Lead generation is a critical cornerstone in the world of sales -- in a seemingly infinite sea of potential customers, you need to know who wants to buy, or who might buy, what you are selling so that you can focus your pitches (and your time and energy) in a more focused way. Today, a startup that's building tools for businesses to help with that lead generation specifically in B2B sales is announcing a big round of funding on the back of strong growth in the last year.
Qualified, a pipeline generation platform designed specifically for users of Salesforce, has raised $95 million in a Series C round of funding, money that it plans to use to continue building out its technology and expanding its overall business. The funding is being led by Sapphire (once the venture arm of another big CRM player, SAP, now independent), with major participation from Tiger Global and previous backers Norwest Venture Partners, Redpoint Ventures and Salesforce Ventures. (Salesforce led Qualified's Series B last year.)
Valuation is not being disclosed but for a reference point, PitchBook put it at $376 million last year, and it has likely grown to more than a simple valuation of $376+95 million, given Qualified's other growth: revenue for the San Francisco startup is up 400% year on year, and net customer retention is currently at 150%, CEO Kraig Swensrud told me in an interview. Customers include Autodesk, Fujitsu, GE Healthcare, GrubHub, HashiCorp, iHeartMedia, LaunchDarkly, Matterport, Netskope, OwnBackup, Poly, Recurly, Talend, Transplace and Vonage.
Swensrud's focus on Salesforce is both practical but also cultural. Not only is it the most popular CRM package in use these days, giving Qualified a very qualified audience of potential customers, so to speak, but both he and his co-founder Sean Whiteley used to work at the company -- respectively as CMO and a SVP -- and thus know both its potential but also its shortcomings in terms of functionality.
(Fittingly, Qualified now calls its platform the "Pipeline Cloud," a reference to the nomenclature that Salesforce uses for all of its own product lines.)
"We’re focused on Salesforce customers," Swensrud said. "That market alone is hundreds of thousands of B2B customers and allows us to speak their language. Our plans are not to work with other CRM providers. We’re solely and exclusively focused here."
The challenge and opportunity that Qualified has identified and is building to address is the fact that most B2B sales these days are initiated, if not completely carried out end to end, on digital platforms, anchored by a company's website. This has been a growing trend but was absolutely accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic, where many in-person meetings evaporated into thin air.
The problem with online is that you lose a lot of the human touch that is so essential to sales being initiated, developed and closed. The opportunity is that you actually, as a salesperson, have access to considerably more data about who is interested in a product -- so long as you can figure out how to tap that data.
This is where Qualified comes in: The company provides a series of tools that are incorporated into a site and other digital channels, as well as a dashboard for the sales person, to better understand more about those visiting their site, to determine more about them and to see how they might "qualify" as an interesting lead for them. Notably, these are not dissimilar to the kind of programmatic, anonymized tools that adtech or marketing tech people might use to measure audiences on the web, except that are here being applied to a more specific, B2B sales use case. They are able to see how a visitor came to a site, whether they are existing customers, and link them up with wider data in a company's Salesforce database.
"The, we take those and buyers that are ‘qualified’ so that you can have a conversation with them," Swensrud said.
The idea is that traditional digital tools -- such as filling out some details in order to read a white paper -- no longer cut it. They are not only tedious and annoying but are now becoming very outmoded, considering people's increasingly lowered tolerance for sharing personal or other identifiable information about themselves, and in future getting spammed (or worse) based on that.
Given how so much consumer engagement is measured across social media, apps and other channels, it's interesting to see how Qualified views the positioning of a website, which in a way becomes the digital proxy for a physical office, or a company HQ, or a physical event. It becomes the place where "meetings" are happening
“Qualified’s vision of transforming the website into a sales and marketing machine for companies by harnessing buyer intent data and providing an in-the-moment, personalized sales experience will transform how B2B companies approach their pipeline generation process,” said Rajeev Dham, a partner at Sapphire, in a statement. He's also joining Qualified’s board with this round.