Microsoft's Nadella banks on LinkedIn data to challenge Salesforce

Mon Apr 24, 2017 3:43pm EDT
 
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By Stephen Nellis

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O: Quote) is rolling out upgrades to its sales software that integrates data from LinkedIn, an initiative that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella told Reuters was central to the company's long-term strategy for building specialized business software.

The improvements to Dynamics 365, as Microsoft's sales software is called, are a challenge to market leader Salesforce.com (CRM.N: Quote) and represent the first major product initiative to spring from Microsoft's $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn, the business-focused social network.

The new features will comb through a salesperson's email, calendar and LinkedIn relationships to help gauge how warm their relationship is with a potential customer. The system will recommend ways to save an at-risk deal, like calling in a co-worker who is connected to the potential customer on LinkedIn.

The enhancements, which will be available this summer, will require Microsoft Dynamics customers to also be LinkedIn customers.

The artificial intelligence, or AI, capabilities of the software would be central, Nadella said. "I want to be able to democratize AI so that any customer using these products is able to, in fact, take their own data and load it into AI for themselves," he said.

While Microsoft is a behemoth in the market for operating systems and productivity software like Office, it is a small player in sales software. The company ranks fourth - far behind Salesforce.com and other rivals Oracle Corp (ORCL.N: Quote) and SAP (SAPG.DE: Quote) - with just 4.3 percent of the market in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, according to research firm Gartner.

Salesforce declined to comment on Microsoft's competing software.

But Nadella said specialized applications in fields like sales and finance are critical to the company's future. He bills them as Microsoft's "third cloud," the first two being Office 365 for general productivity like email and Azure for computing and databases.   Continued...

 
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at the Future Decoded conference in Mumbai, India, February 22, 2017.  REUTERS/Shailesh Andrade