Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft have made billions of dollars selling software for managing internal records and operational processes. Sales force automation software, CRM and enterprise resource planning are entrenched at most enterprises. Now, businesses must complement these systems of record with applications that improve sales representatives' effectiveness. As a result, there's a burgeoning market for tools that guide sales reps to target the right accounts with the right content.
There's a growing bench of well-funded startups that provide analytics into the sales process, coupled with engagement tools such as sales content (proposals, presentations), communication (landing pages, email, social), and configuration, pricing and quotes (CPQ). The goal is to present context-driven content and pricing – or even products – that are relevant to prospects during the buying cycle. While the market for these products is still taking shape, they could become a catalyst for growth for the software firms that sell the systems of record on which they're based, or the upstarts seeking to dislodge them.
Acquisitions of sales enablement software companies have generally been small so far and most have been for CPQ vendors. Yet as the emerging set of players gels into an established category, the large CRM providers could be driven to consolidate and may have to compete for those deals with other flavors of enterprise software firms. At the same time, more mature sales enablement specialists may begin a rollup strategy for faster growth. Account-based marketing (ABM) vendors may also aim to bridge the gap between sales and other corporate functions, and the plethora of startups selling sales engagement software could provide that framework.
Startups developing sales enablement software have been the targets of a recent spate of acquisitions after indulging in readily available venture capital for the burgeoning category. But the early deals appear modest and bigger exits still seem a ways out.
Among the startups in this category, three have sold in the past two months – all of them with modest headcount after several years in the market, suggesting little growth. Two of those, KnowledgeTree and Heighten Software, were lightly funded. The third, ToutApp, raised $20m, making it more representative of the two dozen or so venture-backed startups selling software that enables sales teams to automate processes, share content and analyze their pipelines.
Select sales enablement M&A
|Date announced||Target||Target abstract||Acquirer||Deal value|
|June 12, 2017||KnowledgeTree||Sales content enablement||SAVO Group||Undisclosed|
|May 30, 2017||Heighten Software||Salesforce automation||LinkedIn [Microsoft]||Undisclosed|
|May 30, 2017||Xactly||Sales performance management||Vista Equity Partners||$564m|
|April 20, 2017||ToutApp||Sales engagement||Marketo [Vista Equity Partners]||Undisclosed|
|November 8, 2016||Datahug||Sales-forecasting software||Callidus Software||$13m|
|April 26, 2016||FPX||CPQ and sales automation software||HGGC||Undisclosed|
|May 28, 2015||C9||Sales analytics||InsideSales.com||Undisclosed|
|December 23, 2015||SteelBrick||CPQ software||Salesforce||$360m|
|July 10, 2014||RelateIQ||CRM||Salesforce||$392m|
|October 1, 2014||Vendavo||Price optimization||Francisco Partners||Undisclosed|
|October 23, 2013||BigMachines||CPQ software||Oracle||$450m*|
|March 5, 2013||SlideRocket [VMware]||Slide presentation software||ClearSlide||
The complexity of B2B purchasing cycles demands digital strategies similar to those employed by B2C to ease customer engagement. Sales organizations have long sought ways to optimize the sales process; however, only recently have the digital trails left behind by buyers enabled the business process automation, content and contextual insight that ensure that sellers are prepared to have meaningful engagements with clients.
The current decade witnessed a burst of innovation in customer-facing software, although most of the activity focused on marketing. Now enterprises are inclined to invest in capabilities that push prospects through the rest of the sales funnel and all the way to advocacy. 451 Research data shows that sales analytics and intelligence, sales engagement and sales content are the most sought-after capabilities.
Sales teams need a platform that augments the buying process to provide insight, guidance and interactions to ensure that the right message is used for the right prospect, across formats and channels. Today those capabilities are spread across a fractured sales technology landscape with five specialized point offerings.
Opportunity management: Independent vendors such as Pipeliner, Pipedrive, Nimble, ProsperWorks, bpm'online and Bullhorn whose software provides insight and processes for managing sales pipelines could attract acquirers that need services for the lower end of the market or want to roll up newer technologies that have more advanced machine-learning capabilities for improved intelligent automation or forecasting. Microsoft, Salesforce, Oracle, Zoho and SAP have robust features for managing the opportunities among large enterprises, but little to offer smaller organizations.
- Content enablement: Companies like Apptus, CallidusCloud, Bloomfire, ClearSlide, Docurated, Seismic, Showpad, SAVO and Highspot offer varying degrees of managing content. These vendors enable sales and marketing teams to create, alter, consolidate and efficiently disseminate content relevant to sales opportunity in CPQ, presentations and collateral (case studies, fact sheets). They could attract suitors looking to start a rollup in this space or other software providers that want to fill a gap in their CRM portfolio. Some firms embed machine learning into the process for dynamic content recommendations.
