Rashmi Vittal of Conversica: “You have to believe in yourself”

First and foremost, as a female leader, you have to believe in yourself. You have to step into your own power and lead with a level of confidence that historically hasn’t been nurtured in women as a key attribute. I definitely see younger generations of women leaders recognizing their power and acting with more confidence. […]

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First and foremost, as a female leader, you have to believe in yourself. You have to step into your own power and lead with a level of confidence that historically hasn’t been nurtured in women as a key attribute. I definitely see younger generations of women leaders recognizing their power and acting with more confidence. There are also more female role models and examples of leadership at the highest levels. It’s exciting!

As part of my series about the women leading the Artificial Intelligence industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rashmi Vittal, CMO of Conversica.

Rashmi brings to Conversica extensive experience in building marketing strategies and teams for both start-ups and large enterprises. Prior to joining Conversica, Rashmi led marketing for SAP Customer Data Cloud after the successful acquisition of Gigya, a customer identity management start-up Rashmi has held various marketing leadership positions at IBM, Oracle, and Neustar. Rashmi holds a Masters of Business Administration from the F.W. Olin Graduate School of Business at Babson College.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you share with us the ‘backstory” of how you decided to pursue this career path?

Even though I graduated with a BA in Business Administration and not Computer Science, early in my career, I had a belief that I had to develop a solid technical acumen in order to be successful in the high tech industry. I dove in. I worked in pre-sales engineering, QA, and product release management. I learned from very smart, technically savvy people. As my career grew, I found myself drawn to more customer-facing roles. I jumped into professional services; managing implementation projects. I realized that my technical experience served me well to help customers realize the value they just invested in. It was working directly with customers that I learned how important it is to step into your customer’s shoes; to truly understand your customer’s challenges, their needs, and how we could help. This was the perfect education to then move into product marketing — where the secret sauce of a stellar product marketer is to turn product strategy into market adoption. Product marketers have to answer the question: where does the revenue come from? What is the GTM strategy and the target markets and audiences we need to penetrate? What are the key messages that will resonate? As I grew into leading marketing teams, now as a CMO, I find it exciting to not only create a go-to-market strategy but craft compelling corporate and portfolio messaging that complements creative marketing campaigns to build brand awareness and demand generation across your target markets.

What lessons can others learn from your story?

Since I’ve been in the role of CMO, I’ve enjoyed balancing the art and science of marketing. Marketing strategy and the programs to support it need to be backed by both data and analysis as well as creativity and new ideas. If you’re a data-driven marketing leader, you can take risks, be bold, because you can see how those initiatives are performing. You need to have the visibility to see what’s working and what’s not, so you can either fail fast and pivot or put the right actions in place to drive continuous improvement.

Can you tell our readers about the most interesting projects you are working on now?

I’m actively working on redefining Conversica’s portfolio and updating how we present our solutions and overall messaging in the market. We began in 2019 with a solid foundation, but we’ve seen AI grow quite rapidly in the market since then. Even in the two years that I’ve been at Conversica, I’ve seen the attitude towards AI-powered solutions develop from something that people were skeptical about or even feared, to realizing the impact of the cohabitation between AI and people and the positive application and effect on productivity and performance within an organization.

When I think about how that relates to Conversica and who we are, we’re building the largest augmented workforce in the world by augmenting revenue teams with Conversational AI solutions powered by Intelligent Virtual Assistants to help attract, acquire and grow customers at scale. That said, people are still familiarizing themself with the term Conversational AI and the fact that there are AI-powered digital team members that can take on more responsibility within their organization versus that of a single-use-case solution like a chatbot. With that, we have to evolve our own messaging to continue to educate the market. Our 2021 messaging will impact how we present ourselves externally and the value we deliver to our customers, internally as an organization, and how we think about aligning with our priorities for the year.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work with several fantastic mentors and leaders who have challenged me to expand and grow. I believe each person I’ve interacted with has had a part in shaping who I am today, from the excellent relationships to the ones that were challenging to work with. It wouldn’t be fair to attribute it to a single person.

What are the 5 things that most excite you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Greater awareness of the value AI solutions bring to the front office. AI has been a part of the back-office strategy for years, but now, we’re seeing more and more revenue-generating teams like marketing, sales, and customer success try and understand how AI can benefit them and what they’re doing. Whether it’s Intelligent Virtual Assistants or using AI and predictive analytics, we see a greater application of AI in solutions to help the front office.
  2. The impact of Conversational AI on the customer experience. With Conversational AI, it’s a race to see who can meet a customer in the moment and serve them at that moment. It isn’t just about what channels you support — it’s about how you’re delivering a good experience for them based on their needs. We know that humans cannot scale to the rate of demand and productivity required in today’s digital world. Thus, automation will be critical for marketing and sales to help drive a buyer’s journey with a personalized and human-like experience.
  3. The role of AI in redefining a “good experience.” Continuing to build human-like experiences with AI and automation is extremely important. Automation can be done through rigid rules, but it can also be done by using AI. When automation is AI-powered, it’s smart, it’s intelligent, and it’s learning from its experiences to adapt to the situation that it’s in. That’s why I think AI is so compelling. I’m excited to continue developing human-likeness in our Conversational AI solutions to ensure improved interactions with our customers and eventually model a more empathetic voice in our conversations.
  4. Opportunity for the augmented workforce. Organizations need to refocus and re-strategize their digital transformation initiatives. We have a direct hand in uniting people with Conversational AI solutions to stimulate greater workforce productivity and efficiency. Many enterprises facing challenges with headcount and budget restrictions can leverage Conversational AI solutions to compensate for the loss and augment their workforce to eliminate that problem entirely.
  5. Rapid adoption and acceptance of AI. In the past two years, AI adoption has grown quite rapidly in the market. I’ve witnessed it be something that people were skeptical about and didn’t understand, to something that is actively changing the future of work as we know it. Even for teams that never thought about adopting technology, AI is helping them accomplish things that they thought weren’t possible. It’s exciting to see us take steps toward an augmented workforce where people and AI work harmoniously together.

