Jun
16
2020
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Outreach nabs $50M at a $1.33B valuation for software that helps with sales engagement

CRM software has become a critical piece of IT when it comes to getting business done, and today a startup focusing on one specific aspect of that stack — sales automation — is announcing a growth round of funding underscoring its own momentum. Outreach, which has built a popular suite of tools used by salespeople to help identify and reach out to prospects and improve their relationships en route to closing deals, has raised $50 million in a Series F round of funding that values the company at $1.33 billion. 

The funding will be used to continue expanding geographically — headquartered in Seattle, Outreach also has an office in London and wants to do more in Europe and eventually Asia — as well as to invest in product development.

The platform today essentially integrates with a company’s existing CRM, be it Salesforce, or Microsoft’s, or Kustomer, or something else — and provides an SaaS-based set of tools for helping to source and track meetings, have to-hand information on sales targets, and a communications manager that helps with outreach calls and other communication in real time. It will be investing in more AI around the product, such as its newest product Kaia (an acronym for “knowledge AI assistant”), and it has also hired a new CFO, Melissa Fisher, from Qualys, possibly a sign of where it hopes to go next as a business.

Sands Capital — an investor out of Virginia that also backs the likes of UiPath and DoorDash — is leading the round, Outreach noted, with “strong participation” also from strategic backer Salesforce Ventures. Other investors include Operator Collective (a new backer that launched last year and focuses on B2B) and previous backers Lone Pine Capital, Spark Capital, Meritech Capital Partners, Trinity Ventures, Mayfield and Sapphire Ventures.

Outreach has raised $289 million to date, and for some more context, this is definitely an up round: the startup was last valued at $1.1 billion when it raised a Series E in April 2019.

The funding comes on the heels of strong growth for the company: More than 4,000 businesses now use its tools, including Adobe, Tableau, DoorDash, Splunk, DocuSign and SAP, making Outreach the biggest player in a field that also includes Salesloft (which also raised a significant round last year on the heels of Outreach’s), ClariChorus.aiGongConversica and Afiniti. Its sweet spot has been working with technology-led businesses and that sector continues to expand its sales operations, even as much of the economy has contracted in recent months. 

“You are seeing a cambric explosion of B2B startups happening everywhere,” Manny Medina, CEO and co-founder of Outreach, said in a phone interview this week. “It means that sales roles are being created as we speak.” And that translates to a growing pool of potential customers for Outreach.

It wasn’t always this way.

When Outreach was first founded in 2011 in Seattle, it wasn’t a sales automation company. It was a recruitment startup called GroupTalent working on software to help source and hire talent, aimed at tech companies. That business was rolling along, until it wasn’t: In 2015, the startup found itself with only two months of runway left, with little hope of raising more. 

“We were not hitting our stride, and growth was hard. We didn’t make the numbers in 2014 and then had two months of cash left and no prospects of raising more,” Medina recalled. “So I sat down with my co-founders,” — Gordon Hempton, Andrew Kinzer and Wes Hather, none of whom are at the company anymore — “and we decided to sell our way out of it. We thought that if we generated more meetings we could gain more opportunities to try to sell our recruitment software.

“So we built the engine to do that, and we saw that we were getting 40% reply rates to our own outreaching emails. It was so successful we had a 10x increase in productivity. But we ran out of sales capacity, so we started selling the meetings we had managed to secure with potential talent directly to the tech companies themselves,” in other words, the other side of its marketplace, those looking to fill vacancies.

That quickly tipped over into a business opportunity of its own. “Companies were saying to us, ‘I don’t want to buy the recruitment software. I need that sales engine!” The company never looked back, and changed its name to work for the pivot.

Fast-forward to 2020, and times are challenging in a completely different way, defined as we are by a global health pandemic that affects what we do every day, where we go, how we work, how we interact with people and much more. 

Medina says the impact of the novel coronavirus has been a significant one for the company and its customers, in part because it fits well with two main types of usage cases that have emerged in the world of sales in the time of COVID-19.

“Older sellers now working from home are accomplished and don’t need to be babysat,” he said, but added they can’t rely on their traditional touchpoints “like meetings, dinners and bar mitzvahs” anymore to seal deals. “They don’t have the tools to get over the line. So our product is being called in to help them.”

Another group at the other end of the spectrum, he said, are “younger and less experienced salespeople who don’t have the physical environment [many live in smaller places with roommates] nor experience to sell well alone. For them it’s been challenging not to come into an office because especially in smaller companies, they rely on each other to train, to listen to others on calls to learn how to sell.”

That’s the other scenario where Outreach is finding some traction: They’re using Outreach’s tools as a proxy for physically sitting alongside and learning from more experienced colleagues, and using it as a supplement to learning the ropes in the old way.

“Outreach’s leadership position in the market, clear mission, and value-added approach make the company a natural investment choice for us,” said Michael Clarke, partner at Sands Capital’s Global Innovation Fund, in a statement. “Now more than ever, companies need an AI-powered sales engagement platform like Outreach. Enterprise sales teams are rapidly adopting sales engagement platforms and Outreach’s rapid growth reflects this.”

Like a lot of sales tools that are powered by AI, Outreach in part is taking on some of the more mundane jobs of salespeople.

But Medina doesn’t believe that this will play out in the “man versus machine” scenario we often ponder when we think about human obsolescence in the face of technological efficiency. In other words, he doesn’t think we’re close to replacing the humans in the mix, even at a time when we’re seeing so many layoffs.

