VanillaSoft Acquires Autoklose (Part II)

Yesterday, I covered VanillaSoft’s acquisition of Autoklose and plans to integrate its email marketing capabilities into the VanillaSoft Sales Engagement Platform. Autoklose will also continue as a standalone offering for SMBs.

The acquisition included the DataUnlimited US B2B contact dataset. VanillaSoft users will be able to subscribe to or purchase leads from both the Autoklose and VanillaSoft platforms.  DataUnlimited spans 40 million US B2B contacts that are revalidated in real-time.  Contact records include name, company, email, phone, address, SIC, URL, and LinkedIn URL.  DataUnlimited is supported by a ten-person data team that verifies data and performs custom research.

Autoklose competitors include Mixmax, Reply.io, Apollo.io, and Cognism.

Following the acquisition, VanillaSoft described itself as a “Tier-2 data provider” that offers B2B contacts.  They target the SMB market and “real-world industries,” such as professional and financial services, manufacturing, and educational fundraising.  Their clients are not bleeding-edge tech firms or large enterprises but smaller firms with full lifecycle sales reps.  Typical customers are price sensitive and resource-constrained with high turnover.  As such, they are late adopters of technology that highly value a solution’s ease-of-use.  VanillaSoft noted that 40% of their customers have yet to deploy a CRM.

“SMBs are looking for ROI, not AI,” stated the firm.

According to VanillaSoft CRO Darryl Praill, “Sales Engagement will become the primary platform used by Sales teams, just as Marketing Automation has become the primary platform used by Marketers.”  Furthermore, the vision of SEPs will expand as they add ABM workflows, marketing automation, contacts, opportunity management, forecasting, chat, and video.

“VanillaSoft will offer a broad, pragmatic sales engagement platform that meets the diverse requirements and price-points of SMB sales teams or individuals in traditional industries,” said Praill.  This will include industry-specific versions of the platform to meet the unique requirements of their core industries.

“One of my favorite things to say when a customer or prospect praises our product is to point out that if they like what VanillaSoft is today, they are going to love what it is tomorrow. We’re making this promise a reality by continuing to grow internal development and incorporating great teams and technology to deliver the best sales engagement tools available.”

VanillaSoft CEO David Hood

VanillaSoft’s acquisition of Autoklose is a smart, strategic move that enhances both its email capabilities and its B2B prospect intelligence.  Sales Engagement vendors have been slow to integrate verified leads into their platforms.  Even the market leaders have developed little more than third-party ‘Send to SEP’ functionality.  

Integrated prospecting will be particularly valuable to VanillaSoft’s customer base of SMBs serving insurance, finance, and manufacturing.  This intelligence gap has led some Sales Intelligence vendors to incorporate a subset of SEP features into their offerings, thus becoming Hybrid Engagement Platforms.  HEP features include cadences (Zoominfo, Cognism, Data Axle Genie), dialers (Zoominfo, Data Axle Genie), email (Zoominfo, Cognism, Data Axle Genie), email signature management (Cognism/Mailtastic), messaging (LinkedIn Sales Navigator), and event-triggered workflows (Zoominfo).

Privately-held VanillaSoft is based in Plano, TX and Gatineau, Quebec.  The firm is profitable with 6oo customers and 4,000 users (pre-acquisition).  With Autoklose, they now have 88 employees, up 34% this year.  New executives include Shawn Finder (Sales GM); Marko Dinic (Fractional CTO); Vladan Djokic (Senior Dev Lead); and Vedran Rasic (Director, Marketing).

Autoklose was on track for a record year at the time of the acquisition, despite a revenue dip at the beginning of the pandemic.

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.”


Continue to Part II which covers the DataUnlimited contact data set.

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.

Zoominfo Beats Back the Summertime Sales Blues

Zoominfo analyzed their Out of Office (OOO) emails and phone call connection rates over the past year to determine whether there was a dog days of summer impact on their business or whether it was a convenient excuse used by sales reps for taking their foot off the pedal in July and August.  It turns out that there is a sustained drop off in phone connectivity and an increase in OOO messaging in July and August.  For Zoominfo, the potential income loss was equal to $400,000 in monthly new Annual Contract Value (ACV).

Brian Setzer as Eddie Cochrane playing “Summertime Blues” in La Bamba

If we extend that loss over the last week of June and the first week of September, the summer lull would result in a million dollars in lost ACV (half a million dollars in 2020 revenue, but that is only because subscription revenue is recognized over the length of the contract, not when booked).

