Salesforce applies AI to workflow with Einstein Automate

While Salesforce made a big splash yesterday with the announcement that it’s buying Slack for $27.7 billion, it’s not the only thing going on for the CRM giant this week. In fact Dreamforce, the company’s customer extravaganza is also on the docket. While it is virtual this year, there are still product announcements aplenty and today the company announced Einstein Automate, a new AI-fueled set of workflow solutions.

Sarah Franklin, EVP & GM of Platform, Trailhead and AppExchange at Salesforce says that she is seeing companies facing a digital imperative to automate processes as things move ever more quickly online, being driven there even faster by the pandemic. “With Einstein Automate, everyone can change the speed of work and be more productive through intelligent workflow automation,” she said in a statement.

Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that combined these tools are designed to help customers get to work more quickly. “It’s not only about identifying the insight, it’s about making it easier to leverage it at the the right time. And this should make it easier for users to do it without spending more time and effort,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Einstein is the commercial name given to Salesforce’s artificial intelligence platform that touches every aspect of the company’s product line, bringing automation to many tasks and making it easier to find the most valuable information on customers, which is often buried in an avalanche of data.

Einstein Automate encompasses several products designed to improve workflows inside organizations. For starters, the company has created Flow Orchestrator, a tool that uses a low-code, drag and drop approach for building workflows, but it doesn’t stop there. It also relies on AI to provide help suggest logical next steps to speed up workflow creation.

Salesforce is also bringing Mulesoft, the integration company it bought for $6.5 billion in 2018 into the mix. Instead of processes like a mortgage approval workflow, the Mulesoft piece lets IT build complex integrations between applications across the enterprise, and the Salesforce family of products more easily.

To make it easier to build these workflows, Salesforce is announcing the Einstein Automate collection page available in AppExchange, the company’s application marketplace. The collection includes over 700 pre-built connectors so customers can grab and go as they build these workflows, and finally it’s updating the OmniStudio, their platform for generating customer experiences. As Salesforce describes it, “Included in OmniStudio is a suite of resources and no-code tools, including pre-built guided experiences, templates and more, allowing users to deploy digital-first experiences like licensing and permit applications quickly and with ease. ”

Per usual with Salesforce Dreamforce announcements, the Flow Orchestrator being announced today won’t be available in beta until next summer. The Mulesoft component will be available in early 2021, but the OmniStudio updates and the Einstein connections collection are available today.


By Ron Miller

Vista acquires Gainsight for $1.1B, adding to its growing enterprise arsenal

Vista Equity Partners hasn’t been shy about scooping up enterprise companies over the years, and today it added to a growing portfolio with its purchase of Gainsight.  The company’s software helps clients with customer success, meaning it helps create a positive customer experience when they interact with your brand, making them more likely to come back and recommend you to others. Sources pegged the price tag at $1.1 billion.

As you might expect, both parties are putting a happy face on the deal, talking about how they can work together to grow Gainsight further. Certainly, other companies like Ping Identity seem to have benefited from joining forces with Vista. Being part of a well capitalized firm allowed them to make some strategic investments along the way to eventually going public last year.

Gainsight and Vista are certainly hoping for a similar outcome in this case. Monti Saroya, co-head of the Vista Flagship Fund and senior managing director at the firm sees a company with a lot of potential that could expand and grow with help from Vista’s consulting arm, which helps portfolio companies with different aspects of their business like sales, marketing and operations.

“We are excited to partner with the Gainsight team in its next phase of growth, helping the company to expand the category it has created and deliver even more solutions that drive retention and growth to businesses across the globe,” Saroya said in a statement.

Gainsight CEO Nick Mehta likes the idea of being part of Vista’s portfolio of enterprise companies, many of whom are using his company’s products.

“We’ve known Vista for years, since 24 of their portfolio companies use Gainsight. We’ve seen Gainsight clients like JAMF and Ping Identity partner with Vista and then go public. We believe we are just getting started with customer success, so we wanted the right partner for the long term and we’re excited to work with Vista on the next phase of our journey,” Mehta told TechCrunch.

Brent Leary, principle analyst at CRM Essentials, who covers the sales and marketing space says that it appears that Vista is piecing together a sales and marketing platform that it could flip or go public in a few years.

