Cemex creates a copilot to cement its foundation with customers

A man stands with arms folded behind three workers at computer desks

When multinational building materials company Cemex recognized the need for an AI tool to enhance the agility of their sales force and enable them to tailor solutions to their customers’ needs in a matter of minutes, they also understood that efficient human collaboration within the company was crucial to the success of their plan.

The result of this combination was a sales copilot called Technical Xpert, an AI-assistant running on Microsoft Azure OpenAI Service with GPT 4.0 and found as a chat window in Teams.

Spurred by a need in Mexico operations and supported by Central technology area to create an AI-powered tool that would increase efficiencies in the sales of its products, and even change the way the company offers holistic solutions to its customers,  Noel Martínez Pérez and Alan Cortez joined forces to build a solution that would help the sales team quickly navigate Cemex’s vast array of products, from traditional concretes and cement to its new suite of sustainable construction materials.

“I think we are in a time when we need to integrate all these types of tools into our daily processes, because although it is something that has been working well for a long time, I think that with this we can take it to the next level,” says Cortez, head of commercial information at Cemex Mexico. “And that’s exactly what we’re looking for, to think out of the box and to be able to evolve our processes.”

 “Many times, hard data provides us with information that, as data scientists, we believe is insightful,” says Martínez, a data scientist for Cemex. “But those hard data, those hard numbers, don’t always reflect what the customer needs.”  Which is why the synergies between both departments were crucial to come up with the right copilot.

Over the development period of the AI tool, Martínez and Cortez went back and forth, testing different elements and accentuating several features to provide the best possible product.

Two men sit talking next to one another each at their own computer desk
Alan Cortez and Noel Martinez Perez used their skill sets in sales and data science to collaborate on the Technical Xpert tool for Cemex. Image by Octavio Hoyos.

“The kinds of details that the bot should look at, I think, come out of that synergy between Alan and our team, where they tell us, which functionalities of the bot would be useful, and based on those user recommendations, we programmed and deployed the tool to do just that” Martínez says. “We polished the tool until it was ready.”

The outcome of these efforts, alongside their partnership with Microsoft, is a solution that aligns with Cemex’s digital transformation efforts. Technical Xpert is a copilot embedded that allows Cemex’s sales agents to use AI to pull up all pertinent product information – almost like an instantaneous online brochure – and provide the best possible materials for customers in a fraction of the time.

The tool recently launched in Mexico, and sales agents are beginning to incorporate it into their engagement with customers, with game-changing results.

“This new tool is sending us information much faster, so we can have the conversations with customers and at the same time asking, internally, technical questions: What can I offer to this customer based on what he’s requiring from me?” says Cristhian Alday, a Cemex commercial advisor located in La Paz, Baja California. “For me, reaching this type of information in the past would take me to knock at least on four people’s doors and the response time would have been maybe, I don’t know, in an hour. And here it is in nine seconds.”

Cemex relies on a network of sales agents throughout Mexico to provide potential customers with the solutions that work best for a particular project. But with so many different choices now available, even the most knowledgeable agents could get stuck in their attempts to recommend roller-compacted concrete or masonry mortar cement.

A man stands with arms folded in an office
Fausto Sosa, vice president of information technology at Cemex, oversaw the development of Technical Xpert. Image by Cemex.

“Sometimes it is very hard for the sales force to know all the different ranges of products and the correct technical characteristics for them,” says Fausto Sosa, vice president of information technology at Cemex. “We are constantly releasing new products that are more sustainable and with different characteristics. So, it becomes a little complex to understand all the details.”

That led to Cemex Mexico president suggestion of building a tool to help the sales force become more agile and effective in its recommendations.

“He wanted to have a sales force with relevant information because they are not in offices, they are in the field,” says José Luis de Apodaca, global data science director for Cemex. “It’s a role that usually doesn’t sit at a desk and go over dashboards. So, we needed a very efficient and available tool.”

As part of that change, Cemex looked to Microsoft and the power of AI for help. How could it create a nimble, knowledgeable tool that empowered its sales agents to make the most valuable and efficient product recommendations for its customers? With each large construction project, sales agents needed to put together a full set of materials required, also providing options to account for environmental factors, ground composition and cost.

For the Microsoft team involved in helping create the copilot, the challenge was ensuring that Cemex had an architecture that both met their needs and was highly secure. The back and forth ensured that the design accounted for all variables and could be flexible as new products entered Cemex’s system.

This customized copilot had to be built and trained with the correct information over four months. That required giving the tool hundreds of pages of documents and manuals with information on the myriad products Cemex offers to customers. It also had to be easy to update, since new developments in materials would allow sales agents to have the latest products available to suggest to customers.

“At Microsoft, we empower our customers to drive innovation and address business challenges with the support of our AI solutions. Technical Xpert’s advanced AI capabilities provide Cemex employees with comprehensive product overviews and detailed insights to help shape product recommendations and enhance sales,” says Deb Cupp, president of Microsoft Americas. “Together, we’re redefining the future and fostering growth in new and innovative ways.”

“We saw this as a necessity,” Cortez says. “We deposited the information, the tool was trained, we adjusted with Noel and his team, and then we asked other teams to ask it some technical questions that we perhaps might not have the answers to. We then said, ‘Is it giving you the right thing?”

Users can type in a prompt to search for a particular construction material and see its properties to determine if it will be most effective for a particular project. Users can also search internally for contact information and sales strategies. The goal is to reduce the amount of time spent tracking down information from disparate sources and quickly give agents the information they need to present customers with the best possible materials for their projects.

The idea behind Technical Xpert is to provide the sales agents with a tool to augment their existing knowledge of Cemex’s products and fill in the gaps in a rapidly changing environment.

“For example, I have collaborators with me who have been with the company for a short time, and I am sure that this will solve all the technical doubts they sometimes have when they have to call me,” Alday says. “Or when they have to look to their supervisor so they can be sure that the offer is the right one. This is the endorsement they are looking for.”

A Cemex truck in front of a Cemex plant
Cemex is one of the world’s largest construction materials companies, with a vast array of options that clients can select for their projects. Image by Cemex.

One additional element of Technical Xpert’s development that could provide other benefits down the road capitalizes on Cemex’s operational model. According to Sosa, the company essentially operates the same worldwide, using the same IT structure and systems in Europe and the US as it does in Mexico, making it possible to convert the new tool globally if it becomes a vital element for sales agents.

“We try to keep this replica model as much as possible because it increases our speed when we deploy global solutions,” Sosa says. “Even though it has been built for Mexico, there is a huge replicability if we move it to other regions. Obviously, we will need to deal with local specifications and maybe some additional technical specifications in the documents that are different in Europe because of regulations… small localizations that will be needed to be able to roll it out worldwide.”

Sosa and the Cemex team know that it is too early in the process to make any sweeping claims about the long-term effectiveness of Technical Xpert. But as the tool makes its way throughout the Cemex sales force, it’s clear that it does open the door for better communication between sales agent and customer.

“Time is the most valuable thing right now,” Alday says. “It’s going to help us figure this out. The agility with which we can solve problems allows us to have additional time that at least I, as a salesperson, seek to have with the customer face-to-face. It’s going to give us additional time to improve that part of face-to-face interaction with the customer that sometimes we’ve lost. I think we will be more efficient in serving our customers.”

Top image: José Luis de Apodaca, Global Data Science Director for Cemex, led the charge to build the Technical Xpert as part of the company’s digital transformation efforts. Image by Octavio Hoyos.