Recently, our in-house conversations have revolved around several topics related to our approach to technology and AI. We have talked about the opportunities, fears and uncertainties it brings. One of the hottest topics was discussing the theory presented by Daniel Kahneman in his upcoming book Noise. This theory explains how certain factors, such as bias or the ability to exercise critical judgment, negatively affect human decision-making. According to his observations and study, if you present the same case to three different experts, their assessment and decision will differ by 55% per case. On the other hand, when you give the same data to an algorithm, it will present the same answer every single time. So yes, machines are better than humans at some things.
If we transfer this theory to the field of sales, the result will be similar. This, in turn, leads to the conclusion that the participation of artificial intelligence and the automation of the sales process is inevitable.
I have decided to invite Tamara Bolsewicz, Co-founder and CEO of Meetsales, to continue the conversation and talk about the recent changes in the eCommerce industry, leadership, the future of sales in the B2B sector and the role of Meetsales in this puzzle.
Enjoy the read!
MF: So Tamara, from your perspective, how have the needs and expectations of B2B companies and their sales departments changed during the pandemic?
TB: Over the past several months, I talked to many people from different companies and industries. We often discussed their problems, how they were coping, what they were missing, and what they really needed to effectively run their business. What was visible at first glance was that everyone counted their P&L’s carefully and noticed that if salespeople work remotely and use Zoom, Meets or Teams instead of driving to clients as they used to do, business works. And in the end, they have realized it can be done differently but still efficiently.
The point is that globally there was an ‘aha moment’ that it is possible to optimize costs in what seemed to be unquestionable. That it is possible to maintain human relations on a remote level through the camera. It was clear that all the major players in B2B were pushed to move into the eCommerce space. Everyone was checking their back and how the competitors are doing with accessing the eCommerce - who will embrace the new eCommerce faster, who will make it their primary sales channel, and who will win the race? Also, you could observe the B2B marketplaces boom, meaning people are looking for distribution channels in every direction.
There were a lot of questions and comparisons about what can be taken from B2C and applied to B2B to live up to customer’s expectations. I guess that we all have heard discussions about how much B2B eCommerce is limited and how it should change. Another hot topic was related to conversational commerce. Many people reported frustration and dissatisfaction that communication between the client and business via coded chat, which is de facto a form, never solves the problem. All these issues happen while customers need real help with their online purchases.
Together with my Co-Founder, we have realized that before the B2B world will be ready for the eCom-first experience and everything will be done on storefronts, a transition period will occur. And I believe that this transition period is now. And in fact, Meetsales is supposed to be a tool to help both sides understand the new reality and the transition from offline to online. Millions of salespeople have spent their entire careers doing business offline and have no idea how to work online or what tools to use. On top of that, they are afraid that technology, AI and automation will kick them out of the labour market. In response to all the above, we want to give them a platform that will help them to enter a new era of labour and at the same time provide a very high customer experience for their demanding customers.
MF: Then what is the current situation with the product?
TB: At this very moment, we are at the pre-product stage. We have a whole concept, and we are in the middle of developing the MVP. At the end of Q3 2021, Meetsales will begin the pilot with an awesome B2B marketplace for electronic components, sourcengine.com. Taking into account the excellent team, investors and pilot, I am pretty confident that we are heading in a promising direction. So, for now, all we do is focus on the product; the most important is to deliver a high-quality pilot product, test, learn and repeat. During the implementation and the following tests, we will evaluate what worked and what didn’t, and based on feedback from our customers, we will apply improvements. The beta version will be ready this summer. We are hoping to open 2022 with a market-ready product and begin the sales.
MF: You mentioned the business value. Could we go back to that and define what it means in Meetsales' case?
TB: Certainly, what we're doing now is professionalizing online B2B sales and elevating that overall customer experience to help keep in higher revenue. During the MVP stage, we are focusing on functionality that targets shopping cart abandonment. At the same time, we aim to provide an intuitive and unified tool to sales reps that doesn't need several different systems to click through. Grossly oversimplifying - it’s easy to purchase 1 thousand pairs of socks from China, but when you have to buy 2 thousand different electronic components, it gets complicated, especially when you are on your own, with no expert’s helping hand.
