company later joined the Harvard Innovation Labs Venture Program and went on to win the Harvard College Startup Competition.
Cohen says that he learned about the challenges of distribution through his family’s business, Benco Dental. In his belief, distributors have been chronically underserved by technology — particularly AI and machine learning.
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“If you think of the typical distributor who sells lots of products to lots of customers across many sales channels, there’s really very little software built specifically for their needs,” Cohen told VentureBeat via email. “From a technology perspective, each new Proton customer is a big, substantial business with (in many cases) decades of historical data. Proton gathers this data from several sources, such as the distributor’s enterprise resource planning system, customer relationship management platform, ecommerce website, and any third-party data source that can inform our AI models.”
Proton shows customers historic and real-time sales transactions, customer information, and product data in a dashboard. It collects and analyzes intent data, predicting which items reps can pitch successfully when customers call in.
In addition, Proton provides a workflow that shows which customers to contact and when. And it creates a personalized shopping experience for customers, including enhancements like “recommended items,” “complete the cart,” “recently discussed with your rep,” and more.
“Proton surfaces personalized product pitches that sales reps can use to increase wallet share with existing customers. The app provides sales reps with a prioritized list of customers to contact, based on their ‘Proton Score,'” Cohen explained. “The software determines this score based on a number of factors, including the likelihood that the customer will churn and the potential wallet share opportunity with the account. It also provides sales reps with timely, relevant, and personalized product pitches based on analysis done by the AI. [Beyond this,] Proton can plug into a distributor’s existing ecommerce website to suggest personalized cross-sell recommendations throughout the site.”
AI in sales enablement
The pandemic continues to transform sales operations, with companies telling McKinsey that they now see digital interactions as two to three times more important to their customers than traditional sales. In fact, it’s estimated that almost 90% of sales have moved to a videoconferencing, phone, and web sales model, and — while skepticism remains — more than half believe that this is equally or more effective than sales models used before the pandemic.
Reflecting enthusiasm for the multibillion-dollar sales enablement software market — which includes rivals like Gong, Outreach, and Groove — Proton saw its monthly recurring revenue increase by 241% over the past year. In a vote of confidence, Felicis Ventures led the company’s $20 million series A round, which was announced today, with additional participation from Battery Ventures, Abstract Ventures, MSC Direct, J Ventures, and angels.
Fifty-employee Proton.ai’s total capital raised stands at $24 million.
“Distributors operate in a competitive, low-margin environment with high cost to serve. Technology is the only way they can continue to compete against tech-savvy forces like Amazon Business. Because of this, there is a tremendous amount of pressure put on the C-suite to understand how AI and machine learning can help reduce their cost to serve, increase wallet share with existing accounts, and gain new customers,” Cohen added. “Distributors who are unable — or unwilling — to tackle this challenge will likely get squeezed out of the market by more aggressive competitors.”
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