The Twists & Turns Along the Way to Building a Unicorn with SalesLoft’s CEO Kyle Porter

After a newly minted $1.1B valuation, Kyle Porter, CEO @ SalesLoft, sat down with SaaStr CEO and Founder, Jason Lemkin to talk about the twists and turns along the way to building SalesLoft into the Unicorn it is today.

From completely pivoting the product early on, to becoming an essential software tool for inside sales reps — here’s a look into how SalesLoft landed some of the Cloud giants like Shopify, Google, and Slack as its customers, and what it takes to build a Unicorn company in today’s changing market.

 

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Jason’s Top 5 Learnings:

  • Kyle sat with 30+ prospects and customers in the early days, literally next to them.  Many of the early competitors really didn’t understand the needs of SDRs and sales teams enough.  Do you do enough of this?
  • Salesloft sees platforms that do most of what 1 customer wants, in 1 core vendor, as the future.  We’re seeing more and more of this.  But also, more innovation.  If nothing else, it raises the bar to break out for new niche vendors.  We’re also seeing this with Hubspot, Datadog, Salesforce, and more.
  • Sticking with SMBs, even as they go more enterprise.  Kyle noted this is a top board-level discussion, with enterprise customers worth 100x or more than SMBs.  But Salesloft wants to keep to its roots as well and retain SMB customers.
  • Gross revenue retention just as important as net revenue retention (NRR).  This was an interesting learning for me.  As Salesloft starts to think about an IPO, there is more and more focus on gross revenue retention, i.e. before upsells and upgrades.  This north star metric keeps you from pushing the existing base for growth over finding new accounts, which is harder.  Kyle wants at least a 50/50 mix today … 50% or more of growth from new logos, not the existing base.
  • Fundraising was easier over Zoom — but he picked a unicorn investor he’d already met in IRL.  Yes, fundraising is so much faster and easier over Zoom in many cases than meetings IRL.  But Kyle’s latest investor was still someone he’d met IRL.

— Jason Lemkin

 

Tough Decisions Early: Consider the Long-Term

In the early days of SalesLoft, its original product offering was a substantial success. The company used to leverage data from social media to offer marketing and sales contacts for companies and was bringing in $7.5 million in revenue.

During this time, the team had built Cadence, which would eventually become the core SalesLoft product. Cadence helps sales teams execute lead nurture and sales strategies through multi-touch channels and automation. Kyle made the tough decision to drop its then-leading product line to turn all the focus to Cadence.

So, why would SalesLoft take the chance on the new product and ditch the one that had already made millions for the company? Kyle emphasized that Cadence would ultimately make a more significant impact in sales and marketing. Additionally, Kyle observed that Cadence would turn out to be much more useful for his customer base. These conclusions turned out to be the right ones, and Cadence would go on to be the foundation for SalesLoft’s massive growth.

Always Stick to Your Mission Statement

Kyle shared that even as SalesLoft scaled and evolved, the one thing that has remained consistent is his vision –– sincerity in sales. SalesLoft wants to overturn the stereotype of the negative sales experience and create sellers who are loved by the buyers they serve.

To do that, SDRs need tools that help them connect with the right leads in meaningful ways. That goal continues to drive SalesLoft company decisions. 

Get to Know Your Customer Base

In the early days of SalesLoft at their Atlanta-based start-up incubator, the team would watch how sales reps used their product and gather feedback from them. These observations helped them develop the most comprehensive sales enablement app on the market and attract a wide range of customers, from SMBs to enterprise-level giants, like Google and LinkedIn. 

But this practice did not stop after the incubator. The SalesLoft team still observes their customers and gathers feedback about the app to make sure they are addressing all their customer’s needs. This builds loyalty in their current base, attracts new business, and keeps their product valuable.

Think About the Future Tech Landscape 

What does the future of sales look like, and how will SalesLoft plan for what lies ahead? Kyle believes in focusing on the digital sales application and using data in smarter ways to solve problems. As far as the general future of sales AI and automation, Kyle believes that improvements must still be made in their messaging and targeting precision. But he does not believe in replacing humans with software. Instead, he argues that AI should enhance the human-to-human sales experience. Think Tony Stark rather than the Terminator.

For new SaaS start-up hopefuls eager to break out in an already saturated space, Kyle suggests focusing on the value they offer above all else. “The companies who care the most about the problem they are solving are going to win.”

Key Takeaways
  • Think long-term and don’t get complacent. Focus your attention on the products that will offer your customer base the most value.
  • Always stay true to your vision. Every decision should be based on that.
  • Keep an open dialogue with your customers for the lifetime of the business. If you don’t understand them, you won’t offer the most value.

And take a fun look back at the early days with Jason, Kyle, Brendon Cassidy, and more on building your first SDR team:

Published on January 29, 2021

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