Extra Crunch Partner Perk: Get 6 months free of Zendesk Support and Sales CRM

We’re excited to announce an update to the Extra Crunch Partner Perk from Zendesk. Starting today, annual and two-year Extra Crunch members that are new to Zendesk, and meet their startup qualifications, can now receive six months of free access to Zendesk’s Sales CRM, in addition to Zendesk Support Suite, Zendesk Explore and Zendesk Sunshine.

Here is an overview of the program.

Zendesk is a service-first CRM company with support, sales and customer engagement products designed to improve customer relationships. This offer is only available for startups that are new to Zendesk, have fewer than 100 employees and are funded but have not raised beyond a Series B.

The Zendesk Partner Perk from Extra Crunch is inclusive of subscription fees, free for six months, after which you will be responsible for payment. Any downgrades to your Zendesk subscription will result in the forfeiture of the promotion, so please check with Zendesk first regarding any changes ([email protected]). Some add-ons such as Zendesk Talk and Zendesk Sell minutes are not included. Complete details of what’s included can be found here.


By J.M. Donaldson

Scratchpad announces $3.6M seed to put work space on top of Salesforce

One thing that annoys sales people is entering data into a CRM like Salesforce because it’s time spent not selling. Part of the problem is Salesforce is a database and as such is not necessarily designed for speed. Scratchpad wants to simplify that process by creating a workspace on top of the CRM to accelerate the administrative side of the job.

Today, the company announced a $3.6 million seed round led by Accel with participation from Shrug Capital and Sound Ventures, the firm run by Ashton Kutcher and Guy Oseary, as well as several individual investors. The round, which closed at the end of last year, hadn’t been previously announced.

Last year, company co-founder and CEO Pouyan Salehi had just stepped down from his previous company PersistIQ, a sales enablement startup that came out of Y Combinator in 2014. He and his co-founder Cyrus Karbassiyoon began researching a new company, and the idea for Scratchpad came to them when they simply sat down and watched how salespeople were working. They noted that they were using a hodgepodge of tools like taking notes in Evernote or Google Docs, tracking their pipeline in Excel or Google Sheets and tracking tasks with paper lists or sticky notes.

They recognized that these tools were disconnected from Salesforce and required hours of manual work copying and pasting this data. That’s when they saw there was an opportunity here to build a tool to track all of this information in one place and connect it to Salesforce to automate a lot of this grunt work.

“It eventually evolved into this idea that we’re calling “The Workspace” because everyone has Salesforce, but they are working with all of these other tools that then they just have to literally spend hours — and we saw some reps block off four hour chunks on their calendar — just to copy and paste from their documents, spreadsheets or notes into Salesforce for their pipeline reviews. And that’s how the idea for Scratchpad came to be,” Salehi told TechCrunch.

Today, a salesperson can install Scratchpad as a Chrome plug-in, connect to Salesforce with their log-in credentials and create a two-way connection between the tools. Scratchpad pulls all of their pipeline data into the WorkSpace. They can cycle through the various fields to enter information quickly, enter notes and track tasks (which can be pulled from email and calendar) all in one place.

What’s more, because all of this information is linked to Salesforce, anything you enter in Scratchpad updates the corresponding fields and sections in Salesforce automatically. And any new opportunities that start in Salesforce update in Scratchpad.

The company has been operating for about a year and has 1000s of users, although many are currently using the free tier. It has 7 employees with plans to hire more over the next year. As he builds his second company, Salehi says he and his co-founder are building on a foundation of diversity and inclusion.

“By nature, we are very diverse in many different perspectives that you can look at including gender, age, location and backgrounds,” he said. He adds that building a diverse and inclusive workforce is important to the company.

“And so even in our hiring process, we incorporated certain elements just to make sure that we’re not introducing bias in any sort of way, or at least recognizing that the natural bias and thoughts we might have. We look at things like doing blind looks at resumes and it’s something that we take very, very seriously,” he said.

While the company is built on top of Salesforce today, he says it could expand to include other databases or sources of information where the product could also work. For now though, he sees an opportunity to build another company in the sales arena to help reduce the amount of work associated with updating the CRM database.


By Ron Miller

HubSpot’s new end-to-end sales hub aims to simplify CRM for mid-market customers

HubSpot, the Boston firm that made its name by helping to define the in-bound marketing concept, sees a pandemic landscape that’s changing the way companies sell, forcing more inside sales. Today, the company announced the HubSpot Sales Hub Enterprise at Inbound, their annual conference being held virtually this year.

