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This Cyber ‘Sales Assistant’ Uses Artificial Intelligence to Hook New Leads

Dec 14, 2016

Following up on sales prospects can be a time-consuming process, one that isn't guaranteed to come with a payoff. Artificial intelligence software firm Conversica, which on Wednesday disclosed $34 million in venture funding, has created a smart "sales assistant" that automates just that.

Conversica's technology uses scripted conversations to respond to incoming emails and messages from a company's website, mobile app, or other lead-gathering campaigns. It connects with close to 50 different sales and marketing systems, including applications from Salesforce and Marketo.

If the Conversica software finds it difficult to interpret a response, or if the prospect sends signals (using certain keywords or phrases) that suggest he or she is receptive to a deeper sales conversation, the exchange is escalated to a human on the sales team.

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So far, the system has sent and received more than 180 million emails and SMS messages, according to the Foster City, Calif.-based company. The response rate for those communications is approximately 35%, far greater than standard marketing emails.

"We've gone way beyond the theoretical," Conversica CEO Alex Terry told Fortune. In fact, he said, the sales assistant software has proven so effective for some customers that recruiters have even mistaken the software for a human and tried to make a hire. Other contacts have sent in thank-you notes and flowers, he said.

The 9-year-old Conversica has more than 1,000 customers, including IBM, CenturyLink, and Fiat Chrysler of America. The company, which has about 140 employees, started life as a lead generation business, but it changed its model several years ago. It claims an annual recurring revenue of $18 million. A typical subscription is "a few thousand" dollars per month, Terry said.

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The new funding, led by Providence Strategic Growth Capital Partners, brings Conversica's outside backing to approximately $56 million. Terry declined to disclose the company's valuation.

The latest infusion will be used to develop other applications of Conversica's technology, such as processing messages handled by a customer support or service organization and expanding support to other languages outside of English.

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