What is Sales Engagement?

Over the past year, Sales Engagement has become the third pillar of my coverage (alongside Sales Intelligence and B2B DaaS). So it is only fair that I write an overview of the space.

Sales Engagement began about four or five years ago as Account Based Sales Development (ABSD) with a focus on automating the SDR function. Its initial functionality consisted of a cadence tool which automated emails and outbound dialing for appointment setting. Cadences, also called sequences, are a set of scheduled steps that usually begin with an email but also include outbound calls, social steps (many vendors have integrated LinkedIn Sales Navigator via SNAP connectors), and direct mail.

Cadences can be paused if the prospect is out of office or halted if the prospect unsubscribes. Outreach just announced out of office functionality which pauses the call and checks whether an alternate contact is listed.
Functionality is similar to that of LeadGnome. Outreach noted that 18% of email responses are out of office emails. 25% of out of office emails include an alternate contact name with over half the names being manager titles or above.  The Out of Office reply detection extracts the return date and alternate names then pauses sequences until the prospect returns.  The sales rep is notified of automated actions.

Email is supported by targeted templates which can be personalized. Thus, reps can call cadences by function, level, industry, etc. and the associated templates are customized by target audience. Reps can view the emails prior to sending and personalize them. This helps bring authenticity to the email. SalesLoft estimates that the peak personalization level is 20%.

Most sales engagement solutions include a digital dialer for outbound calling. The system suggests the best time of day and adjusts for time zones. Other features include local dialing, call recording, and voice mail drops. Upon completion, the rep enters call disposition and sentiment information which is synched with the CRM.

Once calls are recorded, they are transcribed and indexed, allowing sales reps or managers to quickly review calls and quickly locate pain points, objections, pricing, and next steps. Vendors such as Outreach and SalesLoft are going a step further and analyzing the calls, providing a set of team reports. More broadly, machine learning tools are being applied against the calls to determine best sales practices.

Meeting Management is emerging as a key feature set. Some vendors offer simple Calendly-like scheduling while others provide full meeting transcription and analytics.

Video is becoming increasingly important. Vendors support both video meetings (e.g. Webex, Zoom, BlueJeans, JoinMe) and video attachments (e.g. Vidyard, Videolicious).

The Outreach Partner Directory offers ten categories of partners. Sales Intelligence and Data supports lead generation, intelligence, and management.

Other information and decisioning tools include leaderboards, dashboards, AI recommendations (e.g. who to call or email next), CRM synchronization, and A/B testing. Some of these tools are directly integrated into the service while others are available through app directories. Similar to the Salesforce AppExchange or Marketo LaunchPoint, functionality may be free, freemium, or premium. Likewise, you may need to separately license the partner solution prior to enabling the integration. Outreach and SalesLoft offer a broad set of app partners.

There are a broad set of Sales Intelligence partner services which feed leads or display lead intelligence within Sales Engagement platforms. Vendors include DiscoverOrg, Zoominfo, Datanyze, Owler, Crunchbase, and SalesIntel.io.

Sales Engagement platforms are evolving into a system of engagement that sits alongside CRMs (systems of record). There is already a shift taking place from CRMs to Sales Engagement platforms. While Sales Engagement platforms are not looking to displace CRMs, sales reps are increasingly shifting screen time from CRMs to Sales Engagement platforms with the Sales Engagement platforms syncing with the CRMs. This is one of the reasons that Salesforce.com recently launched its High Velocity Sales service which combines cadences, Salesforce Inbox, the Lightning Dialer, work queues, and Einstein. High Velocity Sales starts at $75 per user per month ($90 with outbound calling).

The Salesforce Lighting Dialer supports click-to-call, power dialing, inbound calling, voicemail drops, and call logging.

At the Salesforce World Tour in Boston this week, a sales rep told me that Salesforce is heavily investing in Sales Engagement and hopes to catch up to the market leaders in the next year (I think this is overly optimistic as the leaders are quickly building out functionality and partnerships). While Salesforce could catch up in a few years, I believe it is more likely that SFDC will acquire one of the leaders in the space followed quickly by Microsoft and Oracle acquisitions in the sector (of course, Microsoft or Oracle could be the first movers). Adobe, which recently acquired Marketo, may also be interested in expanding its presence in B2B sales and marketing applications.

The top vendors in the space are SalesLoft, Outreach, and InsideSales. Other vendors include ConnectLeader, Yesware, Toutapp (Marketo), Mixmax, and VanillaSoft.

What is Meeting Management?

Chorus.ai Meetings are recorded, transcribed, indexed, and analyzed.
Chorus.ai Meetings are recorded, transcribed, indexed, and analyzed.

One of the recent additions to Sales Engagement feature sets is meeting management. Two years ago, meeting functionality was little more than a Calendly link, but now meeting setup and analytics are being automated, providing a much better experience for both sales reps and prospects. Reps spend less time setting up meetings, are better focused during meetings, and can review and share call snippets afterwards. Furthermore, calls are likely to run more smoothly and quickly.

