To be fair, I was the one who raised the subject of a money back offer with Tawheed Kader, CEO and founder of ToutApp, a start-up sales platform that uses machine learning and predictive analytics to guide users into closing a deal faster. 

He had been explaining the underlying tech of the product in general and its latest product, Recommended Templates, in particular (more on the latter in a moment).

Then the conversation moved into the larger topic of using artificial intelligence in sales and marketing.  The allure of a data-driven and predictive sales approach is understandable: such applications will tell you that if a sale rep does A then B will happen.

A Fast Growing Software Category

Currently this category is wide open, Kader told me. And it's true.

Even Salesforce is only beginning to mine this technology, with its announcement last week at Dreamforce that it is infusing its sales tools with RelateIQ's predictive technology.

Salesforce is hardly the only vendor. Besides ToutApp there are a slew of pure plays that promise to tell sales reps and their managers which deals are the one they should pursue right now if they want to meet their numbers for the quarter or year.

To name a few: Infer, ClearSlide, CircleBack and SalesPredict.

But how will companies be able to differentiate among these companies and their applications?

Or to be specific, how will the differentiate what these applications promise.

Their 'secret sauce' is typically based on proprietary algorithms and hopefully, if they want to stay competitive, machine learning as well.

How will buyers of these apps -- people who are not versed in the higher end of high-tech -- be able to discern if these apps will actually work as promised, in their particular company, with their particular sales team?  Aside that is, from hiring a data scientist to evaluate the software, but they don't come cheap.

All Kinds of Promises

Here's an idea and according to Kader it is not outside of the realm of possibility: offer prospective buyers a money back guarantee if the sales reps follows the instructions perfectly and sales still don’t increase.

"It is something I would definitely consider, especially to get a leg up in the market," Kader said, hastening to add he would need board approval for such a move.

"All it takes is one company to offer it, to be that confident in their technology, and the rest of the market will have to follow."

It would be similar to the service level guarantees offered by cloud-based providers a generation ago when the market was so unsure of this technology. It would also be similar to Google's announcement this morning that its Google Apps for Work now complied with the ISO/IEC 27018:2014 privacy standard framework.

Learning Opportunities

Among other things, this standard ensures that data stored in the cloud won't be used for advertising, the possibility of which is startlingly when you think about it.

I'm guessing other business cloud users will be looking for similar certifications from their providers.

Outlandish Approaches?

But back to the current state of the industry for predictive sales and marketing apps: Right now the claims some of the vendors are making are quirky enough that they could tarnish this software category's reputation, Kader said.

"Some of the approaches I have seen discussed and considered use data and methodology that in our minds t least, have been debunked."

He gives an example of a sales app that will elevate a prospect's receptiveness to a pitch based on the weather where he is a located.

Connecting to the CRM System

ToutApp overlays its analysis and predictive technology on the data that resides in the user's CRM system.  A chief example is its latest feature, Recommended Templates, which using matching algorithms to select the best template to use in a sales or prospecting email.

The feature analyzes the CRM data associated with the recipient and then considers all the deals in the past that best match up with the current on the table. It then spits out what it believes is will be the template and related content that will either close a deal or carry a lead to the next stage of the funnel.

The app also recommends basic tags to be used as well.

This is harder than it sounds when one considers that the larger sales teams have some 1,000 sales templates but typically only share about 50. 

"This is a great feature for sales reps, but think about the impact for sales managers," Kader said when the feature debuted last week. "With Recommended Templates, managers can make sure the best templates are being used at the right stages of the sales or prospecting process, and they can standardize this across their teams."

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