“It’s not only the power that’s in the platform, it’s also the money. And Vista seems to be piecing together an engagement platform based on the acquisitions of Gainsight, Pipedrive and even last year’s Acquia purchase. Vista isn’t afraid to spend big money, if they can make even bigger money in a couple years if they can make these pieces fit together,” Leary told me.

While Gainsight exits as a unicorn, the deal might not have been the outcome it was looking for. The company raised over $187 million, according to Pitchbook data, though its fundraising had slowed in recent years. Gainsight raised $50 million in April of 2017 at a post-money valuation of $515 million, again per Pitchbook. In July of 2018 it added $25 million to its coffers, and the final entry was a small debt investment raised in 2019.

It could be that the startup saw its growth slow down, leaving it somewhere between ready for new venture investment and profitability. That’s a gap that PE shops like Vista look for, write a check, shake up a company and hopefully exit at an elevated price.

Gainsight hired a new chief revenue officer last month, notably. Per Forbes, the company was on track to reach “about” $100 million ARR by the end of 2020, giving it a revenue multiple of around 11x in the deal. That’s under current market norms, which could imply that Gainsight had either lower gross margins than comparable companies, or as previously noted, that its growth had slowed.

A $1.1 billion exit is never something to bemoan — and every startup wants to become a unicorn — but Gainsight and Mehta are well known, and we were hoping for the details only an S-1 could deliver. Perhaps one day with Vista’s help that could happen.


By Ron Miller

Grouparoo snares $3M seed to build open source customer data integration framework

Creating a great customer experience requires a lot of data from a variety of sources, and pulling that disparate data together has captured the attention of companies and big and small from Salesforce and Adobe to Segment and Klaviyo. Today, Grouparoo, a new startup from three industry vets is the next company up with an open source framework designed to make it easier for developers to access and make use of customer data.

The company announced a $3 million seed investment led by Eniac Ventures and Fuel Capital with participation from Hack VC, Liquid2, SCM Advisors and several unnamed angel investors.

Grouparoo CEO and co-founder Brian Leonard says that his company has created this open source customer data framework based on his own experience and difficulty getting customer data into the various tools he has been using since he was technical founder at TaskRabbit in 2008.

“We’re an open source data framework that helps companies easily sync their customer data from their database or warehouse to all of the SaaS tools where they need it. [After you] install it, you teach it about your customers, like what properties are important in each of those profiles. And then it allows you to segment them into the groups that matter,” Leonard explained.

This could be something like high earners in San Francisco along with names and addresses. Grouparoo can grab this data and transfer it to a marketing tool like Marketo or Zendesk and these tools could then learn who your VIP customers are.

For now the company is just the three founders Leonard, CTO Evan Tahler and COO Andy Jih, and while he wasn’t ready to commit to how many people he might hire in the next 12 months, he sees it being less than 10. At this early stage, the three co-founders have already been considering how to build a diverse and inclusive company, something he helped contribute to while he was at TaskRabbit.

“So, coming from [what we built at TaskRabbit] and starting something new, it’s important to all three of us to start [building a diverse company] from the beginning, and especially combined with this notion that we’re building something open source. We’ve been talking a lot about being open about our culture and what’s important to us,” he said.

TaskRabbit also comes into play in their investment where Fuel GP Leah Solivan was also founder of TaskRabbit. “Grouparoo is solving a real and acute issue that companies grapple with as they scale — giving every member of the team access to the data they need to drive revenue, acquire customers and improve real-time decision making. Brian, Andy and Evan have developed an elegant solution to an issue we experienced firsthand at TaskRabbit,” she said.

For now the company is taking an open source approach to build a community around the tool. It is still pre-revenue, but the plan is to find a way to build something commercial on top of the open source tooling. They are considering an open core license where they can add features or support or offer the tool as a service. Leonard says that is something they intend to work out in 2021.


By Ron Miller

Adobe acquires marketing workflow startup Workfront for $1.5B

Adobe just announced that it is acquiring marketing workflow management startup Workfront for $1.5 billion. Bloomberg first reported the sale would be happening earlier today.

Workfront was founded back in 2001, making it a bit long in tooth for a private company that has raised $375 million, according to Crunchbase. But it gives Adobe more online marketing tooling to fit into its Experience Cloud. This one helps companies manage complex projects inside the marketing department.

“The combination of Adobe and Workfront will further accelerate Adobe’s leadership in customer experience management, providing a pioneering solution that spans the entire lifecycle of digital experiences, from ideation to activation,” Anil Chakravarthy, executive vice president and general manager for Adobe’s digital experience business and worldwide field operations said in a statement.

Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research says the acquisition will help Adobe customers manage the complexities of marketing project management. “Scheduling and managing work had gotten orders of mangnitude more complex for enterprises, and Adobe is accounting for that with the acquisition of Workfront, providing better tool support for the new future of work,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

The two companies are actually partners and work together frequently sharing 1000 common customers among Workfront’s 3000 total customer base. In fact, Workfront has APIs that connect to Adobe Creative Cloud and Experience Cloud, two parts of the company’s product family that marketers frequently access. As Adobe battles Salesforce, SAP and Oracle in the marketing automation space, it’s been using its checkbook to acquire additional fire power in recent years.

This acquisition comes after Adobe spent $1.6 billion for Magento and $4.75 billion for Marketo in 2018. That’s almost $8 billion for three companies in under two years, even as it builds out parts of its Adobe Experience Cloud in-house. Combined, it shows just how serious the company is about making headway in this valuable area.

Customer experience has always been an essential element of online and in-person transactions, making sure the customer feels good about the interactions it has with a brand. It not only keeps them coming back, but it encourages them to act as ambassadors on behalf of a company, something that has incredible value.

Conversely a bad experience can lead to the opposite impact, causing a prospective or even loyal customer to abandon a brand and speak badly about it to friends online and in person. Adobe hopes that by bringing another marketing tool into the fold, it can help its customers increase the likelihood of a positive online customer experience. This one should allow company marketing personnel working at a company to move marketing projects through a workflow from idea to online.

The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of Adobe’s fiscal year. Per usual, it will be subject to typical regulatory scrutiny.

This is a breaking story. We will continue to update as we get additional information.


By Ron Miller

SAP shares fall sharply after COVID-19 cuts revenue, profit forecast at software giant

SAP announced its Q3 earnings yesterday, with its aggregate results down across the board. And after missing earnings expectations, the company also revised its 2021 outlook down. The combined bad news spooked investors, crashing its shares by over 20% in pre-market trading and the stock wasn’t showing any signs of improving in early trading.

The German software giant has lost tens of billions of dollars in market cap as a result.

The overall report was gloomy, with total revenues falling 4% to €6.54 billion, cloud and software revenue down 2%, and operating profit down 12%. The only bright spot was its pure-cloud category, which grew 11% to €1.98 billion.

SAP’s revenue result was around €310 million under expectations, though its per-share profit beat both adjusted, and non-adjusted expectations.

While SAP’s big revenue miss might have been enough to send investors racing for the exits, its revised forecast doubled concerns. Even though the company said that its customers are accelerating their move to the cloud during the pandemic — something that TechCrunch has been tracking for some time now — SAP also said that the pandemic is slowing sales, and large projects.

Constellation Research anayst Holger Mueller says this is resulting in an unexpected revenue slow-down.

“What has happened at SAP is a cloud revenue delay as customers know that SAP is only investing into cloud products, and they have to migrate to those in the future. The news is that SAP customers are not migrating to the cloud during a pandemic,” Mueller told TechCrunch.

In a sign of the times, SAP spent a portion of its earnings results talking about 2025 results, a maneuver that failed to allay investor concerns that the pandemic was dramatically impacting SAP’s business today and in the coming year.

For 2020, SAP made the following cuts to its forecasts:

  • €8.0 – 8.2 billion non-IFRS cloud revenue at constant currencies (previously €8.3 – 8.7 billion
  • €23.1 – 23.6 billion non-IFRS cloud and software revenue at constant currencies (previously €23.4 – 24.0 billion)
  • €27.2 – 27.8 billion non-IFRS total revenue at constant currencies (previously €27.8 – 28.5 billion)
  • €8.1 – 8.5 billion non-IFRS operating profit at constant currencies (previously €8.1 – 8.7 billion)

So, €300 million to €500 million in cloud revenue is now gone, along with €300 million to €400 million in cloud and software revenue, and €600 to €700 million in total revenue. That cut profit expectations by up to €200 million.

The company, however, is trying to put a happy face on the future projections, believing that as the impact of COVID begins to diminish, existing customers will eventually shift to the cloud and that will drive significant new revenues over the longer term. The trade-off is short-term pain for the next year or two.

