What happened at Insidesales.com?

The Utah-based SaaS unicorn has rebranded and named a new CEO as it looks to shift gears after a troublesome year

© Xant

One of a small band of Utah software startup success stories, Insidesales has struggled to live up to its lofty valuation in the past few years, shifting its strategy to focus just on the enterprise – and has now taken on a drastic rebrand and change of CEO. What happened to the software-as-a-service (SaaS) company, and what's next under its new name, Xant?

At its core, Insidesales.com started life as a set of tools which utilise machine learning to help salespeople close more deals. Founded by Dave Elkington back in 2004, the company found itself at the heart of the 'Silicon Slopes' boom in Utah, alongside training platform Pluralsight, analytics vendor Domo and experience data specialist Qualtrics.

Read next: Utah's four SaaS unicorns come of age

As those peers have gone on to hit the public markets (sometimes in rocky fashion) or been acquired by software giants like SAP, in the case of Qualtrics, Insidesales.com has quietly gone about its business with little fanfare and no sign of a long-rumoured IPO.

Speaking to Computerworld at this time last year, Elkington talked about how the vendor was moving away from the small business market completely. "To move into that large enterprise is completely different and extremely costly, so we have now raised over $300 million and I would say a significant component of that was in this transition," he said at the time.

New CEO Chris Harrington – who held senior sales positions at fellow Utah success story Omniture before it was acquired by Adobe, and then Omniture founder Josh James' follow-up Domo – joined the company last year as COO, with the explicit aim of getting the company in shape to go public.

Since then he has been busy tidying shop.

What happened to Insidesales.com?

First, let's start with the name.

"Insidesales.com is very limiting. Today, sellers don't want to be known as an Insidesales rep," Harrington told Computerworld in San Francisco last month during Salesforce's Dreamforce conference.

Two of the vendor's biggest customers – American Express and Cisco – wouldn't even refer to the software as Insidesales internally, preferring the product name itself: Playbooks. "When you hear that you can't be tone deaf to it," Harrington said.

Harrington hired an external agency to come up with a new brand for the company, and they came back with Zant, a play on 'cognizant'.

"No matter how I looked at it, no offence to the letter Z, but it was corny," Harrington explained. "Xant – X – it's a force multiplier, there are so many games you can play with that [letter]."

Next was the team. "I have changed out 55 percent of the executive team, we have a new chief customer officer, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, I've had to upgrade that organisation," Harrington said. "That's a little bit chaotic, if we are being fair."

Then it was a case of taking the new name and message out to customers and investors.

"I've been on a roadshow for customers and spent a lot of time with investors," he said. "So far, the feedback's been really positive. Overall the rebrand has been incredibly well received."

Product roadmap

Xant now sells just two products: a sales engagement platform and its Playbooks Chrome extension, which offers salespeople smart suggestions wherever they may be working, be it their customer relationship management (CRM) platform – either Microsoft Dynamics, Salesforce or SAP C4/HANA – or while scoping prospects on LinkedIn or making contact in email or scheduling a meeting.

"Today reps are leveraging on average somewhere around 5.4 to 5.8 tools [according to research by Xant] because they're trying to make a sale. Those tools aren't CRM, it's everything else," Harrington said.

Harrington has also had to make some tough product decisions since taking over, including the shutting down of its popular PowerDialer and Predictive Pipeline products.

Starting with PowerDialer, Harrington said the company was seeing users turn to the phone-based tool less and less over time. He puts this down to younger salespeople making fewer phone calls.

"It wasn't cancellations, it was literally dropping because the buyers aren't making the phone calls," he said. Most PowerDialer capabilities have now been folded into Playbooks.

"I would prefer to not build as much as possible, I want to open this ecosystem up," he added. "Get our SDK right, make sure the API's are right and let the ecosystem start pulling things together. That is the direction. That doesn't mean I won't build my own version of the product. But I want to be as open as possible."

That being said, Harrington, along with his CTO Ryan Allphin, wants to simplify the existing technology stack Xant runs on, which is currently distributed across Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud infrastructure.

"I'm one of those companies that is straddling both AWS and Azure, it's just not cost effective... I need to make a decision on which platform I land on," Harrington said.

Then there is Predictive Pipeline, an Insidesales tool which customers are using to forecast future sales, and which Harrington is also looking to decommission.

"So we're working with the customers that are there today, we've guaranteed that we will deliver on any personal commitments that we made to you. Then we'll help you find the right solution, so now we're starting to work on who do we bring in as alternative solutions. I don't want to build it," he told those customers.

In terms of where Harrington does want to invest, it's in continuing to make the Xant tools as smart as possible for its users. "I want to double and triple down on our data science activities. In the end, I do think that is the long term value of our business. In our lifetime there will be nothing more valuable than the data we have," he said.

What next for Xant?

Harrington may not have the founder's zeal of his predecessor Dave Elkington, but he does have a clearly defined idea of how to build a viable enterprise technology company.

"I'm not going to stand up here and say we're going to IPO in 18 months or be acquired and you should all buy real estate in Redmond," he said.

"What I will tell you is what we need to look like as a business on all the key metrics that make us attractive to either one of these [outcomes]."

Harrington says he expects to raise more money in the near future and that his goal is to "properly right-size the valuation of the company around actual metrics, not hype.". Under Elkington, Insidesales raised around $300 million at a valuation of $1 billion.

"For the first time in this company's history, I think we have clarity of direction," Harrington concluded.

Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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