While the company has been offering a CRM tool for five years now, where they feel they have addressed ease of use issues for sales people, the new tool is about bringing a new end-to-end approach addressing the needs of sales people, as well as management and system admins, says Lou Orfanos, GM and VP of Sales Hub at HubSpot.

“So, this is about [providing customers with a more powerful set of tools] and also just making sure that you can run your sales process end to end in our platform. We feel really good about being able to offer that out of the box natively and being able to do everything you need to do [in one tool], which is I think pretty unique given the state of the market and having to [cobble] a bunch of things together yourself,” Orfanos explained.

While the previous product was aimed more at smaller businesses, CMO Yamini Rangan, who previously worked at Dropbox, Workday and SAP, says this product is aimed more at mid-market companies with more complex sales workflows.

“What we find is that the customer experience for a 500 person company or for a 1000 person company is quite different and their expectations are quite different than a 10 person small business. What the Sales Hub Enterprise specifically brings is the ease of use, as well as the powerful features […] to a larger mid-market organization,” Rangan said.

HubSpot specifically sees larger companies in this space like Adobe, Salesforce and SAP acquiring different pieces of the stack, and then incorporating them into a solution, or customers pulling together different pieces of the stack themselves. The company believes that by building a single integrated solution themselves, it’s going to be naturally easier to use.

“We also find that that’s the size of the company where the tech stack, the sales stack and the marketing stack gets super complex, and they’re spending a lot of time trying to integrate a lot of different point solutions and what we find is having all of this — marketing, CMS, sales underlined by a CRM platform — that gives them visibility that they need to run their entire go to market operations,” she said.

While the lower end of the market where HubSpot is aiming for probably won’t interest larger competitors, especially Salesforce, as they move up in that market to larger companies, they expect to compete with those companies. Rangan says that she believes by providing this new offering, they are giving customers options they didn’t have before.

But she also sees this as a way into companies as they grow, and if HubSpot can catch them earlier in their evolution, they can grow with them and become their vendor of choice, rather than the usual suspects.

“What we find is that companies will start as 100 person company and grow to become a 500 or a 1000 person company, and as they grow up on HubSpot we become their growth suite and we become the core platform of record for them to continue to grow,” she said.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce announces 12,000 new jobs in the next year just weeks after laying off 1000

In a case of bizarre timing, Salesforce announced it was laying off 1000 employees at the end of last month just a day after announcing a monster quarter with over $5 billion in revenue, putting the company on a $20 billion revenue run rate for the first time. The juxtaposition was hard to miss.

Earlier today, Salesforce CEO and co-founder Marc Benioff announced in tweet that the company would be hiring 4000 new employees in the next six months, and 12,000 in the next year. While it seems like a mixed message, it’s probably more about reallocating resources to areas where they are needed more.

While Salesforce wouldn’t comment further on the hirings, the company has obviously been doing well in spite of the pandemic, which has had an impact on customers. In the prior quarter, the company forecasted that it would have slower revenue growth due to giving some customers facing hard times with economic downturn, time to pay their bills.

That’s why it was surprising when the CRM giant announced its earnings in August and it had done so well in spite of all that. While the company was laying off those 1000 people, it did indicate it would give those employees 60 days to find other positions in the company. With these new jobs, assuming they are positions the laid off employees are qualified for, they could have a variety of positions to choose from.

The company had 54,000 employees when it announced the layoffs, which accounted for 1.9% of the workforce. If it ends up adding the 12,000 news jobs in the next year, that would put at approximately 65,000 employees by this time next year.


By Ron Miller

How Salesforce beat its own target to reach $20B run rate ahead of schedule

Salesforce launched in 1999, one of the early adherents to what would eventually be called SaaS and cloud computing. On Tuesday, the company reached a huge milestone when it surpassed $5 billion in revenue, putting the SaaS giant on a $20 billion run rate for the first time.

Salesforce revenue has been on a firm upward trajectory for years now, but when the company reached $10 billion in revenue in November 2017, CEO Marc Benioff set the goal for $20 billion right then and there, and five years hence the company beat that goal pretty easily. Here’s what he said at the time:

“In fact as the fastest growing enterprise software company ever to reach $10 billion, we are now targeting to grow the company organically to more than $20 billion by fiscal year 2022 and we plan to do that to be the fastest enterprise software company ever to get to $20 billion,” Benioff said at the time.

There are lots of elements that have led to that success. As the Salesforce platform evolved, the company has also had an aggressive acquisition strategy, and companies are moving to the cloud faster than ever before. Yet Salesforce has been able to meet that lofty 2017 goal early, while practicing his own unique form of responsible capitalism in the midst of a pandemic.

