LinkedIn StoryLines Launched

StoryLines are trending topics shown on the right side of the LinkedIn Desktop
StoryLines are trending topics shown on the right side of the LinkedIn Desktop

LinkedIn recently introduced their new Storylines feature parallel to the LinkedIn feed.  StoryLines are “curated interest-based feeds that surface developing stories to help you discover and discuss news, ideas, and diverse perspectives from the largest group of professionals, publishers and editorial voices ever assembled.”

Articles are based upon information LinkedIn has about each reader such as their industry.  StoryLines are intended to combine industry expertise with individual network commentary.  A unique hashtag makes “it easy for you to join the conversation and add your own take on the issue.”

LinkedIn emphasized that StoryLines promotes a diversity of opinions and sources.  “Each story includes multiple perspectives, ranging from news publishers and influencers, to people in your network, so that you can easily weigh up diverse opinions”

StoryLines are curated via a combination of editorial curation and algorithmic filters.  When stories break, an editor writes a summary and identifies diverse sources.  An algorithm then adds additional member commentary.  This approach ensures a multiplicity of views that pull members out of “filter bubbles” which would otherwise reinforce current views and biases.  Topics will be business related

“I don’t want just one point of view”

  • LinkedIn VP of Product Tomer Cohen

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn believes it can avoid the problems of “fake news.”  Inaccurate content that is intentionally deceptive, including fake news, is not acceptable on our site,” said VP of Product Tomer Cohen.  “Our combination of algorithms and editors creates an experience where trending news is validated by editorial to ensure that it is professional and comes from trusted sources.”

Cohen added, “The content members write and share on LinkedIn becomes part of their professional identity — it can be seen by their boss, colleagues, and potential business partners. Promoting fake news can damage your reputation, and there is no hiding behind anonymity on LinkedIn.”

Other features include related stories and follow options for topical experts.

The new feature is being rolled out to US members and then will expand internationally.

LinkedIn mobile also added feed personalization tools which will soon be available via desktop.  Amongst the filters are options to follow companies, industry leaders, and publications.  Users can also hide posts, and unfollow people and companies.  Unfollowing people allows users to retain connections without seeing the connections posts.

LinkedIn has struggled to customize their feed for users, but StoryLines sounds like a smart innovation.  By creating a curated trending topic category and placing it to the right of the feed, they can provide relevant content and discussions without it overwhelming the user feed.  Furthermore, by curating a set of diverse viewpoints, members are provided with a broader set of perspectives.

Since the beginning of the year, I have noticed an improvement in LinkedIn’s feed.  Gone are the eye candy stories from Business Insider covering bots and bikes.  Also, there are fewer viral stories about enterprising individuals overcoming hardship.  Instead, they have done a better job of surfacing posts from my connections and articles in my field.

The launch of Sales Navigator Enterprise (covered last week) was another indicator that they are focusing more on the Professional side of Professional Social Networking.

Fortune: The C-Suite Remains a Male Bastion

DiscoverOrg employs 150 editors to gather its multi-level executive database across 60,000 global organizations.
DiscoverOrg employs 150 editors to gather its multi-level executive database across 60,000 global organizations.

Fortune employed DiscoverOrg C-Level executive data to analyze the presence of women in the C-Suite. Of the 9,975 C-level executives evaluated, only 18% were female. At the corporate apex, only 6.9% of the CEOs and 6.7% of Board Chairs were women. That is fewer than one in fourteen execs.

Of the twelve titles assessed, only four have female population rates above twenty five percent:

  • 31.9% Chief Legal Officer
  • 36.4% Chief Compliance Officer
  • 48.0% Chief Marketing Officer
  • 62.2% Chief Human Resources Officer

Even more concerning is that the top two positions leading to the CEO position, COO (7.2%) and CFO (8.8%), remain male bastions.

“The biggest surprise to me was how little gender diversity there still is,” opined DiscoverOrg CEO Henry Schuck. “You might expect less than 50% of C-level executives to be women, but I was surprised at how much less it was.”


I also found it interesting that this research was employed using DiscoverOrg data and not a public company dataset from Reuters, FactSet, S&P, Mergent, etc.  Any of these public information vendors could have also provided the data as well, but DiscoverOrg had an advantage in that it researches the full C-suite (and several levels below it) and reverifies data every ninety days.  While the other vendors are also likely to have highly accurate data for the C-Suite, they are dependent upon SEC filings to recognize executive changes.  Thus, they would be as accurate as DiscoverOrg for CEO, Chairman, COO, CFO, and Chief Legal Officer, but are less likely to be accurate for positions which report into the CEO, CFO , and COO.  Here, DiscoverOrg’s curated data collection methods have a data quality advantage.

