Sep
19
2018
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Einstein Voice gives Salesforce users gift of gab

Salespeople usually spend their days talking. They are on the phone and in meetings, but when it comes to updating Salesforce, they are back at the keyboard again typing notes and milestones, or searching for metrics about their performance. Today, Salesforce decided to change that by introducing Einstein Voice, a bit of AI magic that allows salespeople to talk to the program instead of typing.

In a world where Amazon Alexa and Siri make talking to our devices more commonplace in our non-work lives, it makes sense that companies are trying to bring that same kind of interaction to work.

In this case, you can conversationally enter information about a meeting, get daily briefings about key information on your day’s meetings (particularly nice for salespeople who spend their day in the car) and interact with Salesforce data dashboards by asking questions instead of typing queries.

All of these tools are designed to make life easier for busy salespeople. Most hate doing the administrative part of their jobs because if they are entering information, even if it will benefit them having a record in the long run, they are not doing their primary job, which is selling stuff.

For the meetings notes part, instead of typing on a smartphone, which can be a challenge anyway, you simply touch Meeting Debrief in the Einstein Voice mobile tool and start talking to enter your notes. The tool interprets what you’re saying. As with most transcription services, this is probably not perfect and will require some correcting, but should get you most of the way there.

It can also pick out key data like dates and deal amounts and let you set action items to follow up on.

Gif: Salesforce

Brent Leary, who is the founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says this is a natural progression for Salesforce as people get more comfortable using voice interfaces. “I think this will make voice-first devices and assistants as important pieces to the CRM puzzle from both a customer experience and an employee productivity perspective,” he told TechCrunch.

It’s worth pointing out that Tact.AI has been giving Salesforce users these kind of voice services for some time, and Tact CEO Chuck Ganapathi doesn’t seem too concerned about Salesforce jumping in.

“Conversational AI is the future of enterprise software and it’s not a question of if or when. It’s all about the how, and we strongly believe that a Switzerland strategy is the only way to deliver on its promise. It’s no wonder we are the only company to be backed by Microsoft, Amazon and Salesforce,” he said.

Leary things there’s plenty of room for everyone and Salesforce getting involved will accelerate adoption for all players. “The Salesforce tide will lift all boats, and companies like Tact will see their profile increased significantly because while Salesforce is the leader in the category, its share of the market is still less than 20% of the market.”

Einstein is Salesforce’s catch-all brand for its artificial intelligence layer. In this case it’s using natural language processing, voice recognition technology and other artificial intelligence pieces to interpret the person’s voice and transcribe what they are saying or understand their request better.

Typically, Salesforce starts with a small set of functionality and the builds on that over time. That’s very likely what they are doing here, coming out with a product announcement in time for Dreamforce, their massive customer conference next week,

Sep
06
2018
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Salesforce updates Sales Cloud ahead of Dreamforce with increased automation

Dreamforce, Salesforce’s massive customer conference is coming later this month to San Francisco, but the news is starting already well ahead of the event. Today, the company announced updates to its core Sales Cloud with an emphasis toward automation and integration.

For starters, the company wants to simplify inside phone sales, giving the team not only a list of calls organized by those most likely to convert, but walking them through a sales process that’s been defined by management according to what they believe to be best practices.

High Velocity Sales is designed to take underlying intelligence from Salesforce Einstein and apply it to the sales process to give sales people the best chance to convert that prospect. That includes defining contact cadence and content. For calls, the content could be as detailed as call scripts with what to say to the prospect. For emails, it could provide key details designed to move the prospect closer to sale and how often to send that next email.

Defining sales cadence workflow in Sales Cloud. Photo: Salesforce

Once the sales teams begins to move that sale towards a close, Salesforce CPQ (configure, price, quote) capabilities come into play. That product has its roots in the company’s SteelBrick acquisition several years ago, and it too gets a shiny new update for Dreamforce this year.

As sales inches toward a win, it typically moves the process to the the proposal stage where pricing and purchases are agreed upon, and if all goes well a contract gets signed. Updates to CPQ are designed to automate this to the extent possible, pulling information from notes and conversations into an automated quote, or relying on the sales person when it gets more complex.

