Go Faster: InsideSales.com chases sales acceleration

Utah-based InsideSales wants to help sales reps find better ways to sell

“Is that a ThinkPad?” Jim Steele asks me when he arrives for our scheduled interview at a hotel near Buckingham Palace in central London. Steele was once upon a time an assistant to then IBM CEO John Akers and he fondly recalls a time when he received a call from the first President Bush asking if he could get a (paid for) laptop for wife Barbara as Big Blue was rolling out its first mobile PCs.

Steele has a happy knack of being at companies at key times. He ran sales for Ariba when the company was leading the way in web spend management and he was president and COO of Salesforce.com in the boom years. Now he’s president and chief revenue officer of InsideSales.com, one of the hottest companies in what he calls “sales acceleration” – better ways to get deals done from initial contact to closing and renewal.

InsideSales was founded in 2004 by current CEO David Elkington but has itself really accelerated in recent years and it has raised over $200m in funding on the back of a promise that machine-learning algorithms and records of how previous sales deals developed will give sales execs a helping hand. The Provo, Utah company’s cloud based service suggests approaches that have worked in the past for similar relationships and transactions based on earlier sales interactions, buyer profiles and contextual data.

InsideSales is in many ways the logical extension of Salesforce, putting data to work rather than treating it as part of a passive journal of record. Steele met the company at the Dreamforce conference while walking around the partner booths with Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff.

“We were kind of blown away,” he says. A subsequent trial at Salesforce suggested that InsideSales could have provided a 92 per cent accurate approach that would have generated an extra $50m sales bump for Salesforce.


Smarter sales

The software can’t automate the whole selling process but it can help sellers jump to smarter activities. “We sit between the rep and the customer,” Steele says. “We can search out the data and help customers find patterns and prescribe the right sales activities. Seventy per cent is Salesforce data and you want to put this data to use and drive a revenue lift.”

Steele’s job since arriving at InsideSales in early 2016 has been to professionalise the company and assemble an enterprise sales team and a model that attracts “customers for life”. Often he is applying lessons from the Salesforce success story.

Part of the challenge that Steele is looking at is the fact that sales has changed a lot. He has close to four decades’ experience in selling tech and he has seen the world evolve from IBM providing customers with information and techie lab visits to one where “80 per cent of what they know about tech comes from the internet, blogs or world of mouth”.

That change has fostered a new dynamic.

“When you engage as a sales person you better be sure they’re productive and [InsideSales] definitely accelerates the buying cycle. It has to be very, very prescriptive. I have to know so much about the customer and describe my solution, and I don’t get the luxury of asking open-ended questions like in the 1980s. Amazon knows more about our buying behaviour than we do; we’re simply trying to take that model and apply it to businesses.”

In some ways, Steele says, what his company is doing is aligned with the vogue for account-based marketing and selling.

“ABM is all the rage because it’s very unique,” he says. “It’s truly the very best form of marketing where you have quality and quantity. This is where CRM has left customers short. Those systems have been spewing mountains of data for years but less than three per cent of the data is analysed for buying patterns, and even less to prescribe better outcomes.”


State of the game

Steele says there’s been plenty of progress with sales growing sharply, a growing relationship with Microsoft CRM, more than 500 staff and closing in on 3,000 customers, each of which has to provide its data to enhance the algorithms. Europe is also moving quickly from nigh on zero in sales a year-and-a-half ago to almost 15 per cent of revenue today. Revenues? Steel isn’t saying but an informed guess as to annual turnover might be in the $50-100m range.

Of course there are always risks. Could InsideSales be snared by legal changes on data protection? Privacy Shield registration has helped it, Steele says, and it uses AWS datacentres which should provide some sort of umbrella protection.

How about that Salesforce relationship: would Mr. Benioff be interested in buying up the company he admires? And if not, could he go head to head with it? Steele won’t say if the pair ever talked turkey but argues that Salesforce provides some sort of authentication:

“They validated our space and when they announced Einstein. It sounded like InsideSales – they call it AI, we call it predictive analytics but it’s all Big Data and using it to sell more.”

What’s the ultimate ambition: could InsideSales ‘do a Salesforce’?

“If I got close to that I’d be very happy. The CEO’s ambition is to change the world just like Marc Benioff did with a great value proposition.”

To do that means building a strong sales team but also people who will create momentum and ROI so customers stay, mature and grow bigger. But the future might also include scenarios that go way beyond today’s core of sales acceleration. There are already customers that fit that profile, including “a services business that’s trying to figure out how to be more predictable consumption-wise and a gaming company trying to target VIP customers”, Steele says.

The opportunity is vast in sales and it maybe even doesn’t stop there.


Also read:
InsideSales might be brightest of Salesforce alumni