The platform play

While there are many factors contributing to the company’s revenue growth, one big part of it is the platform. As a platform, it’s not only about providing a set of software tools like CRM, marketing automation and customer service, it’s also giving customers the ability to build solutions to meet their needs on top of that, taking advantage of the work that Salesforce has done to build its own software stack.

Bret Taylor, president and chief operating officer at Salesforce says the platform has played a huge role in the company’s success. “Actually our platform is behind a huge part of Salesforce’s momentum in multiple ways. One, which is one thing we’ve talked a lot about, is just the technology characteristics of the platform, namely that it’s low code and fast time to value,” he
said.

He added, “I would say that these low code platforms and the ability to stand up solutions quickly is more relevant than ever before because our customers are going to have to respond to changes in their business faster than ever before,” he said.

He pointed to nCino, a company built on top of Salesforce that went public last month as a prime example of this. The company was built on Salesforce, sold in the AppExchange marketplace and provides a way for banking customers to do business online, taking advantage of all that Salesforce has built to do that.

The acquisition strategy

Another big contributing factor to the company’s success is that beyond the core CRM product, it brought to the table way back in 1999, it has built a broad set of marketing, sales and service tools and as it has done that, it has acquired many companies along the way to accelerate the product road map.

The biggest of those acquisitions by far was the $15.7 billion Tableau deal, which closed just about a year ago. Taylor sees data fueling the push to digital we are seeing during the pandemic, and Tableau is a key part of that.

“Tableau is so strategic, both from a revenue and also from a technology strategy perspective,” he said. That’s because as companies make the shift to digital, it becomes more important than ever to help them visualize and understand that data in order to understand their customer’s requirements better.

“Fundamentally when you look at what a company needs to do to thrive in an all-digital world, it needs to be able respond to [rapid] changes, which means creating a culture around that data,” he said. This enables companies to respond more quickly to changes like new customer demands or shifts in the supply chain.

“All of that is about data, and I think the reason why Tableau grew so much this past quarter is that I think that the conversation around data when you’re digitizing your entire company and digitizing the entire economy, data is more strategic than it ever was,” he said.

With that purchase, combined with the $6.5 billion MuleSoft acquisition in 2018, the company feels like it has a way to capture and visualize data wherever it lives in the enterprise. “It’s worth noting how complementary MuleSoft and Tableau are together. I think of MuleSoft as unlocking all your enterprise data, whether it’s on a legacy system or a modern system, and Tableau enables us to understand it, and so it’s a really strategic overall value proposition because we can come up with a really complete solution around data,” Taylor said.

Capitalism with some heart

Benioff was happy to point out in an appearance on Mad Money Tuesday that even as he has made charity and volunteerism a core part of his organization, he has still delivered solid returns for his shareholders. He told Mad Money host Jim Cramer, “This is a victory for stakeholder capitalism. It shows you can do good and do well.” This is a statement he has made frequently in the past to show that you can be a good corporate citizen and give back to your community, while still making money.

Those values are what separates the company from the pack says Paul Greenberg, founder and principal analyst at 56 Group and author of CRM at the Speed of Light. “Salesforce’s genius, and a large part of the reason I don’t expect any serious slowdown in that extraordinary growth, is that they manage to align the technology business with corporate social responsibility in a way that makes them stand out from any other company,” Greenberg told TechCrunch.

Yesterday’s numbers come after Q12021 in which the company offered softer guidance as it was giving some of its customers, suffering from the impact of the pandemic, more financial flexibility. As it turns out, that didn’t seem to hurt them, and the guidance for next quarter is looking good too: $5.24 billion to $5.25 billion, up approximately 16% year over year, according to the company.

It’s worth noting that while Benioff pledged no new layoffs for 90 days at the start of the pandemic, with that time now ending, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that the company was planning to eliminate 1000 roles out of the organization’s 54,000 total employees, while giving those workers 60 days to find other roles in the company.

Getting to $20 billion

Certainly getting to that $20 billion run rate is significant, as is the speed with which they were able to achieve that goal, but Taylor sees an evolving company, one that is different than the one it was in 2017 when Benioff set that goal.

“I would say the reason we’ve been able to accelerate is through organic [growth], innovation and acquisitions to really build out this vision of a complete customer [picture]. I think it’s more important than ever before,” he said.

He says that when you look at the way the platform has changed, it’s been about bringing multiple customer experience capabilities together under a single umbrella, and giving customers the tools they need to build these out.

