Microsoft using LinkedIn to challenge Salesforce

Microsoft Corp. is launching a new version of its sales software that integrates data from LinkedIn. This is part of the company’s long-term strategy for building specialized business software.

Dynamics 365, Microsoft’s sales software, is being improved to pose a challenge to the current market leader and is touted as the first major product initiative from Microsoft and its business-focused social network, LinkedIn.

Nadella is under pressure to show that the LinkedIn acquisition in mid-2016 was worthwhile. Microsoft plans to use its $26 billion acquisition to help in creating a common set of business data that can be collected, mined and analyzed with the use of artificial intelligence. The new features will ascertain the warmth of a relationship with a customer by combining data from a salesperson’s email, calendar and LinkedIn contacts. The system will then warn the salesperson of deals that are at-risk and also suggest ways to tackle the issue and prevent it from falling apart.

Microsoft is a very small player in sales software (far behind Salesforce, Oracle and SAP). In an interview with Reuters, 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. “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. The enhancements, which will be available this summer, will require Microsoft Dynamics customers to also be LinkedIn customers.

Microsoft will continue offering certain LinkedIn data to other companies, including Salesforce, as LinkedIn did before its acquisition. “That ecosystem approach is something that we will absolutely maintain and, in fact, if anything keep continuing to evangelize,” Nadella said.