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AiThority Interview with Suvish Viswanathan, Head of European Marketing at ZOHO Corporation

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Know My Company

Tell us about your interaction with smart technologies like AI and Intelligent Automation for Sales and Marketing?

Sales and Marketing teams get exposed to many types of data gathered across campaigns, interactions and online and offline assets. In the past decade, technology has become more sophisticated bringing a huge array of tools into the market to help garner this data and provide a better environment for Sales and Marketing teams to design, roll-out and measure their campaigns.

The Sales and Marketing industry has seen AI developments in many areas, such as recommendation engines for better campaign planning, programmatic ad placements, effective online landing pages and intelligent segmentation of the contact base. These tasks otherwise take several man-hours annually, but with smart automation and AI, it’s moving in the right direction.

CRM tools have become intelligent too with Salespeople using AI in CRM to predict deals more effectively and help them to focus and prioritize leads that will give them faster closure.

Intelligent Automation is still in the early stages but is likely to become pervasive in the Sales and Marketing departments. Many tools provide easy-to-use, drag and drop based automation workflows and as these tools collect more and more data, it can be used to recommend flows that will be more effective for teams.

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What are the most challenging activities in Marketing and Sales that could be automated with AI and ML software?

There are many challenging activities for the industries that could be resolved or diluted if the teams had better visibility. A few examples which could see the most major improvements with AI and ML Software Automation are:

  • Content Personalization: In order to use account-based intelligence to personalize content today, manual data scraping is used but this often produces inaccurate results. Using AI in smart segmentation and scraping the internet to enrich accounts and personalize content can drive further campaign success for the Sales and Marketing teams.
  • Data Unification: This can be one of today’s biggest challenges if data is spread across various disparate systems. However, as the adoption of the Customer Data Platform (CDP) spreads further, it will be easier to make intelligent insights into the customer data.
  • Measuring Advertising ROI: A significant proportion of Marketing time and money is spent on advertisements (digital and offline). Many Programmatic Advertising platforms purport to provide insights. However, further analysis and visibility are needed to more effectively measure and predict ROI.
Why do you think AI tools are yet to earn respect from Sales teams?

AI has been very hyped but it is not a magic wand that will fix all problems. Yes, it can aid many processes to improve success, but other areas need to be considered for it to work most effectively.

The Customer Acquisition process is dynamic and many organizations still follow the traditional process of feeding the data into CRM. An AI layer on top of a poorly designed CRM process is only going to complicate things further and Sales teams who follow ‘sell fast, sell often’ will find little time to rely on AI.

Before implementing the AI layer, the underlying data-capturing and data-storage architecture needs to be optimized to draw insights and intelligence. Only then can AI be implemented to resolve certain problems.

There has also been much discussion around the need for Data Scientists leading to concern about ‘ease of use’ and accessibility of AI to field Sales teams. The more simple the process the better. If a Salesperson has to click multiple buttons and memorize the process then adoption will be very low. Voice is on the rise as the next user interface and this can only make it easier to access CRM data on the move. Why shouldn’t it be as simple as a salesperson asks their CRM app to find potential prospects near them in the same way you would ask Siri to set an alarm on your phone?

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How is the AI industry in Europe and APAC different from North America?

The North American market has been the early adopter of AI due to the availability of options and superior connectivity infrastructure. APAC has been high up on the scale of the adoption cycle with different industries deploying AI widely.

In Europe, some industries and countries have progressed at a fair pace. The privacy law has had some impact on the speed of adoption but as the industry navigates this and makes frameworks with privacy-by-design we will soon see stronger adoption in Europe.

How do you train your Marketing and Sales teams to work with AI and ML tools? Do you invest in their training, learning, and development?

At Zoho, we use our own AI framework across teams. It’s called Zia and is now part of several of our product lines – CRM, Analytics, Productivity, and Finance. Our Sales teams are trained on this by Product teams and give feedback on its accessibility to ensure confidence in offering an easy-to-use product for the market. The Voice-enabled feature of Zia in Zoho CRM was introduced to solve our own use case and today several thousands of our customers use it.

Why is the adoption of AI is still lagging in Africa and South-East Asia?

AI is currently on top of the chain when it comes to Digital Transformation. Countries in the African continent and the South-East Asian region are still very early in Digital Technology adoption. Having said that, there are a few areas in both these regions where you would see AI technologies coming in sooner than we expect. In the past few years, large MNCs have opened up their AI research centers in Africa to help out local governments to provide better lives to people. There are a few community initiatives that have blossomed over the past few years to develop grass root talent.

For example, Deep Learning Indaba, which has chapters in most of the countries within Africa. In South-East Asia, Singapore is at the forefront of the change. With the trade focus shifting to Vietnam, we will soon see the adoption of intelligent robots in the country to accommodate the demand. In addition, we can see similar developments in Indonesia and the Philippines.