“I think we as a company have constantly redefined what customer relationship management means. It’s not just opportunity management for sales teams. It’s customer service, it’s eCommerce, it’s digital marketing, it’s B2B, it’s B2C. It’s. all of the above,” he said.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce confirms it’s laying off around 1000 people in spite of monster quarter

In what felt like strange timing, Salesforce has confirmed a report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal that it was laying off around 1000 people or approximately 1.9% of the company’s 54,000 strong workforce. This news came in spite of the company reporting a monster quarter on Tuesday in which it passed $5 billion in quarterly revenue for the first time.

In fact, Wall Street was so thrilled with Salesforce’s results, the company’s stock closed up an astonishing 26% yesterday, adding great wealth to the company’s coffers. It seemed hard to reconcile such amazing financial success with this news.

Yet it was actually something that president and chief financial officer Mark Hawkins telegraphed in Tuesday’s earnings call with industry analysts, although he didn’t come right and use the L (layoff) word. Instead he couched that impending change as a reallocation of resources.

And he talked about strategically shifting investments over the next 12-24 months. “This means we’ll be redirecting some of our resources to fuel growth in areas that are no longer as aligned with the business priority will be now deemphasized,” Hawkins said in the call.

This is precisely how a Salesforce spokesperson put it when asked by TechCrunch to confirm the story. “We’re reallocating resources to position the company for continued growth. This includes continuing to hire and redirecting some employees to fuel our strategic areas, and eliminating some positions that no longer map to our business priorities. For affected employees, we are helping them find the next step in their careers, whether within our company or a new opportunity,” the spokesperson said.

It’s worth noting that earlier this year, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff pledged there would be no significant layoffs for 90 days.

The 90 day period has long since passed and the company has decided the time is right to make some adjustments to the workforce.

It’s worth contrasting this with the pledge that ServiceNow CEO Bill McDermott made a few weeks after the Benioff tweet, promising not to lay off a single employee for the rest of this year, while also pledging to hire 1000 people worldwide the remainder of this year, while bringing in 360 summer interns.


By Ron Miller

Hearsay, maker of compliant tools for financial services, deepens ties with Salesforce

Financial services companies like banks and insurance tend to be heavily regulated. As such they require a special level of security and auditability. Hearsay, which makes compliant communications tools for these types of companies, announced a new partnership with Salesforce today, enabling smooth integration with Salesforce CRM and marketing automation tools.

The company also announced that Salesforce would be taking a minority stake in Hearsay, although company co-founder and CEO Clara Shih, did not provide any details on that part of the announcement.

Shih says the company created the social selling category when it launched 10 years ago. Today, it provides a set of tools like email, messaging and websites along with a governance layer to help financial services companies interact with customers in a compliant way. Their customers are primarily in banking, insurance, wealth management and mortgages.

She said that they realized if they could find a way to share the data they were collecting with the Hearsay toolset with CRM and marketing automation software in an automated way, it would make greater use of this information than it could on its own. To that end, they have created a set of APIs to enable that with some built-in connectors. The first one will be to connect Hearsay to Salesforce with plans to add other vendors in the future.

“It’s about being able to connect [data from Hearsay] with the CRM system of record, and then analyzing it across thousands, if not tens of thousands of advisors or bankers in a single company, to uncover best practices. You could then use that information like GPS driving directions that help every advisor behave in the moment and reach out in the moment like the very best advisor would,” Shih explained.

In practice, this means sharing the information with the customer data platform (CDP), the CRM and marketing automation tooling to deliver more intelligent targeting based on a richer body of information. So the advisor can use information gleaned from everything he or she knows about the client across the set of tools to deliver more meaningful personal message instead of a targeted ad or an email blast. As Shih points out, the ad might even make sense, but could be tone deaf depending on the circumstances.

“What we focus on is this human-client experience, and that can only be delivered in the last mile because it’s only with the advisor that many clients will confide in these very important life events and life decisions, and then conversely, it’s only in the last mile that the trusted advisor can deliver relationship advice,” she said.

She says what they are trying to do by combining streams of data about the customer is build loyalty in a way that pure technology solutions just aren’t capable of doing. As she says, nobody says they are switching banks because it has the best chat bot.

Hearsay was founded in 2009 and has raised $51 million, as well as whatever other money Salesforce will be adding to the mix with today’s investment. Other investors include Sequoia and NEA Associates. Its last raise was way back in 2013, a $30 million Series C.


By Ron Miller

‘One day we were in the office and the next we were working from home’

Ryan Easter couldn’t believe he was being asked to run a pandemic business continuity test.