But a firm like Zoominfo has a very high retention rate, so stratifying the million dollars over the lifetime value (LTV) of the lost opportunities means that the cumulative LTV is likely in excess of $5 million (their 2019 dollar based net retention rate was 109%)

For a company that went IPO in June after touting strong new ACV growth in their May S-1, new revenue growth is key in maintaining confidence in your revenue teams.

“How did we respond to this data?  By stepping on the gas – we sent out an additional ~14k+ emails (~10% of normal volume) over the past two months and making an additional ~23k dials (~35% of normal volume) per month. 

Sales is — and always will be — a contact sport. 

This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a vast array of contacts at prospects. Without being able to tap into our own data this wouldn’t have been possible.  That’s not cheap promotion, it’s a fact.”

Zoominfo CEO Henry Schuck

Around 90% of Zoominfo’s revenue is domestic, so they aren’t dealing with the long August vacations taken in Europe. The strategy of working harder over the summer allowed them to maintain new ACV growth during a soft period, but it might not be effective in Europe when business activity is reduced much more significantly.

OOO messages often provide alternate contacts that may be part of the buying committee. Acting on this intelligence and extending relationships to additional decision makers and influencers may improve both current and future close rates.

Zoominfo has a reputation for effective revenue operations management. They assumed the summer doldrum lore to be true and double downed on their outbound communications. But they also measured their sales and marketing efficiency to better understand the nature of the summer slowdown, allowing them to model and refine their summer sales strategy in the coming years.

Source: Zoominfo Blog, “Leveraging Sales Intelligence in the Dog Days of Summer

6Sense – Outreach Integration

A new 6Sense integration with Outreach helps reps plan account activities from within their CRM and then take actions through the Outreach Sales Engagement Platform.  6Sense insights help reps “prioritize their Outreach strategy, understand their buyers, and time their outreach based on AI-driven predictions of where accounts are in the buying journey.”

6Sense warms up accounts and determines when they are in-market and ready for sales outreach.  With a single click on a contact record, reps can start an Outreach sequence.  If a sequence is already underway, the rep is notified.

“The combination of having comprehensive account and contact data, the right workflow, a customized cadence, and personalized messaging based on buyer behavior can be the difference between a loss and a win,” blogged 6Sense.

The two platforms are complementary with 6Sense managing marketing outreach, enriching data, and scoring prospects and Outreach managing multi-channel sales communications, including email, phone call, text message, social media, direct mail, video, and calendaring.

While SEP ecosystem profiles often rehash features and one partner’s messaging, 6Sense and Outreach focused on their joint value proposition:

“For customers of 6sense and Outreach, our partnership means a union of insight and education around intent and engagement data necessary to target the right accounts and contacts, as well as the predictable, real-time pace at which to engage and ultimately increase conversion rates.  Sales intelligence technology such as ours helps sales reps focus on the more human moments throughout the buyer journey.  Together, 6sense and Outreach help marketing and sales spend less on the time-consuming, calculated risks of sifting through seemingly qualified leads and haphazardly reaching out to them.”

6Sense Blog

The partners highlighted additional benefits, including more relevant sales conversations based upon 6Sense sales intelligence, expanding messaging across the buying committee, and next-best-action recommendations that help reps “better prioritize their day and make stronger connections with buyers.”

SalesLoft Plug-in for Sugar Sell

BrainSell announced the immediate availability of their SalesLoft Plug-in for Sugar Sell.  The native integration provides SalesLoft multi-channel, cadence-based sales engagement from within SugarCRM.  The plug-in supports data syncing for Accounts, Contacts, Leads, Emails, Calls, and user data.  SugarCRM customers can create, update, and convert leads inside of SalesLoft.

“With the Sugar Sell integration, mutual customers gain an automated data flow between both systems.  This means users maximize efficiency with less manual data processes and streamlined employee workflows,” wrote BrainSell.

“SugarCRM’s no-touch, time-aware customer experience platform acts as the nucleus of your company’s tech ecosystem to help companies create customers for life.  We’re proud to have a partner like BrainSell focused on innovating the way they help customers grow.  This integration completely streamlines and optimizes sales and development reps’ productivity by giving them tools like SalesLoft designed specifically for their role, all while ensuring data is pushed back and forth between Sugar Sell.”

Clint Oram, Chief Strategy Officer of SugarCRM

“At SalesLoft, we take pride in the deep partnerships we have with companies like BrainSell to maximize the value our customers gain from using our solution,” said Sean Kester, SalesLoft VP of Platform Strategy.  “With partners like BrainSell, we’re excited to expand the value of our platform by enabling our customers to integrate all their data in Sugar Sell, all while positioning sales teams to continue working within SalesLoft.”

