Software Executive Magazine

February/March 2018

Software Executive magazine helps software executives grow their businesses by showcasing the business best practices of our readers, executives from established and innovative software companies.

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stand how to identify a good prospect. Because we're pushing aggressively into the software space, the Bay Area has proven a target-rich environment for our soft- ware salesperson recruiting effort." Beyond ramping up the sales and customer expe- rience staff, Conversica is shoring up its engineering and product development teams from the top down. It brought on Chief Scientist Dr. Sid J. Reddy, whose aca- demic reputation and leadership on the Microsoft Cor- tana project speak for themselves. "Our customers have become far more demanding about the security, certifi- cation, and integration functionality of the technology they buy. That makes development a top priority." As the company grows, business management and legal counsel are also priorities, so the company recruited VP, General Counsel, and Secretary Michelle Johnson, who brought with her experience from Support.com, Openwave, and Oracle. "We're driving our future by bringing on people capable of helping us create growth, but none of these execs were looking for a risky start- up," says Marod. "Without our successful track record of growth and significant funding, which serves to vali- date our product and our intentions as a company, they wouldn't likely have come on board." 3. Learn From Your Mistakes Marod knows well that AI software is a tough sell be- cause it's a relatively new concept, but he admits that early on, he and his colleagues at Conversica thought the software's promise and tech appeal would make up for its lack of historical reference. Marod and company fell prey to the classic "if you build it, they will come" fallacy. "We learned fairly quickly that to remove a sales barrier, we had to integrate into the potential buy- ers' current tech stacks," he says. That meant establish- ing integrations, first with any number of the various CRM applications in its native automotive vertical, and later with the giants of the space, Salesforce and Marke- to among them. "We learned the hard way that it's not good enough to just have a great technology and run with it. It has to be seamless in the stack." Marod says the development of these integrations had a snowball effect. Conversica cut its teeth with some smaller companies before moving in with Marketo and Salesforce. Affiliation with those two brands, he says, significantly reduced Conversica's legitimacy barrier. He points to Microsoft's adoption of Conversica soft- But as the product matured, and as Marod puts it, "we realized how good it was getting," the company rolled out to businesses beyond auto sales. It was wise, he says, for the company to stay in its comfort zone for a time. With the realization that the application could fit into just about any lead-dependent sales environment came another strategic decision: While there was some solid auto industry sales experience in the Midwest, Silicon Valley and Bellingham housed the talent the company would need to penetrate other verticals — specifically, software sales (Salesforce.com is a flagship Conversica partner). Today, the company maintains sales teams based in Kansas City and Foster City. Its C-suite is in Foster City as well, while its customer success and en- gineering teams are in Bellingham and Seattle. "As we grew out from the automotive niche, and specifically into the B2B software, we found it strategic to increase operations in areas where we could pull talent from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, and other big software play- ers," says Marod. 2. Fund Your Growth Of course, vertical and sales team expansion doesn't happen without funding. The acquisition of develop- ment, sales, and executive talent that can build, sell, and grow an AI software business, in particular, comes at a premium. To recruit the talent Marod refers to, Con- versica needed capital. In December 2016, a $34 million round of Series B funding led by Providence Strategic Growth, Toba Capital, Wellington Financial LP, and Re- cruit Strategic Partners brought the company's total to $56 million (on the heels of Series A investment from Kennet Partners). That funding, says Marod, allowed Conversica to pur- sue and land some big league customer-facing execu- tives with major software company experience, guys like SVP of Business Development Victor Belfor and Chief Customer Officer Brian Kaminski, to name just two. Marod, Belfor, and Kaminski are the corporate ex- tensions of a sales and marketing group the company is actively working to expand by leveraging the injection of funding. Marod says the complexity of the Conversi- ca sales process lends to a pretty prescriptive salesper- son persona. "Because our application does really well with CMO-type marketing executives, we look for sales reps who understand marketing and how our technol- ogy supports it," he says. "The rep has to quickly under- "We learned the hard way that it's not good enough to just have a great technology and run with it. It has to be seamless in the stack." 22 SAAS SALES exclusive feature By M. Pillar FIVE SUGGESTIONS FOR SaaS SALES SOFTWAREEXECUTIVEMAG.COM FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018

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