What would be fascinating is if DiscoverOrg analyzed their data by function, level, and sector across the Fortune 1000.  They already have data sets for Finance, Marketing, Product Management (TEDD), and IT with several others ready to launched by the end of the year.  Assuming DiscoverOrg can provide historical cuts of their database, the IT function can be evaluated going back a half decade or more with Finance and Marketing for a few years.  At a minimum, such an analysis would make for some fascinating blogs, but it could also be an invaluable dataset for academic research.

Sales Intelligence Vendors in the Inc. 5000 List

Inc. magazine published the 2016 version of their Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing US private companies over the past three years.  To qualify, firms must have at least $100,000 in revenue in 2012 and $2 million in 2015.  Firms are ranked according to their three-year growth rate.

Once again, Social123 was the fastest growing company amongst the firms covered by my newsletter.  Last year, the firm grew its revenue by $400,000 to $2.8 million.  The firm has a three-year Compound Average Growth Rate (CAGR) of 123%.  Social123 provides a database of over 300 million global contacts mined from social media which they deploy for prospecting and data enrichment.

HG Data and CB Insights also posted high growth rates (three year CAGRs of 106% and 97% respectively) that placed them towards the top of the list.  HG Data has had great success licensing their semantically mined set of technology product and vendor data to sales intelligence and predictive analytics companies while CB Insights continues to grow in the PE/VC intelligence space and launched a PE/VC sales intelligence product in 2015.

US private company growth rates based upon current and historical Inc. 5000 lists.
US private company growth rates based upon current and historical Inc. 5000 lists.

DiscoverOrg posted the most impressive numbers as it made the list for the sixth consecutive year with a 48% CAGR.  According to the tech sales intelligence firm, only 320 companies have ever made the list for six consecutive years and DiscoverOrg ranked 12th in growth amongst them.  Furthermore, DiscoverOrg is on pace for $60 million in revenue this year which would easily place them on next year’s list.  Noting that the firm has grown revenue 10X over five years, CMO Katie Bullard described their feat as “a huge testament to our customers’ successes and the value they are realizing every day.”

DiscoverOrg recently accepted equity financing for strategic growth purposes, but much of their growth was self-funded as they carefully built out their database to 60,000 companies and their customer base to 2,000 clients.  The firm has doubled its company coverage over the past year and built its editorial staff out to 150 researchers.  Similarly, they have grown contact coverage by 89% while maintaining a 99% fill rate on emails and 96% on direct dial numbers.

Technology sales intelligence vendor RainKing also demonstrated strong growth with a 31% CAGR to $27 million.  Back in June, RainKing announced plans to add an additional sixty headcount to their sales, research, engineering, and client success departments.  This is the third year in a row that RainKing has made the list.

Intent data firm Madison Logic made the list for the second time with $45.1 million in revenue.  The growth was particularly impressive as Madison Logic spun off its Madison Logic Data division in April 2015 as Bombora.  “Madison Logic’s priority is to provide B2B marketers with the most comprehensive account based marketing solution and deliver real ROI of their efforts,” said Tom O’Regan, Madison Logic’s CEO. “Our growth is a result of all our teams — from engineering to sales — being aligned behind that priority. We could not have done it without our partners and customers who have selected Activate ABM to power their account based marketing programs.”

Zoominfo returned to the list last year after a seven year hiatus.  The firm appears to have found a successful growth strategy.  Over the years, Zoominfo pursued multiple markets including web mined biographies, sales intelligence, and executive recruitment tools only to be big footed by Google and LinkedIn.  A few years ago, Zoominfo began to gain traction in the data hygiene services space.  Over the past year, they launched Chrome and Eloqua connectors and refreshed their Salesforce integration.  They also rebranded and enhanced their sales and marketing platform as the Zoominfo Growth Acceleration Platform.  The new service helps sales and marketing teams “identify, connect, and engage with qualified prospects and replicate success.”

“Our mission is to help businesses accelerate their growth by using our data and tools,” said Zoominfo CEO Yonatan Stern.  “We use our own tools and have experienced accelerating growth together with significant profitability over the past five years.

Advertising sales intelligence vendor The List returned to the Inc. 5000 after a five-year hiatus.  The List has long been a respected database covering the national advertising and agency sector.  Late last year, the firm launched a new sales intelligence service for sales professionals who target agencies, media sales, marketing technology firms, and corporate sponsorships.  The Winmo service combines advertiser and agency search, agency relationships, creative portfolios, and sales recommendations along with prospecting, advertising-specific sales triggers from DailyVista, and an SFDC connector.

