VanillaSoft Acquires Autoklose

Sales Engagement Platform vendor VanillaSoft acquired outbound email automation platform Autoklose for an undisclosed sum.  The acquisition augments VanillaSoft’s email capabilities and adds Autoklose’s DataUnlimited contact database to its feature set.  

Autoklose offers an all-in-one outbound email automation platform featuring automated lead generation, drip campaigns, calendar scheduling, reporting, and CRM integration.  

“The Autoklose technology and team will make a significant contribution to our vision of establishing VanillaSoft as the number one sales engagement platform for SMB customers in real-world industries such as insurance and fundraising.  After evaluating a number of different technologies and companies in the market, we saw that the capabilities and technology in the Autoklose platform would be a perfect fit for what our customers are looking for to enhance their sales outreach and engagement capabilities.  Further, the founders have a great vision, a passion for the industry, and built up an extremely talented group of people.  We are incredibly excited to bring Autoklose into the VanillaSoft team.”

VanillaSoft CEO David Hood

VanillaSoft is a multi-channel sales engagement platform that supports email, phone, and SMS.  Autoklose provides them with enhanced email cadence capabilities, personalized email automation, and personal sales nurturing.  Autoklose email features include email tracking, email templates, scheduled send, bounce detection, A/B testing, unsubscribe support, multi-media and attachments, and integrated Vidyard and Calendly functionality.  Real-time analytics track emails sent, delivered, opened, CTR, replies, and bounces.

Autoklose email tracking supports Gmail, GSuite, Outlook Office365 inbox, or any other email account via IMAP.

“An integrated, easy-to-use solution is something that SMB organizations with limited resources have been waiting for.  With this acquisition, VanillaSoft stands alone in the marketplace – offering SMB sales teams and individuals in real-world industries an all-in-one solution to meet their unique sales intelligence, email automation, sales nurturing, and sales engagement requirements.”

Mark Hunter, Author & Public Speaker, The Sales Hunter

VanillaSoft will continue selling Autoklose as a standalone sales automation platform with lead data as an add-on and has begun integrating the Autoklose email platform as the back-end for most email sends.  Autoklose will support future inbound email functionality.  Eventually, Autoklose will support a “light” marketing automation service.

“The stand-alone Autoklose platform will remain available to customers and we will be working hard on future development to make it even better,” blogged VanillaSoft CEO David Hood.  “It’s a great option for prospects who aren’t quite ready for – or do not require – a complete sales engagement platform like VanillaSoft.”


Part II will publish tomorrow.

Revenue Teams: Go Digital Now (Sales Engagement)

If the past six months haven’t convinced you that you need to digitize your processes, then I’m not going to try to convince you of that here. Simply putting your head in the sand and waiting for the pandemic to end will leave your business highly vulnerable now and after the pandemic. Your competitors now understand that sales, marketing and support need to be digitally mediated. Instead of trying to convince you of this, I’m going to skip the digital strategy pitch and offer multiple digital strategies for revenue teams to consider.

Let’s begin with Sales Engagement.

Sales Engagement

Sales Engagement platform help unify your communications across all of your revenue teams. Sales Engagement platforms support

  • Automated Cadences that schedule multi-channel communications across email, voice, social, and direct mail. Features include e-mail templates, phone scripts, playbooks, click dialers, power dialers, voice mail drops, inbound call routing and alerting, and LinkedIn SNAP integrations.
  • A/B testing for refining your email templates and cadences.
  • Reporting and analytics for tracking remote sales performance, analyzing message performance, and identifying what coaching individual reps need to elevate their performance
  • Account Prioritization which dynamically adjust call/email lists throughout the day.
  • Next Best Actions for moving accounts forward and identifying strategic gaps and risks
  • Sales Coaching for both reps and managers
  • Integrated Meeting Scheduling
  • Some vendors have Meeting Analytics built into their service (Outreach KAIA and SalesLoft) while others partner with conversation intelligence vendors. Calls are recorded, transcribed, indexed, and analyzed; allowing sales reps to be more present during meetings. AI-based real-time analysis provides live coaching during calls with recommendations and short advice cards.
  • Integrated Partnerships for conversation intelligence, social media integration, e-gifting, video, chat, etc. Some vendors have formal app partners (Outreach Galaxy, SalesLoft App Directory) while others integrate a smaller set of partners without building a formal partner ecosystem.

While they initially focused on the SDR team, Sales Engagement platforms now support the full revenue team including account executives, managers, operations, and customer success.

Sales Engagement solutions require significant training and setup, so if you are considering them now, you need to act quickly to have one in place by December.