What are the 5 things that concern you about the AI industry? Why?

  1. Know who you’re working with. Just because a solutions provider claims they’re offering AI solutions doesn’t mean that they are. An organization needs to know its pain points and make sure the solution being evaluated and the AI used solves them.
  2. Quality. Solution Providers feel pressure from the industry’s rapid innovation and will forgo the necessary steps to achieve quality to have exposure in the market. Solutions providers must focus on the depth of their solution and not just breadth. There’s no excuse for sloppy AI.
  3. The concern that AI will replace jobs. As professionals in the AI industry, it’s our job to continue educating people and to raise awareness around AI and the solutions it’s providing. By doing so, that skepticism will reduce and people will come to realize that people will always be a critical part of the workforce equation. There will always be instances where human-roles are preferred because of the creativity, strategic-value and dynamic, and complex problem solving that people are inherently good at.

As you know, there is an ongoing debate between prominent scientists, (personified as a debate between Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg,) about whether advanced AI has the future potential to pose a danger to humanity. What is your position about this?

Ultimately, there will always be differing opinions when it comes to AI in terms of its progress level and the potential impact. It’s important to consider potential risks, foster transparency, and open dialogue. Just as we’re seeing the evolution of privacy and compliance standards globally, eventually, I anticipate the industry will establish an AI ethics standards body that companies can use as a compass for innovation.

What can be done to prevent such concerns from materializing? And what can be done to assure the public that there is nothing to be concerned about?

First and foremost, as an industry, we should always aim to expand our knowledge and continue to educate others around us. Sometimes, it can be difficult to wrap your head around AI applications which can sometimes instill skepticism in people. To mitigate that, transparency and awareness should be top of mind within the industry. And of course, continue to be a part of the conversation.

This also ties into the conversation around ethics and AI. As an industry, we need to continue to ensure that we’re doing our due diligence to follow best practices for data privacy and compliance while also thinking about how to deliver quality customer experiences. In today’s digital world, consumers expect a great experience through every digital touchpoint, but just because you know that you could provide a better customer experience if you leveraged their data, you still have to be prudent and ethical about how you use that data. It’s never been more critical to understand the user’s consent on how they would like their data to be used and to adhere to that consent. Whether it’s AI-driven or not, those fundamental aspects of data privacy are essential.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world? Can you share a story?

I’m passionate about coaching and mentoring — from coaching youth sports to mentoring leaders early in their careers; it’s something I hold very close to my heart.

Early in my career, I was on a quality assurance team where a few people had learned English as a second language. We hired a woman in her mid-career whose primary language was Russian and spoke very little English. One day, we were eating lunch together and I helped her read the newspaper out loud. We did this over the next six months, and it was amazing to see how quickly her English improved.

A few years back, she got in touch with me and wanted to thank me for helping her become more comfortable speaking English. She said it helped her feel more confident in her career. It’s rewarding to see people grow.

As you know, there are not that many women in your industry. Can you share 3 things that you would you advise to other women in the AI space to thrive?

First and foremost, as a female leader, you have to believe in yourself. You have to step into your own power and lead with a level of confidence that historically hasn’t been nurtured in women as a key attribute. I definitely see younger generations of women leaders recognizing their power and acting with more confidence. There are also more female role models and examples of leadership at the highest levels. It’s exciting!

Additionally, women have to be comfortable with being in positions of authority. It’s essential to learn early on to find validation from within and not solely from others. Owning that, accepting it, and living by it is foundational.

It’s also vital to trust, empower, coach, and mentor your team. In Silicon Valley — and especially in the technology and startup worlds — it can be easy to make the mistake of leading with your intellect. As a result, I think we forget what it means to build trust and relate to the human side of building teams. People want to work for people that they trust and respect. They want to work for leaders that believe in them. This is something I try to foster no matter what company I work for.

Can you advise what is needed to engage more women into the AI industry?

Simply put: we need to hire more women in AI-driven companies. I’m encouraged to see more women in product, STEM, and leadership positions. The more women in those roles, the more likely you will find them in the AI industry. It starts with our education systems and support for younger generations of women. We need to continue encouraging them to pursue opportunities in these fields.

What is your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that had relevance to your own life?

There are two. The first is more of a formula from Albert Einstein: “Ego=1/Knowledge. More the knowledge lesser the ego, lesser the knowledge more the ego.” I think that’s really true. I see people use their inflated ego or arrogance as a defense mechanism, especially when they lack specific knowledge. Part of knowledge is seeking it out rather than being all-knowing. Seeking knowledge from someone else is essential for success.

The second is, “Silence your ego, and your power will rise,” which is a quote from the Ancient One played by Tilda Swinton in the motion picture film “Dr. Strange.” This quote makes me think about how we can listen to what people are saying, take a moment to understand a situation, be a critical thinker, and not let things like ego or arrogance block your ability to see a different perspective.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I have always been passionate about building a movement where we can all be better advocates for one another. There’s a strong need to foster an environment of community where individuals can work together to accomplish what needs to be done, and after a year like 2020, this movement has never been more important.

While I still find individuality to be extremely important, the power of working and collaborating together, rather than working apart, is much stronger. As someone who grew up playing a lot of sports, I learned about the importance of teamwork early on. By working together, you can build each other up, reinforce strengths, and help overcome weaknesses.

How can our readers follow you on social media?


Twitter (@rashmivittal10)

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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