It was late October, 2019 and Easter, IT Director and a principal at Johnson Investment Counsel, was being asked by regulators to ensure that their employees could work from home with the same capabilities they had in the office. In addition, the company needed to evaluate situations where up to 50% of personnel were impacted by a virus and unable to work, forcing others to pick up their internal functions and workload.

“I honestly thought that it was going to be a waste of time,” said Easter. “I never imagined that we would have had to put our pandemic plan into action. But because we had a tested strategy already in place, we didn’t miss a beat when COVID-19 struck.”

In the months leading up to the initial test, Johnson Investment Counsel developed a work anywhere blueprint with their technology partner Evolve IP. The plan covered a wide variety of integrated technologies including voice services, collaboration, virtual desktops, disaster recovery and remote office connectivity.

“Having a strategy where our work anywhere services were integrated together was one of the keys to our success,” said Easter. “We manage about $13 billion in assets for clients across the United States and provide comprehensive wealth and investment management to individual and institutional investors. We have our own line of mutual funds, a state-chartered trust company, a proprietary charitable gift fund, with research analysts and traders covering both equity and fixed income markets. Duct taping one-off solutions wasn’t going to cut it.”

Easter continued, “It was imperative that our advisors could communicate with clients, collaborate with each other and operate the business seamlessly. That included ensuring we could make real-time trades and provide all of our other client services.”

Five months later, the novel coronavirus hit the United States and Johnson Investment Counsel’s blueprint test got real.


By Walter Thompson

Salesforce stock is taking a hit today after lighter guidance in yesterday’s earning’s report

In spite of a positive quarter with record revenue that beat analyst estimates, Salesforce stock was taking a hit today because of lighter guidance. Wall Street is a tough audience.

The stock was down $8.29/share or 4.58% as of 2:15 pm ET.

The guidance, which was a projection for next quarter’s earnings, was lighter than what the analysts on Wall Street expected. While Salesforce was projecting revenue for next quarter in the range of $4.89 to $4.90 billion, according to CNBC, analysts had expected $5.03 billion.

When analysts see a future that is a bit worse than what they expected, it usually results in a lower stock price and that’s what we are seeing today. It’s worth noting that Salesforce is operating in the same economy as everyone else and being a bit lighter on your projections in the middle of pandemic seems entirely understandable.

In yesterday’s report CEO Marc Benioff indicated that the company has been offering some customers some flexibility around payment as they navigate the economic fallout of COVID-19, and the company’s operating cash took a bit of a hit because of this.

“Operating cash flow was $1.86 billion, which was largely impacted by delayed payments from customers while sheltering in place and some temporary financial flexibility that we granted to certain customers that were most affected by the COVID pandemic,” president and CFO Mark Hawkins explained in the analyst call.

Still, the company reported revenue of $4.87 billion for the quarter, putting it on a run rate of $19.48 billion.

In a statement, David Hynes, Jr of Canaccord Genuity still remained high on Salesforce. “If you step back and think about what Salesforce is actually providing, tools that help businesses get closer to their customers are perhaps more important than ever in a slower-growth, socially distanced world. We have long reserved a spot for CRM among our top names in large cap, and we feel no differently about that view after what we heard last night. This is a high-quality firm with many levers to growth, and as such, we believe CRM is a good way to get a bit of defensive exposure to the favorable trends at play in software.”

The company is after all still firmly on the path to a $20 billion in revenue. As Hynes points out, overall the kinds of tools that Salesforce offers should remain in demand as companies look for ways to digitally transform much more rapidly in our current situation, and look to companies like Salesforce for help.


By Ron Miller

Assembled raises $3.1M led by Stripe to build ‘the operating system for support teams’

CRM software accounts for one-quarter of all enterprise IT spend. But ironically, while a lot of money is spent on platforms like Salesforce or SAP to manage incoming calls and outgoing marketing and sales activity, not a lot of attention is given to the issue of how to help the teams using all that software work better.

What are the peak times for calls? What are the most common questions? Which staff are best skilled at what kinds of questions? And who is actually working at any given time? These are just some of the issues, but in many cases, there isn’t much in the way of tools used to help with these at all — organisations often just hack a spreadsheet platform like Google Sheets or a calendar app to get by, or do nothing at all.

Today, a startup called Assembled is coming out of stealth mode to address that gap in the market, with a platform that’s built specifically to address the kinds of questions and issues that customer support teams encounter and — answered well — can help them work much better.

Out of the gate, Assembled is announcing $3.1 million in seed funding led by Stripe — where the founding team previously worked — with participation also from Basis Set Ventures, Signalfire, and several angel investors (who are also mostly former Stripe employees).

Assembled’s longer-term ambition is to build tools for what co-founder Ryan Wang describes as “the logistics of customer support.”

