Affinity uses artificial intelligence to analyze relationship strength and illuminate the best paths to warm introductions. The platform also offers a holistic view of users’ networks in a centralized, automatically updated database without any manual upkeep. ClickZ spoke with Affinity Co-Founder and CEO, Ray Zhou, to get a better understanding of the company’s technology and Affinity’s role in a changing, technology-driven CRM landscape.
Founded in 2014, Affinity is headquartered in San Francisco and is used by over one thousand financial firms globally. They’ve also seen incredible traction in commercial real estate, investment banks and other professional services. In addition to their large portfolio of asset management firms, Affinity’s clients include top tier brands like LinkedIn and Twilio.
The Affinity platform helps users manage relationships across 30 million people and 7 million organizations. Pricing for the platform starts at $125 per user per month for small teams, with various pricing packages for enterprise customers.
Back in 2014, Affinity’s founders saw a need for businesses, large and small, to leverage their existing networks more efficiently. Ray Zhou, Affinity’s co-founder and CEO, is an engineer who dropped out of Stanford after developing Affinity’s core technology..
Says Zhou, “I, along with fellow Affinity co-founders, Shubham Goel and Joe Lonsdale, spoke with people across a variety of industries. We realized that the way companies were managing their networks and relationships was incredibly suboptimal. Data science and artificial intelligence had advanced to a tipping point in terms of changing the CRM paradigm and that’s what inspired us to start the company.”
Affinity’s founders recognized a need for streamlining how companies managed their relationships. Their goal, from the start, was to build a technology that enabled professionals and businesses to fully harness their networks.
“It’s a vision of democratization,” explains Zhou. “We want to bring the technology we created to every industry and every individual professional in the world.”
Affinity was created on the premise that it’s impossible to tell who really knows who from standard sources such as LinkedIn, social media, and personal email.
“The real source of truth about people’s networks is inside their business communications,” says Zhou. “Everyone uses the same tools—emails, calendars, and phone calls to talk to each other. At Affinity, we view these tools as more than just ways for us to communicate. They’re also data sources.”
The raw data gleaned from these common tools paints a powerful picture of what business networks look like. Affinity’s platform harnesses the data from business communication resources that people generate on a regular basis and merges it with data pulled from sources they’ve partnered with to create a very clear view of an individual or organization’s network.
One of Affinity’s patented technologies is a user interface that visually demonstrates the strength of the relationship between two people. The tool does this using historical interaction data which analyzes the data then visually displays it by showing the strength of the relationship.
There are two key problems that Affinity solves for its customers—automating the manual process of maintaining relationships (e.g., removing data entry tasks required by CRM tools) and helping people make better decisions about how they allocate time to their network.
Says Zhou, “Our entire thesis around the problems that Affinity solves is that the meaning for CRM has been lost over time. Today we think of CRM as a database of contacts that puts the onus of keeping the data up to date on the user. The onus of figuring out what insights to be derived from that data is also on the user. Everyone assumes they need to maintain this database to drive any value from it, but it’s important to remember that CRM is a means to an end.”
Affinity’s platform, in the most ideal sense, enables a world where people are spending much more time building meaningful human relationships because they’re liberated from having to think about a database at all.
“In an ideal world, there is no database at all,” explains Zhou, “Technology is capable of understanding and capturing the activity around our relationships by harnessing the natural data streams we’re already creating through various communication sources like email. In the ideal end state, the user doesn’t need to think about a database because it’s automating itself, constructing the background for the user.”
It takes like less than a week to get fully set up with Affinity. The platform integrates with a variety of different protocols that enable users to sync their email, calendar, and other accounts with a one-click login. From there, Affinity constructs and automates the user’s network.
“When you log into Affinity, you see your entire network of connections fully mapped out,” says Zhou. “I can say with pretty high confidence that there’s no other platform on the market that achieves this with Affinity’s degree of automation.”
Affinity maintains a relentless focus on usability and design. They aim to create a positive user experience that allows users to focus on the strengths of their relationships and how to leverage those relationships.
In this way, Affinity is unique from other popular relationship management and sales tools such as Salesforce, but there are also many Affinity customers who integrate Affinity with Salesforce to get a more complete view of their customer relationships.
Says Zhou, “On the relationship intelligence side, we truly believe that we have a differentiator in how we are handling the insights that we are surfacing.”
Affinity recently announced the acquisition of Nudge.ai, a relationship product specifically aimed at sales teams in a B2B landscape.
Per the release, “Nudge is a relationship intelligence platform designed to help sales professionals access new accounts, analyze deal risk, measure account health and more. Tens of thousands of B2B sales representatives rely on Nudge to find and nurture relationships in order to generate and accelerate their pipeline.”
For Affinity, the future of CRM is about reducing the many hours of time people spend each week entering information by hand into a spreadsheet, CRM system, or contact book. “All of this can be automated away,” says Zhou. “It can be done 24/7 in the background by the AI that Affinity has built.”
Affinity gives teams instant visibility into all the different paths of introduction that are available to users. It’s an alternative to all the guesswork involved in platforms like LinkedIn, enabling you to answer questions about your network—in real time—involving relationships and connections.
Says Zhou, “The reality is your team might have a relationship with the individual that you’re trying to reach out to, but you might not know this. The old school way was to send a message to everyone, e.g., ‘Does anyone know John Doe over at Goldman Sachs?’ With Affinity, you can see that Jane in Accounting has a 92% relationship score with John Doe, so you can ask Jane for an introduction instead of sending John a cold email.”
One of Affinity’s main goals is to get people to realize that the most valuable information about their business relationships is something that they already own. It’s data that every company and every team has accrued through utilizing email, calendars and other communication tools.
“As we look ahead into where we take Affinity in the longer term, we’re focused on helping other markets and industries understand the paradigm shift that technology is creating in CRM. We’re we’re trying to get people to realize that relationships are what drive the world’s most critical industries. The most powerful information that you need in order drive relationships across these verticals is something that everyone already owns. They don’t think about it as a data source. That’s the seminal challenge that we’re trying to solve.”
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