The integration is available through SugarOutfitters for $2,495 per year for an unlimited number of users.  The connector supports SugarCRM 7.0.0 and above.

Last month, BrainSell released a similar plug-in for Outreach.  It is also available through SugarOutfitters for $2,495.

Alyce Partners with Vidyard

Continuing on the Vidyard theme from yesterday, Personal Experience platform Alyce has integrated Vidyard into its e-gifting service.  The Vidyard partnership lets customers record or insert personalized videos “within the Alyce gifting flow, helping sales reps create deeper, more personal bonds and connections with prospects and customers.”

Alyce customers with a Vidyard Enterprise account may insert videos from the Vidyard library or record a custom video that is displayed on the Alyce gift landing page.  Recommended gifts are based on an AI analysis of the “#5to9” experiences of individuals, ensuring that the gift and messaging are better targeted than generic swag and marketing templates.

As Sales Engagement platforms have noted improved open and response rates associated with personalized video, it is likely that customers and prospects will well receive a recorded message.  Alyce claims up to a 50% improvement in click-through rates when personal videos are included in email invitations and a nearly 80% lift in landing page conversion rates.

“Our integration with Alyce provides customers with the ultimate way to deliver end-to-end personal experiences to prospects and customers by pairing personal video and personal gifting in one platform,” said Vidyard VP of Marketing Tyler Lessard. “This partnership strengthens the movement around being personal in marketing and sales, which we and our customers embrace to build rapport and trust through the more engaging combined experience.”

Mutual customers can add a personalized video to Alyce’s email invitations.  The thumbnail and associated video help “put a face to the name, and up your ability to be personal even more.” The video also appears o the gift landing page.

Marketing can deploy campaign-based videos.  For example, a webinar follow-on Alyce message may be sent to webinar attendees or before events.

Alyce does not send a standard, generic item to customers and prospects.  Instead, recipients can choose the recommended item, select an alternate item from the Alyce gift marketplace, or donate the value of the gift to a charity of their choice.

“The Personal Experience approach has a multitude of amazing use-cases to strengthen and enhance building personal bonds and professional relationships to help grow business. Integrating Vidyard personal video into Alyce platform itself to deliver face-to-face PX moments is a game-changer.”

Greg Segall, CEO of Alyce

Direct Marketing swag companies such as Alyce, PFL, and Sendoso seem to be trying out various names for their industry.  Other frequent terms are one-to-one gifting, sending platform, and tactile marketing automation.  Personal Experience seems too far afield as e-gifting usually involves swag, not services.

Alyce is based in Boston and has 170 employees in seven countries.

Vidyard Platform Enhancements

Vidyard redesigned its video creation and collaboration platform with a set of enhanced editing and security features.  New capabilities include a Zoom integration, updates to its video hosting platform, an Android app, video commenting, and single sign-on (SSO) security.  

The service continues to be available on a freemium basis with a series of tiers from free to enterprise (see the pricing table on the right).

Vidyard added new on-screen drawing and highlighting tools to its webcam and screen recording service.  Users can customize videos by highlighting their screens with a variety of brush sizes and colors.  When recording their screen and webcam at the same time, users can move their camera window on-the-fly to avoid covering up important visuals.   Users may also add speaker’s notes, bullets, and talking points “on-screen, directly above their webcam.”

Vidyard updated its iOS app and added an Android app, helping users “record and share videos anytime, anywhere.” Videos may be quickly recorded and shared with a branded video sharing page.  Both the app and desktop applications share a common video library, providing access to the same set of pre-recorded videos.

Viewers can leave comments and replies to shared videos, allowing colleagues and prospects to collaborate, provide feedback, or ask questions.  The senders receive comment notifications to help expedite closing the communications loop.  This feature is available for Pro, Teams, and Enterprise users.

Pro, Team, and Enterprise video users may secure access via private passwords and SSO.

New enterprise features include transcribing, closed captioning, video thumbnail customization, viewer permissioning, and publishing to public and private channels.

A new Zoom integration for Business and Enterprise licensors lets users automatically sync recorded Zoom calls into their accounts once the call completes.  Recording security features include SSO and passwords.  Recorded sessions may be viewed on a dedicated video sharing page.

“Businesses are quickly evolving their sales, marketing, and communications strategies to align with a digital-first communication world.  Video is a huge part of that, as it’s simply more efficient, more expressive, and more effective than standard text.  Today’s businesses need a simpler, smarter, and more scalable way to put the power of video into their people’s hands.  We’re excited to deliver on that need with a new breed of video creation and hosting solutions that turn any business professional into a video creator and any organization into a video-first business.”