Therefore, the most significant clue for us is the combination of the human factor with eCommerce - so the hybridization of online B2B sales.
That is why we want to combine what's best in humans with what's best in technology, and that will create real value. We can refer again to what we have been discussing lately - my favorite's psychologists theory. There are things that humans really suck at, like decision making, judgement, and the algorithms will always be superior to us. But there are aspects where humans are irreplaceable, like building solid business relations!
Further down the roadmap, we aim to have such solutions as face recognition and voice recognition so that the algorithm can predict purchase intent and suggest appropriate action. When a customer joins the video call, the salesman gets AI-based hints, i.e. that this is a good time for an upsell. When making such decisions, humans are unfortunately subject to many uncontrolled variables and often have a wrong judgment. But, at the same time, they are excellent at negotiating, building relationships, at building trust. Technology will never catch up with a human in these aspects. We all know that technology can crash and be buggy, plus many people are simply afraid of it.
MF: Are there any other factors besides AI or Machine learning that will or already have such a massive impact on eCommerce?
TB: Certainly, one of the crucial elements is the customization of eCommerce so you can build platforms dedicated to the customer’s demands. In turn, this in a way forces us to abandon monolithic architecture and focus on Headless and API-first solutions, microservices architecture and inter-system communication. That is, on everything that we consider Next Gen eCommerce. We believe in customizing and personalising every element, including sales, and we think that putting the human factor into it is the solution.
MF: I totally agree! And now I'd like to bring up a completely different topic, but connected to eCommerce itself because we do have amazing investors on board who have been involved in eCommerce for years. Some of them created the most successful eCommerce platforms, and some of them are even double startup unicorns!
TB: That’s true! From the beginning, our goal was not only to raise the capital because there is a lot of money on the market. We are most proud of the fact that we have managed to attract smart money and a top-tier VC from Berlin. This combination guarantees that apart from the capital, we will get great advice from the eCommerce gurus, experts and leaders! I guess we can brag about it already; some of our shareholders are unicorns, others have been highly successful in the eCommerce space. Their role is to mentor us, share knowledge and network, possibly give a snap on my nose when something is wrong (laugh). I remember the moment I entered a chat with Ulrike Mueller for the very first time, knowing that she has some unicorns under her belt, and I left the call with the information that she was investing - I went crazy. That's the moment we really believed it would work out.
Seriously we have the best investors that an eCommerce startup can dream of! I cannot share all the names, but we are working with Ulrike Mueller - an eCommerce guru, former Co-founder of Demandware (Salesforce); Fabian Wesner - former CTO of Spryker, former CTO of Rocket Internet and a Co-founder of ROQ Technology; Tim Niemeier - former CTO and COO of Rocket Internet, Co-founder and Managing Director at ROQ Technology, Jens Gamperl - CEO and founder of Sourceability, Max Yekatrerynenko - former Head of Engineering at Magento Commerce, currently Software Development Director at Oracle, and Dmitryi Żatuchin - CEO of DO OK Software House. Our lead investor is Atlantic Labs, and of course, our partners and early investors, the Karwatka Brothers - former CEO and CTO of Divante, who currently work with early-stage startups, like us, as Catch the Tornado. The truth is, we are surrounded by amazing people!
MF: And what is the vision for the future of Meetsales?
TB: Meetsales wants to hybridize global eCommerce where Customer (Experience) is king. We want to connect people with technology, not push them out of the labour market. We want to prove that the development of technology and AI gives us tremendous new opportunities and can make our lives more sustainable and easier. And at the same time, the economy doesn't have to suffer as the growth continues. It's also about getting things done at a fast pace incorporating the human factor, without frustration and without mistakes.
How do we want to do that? We want to hack the technology to the max and break the standards of monoliths and show people that we still have complete control over technology and where it’s going. We also want to show that online and offline are no longer separate worlds. We have come to live in a moment when online and offline are becoming our reality, and it doesn't mean that we become robots. Online should be treated as something normal, even mandatory for business. Businesses that do not go online, in my opinion, will die. And we just can't ignore it.
MF: And I think that's a great touch to end our chat. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and let's continue the conversation in the future.
TB: Thanks a lot!