Pure Incubation made the list for the third year in the row with revenues of $9.5 million.  The Massachusetts firm provides lead generation and database services for the medical (MedData Group) and IT fields (PureB2B).  PureIncubation CEO Melissa Chang attributed the firm’ success to the launch of several PureB2B products including “marketing qualified leads, a unique integrated Account Based Marketing product, and our latest digital strategy  – a GuidesFor site network that utilizes intent data to identify in-market buyers and drive ready-to-purchase buyers to technology companies.”  Chang also noted that “we have made a number of operational enhancements to increase efficiencies, and set the industry standard for quality data delivery.”

Interestingly, not a single predictive analytics company made the list.  Several  firms were pre-revenue in March 2012 so would not have qualified this year.  Other firms may have chosen not to publish their revenue and growth rates.

Brexit and Sales Intelligence Vendors

BrexitBrexit happened.  Most of us didn’t think it would, but it did.  As an outsider, I’m not going to address the foolishness of the vote and the harm it is already doing to British financial and currency markets.  That would simply be piling on.

But as an analyst of the sales intelligence space, I can make some observations about how it is likely to impact my industry.  The short-term impact will mostly be financial as US firms find that H2 revenue will decline due to the fall in the Pound (and less so the Euro).  Sales Intelligence products are priced in Pounds and do not float so the impact will likely be felt by American vendors reporting lower revenue from their European operations.  I expect the term “currency headwinds” will again become popular on earnings calls.  This situation may be compounded by British firms being more conservative in H2 due to political and economic uncertainty.  They may choose to license fewer seats or hold off on licensing a service.

The British Pound is down ten percent vs. the US Dollar since the Brexit vote (Source: XE.com)
The British Pound is down ten percent vs. the US Dollar since the Brexit vote (Source: XE.com)

Should the pound remain weak going forward, vendors may raise sterling-denominated prices in 2017; but this decision is somewhat dependent upon the location of staff, denomination of licensing contracts, and degree of Brexit economic contraction.  As UK company content is mostly licensed from UK vendors, it is likely to be denominated in Pounds so content licensing expenses are also likely to drop for American vendors.  (US companies will often sign licensing deals in pounds as it provides a partial hedge against currency fluctuation).

Britain is the second most important market for sales intelligence services after the United States.  While other markets may be growing faster, Britain has long been either the home of sales intelligence products (Bureau van Dijk, DueDil, Artesian Solutions) or the logical second market for American firms.  US firms have long enjoyed access to the European market via offices in London and some even configure their products with regional UK and European editions.  Britain will remain a critical market for these companies and there is little reason to believe that American firms cannot continue to sell into the EU via these offices.

But a long-term problem may be staffing their British offices with multi-lingual sales, support, marketing, and editorial staff.  The status of EU citizens working in Britain is unclear and may not be resolved for two years.  A study by Wayra UK found that 34% of British start-up employees are not British citizens with 20.7% of employees carrying EU passports.  Whether EU citizens will continue to freely live and work in Britain is an open question subject to negotiation over the next two years.

Wayra UK found that British startups have a built in competitive advantage from this diversity.  They found that 79% believe that cultural diversity helped them compete while 75% said it helped them overcome challenges and 72% argued that it assisted with new market entry.  However, if EU work visas become an issue, the British will lose this competitive edge.  There is also the negative impact of reduced work and study opportunities for British citizens which will erode British understanding of individual country markets.  In the context of information services, the cost and difficulty of maintaining a multi-lingual research and support staff in Britain may increase.

“Without access to Europe the pool of applicants shrinks dramatically,” DueDil founder Damian Kimmelman told Forbes. “We are a venture-backed business, and a venture-backed business means we are invested in to create super growth. But you can’t create super growth if it’s so difficult to hire the people that can create that super growth. People in tech are the number one commodity.”

DueDil is in the middle of building out its sales intelligence coverage of Europe so multi-lingual staff is critical.  Kimmelman is already looking at expanding operations outside of Britain and will be spending the next few weeks researching options with DueDil executives.  “We’re going to be opening up new offices.  We have to. We’re scaling far too quickly to jeopardize our ability to scale because we have to hire people in the U.K.”

One area of benefit for UK information services may be around Safe Harbour.  The EU is moving towards greater restrictions around personal information and it has always been difficult to gather and market emails.  However, the British have been an exception to this rule with vendors including UK business emails in their products.  A Brexit suggests that the EU Safe Harbour negotiations may become more difficult as continental sensitivities will no longer be balanced by British openness.  The net is emails and executive profiles are likely to remain available in the UK but that complying with EU Safe Harbour restrictions could greatly limit access to executive information and create issues for American multinationals and cloud vendors.

As a shorthand, I’ve color (or should I write colour for the Brits?) coded my analysis to highlight the benefits and drawbacks to Sales Intelligence vendors.  The net is rather negative.  Unless you are marketing British contact files for email campaigns and teleprospecting, it is unlikely that you would welcome the vote’s outcome.  For vendors providing global information services, Brexit provides additional financial and planning challenges in the number two sales intelligence market.