- Analytics and intelligence: This highly fragmented category encompasses software analysis that measures everything from sales forecasts, team performance, content effectiveness, pricing and lead scoring. Companies with these capabilities include Clari, LiveHive, PROS, Backflipt, InsideSales.com, Domo, Infer, CallidusCloud's Datahug, EverString, SalesPredict, EveryoneSocial, ZoomInfo, LeadGenius, 6sense and SalesLoft. Considering that analytics is becoming a feature within many sales technologies, vendors here will be targets across all categories to either augment machine-learning and predictive capabilities or embed more intelligence in traditional system-of-record and CRM providers.
- Communication and engagement: Startups in this bucket develop software that enables sales reps to personalize email campaigns for ongoing engagement and upselling. These are different than standard office email or email marketing tools because they use detailed real-time engagement analytics so reps can identify who viewed what content and for how long, leading to faster, tailored follow-ups. These tools are often tied directly into CRM systems. Also, online meeting firms let users launch secure, web-based meetings with a fully integrated conference bridge and then track details of the presentation back into the system of record. Players such as Backflipt, ClearSlide, Outreach, ToutApp, Yesware, Cirrus Insight, ContactMonkey, SalesLoft and Mailtrack all offer varying degrees of these capabilities.
- People management: Companies in this category provide onboarding, training and coaching through online content and gamification to motivate and track skills. The segment also includes incentive compensation to track and reward top performers. Sales managers take on the role of coach to help sales reps improve abilities, set performance goals, and drive behaviors that lead to better short-term results and long-term business outcomes. Vendors here include Brainshark, Accent Technologies, WalkMe, Xactly, Optymyze and Qstream. Interest in this segment could come primarily from content enablement or opportunity management providers.
Market leaders with a heritage in sales automation – Salesforce, Microsoft and Oracle – dominate this space. These vendors also have a history of acquiring to enhance their offerings and fill feature gaps. While they offer the broadest system-of-record capabilities such as opportunity, pipeline and forecast management modules, they will be looking to enhance their system-of-engagement functionality.
Salesforce, Oracle, SAP, Microsoft and Infor could potentially fill gaps in content enablement, intelligence, people management and sales engagement. While Salesforce has some of this functionality with Pardot, and Oracle with Eloqua, both ultimately sit in the B2B marketing automation category. Plus, they lack the ability to enable sales teams to easily create customized and targeted sales content along with prescriptive guidance, such as playbooks to provide immersive learning so a seller can have contextual coaching, guidance and access to subject-matter experts to improve sales effectiveness. On the data intelligence front, Salesforce does have Data.com and Sales Wave Analytics embedded into Einstein. Oracle has Oracle Data Cloud and a variety of analytic tools. Yet there are always niche players that focus on highly specialized data-optimization services that can augment initiatives such as lead scoring, forecasting or even incentive compensation.
On the opposite spectrum are leading system-of-engagement providers such as ClearSlide, SAVO and CallidusCloud that could opt for further acquisitions as they seek to solidify their early lead. CallidusCloud has already made multiple tuck-ins in the above categories. ClearSlide has inked three purchases in the space and could look to deepen its current content management and analytic capabilities.
SAVO has adopted the sort of sensible and mature approach to sales technology that one would expect from a 15-year-old veteran. Understanding that the route to success comes from prescriptive management of content, processes and education puts the company in an effective position. It has embarked on a rollup strategy to ensure that it provides capabilities across both entry-level and advanced functionality. SAVO could add technologies in not only the sales engagement and analytics arena, but also coaching. While it does not offer traditional opportunity management, the company is better off continuing to provide integration strategies with leading players such as Salesforce, Microsoft and others.
Other possible buyers include ABM and marketing automation firms such as Engagio, Terminus and Marketo looking for a broader footprint and wider ecosystem. Enterprise content players such as Alfresco or OpenText might seek capabilities to help land new users within the sales organizations of their customers and prospects. Enterprise file, sync and share providers like Box could also turn to the content-focused startups in this space to help broaden the applications for their services. There is also the potential for a horizontal data analytics and intelligence player such as Domo to deepen its expertise by acquiring sales intelligence vendors. Currently, analytic players usually have high level templated visualizations of the data targeted to sales users versus sales analytic vendors that also focus on execution not just insight.
Matt Aslett is a Research Director for the Data Platforms and Analytics Channel at 451 Research. Matt has overall responsibility for the data platforms and analytics research coverage, which includes operational and analytic databases, Hadoop, grid/cache, stream processing, search-based data platforms, data integration, data quality, data management, analytics, machine learning and advanced analytics. Matt's own primary area of focus includes data management, reporting and analytics, and exploring how the various data platforms and analytics technology sectors are converging in the form of next-generation data platforms.
Research Director Sheryl Kingstone focuses on improving the customer experience across all interaction channels for customer acquisition and loyalty. She helps operator and enterprise clients make decisions regarding the use of technology, business processes and data to boost revenue and optimize business performance. She also assists vendors with custom research projects, messaging and positioning, as well as product road map evaluations. Kingstone researches and writes on the top trends in mobile marketing and commerce along with cross-channel customer experience technologies.
Scott Denne is an Analyst with 451 Research, where he helps direct the firm's coverage of technology mergers and acquisitions. He also contributes to 451 Research's Customer Experience & Commerce Channel with coverage of the advertising technology industry.