We just found out why Microsoft was so determined to beat Salesforce in the battle to acquire LinkedIn

Satya NadellaGetty Images/Mat HaywardMicrosoft CEO Satya Nadella.

You might think Microsoft’s acquisition of LinkedIn was all about the HR.

Because that’s what LinkedIn is, right? A jobs network.

And yes, there’s a great benefit for HR managers working with Microsoft’s Office suite that want to identify and engage with talent quickly, and efficiently. More about that later.

But Microsoft’s partnership with LinkedIn is also launching a fairly amazing way to utilise skills, anywhere in the world, any time. It also involves HoloLens, which is exciting, but again, we’ll come to that later.

Yesterday, Microsoft hosted a largish event at Melbourne’s Docklands Studio called “Business Forward”:

Microsoft Business Forward at Docklands Studio, Melbourne. Picture: Peter Farquhar

It was a day-long walkthrough of its holistic sales solutions platform Dynamics 365.

As such, there was a lot of dry talk about CRMs and ERPs and opex savings and stacks, because a lot of the attendees were there for exactly that reason.

We were happy enough to sit through it to get to the juicy bits about AI and HoloLens, which were small, but enticing.

But at the end of the day, what we were really left with was a much bigger appreciation of what was at stake in that battle for LinkedIn between Microsoft and Salesforce nearly two years ago.

And it was a hell of a lot. Certainly, the future of both companies.

Microsoft won the battle, and here’s just a small taste of why that matters to Salesforce, because right now, the overwhelming vibe from yesterday’s event in Melbourne was how Microsoft will use LinkedIn to help it transform your business.

As in, a sales solution provider you might consider over, say, Salesforce.

The ‘warm introduction’

Here’s an entree to what Microsoft’s Dynamics 365 can do for a digital business.

There are a couple of things that happen when you give your email address to a company.

The example shown yesterday was a customer who had selected a product from the Hills website. Hills was a good example for Microsoft to use, because it had just ended its relationship with Salesforce and made the switch to Dynamics 365.

Here’s a browser at their website who wanted some tech specs and was required to give contact details for a pdf.

Image: Supplied

Giving them contact details made the browser a “known entity”.

First and foremost, that’s how that thing happens when your banners ads suddenly start displaying products that are relevant to something you’d been searching for recently. Nothing groundbreaking here, just business as usual on the internet:

Image: Supplied

But because the website is hosted on Microsoft’s 365 platform, giving your email details over now means if 365 wants to hit you up for a sell, it’s not such a cold call.

Marketing assigns known entity – the website browser – “Mike” to 365’s Veronika as a “new lead”:

Image: Supplied

Veronika has the details of Mike’s browsing history, and a fair idea of what other products or solutions she can offer that Mike might find useful:

Image: Supplied

She might send Mike an email. Or two, or three. And if Mike doesn’t reply to the third one, 365 will alert Veronika to the fact he’s stopped engaging with her emails.

“Stalled deal” alert!

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The solution? A “warm introduction” to facilitate Mike to re-engage with Hills. And that introduction will be from someone in both Mike and Veronika’s LinkedIn networks:

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Someone who might not-so-randomly engage with Mike:

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Once that connection is established, Veronika, using 365’s AI, can quickly pull together some information on a Hills product that Mike’s browsing history suggests he might be interested in:

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And, success – Mike engaged with the new product:

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“We can track the stats and see how long Mike has been viewing each area of the dossier, how many times has he viewed it, has he downloaded it, how long has he been viewing it and we actually gained traction on this deal,” Dynamics 365 senior product marketing manager Ryan Martin said.

“Mike was positive and he did actually purchase these biometric systems.”

Sharing the love

So you’ve got someone committed to buying your product. How do you ensure they commit to you?

First of all, by closing that gap that opens up when the product eventually doesn’t work for them any more and they start searching for a new product.

Microsoft calls it “Proactive Field Service”.

A 365 customer gets access to Microsoft’s growing database of devices and services, and as such, a picture that constantly gets clearer of when those devices and services approach their end of life.

Such as this motor mount which you sold once and is now an 80% chance of failing in the next 100 days (with apologies for not being able to get a better view for the photos):

Picture: Peter Farquhar, Business Insider

So you don’t wait for it to fail, because fail means your customer might think of buying something different.

Instead, you get someone out to fix or replace it, which is a win for everyone. Including the technician who gets the job.

They get the job because LinkedIn is providing the data to power suggestions:

Picture: Peter Farquhar, Business Insider

Microsoft pretty much has access to a 500 million-strong workforce to tap into.

Not only can you find the best person for the jobs, based on LinkedIn testimonials and such, you can order them for the job and add it to their schedule:

But wait, wait. What if there’s no one around with the right skills? Well, there’s this:

HoloLens. Because there might be someone around with good enough skills to be guided through the job.

LinkedIn + HoloLens = Microsoft being able to make that happen for you.

The offer you don’t refuse

This one’s not so related to LinkedIn, but was too good an example of chatbot AI to ignore.

Microsoft has a colourful history with chatbots. It launched one in 2016 that turned into a genocidal racist, and another a year later that called Windows 10 “spyware”.

But it has put all that machine learning to productive use. Here’s what happens when you add it to your car insurance site.

For starters, adding your name and PIN gives the AI a chance to check for other opportunities before launching into helping you:

Picture: Peter Farquhar

Nope, let’s stick to my problem. Just a picture of your car – front and back – is enough, but here’s what happens if you upload the wrong pic:

Picture: Peter Farquhar

Some neat recognition tricks there from Microsoft’s AI. But seriously, here’s the car (Note the complimentary massaging):

Picture: Peter Farquhar

Almost immediately, the chat bot will make you an offer. But then, if you don’t like it:

Picture: Peter Farquhar

Dynamics swings into action. Noting a “customer at risk of churn”, it assigns a human to the case and offers the course of action history suggests will close the sale – a 15% discount:

Picture: Peter Farquhar, Business Insider

Data, data, data

Remember this?

If there was one take away from the Business Forward session in Melbourne it was Steve Ballmer’s “developers, developers, developers” was now Satya Nadella’s “data, data, data”.

It was front and centre in every discussion. And it’s how Microsoft can manage this monster network of tools and services it has quickly grown over the past couple of years:

Picture: Peter Farquhar, Business Insider

That network of services is something it has in parts common with Amazon, Facebook and Google (and Alibaba), all doing their own unique things, but on a meshed scale that makes them genuine tech entities that will power our future.

(And, it was impossible not to notice, puts Apple alone amongst the FAANGs as, well, a maker of expensive toys.)

“How people find jobs, build skills, sell, market and get work done and ultimately find success requires a connected professional world,” Nadella said when Microsoft announced it had paid $US26.2 billion for LinkedIn.

“This deal is key to our bold ambition to reinvent productivity and business processes.”

Less than two years later, the LinkedIn acquisition is looking like a steal.

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