Salesforce has competition from smarty-pants CRM startups

Anybody who’s known the joy of working in sales will recall the moment they gave up trying to read prospect’s minds. It’s no use. It’s a volume game. Just keep calling, emailing, following up with all the names on the contact list. 

The new breed of customer relationship management software might not make salespeople telepaths, but its artificial-intelligence features could help them waste less time on duds so they can close more deals.

Founded in 2012, Clari Inc. is asking what the latest data analytics tools can do for CRM and sales forecasting. The company believes companies can get a lot more out of their CRM systems than they have in the past. While many CRM systems offer some data analytics, Clari wants to go further toward predicting outcomes. Supposedly, its end-to-end sales-forecasting platform can steer salespeople toward prospects ready to pull the trigger and away from dead ends.

Clari has grown its customer base through catering to demands for features that cut the guesswork out of prospecting and selling.

“The number one thing that we do when we meet a customer is listen to the problems that they’re experiencing, and then listen to the goals that they have, the objectives that they want, the outcomes,” said Diana Cappello (pictured), lead solutions engineer at Clari. “And then we think about, how can we meet their need with the technology? I think, especially in a product-management role, you see it a lot where people are just so excited, so passionate about the things that they built that sometimes that’s all they want to do is just tell that story. But really, it’s listening that’s the more important skill.”

This strategy is working out for Clari. It grew 300 percent from July 2017 to July 2018, according to its chief executive officer Andy Byrne, as quoted in “Forbes.” Some even see it as a legitimate threat to CRM market leader Inc.

Cappello spoke with Jeff Frick (@JeffFrick), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the Girls in Tech Catalyst Conference in San Francisco. They discussed the importance of customer input to her role as solutions engineer at Clari. (* Disclosure below.)

This week, theCUBE spotlights Clari in our Startup of the Week feature.

Newcomers show off their smarts

CRM systems have traditionally been pretty underwhelming, at least for those seeking fast, bottom-line gratification. A new-breed CRM startup called Copper Inc., which makes a CRM for users of Google applications, sums up the sentiment pretty well. Google “Copper CRM,” and its website will show up with the title tag: “CRM Minus the Suck.”

Copper and Clari are both absorbing a lot of the small- and medium-sized businesses that Salesforce is leaving behind as it aims for big enterprises. “We beat Salesforce 60 percent to 70 percent of the customer face-offs, and 40 percent of our customers formerly used Salesforce,” Copper founder and CEO Jon Lee told “Forbes.”

“Salesforce is abandoning its SMB customers to focus on the large enterprise so it can increase sales from $12 billion to $20 billion,” Lee said.

While Clari competes with Salesforce in a sense, it’s also a Salesforce partner. And the way in which many customers actually use it is more as a complement to Salesforce. Clari’s artificial-intelligence features analyze sales data for patterns to identify risks, make predictions, and suggest routes to higher returns on resource investment. It is a proactive, rather than a reactive, approach.

Not surprisingly, Salesforce is not deaf to the call of the market and has already built AI features into its own sales cloud Einstein.

Clari sends out its AI tentacles

AI for improved sales is picking up interest left and right and is set for a boom, according to Byrne. “Now it’s not the number three or two priority for sales teams; it’s number one,” he told TechCrunch. “It’s everywhere. Businesses want to invest and spend more money on AI and making things more efficient.”

It’s not difficult to see why a technology for picking winners sans human brain power would be so attractive to salespeople. Many of them spend their days wading knee-deep through leads that are mostly junk.

“If you have 150 opportunities presented to you as a salesperson, how do you choose 10 where you should spend your time?” Byrne asked. “A more traditional CRM platform has never showcased your risk and outcomes.”

Clari secured $35 million in new funding last March with the lion’s sharing coming from Tenaya Capital, with Sequoia Capital and Bain Capital Ventures also contributing. Clari is using the capital to expand, scale and innovate new products to meet customer demand. Areas of expansion include marketing and supply chain.

Clari’s has historically targeted its AI technology at analyzing the data already in a company’s database, but it will now pull in data from all over the web to generate new leads, Byrne revealed this past March.