The Good, Bad and Ugly about AI that you have heard or predict –

Firstly let’s examine the good: AI is definitely helping in connecting the dots and automating tasks. It will only get better as technology improves further.

On the bad side, we are far from completely relying on AI so it is not a one-stop solution for all the complexities that digital tools have created over the past decade. Privacy is a valid concern and AI tools need to respect the privacy preferences of consumers.

The Crystal Gaze

What Cloud Analytics and SaaS start-ups and labs are you keenly following?

I follow a few research newsletters in the analytics space and we have our Analytics initiative which is quite mature and has been around for 13 years so I get insights from our internal teams too. Cloud Analytics was not a proven technology back when we initially introduced it.

We participate in some events too to follow industry trends. BARC research in Europe is doing some good work in the Analytics space, including the release of a recent research report titled “The Future of Reporting”.

Regarding SaaS startups, there are a few associations that we partner with and it helps to keep us informed on what is happening on the ground. In Europe, we have partnered with SaaStock to help grow the SaaS ecosystem. We will continue with such investments to nurture the long term vision of entrepreneurs.

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What technologies within AI/NLP and Cloud Analytics are you interested in?

I am closely following the development and use of AI in business applications. In the B2B space, the development is slow but is progressing in the right direction. There’s also a substantial amount of research on speech-to-text applications which will help reduce the complexity.

For Cloud Analytics, I am keenly following the developments that are in progress to make analytics available for all. NLP is part of the solution. Zoho Analytics uses NLP to simplify the usage for lines of business and we will continue to invest here.

I am also interested in the ability to search across business applications. It is one of the ways to be more responsive and productive. For example, if I search for a customer name, the search result should give me the results from Support Software, Finance Applications, Marketing campaigns, and emails. This is quite powerful in enabling individuals to get a better context of customer data and the corresponding interactions to respond accordingly.

As a Tech Leader, what industries you think would be fastest to adopting Analytics and AI/ML with smooth efficiency? What are the new emerging markets for these technology markets?

Retail and the high-tech industry have been the earliest adopters of AI/ ML. A few brands have tried the usage of AI in retail to enhance customer experience with more personalized targeting. AI is also helping retailers automate the operations and thereby optimizing the expenses.

Healthcare and the Energy sector is fast catching up too. As these industries go digital we will see a spike in AI usage to augment the skills of human force. The awareness around AI is spreading fast and as it becomes more consumer-led we will see accessibility improve.

So far we have seen the US, China, and the UK taking the lead. In terms of emerging markets for AI, we are seeing governments taking this as part of their planning and they have pledged investments to attract talent and build research facilities. One such example is in South Korea where the government is building a public-private partnership led research center to drive AI research and adoption.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

I would honestly say Zia, which I know is one of our own products but it is now part of several Zoho apps that we use every day. For example, as I respond to your queries on Zoho Writer, our powerful Word processor (and more), Zia is helping me with Grammar and is also checking the readability of this article. Similarly, for all my travel expenses I don’t have to go to the Zoho Expense app to upload receipts, I can do that directly from my internal office messenger, Zoho Cliq, our messaging tool, that connects with Zoho Expense in the background.

Tag the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

I have enjoyed reading Scott Brinker and David Raab’s articles on the Marketing Technology landscape so it would be good to hear their perspectives on these questions.

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Thank you, Suvish! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority soon.

Suvish leads Zoho’s Marketing initiatives in Europe and has been associated with the company and its products for quite some time. Prior to joining Zoho, he headed the marketing organization for ADP’s India and ASEAN region.

Suvish is exploring ways to find the next growth phase for Zoho Corporation in a highly diverse European continent. Zoho brings an unique opportunity to its customers to transform their entire business (Finance, Sales, Marketing, Client Support, HR and IT) on the cloud.

zoho logo

Zoho is the operating system for business—a single online platform capable of running an entire business. With 40+ apps in nearly every major business category, including sales, marketing, customer support, accounting and back office operations, and an array of productivity and collaboration tools, Zoho is one of the world’s most prolific software companies.

Zoho respects user privacy and does not have an ad-revenue model in any part of its business, including its free products. More than 45 million users around the world, across hundreds of thousands of companies, rely on Zoho every day to run their businesses, including Zoho itself.

Zoho Corporation is privately held and profitable with more than 7,000 employees. Zoho is headquartered in Pleasanton, California, with international headquarters in Chennai, India. Additional offices are in Austin, Texas (U.S.); Renigunta, India; Tenkasi, India; Yokohama, Japan; Beijing, China; Singapore; Queretaro, Mexico; Byron Bay, Australia; Utrecht, Netherlands; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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