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.
Comprehensive sales and marketing all-in-one solutions powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) methods are driving the demand for SEPs. Traditional sales tools are unable to provide efficient personalized solutions at scale, and the loss in productivity that comes from moving and maneuvering between different marketing technologies are, similarly, drivers of this growing market. As such, improving 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 (+23%), media and publishing (+19%), and healthcare (+12%) sectors during March 2020.
Leading disruptors Outreach and SalesLoft have raised large funding rounds at unicorn valuations since the pandemic, reflecting ongoing traction for SEPs despite economic headwinds.
SalesLoft: Raised USD 100 million at a USD 1.1 billion valuation in January 2021 after doubling revenue since April 2019.
Outreach : Raised USD 50 million at a USD 1.3 billion valuation in June 2020. The company launched its ‘Kaia’ product, a voice-activated artificial intelligence (AI) knowledge assistant to help salespeople query information in real-time, in May 2015.
The largest identified disruptor, Outreach, offers lead generation solutions. Other leading disruptors, such as SalesLoft, People.ai and Groove are more integrated in their offering, following in the footsteps of larger incumbent players that have opted for an end-to-end offering. Players such as VanillaSoft and Reply.io have largely bootstrapped operations while expanding their offerings.
Leading disruptors in the sales engagement platform (SEP) space offer unified solutions for tools and services ranging from personalized content for account based marketing, customer relationship management (CRM) automation, 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. Outreach is out in front of a pack of well-funded disruptors with USD 489 million funding raised to date. Other notable disruptors including Salesloft, People.ai and Affinity have also crossed the USD 100 million fundraising mark.
Brazil-based Zenvia provides an all-inclusive communication platform for enterprise sales teams equipped with solutions for sales campaigns, lead qualification, customer service, and sales enablement. The platform also offers APIs, chatbots, and multi-channel communication, including SMS, Facebook, WhatsApp, voice messaging, and webchat.
In July 2020, the company acquired Sirena, a communication startup that provides solutions for sales teams to communicate with customers via a corporate WhatsApp (thereby not using a seller's personal WhatsApp). The “CRM for WhatsApp” platform includes sending notifications, managing service queues, chatbot service, automating interaction, qualifying leads, and customer support services. As of July 2020, Sirena has approximately 700 customers across 30 countries. The acquisition of Sirena paved the way for Zenvia to expand to the entire Latin American market, with offices in the US, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.
For FY2020, the company reported revenue of USD 94 million, with Brazil accounting for 83% of total revenue, followed by Tonga making up 6%. As of December 2020, the company had more than 9,400 customers across Latin America.
In July 2021, the company raised USD 150 million through its US listing. Further, the company plans to raise an additional USD 50 million in a private placement to Twilio. The fresh funds will be utilized for two main purposes: 1) approximately USD 57 million to acquire D1 (Direct One), a multichannel communication platform based in Brazil, and 2) for product development, M&As, and to fund the company’s global expansion plans.
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.
SugarCRM’s platform covers marketing, sales and customer service by tracking a customer’s entire history with the company, as they go from being a prospect, lead, paying customer and then repeat/loyal customer. As of March 2021, SugarCRM has over 2 million users in more than 120 countries.
The company first introduced AI technology to its product offering through the launch of ‘Hint’ in June 2017, a relationship intelligence tool to automatically build and update contact information by collating data from social media, websites and email. The company also offers a variety of products to create campaigns, map customer journeys, and track visitor engagement.
In addition to its in-house developments, SugarCRM has deployed an inorganic growth strategy. The company’s acquisitions have been mainly centered around natural language processes (NLP), predictive analytics, personal assistant technology and integrating communication to its platform. This gives SugarCRM a competitive advantage given that they have proactively pivoted to AI-based offerings across the entire customer lifecycle.
In 2020, the company acquired Node (a predictive intelligence startup) and W-Systems to bolster its services with add ons (e.g. document management, messaging services) and customer prediction capabilities. SugarCRM acquired Corvana (a CRM analytics technology provider) in September 2019, whose technology it used to launch the platform’s main AI feature ‘Sugar Discover’. It uses machine learning to study customer interaction patterns and suggest next-best actions. Further, in 2019, it strengthened its lead generation and customer analytics offering with the acquisition of Collabspot (email integration software) and Salesfusion (sales automation software for lead nurturing). Other acquisitions include Stitch (2016) and Contastic (2015) which are software used for content personalization by analyzing customer interaction data.
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