Sales Engagement vendor SalesLoft has moved quickly into building meeting management after acquiring NoteNinja last year. Key SalesLoft features include:

  • Automated Calendaring: The email template includes a calendar link which allows the prospect to view open meeting windows and setup the call without they typical back and forth that wastes time. Rescheduling functionality is also supported.
  • Video Meetings: Calls are supported by Zoom and other video meeting platforms.
  • Automated Recording: A bot automatically attends the call and records it, transcribes it, and indexes it. Reps can search by word or topic and review a call timeline color coded by topic and speaker.
  • Improved Presence: Because the sales rep is no longer charged with note taking, he/she can focus better on the conversation. This allows for fewer delays, better call management, and better comprehension.
  • One-Click Notation: During the call, the sales rep can click on a set of pre-defined buttons for reviewing a topic post call. Thus, next steps, open questions, issues, pricing discussions, etc. can be quickly found after the call. These are presented alongside the automated indexing.
  • Sharing: Excerpts of the transcript can be shared with managers, technical staff, customer support, etc., allowing them to hear the voice of the customer. This removes bias and errors on the part of the sales rep. For example, if a sales rep feels she poorly handled a situation, she can forward the excerpt to her manager for a coaching session during their next one-on-one.
  • Training: The call timeline helps the rep see whether the meeting was conversational or a set of monologues, whether too many filler words were employed (to help reduce them), or whether next steps were set. More broadly, the training department (or sales operations if there isn’t a training department) can assemble a set of best practice meeting excerpts providing a library of short videos around value proposition, objection handling, competitor discussions, new capabilities, etc.
  • Best Sales Practices: Longer-term, machine learning will be applied to the transcripts, helping identify best practices and evaluate deal health.

This functionality is also coming to mobile devices to assist field sales reps and reps that need to place calls during commutes. In March 2019, SalesLoft announced an app for placing digital calls through its platform and Chorus.ai announced a similar app:

“The Chorus Mobile app, paired with proprietary Smart Playlist technology, surfaces critical moments from sales calls that a manager should review, and allows them to provide personalized feedback to their teams. Using the mobile app, sales reps can now better prepare for customer interactions by reviewing sales calls, key moments and manager feedback while on-the-go. The solution proactively identifies patterns within conversations, and automatically curates playlists of relevant calls utilizing Chorus.ai’s proprietary AI-driven technology. With the Chorus Mobile app, users are no longer tethered to a computer and can take coaching and call preparation with them anywhere.”

Chorus.ai press release, March 26, 2019

Meeting Management is an exciting new set of functionality for sales reps and managers. It is likely to spread to other departments and be employed internally, particularly for remotely staffed companies.

SalesLoft Acquires NoteNinja

NoteNinja transcribes calls, tags them, and supports quick topic searching for insight discovery.
NoteNinja transcribes calls, tags them, and supports quick topic searching for insight discovery.

Sales Engagement vendor SalesLoft acquired B2B SaaS Collaboration tool Noteninja. Durham-based NoteNinja provides meeting intelligence which transcribes, tags, and annotates meeting recordings. The service is managed by an AI bot which recognizes upcoming meetings on the rep’s calendar and attends the meeting.

“I realized our category of software was missing something important,” said SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter. “Neither us nor other engagement solutions were solving an additional problem. Customers told me they need more insights on what’s actually happening during sales meetings. They realize (and Gartner reports) ‘three out of four customers report spending more with a company because of a positive buying experience’. Modern revenue organizations need meeting intelligence software to solve painful problems.”

SalesLoft listed a set of sales challenges that are addressed by meeting intelligence platforms:

Meeting Challenges. Source: SalesLoft Blog.
Meeting Challenges. Source: SalesLoft Blog.

Tagging assists with meeting review, helping users search for key moments such as pricing discussions or prospect objections. According to Noteninja, “No longer do you have to click around a meeting aimlessly looking for the right spot. Save time and quickly hone [sic] in on the moments that matter for you and your team.”

Comments can be shared with co-workers or management, providing “game-film for meetings.” These excerpts can also be used for new hire training, objection handling, and learning from top reps.

“I’m incredibly proud for what this means to our customers and the advanced opportunity they will now have to deliver a better selling experience to their customers.  With the acquisition of Noteninja, SalesLoft is providing our customers with the first full suite Sales Engagement Platform that combines sales cadences with sales intelligence, serving AEs, SDRs, CSMs, managers, and execs to generate the most revenue.”

  • SalesLoft CEO Kyle Porter

Noteninja supports major web conferencing services including GoToMeeting, Zoom, JoinMe, and WebEx. Google Calendar, Exchange, and Office 365 productivity applications are also supported. While a SalesLoft connector already exists, the firm is working on a native integration of NoteNinja capabilities which will be offered as a premium feature set within their product line.  SalesLoft is targeting August for native availability.

SalesLoft complies with state privacy laws.  “We deploy call recording governance for our current dialer and will be incorporating our technology across the platform as we integrate,” said VP of Product Strategy Sean Kester.  “We also work alongside the governance and compliance assets deployed by screen sharing technologies.”

NoteNinja does not automatically join meetings with generic (consumer) emails nor does it join meetings with only internal staff. However, this rule can be overridden by including the Noteninja assistant in the attendees list.

Acquisition terms were not disclosed.

SalesLoft has grown to 277 employees with offices in Atlanta, Durham, and San Francisco. SalesLoft supports over 2,000 companies including Square, MuleSoft, Alteryx and Dell.

SalesLoft is ahead of plan in 2018.  Q1 was above a “very aggressive” revenue plan to once again double revenue in 2018.  Q2 is tracking 120% of plan.

Approximately one-third of NoteNinja customers are joint licensors of the SalesLoft solution.