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December 28, 2015
Startups Don’t Create Products. Startups Plus Customers Co-Create Products.
This is a different kind of 2015 lookback. One year ago, Clari was a bouncing baby 2½ year old. We had our initial product, the greatest handful of early customers anyone could want, investors who had just filled our bank account with $20 million of trust, and an incredible sales-savvy, data-science wielding, customer-success obsessive, fun-loving team.
A year later, our product is exactly where I hoped, yet almost unrecognizable. How is that possible?
In a word, customers.
People talk about startups making products. They are wrong. Startups plus customers make products. At least the good ones.
I won’t waste your time with self-serving 2015 highlights. Instead, I’d like to tell you about what customers taught us this year. And how that learning changed everything. And nothing.
Early Days and Revealing the Dream
April 2014 was our coming out party as the first mobile sales productivity platform. In the press release (you remember reading it, right?), I said, “Clari’s mobile-first approach integrates CRM with all the systems sales teams need to help them sell more and close deals faster.” It was true. On that day, industry leaders like VMWare, Box, Nimble Storage were already using Clari becausethey saw mobile as a critical way to increase sales team productivity. They knew the rubber hit the road with reps. So saving reps time in the field and helping them sell more effectively meant growth.
It was baby steps.
Just a couple months later, we announced an additional raise of $20 million. In that release, we opened up a bit more and revealed our bigger vision: “A platform to infuse data science into every touch point in the sales cycle, and get intelligence into the hands of the entire sales team.” I’ll repeat one phrase: the entire sales team. Reps, managers, and ops — the critical triad we call the “Golden Triangle.” It doesn’t exist and it’s never been tried before.
Here’s a secret: Even as we said that, we knew we would need customers to help us along the way. It would take customer partnership. So we asked customers. And got an earful.
There’s More to Selling Than the Selling. Fix it.
The first thing they said was, “Sure, reps do the selling. But managers coach and run the territory. Our CRM is great for storing stuff, but not for knowing what’s really going on. So too often, our managers are flying blind. Fix this.” When you’re building a startup, comments like that are jewels. That customer insight (actually it was more a demand) led directly to Pipeline Inspection — a radically new manager and exec view of deal progress, real-time deal changes, and even deal risk based on predictive analytics. Managers got brand new insight into deals in their territory and we took one more step toward “getting intelligence into the hands of the entire sales team.” We grew from a baby to adolescent.
It wasn’t enough.
We Want More Meaning from our Data. Fix it.
Customers liked, for example, the predictive analytics of the Clari score. A single number as simple as a credit score showing the probability each deal will close as a win. Liked, but didn’t always love. The score alone was like a parent getting a child’s school report card without any comments to know how to help.
Customers said, “You’re in the rep’s pocket and your fancy data science uses deal progress. So show us! Show us what’s happening in deals and across deals. Pull useful meaning from the chaos. And make it easy. Today, we crunch spreadsheets or send requests to the BI team. Either way, it takes weeks.” That demand led to a new approach to Sales Analytics — simple, configurable views designed exclusively for sales leaders to make it easy to answer complex questions like: What’s my rep’s activity level on a deal? Is my customer engaged or checked out? Do we have enough pipeline to cover next quarter’s forecast? Are my reps working the right deals?
With the addition of Sales Analytics, reps were still more productive and now managers and execs had unprecedented insight. “Intelligence to the entire sales team” was starting to look real. We grew from adolescent to precocious teenager.
It wasn’t enough.
People Depend on Our Forecast. It’s Painful. Fix it.
Customers told us, “Ok, our reps are more productive. And rep/manager 1:1s are better because managers can coach more effectively and ensure the pipeline is healthy. And even our sales exec says he feels more confident about what's happening in the field. But the CFO, CEO, and other departments also need our forecast so they can plan. Today, it’s Excel hell with spreadsheets flying through email. It steals time from selling and, frankly, we’re doing too much guessing. Fix this.” That demand led to data-driven Sales Forecasting. No more spreadsheets. No more “is this the latest version?” No more manager overrides based on guessing (“Susan has happy ears, I’ll take her down 10%. Chris sandbags, he goes up 5%.”). Because when forecasting joins the rest of Clari, managers and execs get the guidance of advanced data science and drill down with one click into underlying deals. It’s a game changer for easier, more accurate forecasting.
And because of our experience in mobile, reps and managers can even forecast from the road, so the forecast isn’t just easier and more accurate — it’s more up to date.
Listening to customers helped us make Clari forecasting the fastest, easiest way reps make their call, managers add data-driven overrides, and execs tune and deliver a confident forecast.
1 + 1 + 1 = Everything
Taking a step back, you can think of enterprise selling as three things: work the deals (deal execution), prepare for next quarter (pipeline management), and call the number with confidence (forecasting). Led by customer demands, we leave 2015 with a single platform delivering the trio. We’ve grown from gangly teenager to young adult. “Young” because we’ll never stop learning how to get better.
Startups Plus Customers Create Products
Now you can see why I say customer input changed everything … and nothing. In June of 2014, we were open about our dream to build a new kind of strategic business system to serve the entire sales team. We didn’t know all the details, but we were optimistic because we knew startups plus customers create products. And we were confident because we were partnering with some of the most innovative customers you’ll ever meet — both the industry leaders I mentioned earlier and recent customers like Juniper Networks, Nutanix, Palo Alto Networks, HP Enterprise, Opower, Blue Coat, and more. So entering 2015, we knew our most important action wasn’t engineering or selling or marketing, it was listening.
As we fly toward the new year, I wish you, your team, and your family a happy, prosperous year. If you run or empower a sales team, I hope 2016 is the year we start learning from you. Tell us what you need. If what we learned so far isn’t perfect for your team, we want to know. Because then we can co-create something even better with you.