The idea though is to help sales automate the quote and creation of bill once the quote has been accepted to the extent possible, even providing a mechanism for automatic renewal when a subscription is involved.

The last piece involves Pardot Einstein, a sales and marketing tool, designed to help find the best prospects that come through a company’s marketing process. This is also getting some help from the intelligence layer in a couple of ways.

Einstein Campaign Insights looks at the range of marketing campaigns that are coming out of the marketing organization, determining which campaigns are performing — and those that aren’t — and pushing the art of campaign creation using data science to help determine which types of activities are most likely to succeed in helping convert that shopper into a buyer.

The other piece is called Einstein Behavior Score, which again is using the company’s underlying artificial intelligence tooling to analyze buying behavior based on intent. In other words, which people coming through your web site and apps are most likely to actually buy based on their behaviors — pages they visit, items they click and so forth.

Salesforce recognized the power of artificial intelligence to drive a more automated sales process early on, introducing Einstein in 2016. In typical Salesforce fashion, it has built upon that initial announcement and tried to use AI to automate and drive more successful sales.

The core CRM tool that is the center of the Sales Cloud, is simply a system of record of the customers inside any organization, but the company is trying to automate and integrate across its broad family of products whenever possible to make connections between products and services that might be difficult for humans to make on their own.

While it’s easy to get lost in AI marketing hype — and calling their AI layer by the name “Einstein” certainly doesn’t help in that regard — the company is trying to take advantage of the technology to help customers drive more sales faster, which is the goal of any sales team. It will be up to Salesforce’s customers to decide how well it works.

Sep
04
2018
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Thoma Bravo buys majority stake in Apttus in unexpected ending

Apttus, a quote-to-cash vendor built on top of the Salesforce platform that looked to be heading toward an IPO in recent years has taken a different tack, instead being acquired by private equity firm Thoma Bravo today.

The company did not reveal the purchase price, but said it could be ready to share more details about the arrangement after the deal closes, probably next month. “What we can say is that Apttus views this development positively and believes Thoma Bravo can instill greater operational excellence, strengthen our market leadership and allow us to continue providing indispensable value to our customers,” a company spokesperson told TechCrunch.

They are describing this not as a full on acquisition, but as ‘taking a majority stake’. However you describe it, it probably wasn’t the ending the company envisioned after taking $404 million in investment since launching in 2006, one of the earliest startups to build a business on top of the Salesforce platform.

If the company believed that Salesforce would eventually buy it, that never happened. In fact, that dream probably went out the window when Salesforce bought SteelBrick, a similar company also built on Salesforce, at the end of 2015 for $360 million.

In spite of this, in an interview in 2016, CEO Kirk Krappe still was confident that an exit was coming, either by IPO or a possibly a Salesforce acquisition.

“We will be IPOing this year. That may be a function to figure what Salesforce wants to do and they may think about that [after purchasing SteelBrick at the end of last year]. There’s no reason they can’t buy us too. For me, I have to run the business, and we’re growing 100 percent year on year. If Salesforce came to the table, that would be great if the numbers work. If not, we have an amazingly strong business,” he said at the time.

That never came to pass of course, and the company tried to separate itself from Salesforce in April of 2016 when it released a version of Apttus that would work on Microsoft Dynamics. Krappe saw this as a way to show investors he wasn’t completely married to the Salesforce platform.

While Salesforce provided a system of record around the customer information and all that involved, once the salesperson actually closed in on a sale, that’s when software like Apttus came into play, allowing the company to generate a detailed proposal, a contract once the deal was agreed upon and finally collecting and recording the money from the sale.

Apttus took its last funding rounds in Sept 2017 for $55 million and later a debt financing round for another $75 million in February this year, according to data on Crunchbase.

Thoma Bravo has bought a number of enterprise software products over the years including Qlik, Sailpoint, Dynatrace, Solar Winds and others. Apttus should fit in well with that family of companies.

Aug
23
2018
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Mixmax launches IFTTT-like rules to help you manage your inbox

Mixmax, a service that aims to make email and other outbound communications more usable and effective, today announced the official launch of its new IFTTT-like rules for automating many of the most repetitive aspects of your daily email workflow.