“Over the next two years, we expect to see muted growth of revenue accompanied by a flat to slightly lower operating profit. After 2022 momentum will pick up considerably though. Initial headwinds of the accelerated cloud transition will start to turn into tailwinds for revenue and profit. […] That translates to accelerated revenue growth and double digit operating profit growth from 2023 onwards,” SAP CFO Luka Mucic said in a call with analysts this morning.

The question now becomes can they meet these projections, and if the longer-term approach during a pandemic will placate investors. As of this morning, they weren’t looking happy about it.


By Ron Miller

Customer experience and digital transformation concepts are merging during the pandemic

Customer experience and digital transformation are two terms we’ve been hearing about for years, but have often remained nebulous in many organizations — something to aspire to perhaps, but not take completely seriously. Yet the pandemic has been a forcing event for both concepts, thrusting the ideas front and center.

Suddenly startups that help with either of these concepts are seeing rising demand, even in a year with an overall difficult economic climate. If you are fortunate enough to be helping companies digitize a process or improve how customers interact with companies, you may be seeing increased interest from customers and potential acquirers (and this was true even before this year). A case in point is Twilio acquiring Segment for $3.2 billion recently to help build data-fueled applications to interact with customers.

Even though building a positive customer experience has never been completely about digital, at a time where it’s difficult to interact with customers in person, the digital side of it has taken new urgency. As COVID-19 took hold this year, businesses, large and small, suddenly realized the only way to connect to their customers was digitally. At that point, digital transformation became customer experience’s buddy when other ways of contacting one another have been severely limited.

Pandemic brings changes

Just about every startup founder I talk to these days, along with bigger, more established companies, talk about how the pandemic has pushed companies to digitally transform much faster than they would have without COVID.

Brent Leary, founder at CRM Essentials, says that the pandemic has certainly expedited the need to bring these two big ideas together and created opportunities as that happens. “The coronavirus, as terrible as it has been in so many ways to so many people, has created opportunities for companies to build direct-to-consumer (D2C) digital pipelines that can make them stronger companies despite the current hardships,” Leary told TechCrunch.

The cloud plays a big role in the digital transformation process, and for the last decade, we have seen companies make a slow but steady shift to the cloud. When you have a situation like we’ve had with the coronavirus, it speeds everything up. As it turns out, being in the cloud helps you move faster because you don’t have to worry about all of the overhead of running a business critical application as the SaaS vendors take care of all that for you.


By Ron Miller

SAP continues to build out customer experience business with Emarsys acquisition

SAP seemed to be all in on customer experience when it acquired Qualtrics for $8 billion in 2018. It continued on that journey today when it announced it was acquiring Austrian cloud marketing company Emarsys for an undisclosed amount of money.

Emarsys, which raised over $55 million, according to PitchBook data, gives SAP customer personalization technology. If you talk to any marketing automation vendor over the last several years, the focus has been on using a variety of data and touch points to understand the customer better, and deliver more meaningful online experiences.

With the pandemic closing or limiting access to brick and mortar stores, personalization has taken a new urgency as customers are increasingly shopping online and companies need to meet them where they are.

With Emarsys, the company is getting an omnichannel marketing solution that they say is designed to deliver messages to customers wherever they are including e-mail, mobile, social, SMS, and the web, and deliver that at scale.

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics a couple of months ago, just 20 months after buying, it left some question about whether SAP was fully committed to customer experience business.

Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM Essentials says that the acquisition shows that SAP is still very much in the game. “This illustrates that SAP is serious about CX and competing in a highly competitive space. Emarsys adds industry-specific customer engagement capabilities that should help SAP CX customers accelerate their efforts to provide their customers with the experiences they expect as their needs change over time,” Leary told TechCrunch.

As an ERP company at its core, SAP has traditionally focused on back office kind of operations, but Bob Stutz, president, SAP Customer Experience sees this acquisition as a way to continue bringing back office and front office operations together.

“With Emarsys technology, SAP Customer Experience solutions can link commerce signals with the back office and activate the preferred channel of the customer with a relevant and consistently personalized message, allowing customers the freedom to choose their own engagement,” Stutz said in a statement.

The company, which is based in Austria, was founded back in 2000 when marketing was a very different world. It has built a customer base of 1500 companies with 800 employees in 13 offices across the globe. All of this will become part of SAP, of course and come under Stutz’s purview.

As with all transactions of this type it will be subject to regulatory approval, but the deal is expected to close this quarter.