The top two vendors are SalesLoft and Outreach. They offer the most complete solutions and vision, but smaller firms may wish to consider lower priced options such as VanillaSoft, Yesware, and Salesforce High Velocity Sales. Groove and XANT are also enterprise options.

There is still time to implement one or multiple solutions before the end of this year. They will help you close out the year and gain some momentum for 2021. Over the next few weeks, I will be discussing additional digital tools for consideration including sales intelligence, sales enablement, personal video, e-gifting (tactile marketing), chatbots, and opportunity management.

Quora: Do salespeople keep track of their sales activity log?

Sales reps are expected to keep track of their activities (both previous activities and future tasks). Fortunately, Sales Engagement Platforms (SEPs) such as Outreach, SalesLoft, VanillaSoft, XANT, Yesware, and ConnectLeader do most of this automatically. As touches are completed, they are automatically logged to the SEP and synced with the CRM. The SEP also tracks outcomes (call answered, voicemail drop, email view, email click-through, etc.), records and analyzes calls, and offers recommendations (best practices, next best actions).

This is a fairly new category of software which is mostly used in technology sales but beginning to extend into other B2B categories. Initial functionality focused on Sales Development Reps (SDRs) but richer functionality is being added which assists all sales positions.

These platforms set up cadences / sequences of planned activities that include email, phone, social, text, inbound, etc. Throughout the day, the system recommends the next best action. Because much of the work is scheduled by cadences, reps do not need to record most follow up tasks. Cadences include A/B tested email templates, scripts, and schedules so reps can be confident that they are employing a tested strategy. Email personalization is encouraged to improve click through rates and convey authenticity.

Other features of these platforms include

  • Automated meeting setup
  • Inbound call and chat support
  • The insertion of short personal videos from vendors such as Vidyard, Drift, Hippo Video, Videolicious, etc.
  • Recording, Transcription, and Analysis of calls and video meetings. Key moments are indexed for review (e.g. Next Steps, Pricing, Competitors, Feature Analysis, Talk Length and Ratios, Junk Words, etc.) and coaching. Call snippets may be forward to managers for questions (How should I handle this situation next time? Can we support this request?). They can also be forwarded to customer support (what is the status on this problem? Could you open a ticket?) and customer success (Is this feature supported?). Some vendors even support video libraries for training and coaching purposes.
  • LinkedIn Sales Navigator (SNAP) integrations
  • Cadence Pause (e.g. out of office) and Stop (e.g. Meeting set)
  • A/B testing and analytics for Sales and Marketing Operations
  • Opt-out tracking in general (do not contact) and specific (do not contact via text or phone, but email is OK).

If you are interested in evaluating SEPs, I wrote an overview that discusses the value proposition, key features, and questions to ask vendors.

Administrative Control Screen for Email Synching.
SalesLoft Administrative Control Screen for Email Synching.

Evaluating Sales Engagement Platforms: A Guide for Purchasing SEPs

I am pleased to announce that my next enterprise software purchasing report is available through this website and my partners at Tenbound. “Evaluating Sales Engagement Platforms: A Guide for Purchasing SEPs” assists with the purchasing decision of this rapidly developing SalesTech category.

Evaluating Sales Engagement Platforms

Single User License (October Discounted Price)

$495.00

The report is available as both a single buyer license for smaller firms evaluating the sector and as a buyer-committee license for larger firms. The Buyer Committee license covers a team of seven and includes a Word document checklist to assist with the evaluation.

Evaluating Sales Engagement Platforms – Buying Commitee License

Seven-User License (October Discounted Price) + Word Document Checklist

$1,195.00

Report Coverage

The 13-page report covers the following topics:

  • Sales Engagement Platform
    • Definition
    • Value Proposition
    • Core Features
    • Other Features
    • Industry Pricing
  • Purchasing Questions

I also offer detailed overviews of several major vendors:

  • SalesLoft Product Overview
  • VanillaSoft Product Overview (coming October 18)

GZ Consulting / Tenbound reports are independently written and not sponsored by any of the profiled vendors. Michael R. Levy of GZ Consulting wrote this report.

VanillaSoft Closes $4M Funding Round

US sales engagement vendor VanillaSoft received a pair of investments from Quebecois agencies totaling $4 million.  A $1 million loan from Canada Economic Development (CED) for Quebec Regions was announced last month followed by a $3 million equity investment from the Fonds Régional de Solidarité Outaouais (FRSO).  The round supports their operations in Gatineau and will fund thirty new positions focused on artificial intelligence functionality.  Hiring will be expanded in the R&D and sales functions.  The loan will also be directed towards marketing campaigns in Europe and Oceania.