On the one hand, this new feature is a bit like your standard email filter on steroids (and with connections to third-party tools like Slack, Salesforce, DocuSign, Greenhouse and Pipedrive). Thanks to this, you can now receive an SMS when a customer who spends more than $5,000 a month emails you, for example.

But rules also can be triggered by any of the third-party services the company currently supports. Maybe you want to send out a meeting reminder based on your calendar entries, for example. You can then set up a rule that always emails a reminder a day before the meeting, together with all the standard info you’d want to send in that email.

“One way we think about Mixmax is that we want to do for externally facing teams and people who talk a lot of customers what GitHub did for engineering and what Slack did for internal team communication,” Mixmax co-founder and CEO Olof Mathé told me. “That’s what we do for external communication.”

While the service started out as a basic Chrome extension for Gmail, it’s now a full-blown email automation system that offers everything from easy calendar sharing to tracking when recipients open an email and, now, building rules around that. Mathé likened it to an executive assistant, but he stressed that he doesn’t think Mixmax is taking anybody’s jobs away. “We’re not here to replace other people,” he said. “We amplify what you are able to do as an individual and give you superpowers so you can become your own personal chief of staff so you get more time.”

The new rules feature takes this to the next level and Mathé and his team plan to build this out more over time. He teased a new feature called “beast mode” that’s coming in the near future and that will see Mixmax propose actions you can take across different applications, for example.

Many of the new rules and connectors will be available to all paying users, though some features, like access to your Salesforce account, will only be available to those on higher-tier plans.

Aug
22
2018
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Evernote refines integrations with Slack and Salesforce

When you’re working in a key business tool like Slack or Salesforce, you don’t want to switch focus by opening up another application to pull additional information. Evernote Business has let you access Evernote content from these applications for some time, and today it announced some refinements to enhance those integrations.

The Slack integration had worked with the old slash commands to display Evernote content directly within Slack, but Slack has changed that to allow you to access applications like Evernote in a more visual way, says Erik Wrobel, chief product officer at Evernote.

“Earlier this year, Slack announced something called Slack Actions. It allows you to surface an application in a more visual way, so discoverability and ease of use is better to reduce friction,” he said.

Evernote embedded inside Slack. Screenshot: Evernote

Evernote has take advantage of this new capability in this release to get away from the command interface style that Slack had previously used and make it easier for their core knowledge workers to access Evernote content inside of Slack.

Users can take an Evernote note in Slack, which will then show up in Evernote automatically in a “Notes from Slack” folder. From there, users can edit the notes and move them to other folders (or tag them) to further organize them in any way they see fit. Similarly you can save a conversation you’re having in Slack to Evernote as a note and move it or edit from Evernote later on.

The Salesforce Connection

While Salesforce deals with structured systems of record, Evernote works with unstructured content and bringing the two together can be useful and powerful for users. Typically, a team member interacting with the customer on the phone or in the field, will take notes in Evernote, and they want to share that information with other members of the team in the Salesforce record, Wrobel explained.

The user who took the note can link one or more notes inside Salesforce, so they essentially become part of the customer record. The newer version improves the technical connections between the two cloud applications including the ability to “pin” a note to a record. What’s more, once a note is linked there is two-way sync, which means regardless of whether you change that note in Salesforce or Evernote, it will update in both places (because the integration is a live version of Evernote).

Evernote notes embedded in Salesforce record. Screenshot: Evernote

Evernote also surfaces related content automatically at the bottom of the customer record to help users find other Evernote subject matter connected to the record. While you can’t link a note to Salesforce directly from Evernote yet, that is a requested feature and Wrobel said they are working on it for a future release.

These updates are available today for Slack and Salesforce customers using Evernote Business.

Aug
07
2018
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Salesforce promotes COO Keith Block to co-CEO alongside founder Marc Benioff

Salesforce is moving to a two CEO model after it promoted executive Keith Block, who was most recently COO, to the position of co-CEO. Block will work alongside Salesforce’s flamboyant founder, chairman and CEO (now co-CEO) Marc Benioff, with both reporting directly to the company’s board.