“We want to become the operating system for support teams,” he said. Most immediately, the company’s focus will be on agent performance. “Teams to want to learn about their top performers and how they spend their time, and offer data to empower their decision-making.”

Stripe — the payments and related services provider that is now valued at $35 billion — has developed a sizeable operation funding startups adjacent to its own interests in cultivating relationships with startups and other smaller businesses. You could consider it a strategic investor in Assembled: alongside Grammarly, Gofundme, Hopper and Harry’s, Stripe is one of Assembled’s marquee customers.

Wang, an ex-Stripe engineer who co-founded Assembled with his brother John and Assembled’s CEO Brian Sze (both also ex-Stripe), said in an interview that the idea for the startup came directly out of the pair’s experiences as early employees at Stripe.

The approach at the startup in its early days was very grass-roots: employees would get together outside the office to go through support tickets as a way of identifying trends and to talk through them to figure out what might need fixing, how to handle issues in the future, and so on.

It was probably a great way for the team to really stay in touch with what customers needed and wanted. But eventually this approach presented a problem: how do you scale this kind of process? To a tech person, the solution would be obvious: build a platform that can help you do this.

“Within the landscape of CRM, we could see that tech hadn’t really been applied to the business of supporting customer support,” Wang said. “That is why we left. We’d understood that it was a broad problem.”

A tool to help improve workforce management for customer support teams is a no brainer for a company already trying to address these issues through its own home-baked solutions. Wang noted that one of its current customers had built out such an extensive map of data on Google Sheets trying to address customer support workforce management that “they broke Google Sheets. It was just too big.”

Indeed, Bob van Winden, Stripe’s head of operations, noted: “Millions of businesses rely on Stripe every day. To support them, we obsess over every detail of delivering fast, reliable customer service, including free 24×7 phone and chat support. This led us to Assembled, which our global support teams are using to stay coordinated and focused on helping Stripe’s users thrive.”

Less obvious is the use case when a company has never identified these issues, or sees them but haven’t made efforts to try to solve them because it seems too difficult. (The classic issues here are that Assembled is “too clever by half”, or “too ahead of its time.”) That presents both an open market for Assembled, but also a greenfield challenge.

One route to customers has been to integrate with more established CRM packages. Currently Assembled integrates with Salesforce, Kustomer and Zendesk, so that it can source data from these to provide more insights to users.

Another is to provide a set of tools that speak to the wider trend for analytics and data-based insights that can be used to improve how a company works. Indeed, just as Kustomer has disrupted the idea of a CRM being focused a narrow funnel of inbound requests, Assembled also is rethinking how to parse data to figure out what a customer support person should be doing and when. 

The startup provides a way to forecast inbound support query volumes, and to map that into staffing plans that cover multiple channels like chat, email, phone and social media. The staffing plan, in turn, also acts as a scheduling tool to set up group and single calendars for individuals.

A team’s activity, meanwhile, is tracked through a set of metrics that whole team can see and use to calibrate their work better.

Going forward, you can imagine Assembled expanding in a couple of different directions. One might be to offer workforce management to more teams beyond customer support, but that also have to work out how to manage inbound requests and turn them into more efficient work plans. Another might be to continue expanding the kinds of tools it might provide to customer support teams to continue complementing basic CRMs, in particular as customer support comes to mean different things, depending on who the “customer” actually is.

“We see the term ‘customer support’ evolving,” Wang said. “The big struggle is what is the encompassing term should be instead. Generally, our view is that we want to transform and elevate what customer support means. It’s not just about call centers, but any drivers of customer experience related to your products.”


By Ingrid Lunden

Zendesk’s latest tools designed to give fuller view of the customer

Like many technology companies, Zendesk made the tough decision to cancel its Zendesk Relate customer conference this week in Miami amid Covid-19 health concerns. That doesn’t mean the announcements didn’t happen though, even if the conference didn’t, and today the company announced a major update to its Sunshine development platform.

You may recall that the company, which is widely known for it help desk software, made the move to CRM when it acquired Base in September 2018. A little later that year, it announced the Sunshine platform, which customers could use to build applications on top of the Zendesk platform.

It has been working to integrate the CRM tool more broadly into the platform, and today’s announcement is about giving Zendesk users a broader view of its customers. Zendesk has a great of data at its disposal about the customer’s likes and dislikes based on interactions with the help desk side of the house, and Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane sees the two sides being interconnected. At the same time, he’s embracing the idea of this all taking place in the public cloud on AWS.