“We are at the early innings,” he said. “There are 6.8 million sales people and we only have north of 100,000 users, not even 2% of the market. There may be a redefinition of the role, but not a reduction.”

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.

Apr
28
2018
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Emissary wants to make sales networking obsolete

There is nothing meritocratic about sales. A startup may have the best product, the best vision, and the most compelling presentation, only to discover that their sales team is talking to the wrong decision-maker or not making the right kind of small talk. Unfortunately, that critical information — that network intelligence — isn’t written down in a book somewhere or on an online forum, but generally is uncovered by extensive networking and gossip.

For David Hammer and his team at Emissary, that is a problem to solve. “I am not sure I want a world where the best networkers win,” he explained to me.

Emissary is a hybrid SaaS marketplace which connects sales teams on one side with people (called emissaries, naturally) who can guide them through the sales process at companies they are familiar with. The best emissaries are generally ex-executives and employees who have recently left the target company, and therefore understand the decision-making processes and the politics of the organization. “Our first mission is pretty simple: there should be an Emissary on every deal out there,” Hammer said.

Expert networks, such as GLG, have been around for years, but have traditionally focused on investors willing to shell out huge dollars to understand a company’s strategic thinking. Emissary’s goal is to be much more democratized, targeting a broader range of both decision-makers and customers. It’s product is designed to be intelligent, encouraging customers to ask for help before a sales process falters. The startup has raised $14 million to date according to Crunchbase, with Canaan leading the last series A round.

While Emissary is certainly a creative startup, its the questions spanning knowledge arbitrage, labor markets, and ethics it poses that I think are most interesting.

Sociologists of science generally distinguish between two forms of knowledge, concepts descended from the work of famed scholar Michael Polanyi. The first is explicit knowledge — the stuff you find in books and on TechCrunch. These are facts and figures — a funding round was this size, or the CEO of a company is this individual. The other form is tacit knowledge. The quintessential example is riding a bike — one has to learn by doing it, and no number of physics or mechanics textbooks are going to help a rider avoid falling down.

While org charts may be explicit knowledge, tacit knowledge is the core of all organizations. It’s the politics, the people, the interests, the culture. There is no handbook on these topics, but anyone who has worked in an organization long enough knows exactly the process for getting something done.

That knowledge is critical and rare, and thus ripe for monetization. That was the original inspiration for Hammer when he set out to build a new startup.“Why does Google ever make a bad decision?” Hammer asked at the time. Here you have the company with the most data in the world and the tools to search through it. “How do they not have the information they need?” The answer is that it has all the explicit knowledge in the world, but none of the implicit knowledge required.

That thinking eventually led into sales, where the information asymmetry between a customer and a salesperson was obvious. “The more I talked to sales people, the more I realized that they needed to understand how their account thinks,” Hammer said. Sales automation tools are great, but what message should someone be sending, and to who? That’s a much harder problem to solve, but ultimately the one that will lead to a signed deal. Hammer eventually realized that there were individuals who could arbitrage their valuable knowledge for a price.

That monetization creates a new labor market for these sorts of consultants. For employees at large companies, they can now leave, take a year off or even retire, and potentially get paid to talk about what they know about an organization. Hammer said that “people are fundamentally looking for ways to be helpful,” and while the pay is certainly a major highlight, a lot of people see an opportunity to just get engaged. Clearly that proposition is attractive, since the platform has more than 10,000 emissaries today.

What makes this market more fascinating long-term though is whether this can transition from a part-time, between-jobs gig into something more long-term and professional. Could people specialize in something like “how does Oracle purchase things,” much as how there is an infrastructure of people who support companies working through the government procurement system?

Hammer demurred a bit on this point, noting that “so much of that is being on the other side of those walls.” It’s not any easier for a potential consultant to learn the decision-making outside of a company than it is for a salesperson. Furthermore, the knowledge of an internal company’s processes degrades, albeit at different rates depending on the organization. Some companies experience rapid change and turnover, while knowledge of other companies may last a decade or more.

All that said, Hammer believes that there will come a tipping point when companies start to recommend emissaries to help salespeople through their own processes. Some companies who are self-aware and acknowledge their convoluted procurement procedures may eventually want salespeople to be advised by people who can smooth the process for all sides.

Obviously, with money and knowledge trading hands, there are significant concerns about ethics. “Ethics have to be at the center of what we do,” Hammer said. “They are not sharing deep confidential information, they’re sharing knowledge about the culture of the organization.” Emissary has put in place procedures to monitor ethics compliance. “Emissaries can not work with competitors at the same time,” he said. Furthermore, emissaries obviously have to have left their companies, so they can’t influence the buying decision itself.

Networking has been the millstone of every salesperson. It’s time consuming, and there is little data on what calls or coffees might improve a sale or not. If you take Emissary’s vision to its asymptote though, all that could potentially be replaced. Under the guidance of people in the know, the fits and starts of sales could be transformed into a smooth process with the right talking points at just the right time. Maybe the best products could win after all.

Jul
08
2015
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PandaDoc Announces $5M Investment For Sales Content Creation Tool

business man and business woman working on a tablet. Busy sales people want to spend their time interacting with customers, not taking care of administrative work. That’s where PandaDoc comes in, a startup that helps automate creation of quotes, proposals and contracts. Today it announced a $5 million investment led by Altos Ventures with additional participation from TMT Investments and other unnamed investors. The announcement… Read More

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