Block joined Salesforce five years ago after spending 25 years at Oracle, which is where he first met Benioff, who has called him “the best sales executive the enterprise software industry has ever seen.”

News of the promotion was not expected, but in many ways it is just a more formalized continuation of the working relationship that the two executives have developed.

Block’s focus is on leading global sales, alliances and channels, industry strategy, customer success and consulting services, while he also oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. Benioff, meanwhile, heads of product, technology and culture. The latter is a major piece for Salesforce — for example, it has spent Salesforce has spent over $8 million since 2015 to address the wage gaps pertaining to race and gender, while the company has led the tech industry in pushing LGBT rights and more.

“Keith has been my trusted partner in running Salesforce for the past five years, and I’m thrilled to welcome him as co-CEO,” said Benioff in a statement. “Keith has outstanding operational expertise and corporate leadership experience, and I could not be happier for his promotion and this next level of our partnership.”

This clear division of responsibility from the start may enable Salesforce to smoothly transition to this new management structure, whilst helping it continue its incredible business growth. Revenue for the most recent quarter surpassed $3 billion for the first time, jumping 25 percent year-on-year while its share price is up 60 percent over the last twelve months.

When Block became COO in 2016, Benioff backed him to take the company past $10 billion in revenue and that feat was accomplished last November. Benioff enjoys setting targets and he’s been vocal about reaching $60 billion revenue by 2034, but in the medium term he is looking at reaching $23 billion by 2020 and the co-CEO strategy is very much a part of that growth target.

“We’ve said we’ll do $23 billion in fiscal year 2022 and we can now just see tremendous trajectory beyond that. Cementing Keith and I together as the leadership is really the key to accelerating future growth,” he told Fortune in an interview.

Aug
07
2018
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Salesforce promotes COO Keith Block to co-CEO alongside founder Marc Benioff

Salesforce is moving to a two CEO model after it promoted executive Keith Block, who was most recently COO, to the position of co-CEO. Block will work alongside Salesforce’s flamboyant founder, chairman and CEO (now co-CEO) Marc Benioff, with both reporting directly to the company’s board.

Block joined Salesforce five years ago after spending 25 years at Oracle, which is where he first met Benioff, who has called him “the best sales executive the enterprise software industry has ever seen.”

News of the promotion was not expected, but in many ways it is just a more formalized continuation of the working relationship that the two executives have developed.

Block’s focus is on leading global sales, alliances and channels, industry strategy, customer success and consulting services, while he also oversees the company’s day-to-day operations. Benioff, meanwhile, heads of product, technology and culture. The latter is a major piece for Salesforce — for example, it has spent Salesforce has spent over $8 million since 2015 to address the wage gaps pertaining to race and gender, while the company has led the tech industry in pushing LGBT rights and more.

“Keith has been my trusted partner in running Salesforce for the past five years, and I’m thrilled to welcome him as co-CEO,” said Benioff in a statement. “Keith has outstanding operational expertise and corporate leadership experience, and I could not be happier for his promotion and this next level of our partnership.”

This clear division of responsibility from the start may enable Salesforce to smoothly transition to this new management structure, whilst helping it continue its incredible business growth. Revenue for the most recent quarter surpassed $3 billion for the first time, jumping 25 percent year-on-year while its share price is up 60 percent over the last twelve months.

When Block became COO in 2016, Benioff backed him to take the company past $10 billion in revenue and that feat was accomplished last November. Benioff enjoys setting targets and he’s been vocal about reaching $60 billion revenue by 2034, but in the medium term he is looking at reaching $23 billion by 2020 and the co-CEO strategy is very much a part of that growth target.

“We’ve said we’ll do $23 billion in fiscal year 2022 and we can now just see tremendous trajectory beyond that. Cementing Keith and I together as the leadership is really the key to accelerating future growth,” he told Fortune in an interview.

Jul
23
2018
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SessionM customer loyalty data aggregator snags $23.8 M investment

SessionM announced a $23.8 million Series E investment led by Salesforce Ventures. A bushel of existing investors including Causeway Media Partners, CRV, General Atlantic, Highland Capital and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers also contributed to the round. The company has now raised over $97 million.

