Jenny, what was your pitch? Zoom’s venture capital invests in conversational AI platform

Second Nature makes use of natural language processing to help build sales skills.

Second Nature’s selling coaching platform analyzes the conversation with a client and determines the strengths and weaknesses of a prospect’s pitch. After completing a simulation, this is what a trainee sees.

Image: Second Nature

Everybody knows Siri and Alexa. Another assistant has just received a substantial amount of money to make herself as well-known. Jenny is a virtual assistant who specialises in training salespeople. Second Nature, which created the conversational robot, announced Wednesday, January 11, a $12.5million round of funding to expand the service’s conversational artificial intelligence.

This Series A money was raised by signals Venture Capital, StageOne Ventures, Cardumen Capital, Zoom Video Communications, Inc. via The Zoom Apps Fund. Second Nature raised $15.5 million.

The company was founded by Alon Shalita and Ariel Hitron (chief executive officer) in 2019. Hitron stated that his experience in product marketing and sales led him to create the service.

He stated, “When working in product, I thought that messaging sheets and battle cards were among the greatest things ever.” “Then I changed sides and became a sales leader. It was amazing to realize that no one speaks like this.”

Second Nature uses conversational AI to help a salesperson improve their selling skills and product knowledge. Jenny is the customer and a salesperson in training goes through a simulation of a sales call. Each trainee receives a score and advice about how to improve the pitch.

Hitron stated that Second Nature has been used by people from over 54 countries who work for multinational corporations. The virtual trainer is used by customers to help them with sales certification, as well as when they are launching new products or corporate messaging.

Hitron stated that Zoom was motivated by launching a new product. They wanted everyone to be able to talk about the phone product.

Zoom Ventures’ head Colin Born stated in a press statement that Zoom Ventures decided to invest strategically in the venture arm of its company based upon firsthand experiences with the software. 

“After more that a year of global sales team training and certification on Second Nature, it is clear that we understand the tremendous potential in AI driven sales training,” he stated. 

Hitron explained that Second Nature offers both product marketing and sales training all in one platform.

He said that the average sales call takes five minutes and customers don’t know the difference between your skillset and your knowledge. 

Not only did all sales coaching go online, but the pandemic also ended the in-person relationship building aspect of sales. Hitron stated that the loss of socializing time meant salespeople had to be prepared to talk about the product most of the time.

He said, “That five-minute section goes very quickly and then you need to get to point and you must be very proficient in the product and have a good understanding of the case studies and benefits of the product.”

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Nucleus Research CEO Ian Campbell said that AI-based coaching could reduce the stress on managers and increase effectiveness by coaching. This is because it not only targets the needs of salespeople but also works around their schedules.

Campbell stated that Second Nature addresses a problem by improving the efficiency of sales training and sales productivity. This can lead to a significant long-term ROI for clients.

A scaleable training solution

Nancy Nardin is the founder of Smart Selling Tools. She said that Second Nature has one of its strengths: its ability to scale sales training.

“You can make some scenarios once, and then you can use them with all of the reps,” she stated.

Nardin explained that Second Nature also makes it simpler for managers to coach large teams.

Nardin’s Enterprise SalesTech Landscape It is amazing how competitive the market is for software sales coachingNardin claims Jenny is a competitive advantage for the company.

She said that Second Nature could say, “We can give it a real-life scenario so it feels real, not like you are practicing.”

According to Nardin, the standard approach to training salespeople is to either practice with colleagues or clients. This means that the sales rep is practicing her pitch with live leads.

She stated, “If learning is your primary goal, then you are wasting the opportunity to learn because you may not be ready or might be saying the wrong things.”

Nardin stated that sales managers must decide whether to allow employees to learn while they are working with customers or if to find another training method.

She indicated that Second Nature might struggle to gain ground due to the sheer number of competitors.

“One company might be more focused on sales coaching than another, but they can both send more email, so they are competing against all solutions. 

Conversational AI and natural language processing

Second Nature uses off-the-shelf software to perform basic natural language processing, but also includes internal modules that identify the elements of a human conversation. This platform is built on training data and best practices to understand how conversations work. 

Hitron stated that Jenny must navigate more complex conversations than most conversational AI platforms, such as buying a product or booking a table.

“It’s an open conversation but also semi-structured so Jenny has to know when to interject and  when to guide a person,” he said.

The virtual trainer should be able distinguish between rhetorical questions and an actual question. 

Hitron stated, “Jenny also needs to know based upon tone, intonation or pauses whether I have anything to say or am done,” 

Hitron stated that the current product was designed for sales personnel, but could be modified to suit other groups. 

Jenny’s secret is to work with subject matter specialists at a company in order to “see what good looks like” for each salesperson. Several SMEs provided training to the virtual trainer on how to interact with salespeople and the new SAP sales simulation. 

Hitron stated that Jenny is continuing to learn from feedback received from reps as training continues. “A manager can also say, This is an excellent response’, and that would be added to the definition of good.”

How does the sales simulation work

The training simulation is initiated by a sales rep who has a 15-minute conversation to Jenny. The conversation can include product information and selling techniques.  Jenny appears as a static picture while the trainee uses an electronic camera.

A rep receives an overall score and individual ratings for style, knowledge, and professionalism. The recording’s transcript highlights potential opportunities to guide the conversation in a certain direction. An analysis of the recording also records how many words are used in the conversation and the level of energy. A trainee can run the simulation several times before sending it to a manager. The session can be scored by managers. 

Jenny may also be helped by feedback from others to enhance her knowledge of the topic and improve the algorithm’s ability to assess conversations.

Salespeople can use the analysis to identify the timestamps where they provided a good answer. Hitron stated that this feedback is part of the algorithm’s training process.

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