Emerging Entrepreneurs

‘Reading the customer’ to make a perfect pitch

N Ramakrishnan | Updated on July 20, 2020 Published on July 20, 2020

Surga Thilakan, CEO and Co-founder, and Sreeraman Vaidyanathan, Co-founder and Managing Director, Salesken

Salesken uses artificial intelligence to offer real-time cues to salespersons

Imagine you are a salesperson and you are handling a tricky call from a customer who is frustrated with you for whatever reason. You are looking for some help in dealing with the customer and are also keen to close the deal in your favour. You know the conversation is being recorded and that it will be played back by your manager and others in the company to assess your performance.

What if you had a tool that helped you deal with the customer’s frustration to the latter’s satisfaction so much so that the person is willing to close the deal in spite of the initial response. How about a visual prompt on your mobile or a desktop that says the customer is frustrated and guides you with the right cue words to deal with it. That is exactly what Salesken, a Bengaluru-headquartered venture does, using artificial intelligence and machine learning to help salespersons improve their performance during calls.

Salesken is an offshoot of iSTAR that was founded by Surga Thilakan, a chartered accountant by training and an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad, and Sreeraman Vaidyanathan, an MS in computer Science from Boulder, Colorado, and an MBA from IIM-Ahmedabad. They started iSTAR in 2010 to train graduates in the 18-25 years group to become salespersons. “We started out with training for sales as an area because that was one of the large requirements of industry. Over the next 10 years we sent 20,000 young graduates into the sales profession,” says Surga.

Real-time cues

Over the years they realised that they need to bring in the latest technology into the training process to assist salespersons improve their performance and companies to improve their sales record. According to her, iSTAR became Salesken in 2018, using artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to offer real-time cues to salespersons.

“What Salesken does is, it is trying to help sales representatives while they are on a call by understanding what the customer is saying, giving cues while they are speaking,” says Surga, CEO and Co-founder, Salesken.

The company assists and analyses almost one million minutes of sales conversations every month. Its technology enables its clients to capture customer interactions, understand what is being said, including the emotion, and helps the sales representatives engage better with the customers. Salesken has raised $11 million in all, including an $8 million round from Sequoia Capital India, with Unitus Ventures being an early investor in the company.

Two-way communication

According to Surga, Salesken will capture the two-way communication, convert those streams of voice into text using automated speech recognition. After that speech becomes text, it will have a whole stack on top using natural language processing (NLP) and AI. This helps understand meaning in that text and come up with cues. Any company would like its sales representatives to highlight the right USPs and know whether the rebuttals are handled effectively whenever an objection comes up. Salesken gives a great degree of measurement of what is happening on the calls and verifying whether they are in line with the messaging the company wants to send out.

The second part of what it does, says Surga, is that Salesken is able to cue and nudge the sales representative in real-time on what they must speak. If an objection has come up, Salesken is able to understand what the best responses to that objection is, going by the response of the company’s top sales representatives, take that intelligence and give the right cue to the representative on the call.

At present, Salesken is focussed on three sectors – EdTech, BFSI and consumer tech – but Surga says there is scope to expand to other sectors too where, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, field sales is not possible. The company is working with most of the leading EdTech companies in India and a few banks and financial institutions. It will look to expand in the US in the next few months.

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Published on July 20, 2020
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