By Ron Miller

New Zendesk dashboard delivers customer service data in real time

Zendesk has been offering customers the ability to track customer service statistics for some time, but it has always been a look back. Today, the company announced a new product called Explorer Enterprise that lets customers capture that valuable info in real time, and share it with anyone in the organization, whether they have a Zendesk license or not.

While it has had Explorer in place for a couple of years now, Jon Aniano, senior VP of product at Zendesk says the new enterprise product is in response to growing customer data requirements. “We now have a way to deliver what we call Live Team Dashboards, which delivers real time analytics directly to Zendesk users,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

In the days before COVID that meant displaying these on big monitors throughout the customer service center. Today, as we deal with the pandemic, and customer service reps are just as likely to be working from home, it means giving management the tools they need to understand what’s happening in real time, a growing requirement for Zendesk customers as they scale, regardless of the pandemic.

“What we’ve found over the last few years is that our customers’ appetite for operational analytics is insatiable, and as customers grow, as customer service needs get more complex, the demands on a contact center operator or customer service team are higher and higher, and teams really need new sets of tools and new types of capabilities to meet what they’re trying to do in delivering customer service at scale in the world,” Aniano told TechCrunch.

One of the reasons for this is the shift from phone and email as the primary ways of accessing customer service to messaging tools like WhatsApp. “With the shift to messaging, there are new demands on contact centers to be able to handle real-time interactions at scale with their customers,” he said.

And in order to meet that kind of demand, it requires real-time analytics that Zendesk is providing with this announcement. This arms managers with the data they need to put their customer service resources where they are needed most in the moment in real time.

But Zendesk is also giving customers the ability to share these statistics with anyone in the company. “Users can share a dashboard or historical report with anybody in the company regardless of whether they have access to Zendesk. They can share it in Slack, or they can embed a dashboard anywhere where other people in the company would like to have access to those metrics,” Aniano explained.

The new service will be available starting on August 31st for $19 per user per month.


By Ron Miller

SAP decision to spin out Qualtrics 20 months after spending $8B surprises industry watchers

When SAP announced it was spinning out Qualtrics on Sunday, a company it bought less than two years ago for an eye-popping $8 billion, it was enough to make your head spin. At the time, then CEO Bill McDermott saw it as a way to bridge the company’s core operational with customer data, while acquiring a cloud company that could help generate recurring revenue for the ERP giant, and maybe give it a dose of innovation along the way.

But Sunday night the company announced it was spinning out the acquisition, giving its $8 billion baby independence, and essentially handing the company back to founder Ryan Smith, who will become the largest individual shareholder when this all over.

It’s not every day you see founders pull in a windfall like $8 billion, get sucked into the belly of the large corporate beast and come out the other side just 20 months later with the cash, independence and CEO as the largest individual stockholder.

While SAP will own a majority of the stock, much like Dell owns a majority of VMware, the company will operate independently and have its own board. It can acquire other firms and make decisions separately from SAP.

We spoke to a few industry analysts to find out what they think about all this, and while the reasoning behind the move involves a lot of complex pieces, it could be as simple as the deal was done under the previous CEO, and the new one was ready to move on from it.

Bold step

It’s certainly unusual for a company like SAP to spend this kind of money, and then turn around so quickly and spin it off. In fact, Brent Leary, principal analyst at CRM Essentials, says that this was a move he didn’t see coming, and it could be related to that fat purchase price. “To me it could mean that SAP didn’t see the synergies of the acquisition panning out as they had envisioned and are looking to recoup some of their investment,” Leary told TechCrunch.

Holger Mueller, an analyst with Constellation Research agreed with Leary’s assessment, but doesn’t think that means the deal failed. “SAP doesn’t lose anything in regards to their […] data and experience vision, as they still retain [controlling interest in Qualtrics] . It also opens the opportunity for Qualtrics to partner with other ERP vendors [and broaden its overall market],” he said.

Jeanne Bliss, founder and president at CustomerBLISS, a company that helps clients deliver better customer experiences sees this as a positive step forward for Qualtrics. “This spin off enables Qualtrics to focus on its core business and prove its ability to provide essential technology executives are searching for to enable speed of decision making, innovation and customization,” she said.

Show me the money

Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategy sees the two companies moving towards a VMware/Dell model where SAP removes the direct link between them, which could then make them more attractive to a broader range of customers than perhaps they would have been as part of the SAP family. “The big play here is all financial. With tech stocks up so high, SAP isn’t seeing the value in its stock. I am expecting a VMware kind of alignment with a strategic collaboration agreement,” he said.

