Viva Sales uses AI to make CRM smart and collaborative


CRM concept illustration.
Image: artinspiring/Adobe Stock

When Microsoft first announced Viva, it wasn’t always clear how it was different from Teams. As more Viva modules emerge, it makes more sense that these are specific applications that build on and are available inside Teams to deliver better employee experiences, rather than core Teams functionality. Training resources and insights about work patterns will be useful to many employees, but the latest Viva module is specifically for sales teams.

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Companies have more information than ever about customers and plenty of tools to automatically send personalized offers, but that automation doesn’t cover the conversations sellers have with customers and potential buyers, so you probably don’t know who a customer has spoken to before or when anyone last talked to them. Most sales teams rely on manually entering data from calls and meetings into their customer relationship manager systems, and most salespeople hate doing that. The CRM might be your system of record, but those records aren’t getting updated, so they’re likely inaccurate, incomplete or out of date.

How the Viva Sales AI helps sales teams

Salespeople spend most of their time in conversations and in systems of productivity (or Office applications as most people call them), sending emails, holding video calls, writing documents or building customer lists in Microsoft Excel when their CRM tools aren’t flexible enough. Every time they need to go back to the CRM to enter or look up data, they’re prevented from doing the  work they’re trying to get done.

“Especially given the pandemic, and given that remote work is now the standard way of working, what we hear from sellers is they’re spending only 32% of their time selling, and they spend 34% of their time on administrative tasks, including manually entering data into CRM,” said Emily He, corporate vice president for business applications marketing at Microsoft. “They really want to spend more time selling, especially given the current economic environment.”

Viva Sales integrates not just into Teams but also Outlook, Excel, Word, PowerPoint and your CRM system. When you get an email from a current or potential customer, you can click the Mark as customer button in the Viva Sales pane to create a new customer record in your CRM system (Figure A). Viva uses AI to spot emails where that’s likely to be useful and suggests that in the same way it already suggests tasks and relevant documents.

Figure A

Image: Microsoft. Mark someone as a customer in Outlook and Viva Sales makes a new customer record in Dynamics and collects all your interactions with them.

“Once you tap a contact as a customer, everything you do with this customer, whether you’re exchanging emails where you’re writing a sales proposal, or maybe you’re using Excel to structure a deal for this customer, all that information gets catalogued under that contact,” He explained.

That information becomes part of the customer record in the CRM, with much more detail than you’d get from a manual update.

“There’s no way that any seller will manually enter all this information into the CRM,” she said. “Usually when you manually enter data into the CRM, you’re providing reporting for your manager, but you don’t have the live engagement data. This data is much richer.”

That information is useful on its own so that you can see if you’ve already sent a brochure or which colleagues have spoken to the same customer before. You can see customer details in Excel where you can sort, filter or do sums to help you prioritize deals (Figure B).

Figure B

Image: Microsoft. See information from the CRM system in Office apps like Excel when you have relevant documents open – credit Microsoft.png

But Viva Sales also uses what Microsoft calls “conversational intelligence” to create summaries and transcripts of calls so you don’t get distracted taking notes (Figure C).  It analyses those to give you suggestions during the call, action items to add to your to-do list after the call and more suggestions when you’re working on anything related to that customer in other applications.

Figure C

Image: Microsoft. Viva Sales takes information from Teams calls and Office documents and puts that in the CRM system along with suggestions for what to do next.

“We see this as a booster for your existing CRM system, because it’s augmenting your data with real time customer engagement data,” He said. “Now that you have this rich source of customer engagement data, we apply AI and machine learning to the data and deliver recommended actions for sellers to the point of action: Whether you’re writing emails, or you’re authoring documents to customers or you’re in a virtual meeting, we guide you on how to further engage with the customer so you can shorten your deal cycle and crush your sales” (Figure D).

Figure D

Image: Microsoft. Viva Sales writes a summary and suggests important points and things to do, but the sales team gets to check and determine relevance.

This is about supporting rather than replacing sales staff with AI: You get to choose whether the action items and call summaries produced are useful or not before they go into the CRM system, and after the call you can look back at statistics like how fast you spoke and how much time you spent listening (Figure E).

Figure E

Image: Microsoft. The Viva Sales meetings summary helps sales people notice if they talk too fast or too much.

It also helps sales teams work together, because sales is no longer a competitive solo sport.

“The sales process has become so complex, it has to be a team sport,” He suggested. “The sales team is always swarming together to tackle a deal. There’s so many different roles and responsibilities – doing demos, writing sales proposals, engaging with marketing people – there’s no way a salesperson can do everything.”

Viva Sales will even suggest colleagues who may have stronger relationships with the customer so you can ask them for advice (Figure F).

Figure F

Image: Microsoft. Sales is a team sport, so Viva Sales will suggest colleagues who have dealt with a customer before so you can ask for help with enough details to remind them who you mean.

Some of these features are similar to those Microsoft has previously announced for its own CRM service, but when Viva Sales is available later this year it will integrate with Salesforce as well as Dynamics 365 Sales. Dynamics 365 customers won’t have to pay extra. Support for other CRM systems will come over time based on what customers ask for, He said.

Currently, LinkedIn Connected is the only data source that’s not part of Microsoft 365 and that comes through the existing LinkedIn integration with Outlook. But it might be useful to have data from other sources to help you understand a customer, like how many open support requests they have with you.

Some of this information may already be available through Dynamics 365, where APIs let you connect to supply chain, field service, customer support and other relevant data sources. He suggested that Viva Sales will evolve to work with whatever turns out to be useful to bring into your system of record.

The AI should not overwhelm

Viva Sales is specifically designed to be useful to people who sell things, but the same ideas of extracting important information from conversations and documents, turning that into suggestions and presenting those in the right context when you’re working on something related – which Microsoft calls Context IQ – can be useful in many roles.

“With the move to digital tools, there is now a sense of digital overwhelm,” He said. “People don’t want to have to toggle back and forth from application to application searching for information or manually enter information multiple times in different systems. They want to stay in the flow of work and be able to access information across different applications, and also have the system be this layer of intelligence to synthesize data and decipher intelligence and deliver the recommendations at the point of action.”

Viva Sales is just the first of what she calls role-specific employee experience applications that could help employees in a range of other jobs with similar requirements.

“This is something employees of all functions are asking for,” He said. “They want a more streamlined employee experience. They want easy access to read and write data, and they also want the system to add more value: Not just be form based process execution, but rather be the coach and guide that they need to get the job done.”

That fits in with the bigger picture of Teams not as a specific collaboration tool but as a platform for building different collaborative applications.

“I would describe it almost as an operating system for a company, because Team is a gathering place where people come together to get work done, but while they’re getting work done, they also need to access resources,” He said. “They need to access people, they need to access tools, and Teams is the gathering place for all that. It’s about getting the work done the way people want to get work done. This is the beginning of reimagining the work experience by blending traditionally siloed application areas.”



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