At its core, SessionM aggregates loyalty data for brands to help them understand their customer better, says company co-founder and CEO Lars Albright. “We are a customer data and engagement platform that helps companies build more loyal and profitable relationships with their consumers,” he explained.

Essentially that means, they are pulling data from a variety of sources and helping brands offer customers more targeted incentives, offers and product recommendations “We give [our users] a holistic view of that customer and what motivates them,” he said.

Screenshot: SessionM (cropped)

To achieve this, SessionM takes advantage of machine learning to analyze the data stream and integrates with partner platforms like Salesforce, Adobe and others. This certainly fits in with Adobe’s goal to build a customer service experience system of record and Salesforce’s acquisition of Mulesoft in March to integrate data from across an organization, all in the interest of better understanding the customer.

When it comes to using data like this, especially with the advent of GDPR in the EU in May, Albright recognizes that companies need to be more careful with data, and that it has really enhanced the sensitivity around stewardship for all data-driven businesses like his.

“We’ve been at the forefront of adopting the right product requirements and features that allow our clients and businesses to give their consumers the necessary control to be sure we’re complying with all the GDPR regulations,” he explained.

The company was not discussing valuation or revenue. Their most recent round prior to today’s announcement, was a Series D in 2016 for $35 million also led by Salesforce Ventures.

SessionM, which was founded in 2011, has around 200 employees with headquarters in downtown Boston. Customers include Coca-Cola, L’Oreal and Barney’s.

Jun
13
2018
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Salesforce deepens data sharing partnership with Google

Last Fall at Dreamforce, Salesforce announced a deepening friendship with Google . That began to take shape in January with integration between Salesforce CRM data and Google Analytics 360 and Google BigQuery. Today, the two cloud giants announced the next step as the companies will share data between Google Analytics 360 and the Salesforce Marketing Cloud.

This particular data sharing partnership makes even more sense as the companies can share web analytics data with marketing personnel to deliver ever more customized experiences for users (or so the argument goes, right?).

That connection certainly didn’t escape Salesforce’s VP of product marketing, Bobby Jania. “Now, marketers are able to deliver meaningful consumer experiences powered by the world’s number one marketing platform and the most widely adopted web analytics suite,” Jania told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, owner of the consulting firm CRM Essentials says the partnership is going to be meaningful for marketers. “The tighter integration is a big deal because a large portion of Marketing Cloud customers are Google Analytics/GA 360 customers, and this paves the way to more seamlessly see what activities are driving successful outcomes,” he explained.

The partnership involves four integrations that effectively allow marketers to round-trip data between the two platforms. For starters, consumer insights from both Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, will be brought together into a single analytics dashboard inside Marketing Cloud. Conversely, Market Cloud data will be viewable inside Google Analytics 360 for attribution analysis and also to use the Marketing Cloud information to deliver more customized web experiences. All three of these integrations will be generally available starting today.

A fourth element of the partnership being announced today won’t be available in Beta until the third quarter of this year. “For the first time ever audiences created inside the Google Analytics 360 platform can be activated outside of Google. So in this case, I’m able to create an audience inside of Google Analytics 360 and then I’m able to activate that audience in Marketing Cloud,” Jania explained.

An audience is like a segment, so if you have a group of like-minded individuals in the Google analytics tool, you can simply transfer it to Salesforce Marketing Cloud and send more relevant emails to that group.

This data sharing capability removes a lot of the labor involved in trying to monitor data stored in two places, but of course it also raises questions about data privacy. Jania was careful to point out that the two platforms are not sharing specific information about individual consumers, which could be in violation of the new GDPR data privacy rules that went into effect in Europe at the end of last month.

“What we’re [we’re sharing] is either metadata or aggregated reporting results. Just to be clear there’s no personal identifiable data that is flowing between the systems so everything here is 100% GDPR-compliant,” Jania said.

But Leary says it might not be so simple, especially in light of recent data sharing abuses. “With Facebook having to open up about how they’re sharing consumer data with other organizations, companies like Salesforce and Google will have to be more careful than ever before about how the consumer data they make available to their corporate customers will be used by them. It’s a whole new level of scrutiny that has to be apart of the data sharing equation,” Leary said.