Ultimately though, he says the the move reflects a cultural failure on the part of SAP. It simply couldn’t find a way to co-exist with a younger, more nimble company like Qualtrics. “I believe SAP spinning out Qualtrics is a sign that its close connection to create symbiotic value has failed. The original charter was to bring it in to modernize SAP but apparently the “not invented here” attitudes kicked in and doomed integration,” Moorhead said.

That symbiotic connection would have involved McDermott’s vision of combining operational and customer data, but Leary also suggested that since the deal happened under previous the CEO, that perhaps new CEO Christian Klein wants to start with a clean slate and this simply wasn’t his deal.

Qualtrics for the win

In the end, Qualtrics got all that money, gets to IPO after all, and returns to being an independent company selling to a larger potential customer base. All of the analysts we spoke to agreed the news is a win for Qualtrics itself.

Leary says the motivation for the original deal was to give SAP a company that could sell beyond its existing customer base. “It seems like that was the impetus for the acquisition, and the fact that SAP is spinning it off as an IPO 20 months after acquiring Qualtrics gives me the impression that things didn’t come together as expected,” he said.

Mueller also sees nothing but postivies Qualtrics. “It’s a win […] for Qualtrics, which can now deliver what they wanted [from the start], and it’s a win for customers as Qualtrics can run as fast as they want,” he said.

Regardless, the company moves on, and the Qualtrics IPO moves forward, and it’s almost as though Qualtrics gets a do-over with $8 billion in its pocket for its trouble.


By Ron Miller

Medallia acquires voice-to-text specialist Voci Technologies for $59M

M&A has largely slowed down in the current market, but there remain pockets of activity when the timing and price are right. Today, Medallia — a customer experience platform that scans online reviews, social media, and other sources to provide better insights into what a company is doing right and wrong and what needs to get addressed — announced that it would acquire Voci Technologies, a speech-to-text startup, for $59 million in cash.

Medallia plans to integrate the startup’s AI technology so that voice-based interactions — for example from calls into call centers — can be part of the data crunched by its analytics platform. Despite the rise of social media, messaging channels, and (currently) a shift for people to do a lot more online, voice still accounts for the majority of customer interactions for a business, so this is an important area for Medallia to tackle.

“Voci transcribes 100% of live and recorded calls into text that can be analyzed quickly to determine customer satisfaction, adding a powerful set of signals to the Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Leslie Stretch, president and CEO of Medallia, in a statement. “At the same time, Voci enables call analysis moments after each interaction has completed, optimizing every aspect of call center operations securely. Especially important as virtual and remote contact center operations take shape.”

While there are a lot of speech-to-text offerings in the market today, the key with Voci is that it is able to discern a number of other details in the call, including emotion, gender, sentiment, and voice biometric identity. It’s also able to filter out personal identifiable information to ensure more privacy around using the data for further analytics.

Voci started life as a spinout from Carnegie Mellon University (its three founders were all PhDs from the school), and it had raised a total of about $18 million from investors that included Grotech Ventures, Harbert Growth Parnters, and the university itself. It was last valued at $28 million in March 2018 (during a Series B raise), meaning that today’s acquisition was slightly more than double that value.

The company seems to have been on an upswing with its business. Voci has to date processed some 2 billion minutes of speech, and in January, the company published some momentum numbers that said bookings had grown some 63% in the last quarter, boosted by contact center customers.

In addition to contact centers, the company catered to companies in finance, healthcare, insurance and others areas of business process outsourcing, although it does not disclose names. As with all companies and organizations that have products that cater to offering services remotely, Voci has seen stronger demand for its business in recent weeks, at a time when many have curtailed physical contact due to COVID-19-related movement restrictions.

“Our whole company is delighted to be joining forces with experience management leader Medallia. We are thrilled that Voci’s powerful speech to text capabilities will become part of Medallia Experience Cloud,” said Mike Coney, CEO of Voci, in a statement. “The consolidation of all contact center signals with video, survey and other critical feedback is a game changer for the industry.”

It’s not clear whether Voci had been trying to raise money in the last few months, or if this was a proactive approach from Medallia. But more generally, M&A has found itself in a particularly key position in the world of tech: startups are finding it more challenging right now to raise money, and one big question has been whether that will lead to more hail-mary-style M&A plays, as one route for promising businesses and technologies to avoid shutting down altogether.