Vidyard CEO Michael Litt

“We’re only scratching the surface of how video can be used to create a more connected, engaged, and efficient workforce in the digital age,” said Vidyard VP of Marketing Tyler Lessard. “With the barriers to video creation and sharing all but gone, we’re excited to see how businesses across all markets will capitalize on the power of video in the months and years ahead to enhance everything from sales and marketing to internal communications and employee engagement.”

Vidyard has 220 employees based in Kitchener (Ontario), Vancouver, Boston, and Dublin.  The firm’s conversion rate from freemium to paid has increased during the pandemic.


Tomorrow I will be discussing the Vidyard integration into Alyce’s Personal Experience (gifting) platform.

HubSpot Sales & Marketing COVID Activity Metrics

HubSpot has measured aggregated sales and marketing platform activity across its 70,000 customers since the pandemic began and benchmarking this activity against the pre-COVID level (January through early March).  Looking back at Q2, CMO Kipp Bodnar noted that “the data shows steady and sustained growth in buyer engagement, and that businesses with an online presence were ready to capture that interest.”

Marketing teams have risen to the challenge of keeping prospects interested in a messy, chaotic crisis and met an audience of buyers who suddenly spend all day at their computer,” commented Bodnar.  “While email volume has risen significantly — typically a no-no for teams hoping to keep their open rates up — open rates have risen faster than volume has grown, demonstrating that teams have been successful at providing relevant and helpful content.”

Marketing email open rates are up ten to twenty percent above pre-COVID levels, with the last week of June running 18% above the baseline.

Sales teams have been less successful in their outbound communications.  While sales emails have risen 60% since mid-March, “response rates have been dismal. Marketing teams have been able to connect, but sales teams haven’t. This is a huge area of opportunity for businesses as they enter the next quarter of COVID-19.”

Sales email open rates are down 25 to 30%.  “As sales teams increased email sends, customers began to tune these messages out or even mark them as spam in their inboxes,” warned Bodnar.  “So far, it seems if email send rates remain this high, we can expect response rates to trend in the opposite direction.”

“Volume and quality is a tradeoff — the time a team saves by sending out email blasts is wasted if that outreach isn’t personalized, relevant, and helpful. These gaps are clear in the data. At this point, sales teams should be working closely with marketing to understand how they can improve their email engagement rates, and sending far less email.”

HubSpot CMO Kipp Bodnar

Website traffic increased during the pandemic as decisionmakers and influencers began working from home.  Global site traffic is up 16% in Q2 vs. Q1 with it peaking at 24% above the benchmark on April 20th.  Software industry site traffic is running at 40% above pre-pandemic levels.

Customer-initiated chat levels have also risen sharply during the pandemic.  Total volume is up 31% over the pre-pandemic baseline, with every measured industry seeing increased volume.  “Sales teams have pivoted to chat to grow their pipelines, while customer service teams are leveraging this medium to manage the increased demand for support,” observed Bodnar.

Call prospecting has dropped significantly during the pandemic as it has become more difficult to reach individuals who are now working at home.  Call prospecting fell as much as 27% below baseline the week of April 6th and now is down around 9%.  Before COVID, there was a rough balance between phone and email prospecting, but in Q2, email activity doubled that of phone calls.  “Sales teams will need to return to their pre-COVID balance in order to see improvements in response rates,” argued Bodnar.

Deal Creation has improved in eight of the eleven weeks since April 6th, with deal creation up the past four weeks.  APAC deal creation was down 5% in Q2, North America down 6%, EMEA down 12%, and LATAM down 12%.  Large companies have recovered deal creation activity faster than small firms.  Computer Software deal creation was down 3% in Q2.

Deal Won has improved ten of the last eleven weeks, after dropping to 36% below baseline the week of April 6th.  For the full quarter, deals won were down 11%.  Smaller firms did best at closing deals, with larger firms posting the weakest performance, likely due to large firms selling a greater percentage of high-dollar, strategic deals that would have stalled in their pipeline.  Computer software Q2 was 14% above baseline, but this probably overstates industry performance due to Q1 often being the slowest month of the year and the loss of many “hockey stick” end of quarter deals at the end of Q1 as the pandemic struck.  Some of these likely slipped into Q2.

Bodnar provided three suggestions for Q3: invest in chat, shift from quantity to quality in sales prospecting and communications, and invest in online discoverability.