Affinity offers AI-based Alliances tool to scan e-mail and calendar data for top sales referrals

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Customer relationship management provider Affinity is using artificial intelligence technology to sift through employees’ e-mail and calendar data in hopes of easing the search for “warm” introductions to prospects and customers.

San Francisco-based Affinity described Alliances, which was released on Monday, as a tool that will create a “relationship graph” to help those in sales and marketing avoid toggling back and forth between LinkedIn, their CRM and other systems to identify potential leads.

Information about recent e-mail exchanges or meetings, for instance, is analyzed via machine learning and natural language processing features to suggest which contacts within a firm are best to make an introduction, based on two degrees of separation. Alliances might be able to discover that someone within a firm’s engineering team had lunch last week with the CEO of a top prospects, for example, or that, based on the tenor of their emails, they were more than just casual acquaintances.

Affinity co-founder and CEO Ray Zhou said the firm developed Alliances in part based on feedback from customers and partners in sectors like venture capital and financial services who were having difficulty with the workflow involved in finding the right contacts.

“Emails and calendars generate billions of data points, and we realized it is the greatest data asset everyone owns, but no one uses to its full potential,” Zhou told B2B News Network. “The ability to turn your network into the next big opportunity was really lacking.”

Affinity was already offering tools as part of what it calls its “smart” CRM product to let organizations make more effective use of their internal data. Alliances extends those capabilities to external data, such as e-mails and calendar invites exchanged with customers, partners and other third parties.

“The challenge with using social networks is that everyone is connected everyone else. It’s hard to know who actually knows who,” Zhou said. “Our goal isn’t necessarily to replace the way people are using LinkedIn. We think those are fantastic. We just want to create new ways to leverage their networks.”

Alliance users will be able to simply sign into the service online, and begin to see “connection paths” to potential contacts through a column in their Affinity CRM dashboard. Affinity tries to overcome the traditional hurdles of getting people to actually make CRM tools a part of their everyday habits by auto-populating as much as possible, he added. They will also be able to import a list of prospects by an organization or person name, in either .csv or .xlsx format, and see which of their allies can make a warm introduction.

“Anyone who is super-focused on cultivating a valuable business relationship is the best adopter for this,” Zhou said.

While LinkedIn has already tried to improve the ability of its users to generate more revenue through updates to its Sales Navigator application, the company indicated an increased focus on employee engagement and talent management this week with the acquisition of a startup called Glint.

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Shane Schick

Shane Schick

Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.