For its part, Medallia, which went public in July 2019 after raising money from the likes of Sequoia, has seen its stock hit like the rest of the market in recent weeks. Its current market cap is at around $2.8 billion, just $400 million more than its last private valuation.

The deal is expected to close in May 2020, Medallia said.

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Frame AI raises $6.3M Series A to help understand customers across channels

Frame AI, a New York City startup that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to help companies understand their customers better across multiple channels, announced a $6.3 million Series A investment today.

G20 Ventures and Greycroft led the round together. Bill Wiberg, co-founder and partner at G20, will join Frame’s board under the terms of the deal. The total raised with an earlier seed round is over $10 million, according to the company.

“Frame is basically an early warning system and continuous monitoring tool for your customer voice,” Frame CEO and co-founder George Davis told TechCrunch. What that means, in practice, is the tool plugs into help desk software, call center tooling, CRM systems and anywhere else in a company that communicates with a customer.

“We then use natural language understanding to pull out emerging themes and basically aggregate them to account and segment levels so that customer experience leaders can prioritize taking actions to improve their relationships,” Davis explained.

He believes that customer experience leaders are being asked to do more and more in terms of talking to customers on ever more channels and digesting that into useful information for the rest of their company to be responsive to customer needs, and he says that there isn’t a lot of tooling to help with this particular part of the customer experience problem.

“We don’t think they have the right tools to do either the listening in the first place or the analysis. We’re trying to make it possible for them to hear their customers everywhere they’re already talking to them, and then act on that information,” he said.

He says they work alongside customer data platforms (CDPs) like Segment, Salesforce Customer 360 and Adobe Real-time CDP. “We can take the customer voice information from all of these unstructured sources, all these natural language sources and turn it into moments that can be contributed back to one of these structured data platforms.”

Davis certainly recognizes that his company is getting this money in the middle of a health and economic crisis, and he hopes that a tool like his that can help take the pulse of the customer across multiple channels can help companies succeed at a time when a data-driven approach to customer experience is more important than ever.

He says that by continuing to hire through this and building his company, he can contribute to restarting the economic engine, even if in some small way.

“It’s a bleak time, but I have a lot of confidence in New York and in the country, in the customer experience community and in the world’s ability to bounce back strong from this. I think it’s actually created a lot of solidarity that we’re all going to find a lot of new opportunities, and we’re going to just keep building Frame as fast as we can.”


By Ron Miller

How Adobe shifted a Las Vegas conference to executives’ living rooms in less than 30 days

Adobe was scheduled to hold its annual conference in Las Vegas two weeks ago, but the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to make alternate plans. In less than a month, its events team shifted venues for the massive conference, not once, but twice as the severity of the situation became clear.

This year didn’t just involve Adobe Summit itself. To make things more interesting, it was also hosting Magento Imagine as a separate conference within a conference at the same time. (Adobe bought Magento in 2018 for $1.6 billion.)

Originally, Adobe had more than 500 sessions planned across four venues on the Las Vegas Strip, with more than 23,000 attendees expected. Combining all of the sponsors, partners and Adobe personnel, it involved more than 40,000 hotel rooms.

Once it became clear that such a large event couldn’t happen, the company reimagined the conference as a fully digital experience.

Plan A

VP of Experience Marketing Alex Amado is in charge of planning Adobe Summit, a tall task under normal circumstances.

“Planning Summit is a year-round endeavor,” he said. “Literally within weeks of finishing one of those Las Vegas events we are starting on the next one, and some of the work actually is on an 18 or 24-month cycle because we have those long-term hotel contracts and all of that stuff.

“For the last 12 months, basically, we had people who were working on what we now call Plan A — and we didn’t know that we needed a Plan B and Plan C — and the original event was going to be our biggest yet.”

2019 Adobe Summit stage in Las Vegas. Photo: Ron Miller/TechCrunch

After the team began to wonder in January if the virus would force them to change how they deliver the conference, they started building contingency plans in earnest, Amado said. “As we got into February, things started looking a little scarier, and it very quickly escalated to the point where we were talking really seriously about Plan B.”


By Ron Miller

Yaguara nabs $7.2M seed to help e-commerce companies understand customers better

Yaguara, a Denver-based startup that wants to help e-commerce companies understand their customers better to deliver more meaningful experiences, announced a $7.2 million seed investment today.

