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Nick Ang

Selling better with machine learning

I’m a firm believer that you can only effectively sell if you know the thing you’re selling.

Case in point: I have missed opportunities to sell our company’s solution to potential enterprise customers because I could not articulate the intricacies of our system well enough.

This however is not to say that I do not believe people can sell what they don’t understand. I think it is down to personality. Personally, I feel like a fraud if I try to convince you of a product’s capabilities without actually knowing how it works. Knowing that it just works is not good enough to convince me, let alone convince someone else. And so, I always seek to understand the products I work on at a deep level.

The product that my team helps to build is heavy in data science, but I build mainly the web-related front- and back-ends code. Since joining the Metisa team I have picked up enough knowledge of Python to tiptoe around the codebase and not interfere with the recommender systems and machine learning code. But because of my involvement in the business development side of the company, I find it less and less adequate to simply skirt around the black box of data manipulation, data analytics, and machine learning algorithms. That knowledge gap is starting to cost money in lost opportunities.

So today I decided to start proactively learning some of these data science concepts. But first, I want to share a short story.

In 2012 I found myself in a privileged position as part of group of National University of Singapore (NUS) students touring Silicon Valley. Yes, it really happened, even though it continues to feel surreal to this day. For two full weeks, our program manager scheduled office visits and fire-side chats with many of the founders and senior executives of the startups within the valley. We visited mature tech companies like Facebook, Dropbox and Evernote to smaller startups like Kiip, Inkling and YouNoodle.

We also visited Coursera, when it was just starting out. One of the early members of the team told us that they had a couple of courses in partnership with Stanford University (of course). I remember being inspired by their product and what their success would mean for educating the world.

I am recounting this story because today, my initial encounter with Coursera has come full circle as I enroll in my first course on their platform. Interestingly, I believe I enrolled in what was the course that brought Coursera to life - Machine Learning by Professor Andrew Ng. Sorry if that elicited just a “meh” from you, I have noticed that I am a sucker for serendipity and full circles.

For $49 USD a month, I have the chance to improve myself as a salesperson for our product. What is even better is that I get to keep the knowledge and learned skills with me, so that I might one day help to improve the “black box” I was talking about earlier or maybe apply it on something else altogether. Whatever the case, right now I am happy to have enrolled in the course. Time will tell if it is worth the investment of money and time. I am optimistic.

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