“Digital technology is changing the way things are done around the world and providing companies with outstanding development opportunities,” said Greg Fergus, Member of Parliament for Hull-Aylme.  “Not only is VanillaSoft helping the Outaouais region build a reputation as a leader in the field of artificial intelligence, but its expertise and the innovative technology it continues to export will allow it to create 30 jobs.”

“The financial support and incentives provided by the Government of Canada allow companies like VanillaSoft to thrive,” said Hood.  “We have the opportunity to develop new markets and services and appreciate the continued support from CED for our local employees as we promote sales and business here in Quebec and beyond.”

VanillaSoft was founded in New Orleans in 2003 but shifted its operations to its Canadian subsidiary following Hurricane Katrina. CEO David Hood recognized the early help from CED and FRSO to help stabilize the firm:

“Katrina hit and wiped out the office in the U.S., and it’s the office here that grew. This would have been a company that was completely in the U.S. Instead, the majority of the employees are up here, the revenues are up here, and it’s Canada that quite honestly is really benefiting from it.”

CEO David Hood

VanillaSoft is the third major sales engagement firm to receive a funding round in the past month. Outreach and SalesLoft both received significant rounds in April.

Key features include sales cadences, email templates, VOIP dialing, call scripting, call recording, SMS marketing, SMS chat, analytics, lead scoring, and appointment setting.

Recent enhancements include geographic functionality and Vidyard GoVideo integration. New Geographical Information System (GIS) capabilities include proximity routing, directional routing, geolocation filters, and automated time zone features.  The new GIS functionality helps field sales reps maximize their client and prospect routing.

VanillaSoft noted that, “with many sales reps clocking far in excess of 25,000 miles per year, the ability to group accounts by area and conduct efficient outreach is critical.”

Directional routing provides reps with optimized maps for visiting leads.  The feature is assisted by proximity routing which identifies leads by radius around a ZIP code or a point.  For example, a sales rep can identify leads within a fixed distance of a prospect.

Geolocation filters employ geocodes for customer mapping, helping sales operations group leads by city, neighborhood, and street for lead assignment.  VanillaSoft also looks at the rep’s calendar to call out nearby appointments which may warrant rescheduling to optimize field sales rep planning.

“You can work either with latitude and longitude, or with ZIP code. This gives companies a functionality that I’m not aware is available on any other sales engagement platform. For appointment setting, for companies that have salespeople out on the road, and also for understanding where your customers and prospects are and to be able to target them geographically, this is an incredibly powerful functionality,” said Hood.

The firm also announced that Vidyard’s GoVideo personal video messaging service will be integrated into VanillaSoft.

“Making a human connection between salespeople and their prospects is critical for sales success,” said Vidyard CEO Michael Litt. “We know video is a powerful tool for sales engagement and leaders in the space like VanillaSoft see the potential of this technology for their users.”

Preferred B2B Communication Channels

While Sales Engagement vendors continue to expand their supported channels, email and phone remain the preferred B2B channels.  Preliminary results from a VanillaSoft survey of 2,000 executives indicated that email is the preferred communication channel.  SMS and Social Media were not listed as preferred channels with social media peaking at 24% during the need stage and falling to 15% during the evaluation stage

“We often read and hear about the rise and role of social selling at various points in the sales engagement process,” said VanillaSoft CEO David Hood, “However, as these initial findings show, more traditional channels – from email to phone to simple word-of-mouth – are actually preferred by B2B buyers.”


VanillaSoft Survey of 2,000 Executives.

Phone contact grows in importance from 39% in the Need stage to 54% in the Evaluation phase.

Social Media remains low, but it is a broad category and likely perceived as more of a consumer channel.  Even young professionals (25 to 34) had little interest in social as a sales contact channel with only 18% looking favorably upon social as a desirable sales communications channel.  41% of young professionals favored the telephone.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator has had significant success as a third channel with messaging, InMail, and PointDrive.  Had LinkedIn been broken out as a distinct category, it likely would have scored higher.  SNAP connectors are now available from Outreach, SalesLoft, InsideSales, and Yesware.  VanillaSoft is in the middle of its certification process.  SalesLoft has indicated that Sales Navigator is their top ecosystem partner.

Also omitted were video meetings (e.g. WebEx, JoinMe, BlueJeans, Zoom) which are commonly used within organizations and work quite well for establishing trust with prospects, demoing a product, and walking through documents.

“Understanding these types of reality-based findings will allow smart sales professionals to align their activities to their customers’ wants and desires,” said Hood.