The round was led by Foundation Capital with participation from Gradient Ventures, Rainfall Ventures and Zelkova. It also had help from some e-commerce heavy hitters including Warby Parker, Harry’s and Allbirds.

Yaguara CEO Jonathan Smalley was working at an agency building specialized cloud tools for online businesses when he recognized there was a need to pull data together into a single place and help companies understand their customer’s behavior better.

“Yaguara is based on integrating data and having all their data in the right place. For us, it started with several dozen tools from performance marketing to your actual e-commerce data to your fulfillment and unit economic data — bringing that all into one place letting them see their data in real time.”

“Then our platform serves predictive and prescriptive insights and recommendations to individual users across your teams, so they can drive specific outcomes across the organization based on that unified data set,” Smalley explained.

Screenshot: Yaguara

They build that data set by connecting to a variety of popular tools to help understand what’s happening across the customer lifecycle, whether that’s customer acquisition through Facebook or Google ads or understanding shopping cart abandonment data or how often the customer has returned to buy again, all of which help build a better picture of the customer.

While this may sound like a customer data platform (CDP), Smalley says it’s actually more than that. While the CDP provides the pipeline to your data sources like Yaguara, it doesn’t stop there. He says it reduces the complexity of helping front-line marketing personnel access and query that data without having to know SQL or R or have a technical intermediary to understand the data.

While the company is young it already has 250 e-commerce customers using the platform. With the new infusion of cash, it should be able to bring in more employees, build more data connectors and continue working to build out the platform.


By Ron Miller

Even in the age of COVID-19, you need to stay focused on the customer

It’s easy to think, as we find ourselves in the midst of a truly unprecedented situation, that the rules of building a successful business have suddenly changed. While the world may be topsy-turvy at the moment, keeping your customer at the center of your business strategy is more important than ever.

That means finding creative ways to engage with your customers and thinking deeply about what they need as the world changes before our eyes.

As a small example on a local level, Pandemonium Books and Games in Cambridge, Massachusetts has started offering same-day delivery to neighborhoods in the Boston area for a $5 fee and a $20 minimum purchase.

This is taking a difficult situation and finding a way to stay connected with customers, while keeping the business going through difficult times. It’s something that your most loyal customers will certainly remember when we return to some semblance of normalcy — and it’s just a great community service.

When you hear from leaders of the world’s most successful technology companies, whether it’s Jeff Bezos at Amazon or Marc Benioff at Salesforce, these two executives are constantly pushing their organizations to put the customer first.

At Amazon, that manifests itself in the company motto that it’s always Day 1. That motto means they never can become complacent and always place the customer first. In his 2016 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos described what he meant:

There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.

Benioff runs his company with a similar world view, and it’s no coincidence that both companies are so wildly successful. In his recent book, Trailblazer, Benioff wrote about the importance of relentless customer focus:

Nothing a company does is more essential than how it engages with customers. In a world where online portals are replacing customer service centers and algorithms are replacing humans on the front lines, companies like ours continually need to show that the personal connections our customers craved were still — and always would be — there.

In our current crisis, that focus becomes ever more important and universal. In his last interview before his death in January, Clayton Christensen, author of the seminal book Innovator’s Dilemma, told MIT Sloan Management Review that while these organizations had other things going for them, customer centricity was certainly a big factor in their success.

They have all built organizations that have put the customers, and their Job to Be Done, at the center. They also have demonstrated the ability to manage emergent strategy well. However, they also have been in the fortunate circumstance where their core businesses have been growing at phenomenal rates, and they have had the presence of the founder to help, to personally get involved in key strategic decisions.

While you don’t want to appear like you are taking advantage of a bad situation, there are ways you can help your customers by thinking of new ways engage and help them in a difficult time. Many companies are offering services for free for the next several months to help customers get through the financial uncertainty we are facing in the near term. Others are posting free content and access to other resources on websites.

While it’s understood that some customers simply won’t have money to spend in the coming months, those that do will have different needs than they did before and you have to be ready to address them, whatever that means to your business.

This virus is going to force us to rethink about a lot of the ways we run our businesses, our society and our lives, but if you keep your customer at the center of all your decisions, even in the midst of such a crisis, you will be setting the foundation for a successful business whenever we return to normal.


By Ron Miller

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