“Our vision is really to have all the components, all the infrastructure, all the business logic that you need to build a customer experience, and customer relationship management applications, all on the Sunshine platform, all living natively on AWS,” Svane told TechCrunch.

All of this is in the service of giving customers a better experience based on what you know about them. He said that the goal today is to retain and satisfy the customer, and the platform is designed to give them the data they need to help do that.

“In the old days, you went out and you bought a product, and that was kind of the end of the transaction. Today, through the convenience economy, through the subscription economy, it’s more about your long-term engagement with a vendor,” he explained.

He sees the platform helping pull all of this data together, while recognizing and acknowledging the challenges involved here. In fact, he is reluctant to call it a complete picture, calling that a false narrative other vendors are putting out.

“We do want to help our customers extract all the relevant information and to try and create a picture that is helpful across all these different channels, but we also know that the reality of it is that you have so many disparate systems right now,” he said.

He sees his platform with the engagement data on one side and the customer record on the other as a good starting point for this. “I think there’s a lot you can do to collect a lot of information and have an abstraction layer, and that’s what we try to do with Sunshine. We want to have an abstraction layer where you start working and seeing all of this data to get insights into your customer. And I think that’s much better start.”


By Ron Miller

Salesforce grabs Vlocity for $1.33B, a startup with $1B valuation

It’s been a big news day for Salesforce . It announced that Co-CEO Keith Block would be stepping down, and that it had acquired Vlocity for $1.33 billion in an all-cash deal.

It’s no coincidence that Salesforce targeted this startup. It’s a firm that builds six industry-specific CRMs on top of Salesforce — communications, media and entertainment, insurance and financial services, health, energy and utilities and government and nonprofits — and Salesforce Ventures was also an investor. This would appear to have been a deal waiting to happen.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says Salesforce saw this as an important target to keep building the business. “Salesforce has been beefing up their abilities to provide industry specific solutions by cultivating strategic ISV partnerships with companies like Vlocity and Veeva (which is focused on life sciences). But this move signals the importance of making these industry capabilities even more a part of the platform offerings,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research also liked the deal for Salesforce. “It’s a great deal. Vlocity gives them the industries platform they need. More importantly, it keeps Google from buying them and [could generate] $10 billion in additional industries revenue growth over next 4 years,” he said.

Vlocity had raised about $163 million on a valuation of around a $1 billion as of its most recent round, a $60 million Series C last March. If $1.33 billion seems a little light, given what Vlocity is providing the company, Wang says it’s because Vlocity needed Salesforce more than the other way around.

“Vlocity on its own doesn’t have as big a future without Salesforce. They have to be together. So Salesforce doesn’t need to buy them. They could keep building out, but it’s better for them to buy them now,” Wang said.

In a blog post on the Vlocity website, founder and CEO David Schmaier put a positive spin on the deal, as you would expect. “Upon the close of the transaction, Vlocity — this wonderful company that we, as a team, have created, built, and grown into a transformational solution for six of the most important industries in the enterprise — will become part of Salesforce,” he wrote.

Per usual, the deal would be predicated on regulatory approval and close some time during Salesforce’s second quarter in fiscal 2021.


By Ron Miller

Salesforce co-CEO Keith Block steps down

Salesforce today announced that Keith Block, the company’s co-CEO, is stepping down. This leaves company founder Marc Benioff as the sole CEO and chair of the CRM juggernaut. Block’s bio has already been wiped from Salesforce’s leadership page.

Block stepped into the co-CEO role in 2018, after a long career at the company that saw him become vice chairman, president and director before he took this position. Block spent the early years of his career at Oracle . He left there in 2012 after the release of a number of documents in which he criticized then-Oracle CEO Mark Hurd, who passed away last year.

Industry pundits saw his elevation to the co-CEO role as a sign that Block was next in line as the company’s sole CEO in the future (assuming Benioff would ever step down). After this short tenure as co-CEO, it doesn’t look like that will be the case, but for the time being, Block will stay on as an advisor to Benioff.

“It’s been my greatest honor to lead the team with Marc [Benioff] that has more than quadrupled Salesforce from $4 billion of revenue when I joined in 2013 to over $17 billion last year,” said Block in a canned statement that was surely not written by the Salesforce PR team. “We are now a global enterprise company, focused on industries, and have an ecosystem that is the envy of the industry, and I’m so grateful to our employees, customers, and partners. After a fantastic run I am ready for my next chapter and will stay close to the company as an advisor. Being side-by-side with Marc has been amazing and I’m forever grateful for our friendship and proud of the trajectory the company is on.”

In related news, the company also today announced that it has named former BT Group CEO Gavin Patterson as its president and CEO of Salesforce International.


