VanillaSoft CEO Chats Sales Engagement Evolution, Promoting Change Management & More

Published: April 22, 2019

Sales enablement is only the first step towards sales success. B2B companies must also ensure that their sales teams are using and fully engaged with the content and tools provided to them. In an interview with Demand Gen Report, David Hood, President and CEO of VanillaSoft, a sales software and engagement platform provider, shared his thoughts on the sales engagement space, as well as how companies can promote change management from within.

Demand Gen Report: Marketing’s role is starting to evolve more and more into that enablement sort of mentality. What are your thoughts on the current state of sales engagement?

David Hood: I think sales engagement has really exploded over the last year and a half as a real answer to a need, and it was a pretty crying need. We were seeing more and more leads being ignored. There was no persistency. I think the stats were something like one to one-and-a-half follow-ups per lead. It could take an average of 36 hours for a company to respond to an incoming request.

As the market shifted, as people started self-informing much more and as marketing automation took off, that led to a lot more or these drip-type campaigns where there was a lot of interaction that just didn’t involve the salesperson until all of a sudden, it hit a point where now somebody needs to speak to them. So, therefore, the urgency was a little bit more and the quantity of the leads grew.

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I see sales engagement and sales enablement as being two distinct sectors. It doesn’t mean they don’t work really well together but I see them as being two different concepts that just happen to be very complimentary. For us, the sales enablement side of it is the training and content side of how do you prepare your reps and how do you put the type of information they need at their fingertips to be able to engage? Then, the sales engagement side is how do you ensure that the engagement is taking place? How do you actually drive the activity across every channel of email, phone, social and even looking at chat right now to see how chat would fit into the sales engagement paradigm? I think people are still a little unclear as to when to use sales enablement vs. sales engagement, but I think that over the next year and a half to two years, it’ll become a lot clearer with the vocabulary around the two technologies.

DGR: What are the long-term goals of your company in terms of being able to provide reps with what they need to better engage prospects, while also leveraging data and insights from their CRM and more traditional technologies that aren’t really meeting their needs?

Hood: Here at VanillaSoft, we see sales engagement as having a very clear position in the tech stack, and that is sitting in between marketing automation and CRM. Marketing automation is designed to drip. It’s where there’s no personal touch yet. It’s a way of automating those touches, email and social, before you think that it’s worth investing or before you know that it’s worth investing more in the way of human resources.

Because the volume is so high, once a prospect hits whatever point of qualification the marketing department has determined, it becomes an MQL. Well, that MQL is not yet an SQL. It’s not a sales qualified lead. It’s really just a marketing qualified lead, and we think that this is where the systems broke down. CRMs were designed for sales qualified leads, not for marketing qualified leads. We really feel that is where the sales engagement sits in the tech stack. Moving a prospect or a lead from a marketing qualified lead to a sales qualified lead is all about engagement.

DGR: What is your perspective on VanillaSoft’s competitive positioning as that resource that’s in between the MAP and the CRM, and what’s putting you above the noise in the sales engagement space?

Hood: There are a couple of things but the biggest one, if we look at it, is really the architecture of the system. When we created VanillaSoft back in 2005, what we were trying to do at that time was to combine some of the productivity and control of the outbound call center-type applications, but adapt that to a much higher quality touch. In some ways, we were trying to combine a CRM and an outbound call center application like a Five9, for example, which is well-known nowadays.

When we started out, one of the big things that we were worried about was how are you actually going to drive activity? How are you going to drive productivity? How are you going to make sure that you’re not just sorting data and presenting data, but that you’re actually driving and enforcing the activity? Salesforce automation is a term we heard a lot about in 2008, 2009 and 2010. It’s interesting that we don’t hear that much about it anymore. But at the end of the day, I think that for sales engagement to work effectively, because it’s all about driving engagement, it has to have an aspect of Salesforce automation where you’re actually driving and helping the reps do this activity by taking things off of their plate.

DGR: How do you promote that type of change management within the reps, even up to the managerial level, within an organization to streamline their processes?

Hood: From a management perspective, when we explain how this works, obviously, management and top management are really happy. They like this idea that their strategy can be enforced… But I was having a discussion with someone this week about the technology adoption problem. I really believe that you run into a technology adoption problem when the people that are being asked to use the technology simply don’t see the benefits. I think most people are rational overall. If they’re seeing benefits and getting benefits, they’ll use the technology, but I think a lot of them end up with competing interests. Management wants them to use this because for management, it gives them more oversight and better reporting, for example. But to get that, the reps have to sacrifice productivity and the productivity is what they’re actually being measured on. They’re the ones that end up sacrificing, and that’s where you get a lot of push back.

We have found some push back, for example, from reps at the beginning who say, “Well hey, I’m used to just going in and deciding I should call this person and it’s up to me.” But within VanillaSoft, we have tools that allow the admin to handover some of this power to individual reps, if they so choose. I can say I have two senior people and I want them to be able to set up their own logic rules. Now, this is better than just saying “I’m going to give them a list” because what you’re giving them is the ability to go in and define their own logic and then still not have to worry about it. The system will still do it for them. What we find is that reps, once they’ve used VanillaSoft, it actually helps them do their job a lot more quickly. Because of the way the system works, everything’s automatically logged. So for management, they’re getting the assurance that the strategy is being followed and that the data that they’re getting is correct, but it’s not actually slowing the reps down.

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