The announcements were made today at the Salesforce Connections conference taking place in Chicago this week.

May
30
2018
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Salesforce keeps revenue pedal to the metal with another mammoth quarter

Salesforce just keeps on growing revenue. In another remarkable quarter, the company announced 3.01 billion in revenue for Q1 2019 with no signs of slowing down. That puts the CRM giant on a run rate of over $12 billion with the company’s most optimistic projections suggesting it could go even higher. It’s also the first time they have surpassed $3 billion in revenue for a quarter.

As you might expect Salesforce chairman and CEO Marc Benioff was over the moon about the results in the earnings call with analyst yesterday afternoon. “Revenue for the quarter rose to more than $3 billion, up 25%, putting us on $12 billion revenue run rate that was just amazing. And we now have $20.4 billion of future revenues under contract, which is the remaining transaction price, that’s up 36% from a year ago. Based on these strong results, we’re raising our full year top line revenue guidance to $13.125 billion at the high end of our range, 25% growth for this year,” Benioff told analysts.

Brent Leary, an analyst who has been watching the CRM industry for many years, says CRM in general is a hot area and Salesforce has been able to take advantage. “With CRM becoming the biggest and fastest growing business software category last year according to Gartner, it’s easy to see with these number that Salesforce is leading the way forward. And they are in position to keep moving themselves and the category forward for years to come as their acquisitions should continue to pay off for them,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Bringing Mulesoft into the fold

Further Benioff rightly boasted that the company would be the fastest software company ever to $13 billion and it continued on the road towards its previously stated $20 billion goal. The $6.5 billion acquisition of Mulesoft earlier this year should help fuel that growth. “And this month, we closed our acquisition of MuleSoft, giving us the industry’s leading integration platform as well. Well, integration has never been more strategic,” Benioff stated.

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff Photo: TechCrunch

Bret Taylor, the company’s president and chief product officer, says the integration really ties in nicely with another of the company’s strategic initiatives, artificial intelligence, which they call Einstein. “[Customers] know that their AI is only as powerful as data it has access to. And so when you think of MuleSoft, think unlocking data. The data is trapped in all these isolated systems on-premises, private cloud, public cloud, and MuleSoft, they can unlock this data and make it available to Einstein and make a smarter customer facing system,” Taylor explained.

Leary thinks there’s one other reason the company has done so well, one that’s hard to quantify in pure dollars, but perhaps an approach other companies should be paying attention to. “One of the more undercovered aspects of what Salesforce is doing is how their social responsibility and corporate culture is attracting a lot of positive attention,” he said. “That may be hard to boil down into revenue and profit numbers, but it has to be part of the reason why Salesforce continues to grow at the pace they have,” he added.

Keep on rolling

All of this has been adding up to incredible numbers. It’s easy to take revenue like this for granted because the company has been on such a sustained growth rate for such a long period of time, but just becoming a billion dollar company has been a challenge for most Software as a Service providers up until now. A $13 billion run rate is in an entirely different stratosphere and it could be lifting the entire category says Jason Lemkin, founder at SaasStr, a firm that invests in SaaS startups.

“SaaS companies crossing $1B in ARR will soon become commonplace, as shocking as that might have sounded in say 2011. Atlassian, Box, Hubspot, and Zendesk are all well on their way there. The best SaaS companies are growing faster after $100m ARR, which is propelling them there,” Lemkin explained.

Salesforce is leading the way. Perhaps that’s because it has the same first-to-market advantage that Amazon has had in the cloud infrastructure market. It has gained such substantial momentum by being early, starting way back in 1999 before Software as a Service was seen as a viable business. In fact, Benioff told a story earlier this year that when he first started, he did the rounds of the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley and every single one turned him down.

You can bet that those companies have some deep regrets now, as the company’s revenue and stock price continues to soar.  As of publication this morning, the stock was sitting at $130.90, up over 3 percent. All this company does is consistently make money, and that’s pretty much all you can ask from any organization. As Leary aptly put it, “Yea, they’re really killing it.”

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