By Frederic Lardinois

Microsoft Dynamics 365 update is focused on harnessing data

Microsoft announced a major update to its Dynamics 365 product line today, which correlates to the growing amount of data in the enterprise, and how to collect and understand that data to produce better customer experiences.

This is, in fact, the goal of all vendors in this space including Salesforce and Adobe, who are also looking to help improve the customer experience. James Philips, who was promoted to president of Microsoft Business Applications just this week, says that Microsoft has also been keenly focused on harnessing the growing amount of data and helping make use of that inside the applications he is in charge of.

“To be frank every single thing that we’re doing at Microsoft, not just in business applications but across the entire Microsoft Cloud, is on the back of that vision that data is coming out of everything, and that those organizations that can collect that data, harmonize it and reason over it will be in a position to be proactive versus reactive,” Philips told TechCrunch.

New customer engagement tooling

For starters, the company is adding functionality to its customer data platform (CDP), a concept all major vendors (and a growing group of startups) have embraced. It pulls together all of the customer data from various systems into one place, making it easier to understand how the customer interacts with you with the goal of providing better experiences based on this knowledge. Microsoft’s CDP is called Customer Insights.

The company is adding some new connectors to help complete that picture of the customer. “We’re adding new first- and third-party data connections to Customer Insights that allow our customers to understand, for example audience memberships, brand affinities, demographic, psychographic and other characteristics of customers that are stored and then harnessed from Dynamics 365 Customer Insights,” Philips said.

All of this, might make you wonder how they can collect this level of data and maintain GDPR/CCPA kind of compliance. Philips says that the company has been working on this for some time. “We did work at the company level to build a system that allows us and our customers to search for and then delete information about customers in each product group within Microsoft including my organization,” he explained.

The company has also added new sales forecasting tools and Dynamics 365 Sales Engagement Center. The first allows companies to tap into all this data to better predict the customers who sales is engaged with that are most likely to turn into sales. The second gives inside sales teams tools like next best action. These are not revolutionary by any means in the CRM space, but do provide new capabilities for Microsoft customers.

New operations level tooling

The operations side is related to what happens after the sale when the company begins to collect money and report revenue. To that end, the company is introducing a new product called Dynamic 365 Finance Insights, which you can think of as Customer Insights, except for money.

“This product is designed to help our customers predict and accelerate their cash flow. It’s designed specifically to identify opportunities where to focus your energy, where you may have the best opportunity to either close accounts payables or receivables or the opportunity to understand where you may have cash shortfalls,” Philips said.

Finally the company is introducing Dynamics 365 Project Operations,which provides a way for project-based business like construction, consulting and law to track the needs of the business.

“Those organizations, who are trying to operate in a project-based way now have with Dynamics 365 Project Operations, what we believe is the most widely used project management capability in Microsoft Project being joined now with all of the back-end capabilities for selling, accounting and planning that Dynamic 365 offers, all built on the same Common Data Platform, so that you can marry your front-end operations and operational planning with your back-end resource planning, workforce planning and operational processes,” he explained.

All of these tools are designed to take advantage of the growing amount of data coming into organizations, and provide ways to run businesses in a more automated and intelligent fashion that removes some of the manual steps involved in running a company.

To be clear, Microsoft is not alone in offering this kind of intelligent functionality. It is part of a growing movement to bring intelligence to all aspects of enterprise software, regardless of vendor.


By Ron Miller

Revenue train kept rolling all year long for Salesforce

Salesforce turned 20 this year, and the most successful pure enterprise SaaS company ever showed no signs of slowing down. Consider that the company finished the year on an $18 billion run rate, rushing toward its 2022 revenue goal of $20 billion. Oh, and it also spent a tidy $15.7 billion to buy Tableau this year in the most high-profile and expensive acquisition it’s ever made.

Co-founder, chairman and CEO Marc Benioff published a book called Trailblazer about running a socially responsible company, and made the rounds promoting it. In fact, he even stopped by TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco in September, telling the audience that capitalism as we know it is dead. Still, the company announced it was building two more towers in Sydney and Dublin.

It also promoted Bret Taylor just last week, who could be in line as heir apparent to Benioff and co-CEO Keith Block whenever they decide to retire. The company closed the year with a bang with a $4.5 billion quarter. Salesforce, for the most part, has somehow been able to balance Benioff’s vision of responsible capitalism while building a company makes money in bunches, one that continues to grow and flourish, and that’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

All aboard the gravy train

The company just keeps churning out good quarters. Here’s what this year looked like:


By Ron Miller