Sales engagement platforms (SEPs) provide a single interface for sales departments to plan, optimize, and execute interactions with prospective buyers and then deliver services throughout the customer lifecycle. SEPs distinguish themselves from previous generations of sales technologies by focusing on improving the overall quality of sales interactions and the actions taken to convert prospective customers and retain permanent customers.
Powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), platforms which specialize in different stages of the sales journey as well as comprehensive all-in-one sales and marketing solutions, are driving the demand for SEPs. Traditional sales tools are unable to provide efficient personalized solutions at scale, while the improved return on investment (ROI) through increased conversion rates and elevated customer lifetime value is a key value proposition for SEP adoption.
An increase in digitalization has led to a shift in sales strategies toward automation and omni channel touch points—boosting demand for sales engagement platforms (SEPs).
Email marketing has seen a positive impact with reports of higher year-over-year (YoY) open rates across financial services (27.1%), media and publishing (23.9%), and healthcare (23.7%) sectors during March 2021.
Leading disruptors Lusha, MindTickle and People.ai have raised large funding rounds at unicorn valuations since the pandemic, reflecting ongoing traction for SEPs despite economic headwinds.
Lusha: Raised USD 205 million with post-money valuation at USD 1.5 billion, in November 2021.
MindTickle: Raised USD 100 million at a USD 1.2 billion valuation in August 2021. A month later, the company expanded its platform capabilities as it transitions to provide a single, integrated platform.
People.ai: Raised USD 100 million at a USD 1.1 billion valuation in August 2021. The company also revealed that its customer base grew 260% over the past year, likely leading to its unicorn valuation.
The largest identified disruptor, ZoomInfo, specializes in offering conversational and lead generation solutions. Other leading disruptors, such as Intercom and Salesloft offer a more complete solution, following in the footsteps of larger incumbent players that have opted for an end-to-end offering. Sales workflow and sales campaign automation disruptors are small-scale in terms of funding in comparison to other disruptors, with the exception of Aurora Solar, while sales coaching has garnered the least activity. Leading disruptors Bigtincan, Highspot and Seismic in the segment have become an integral part of sales teams to help drive growth in the number of users. Players such as Revenue Grid, VanillaSoft and Reply.io have largely bootstrapped operations while expanding their offerings.
Leading disruptors in the sales engagement platform (SEP) space either specialize in a particular aspect of the sales journey or provide an integrated offering, providing a collection of tools and services ranging from personalized content for account based marketing, customer relationship management (CRM) automation, conversational intelligence, coaching and guided sales tactics for sales representatives.
The industry is led by a handful of established players working on artificial intelligence-based (AI-based) solutions for customer insights and execution of sales playbooks. Publicly traded ZoomInfo has a valuation of USD 8.2 billion (June 2020), and leads the pack of well funded disruptors we have identified, which also includes Salesloft, Clari, Outreach, Mindtickle and People.ai which as of end 2021 have also crossed the USD 200 million fundraising mark.
Founded in 2007, ZoomInfo (formerly known as DiscoverOrg) is a subscription-based, software as a service (SaaS) company that operates a B2B market intelligence database for sales, marketing, operations and recruitment. The platform uses automated machine learning to scan company websites, job listings, SEC filings, and news articles. Its data insights are then used by customers for prospecting, demand generation, and recruiting purposes. The company rebranded its suite of products and services under its operating system RevOS (launched in February 2022), featuring a unified login and app as well as a unified dashboard. As of February 2022, the platform had served more than 20,000 enterprises globally; its data assets consist of over 100 million company profiles and over 4.3 million C-level contacts, with more than 38 million online sources scanned daily. ZoomInfo has offices across the US and Israel.
ZoomInfo has been active in the M&A space over 2019–2021. In June 2021, the company acquired Insent.ai, an enterprise sales platform focused on qualifying leads and converting them by tracking visitor data to generate insights. With the acquisition, ZoomInfo launched “ZoomInfo Chat,” powered by Insent’s AI capabilities. This transaction was followed by the acquisition of Chorus.ai, a conversational intelligence company, in July 2021. Previously, ZoomInfo also acquired data intelligence companies Clickagy (October 2020) and EverString Technology (November 2020). In 2019, the company acquired Komiko (CRM startup) in November and NeverBounce (email verification startup) in March.
For the full year 2021 (FY2021), ZoomInfo reported an EPS of 0.57 and a revenue growth of 57% YoY to USD 747.2 million, with an annual net revenue retention (NRR) rate of 116% (vs. 108% in 2020). Adjusted operating income increased 36% YoY to USD 306.6 million, with an adjusted operating income margin of 41%. With the release of robust Q3 2022 earnings, the company upgraded its full-year 2022 guidance for revenue which is expected to range between USD 1.094–1.096 billion ( previous USD 1.08–1.09 billion ). Adjusted operating income is expected to range between USD 442–444 million (previous USD 433–437 million), while adjusted EPS guidance is expected to range between USD 0.83–0.84 (previous USD 0.78–0.80).
In June 2020, the company raised USD 935 million in IPO funding with a valuation of USD 8.2 billion.
Sales workflow automation:
Sales Campaign automation:
A majority of incumbents in the sales engagement platform (SEP) space are traditional customer relationship management (CRM) providers who have been able to either adopt rudimentary in-house artificial intelligence (AI) solutions or provide standalone sales software through acquiring startups who provide more complex, tech-enabled solutions.
Most incumbents have focused on creating integrated offerings that provide content management, communication, customer predictive capabilities, and automated data-driven guidance. An analysis of recent acquisitions by industry incumbents further highlights a key trend of moving up the stages of the customer lifecycle. Specifically, large CRM players such as Salesforce and SugarCRM lead in terms of AI-based offerings while facing competition from cloud software providers such as Adobe, SAP, and Oracle, who are also active in the space.
SugarCRM’s acquisitions have been mainly centered around natural language processing (NLP) and predictive analytics to bolster in-house solutions. It acquired CRM analytics technology provider Corvana in September 2019 ahead of the launch of its platform’s principal AI feature, “Sugar Discover”. Similarly, Adobe acquired the SEP platform Marketo for USD 4.8 billion in 2018 and Workfront for USD 1.5 billion in 2020 to complement its in-house offerings.
Over the past three years, Zendesk has built out its customer service offering using omnichannel messaging platforms, lead generation tools, and communication and reporting technologies. In March 2020, Salesforce, a leader in CRM, acquired the customer data platform Evergage to bolster its content personalization and account-based marketing solutions. Similarly, Adobe and SAP have made recent acquisitions in the content personalization and campaign management space.
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