The Number One Takeaway from Dreamforce

October 18, 2016 Jeremy Boudinet

By now you have probably recovered from Dreamforce. Like you, I’ve spent the past week or so frantically deleting cold emails and letting breathless SDRs down as kindly as possible, while trying to utilize the momentum from the face-time we had with prospects at the “conference-to-end-all-software-conferences”.

I wanted to share the singular, overarching insight that our team at Ambition took away from this year’s conference and have been discussing recently. And it’s a counterintuitive victory by the most expansive, expensive and emergent SaaS products in their respective markets.  

To wit, we bring you 4 case studies, each backed by both industry data and the anecdotal evidence we gathered during countless Dreamforce conversations and Ops-Stars presentations. Across the board, the SaaS products with the most rapidly evolving and broadest reaching product functionality are beating out their niche competitors. Here’s how and why.
 

Word-Of-Mouth: The Market Oracle At Dreamforce 2016

Once you strip away the (gasp) million dollar marketing budgets, pay-to-play speaking slots, and over-caffeinated reps zealously pitching their wares, what’s left from Dreamforce is what matters most: what are thousands of Salesforce users actually talking about and what SaaS products do they believe they need to invest?

These conversations, ironically given the location, are what deliver the most trustworthy insights into the value and validity of a particular product. And from those conversations (plus a little help from G2Crowd), here are our insights regarding the up-and-coming, high-growth companies across four different market segments.
 

Group 1 - Lead Scoring For Top Of Funnel

If you scan the industry, there are a couple of high-growth marketing software platforms who are winning right now: HubSpot and Engagio.

These tools had the highest “net promoter scores” (with Marketo not far behind) based on client evangelism we heard during Dreamforce week. And they all share one thing in common: Massive use case potential and total ownership over entire factions of the inbound marketing process.

A quick glimpse at each product demonstrates the engineering prowess and focus on utility in each. In terms of marketing automation, HubSpot (and to a slightly lesser degree, Marketo) earned rave reviews in every 1:1 conversation and event presentation in which an Ambition team member took part. We were amazed at both the broad spectrum of users (ranging from pure SMB to Fortune 500 enterprise) and the consistent focus of user praise (product versatility, constant feature additions, overall bang-for-the-buck).

The same went for our account-based marketing platforms of note, where LeadGenius and Engagio were consistently cited as go-to products based on total functionality and dependability of their software. The users we talked to consistently referenced how LeadGenius and Engagio went “above and beyond” a niche use case and - despite being the most expensive options - were worth every penny.

Interestingly, when I asked LeadGenius’s sales leadership what the best software in their sales stack was, they listed three: Datanyze, Outreach (both of whom we’ll get to in a minute) and their own product. Equally telling: The marketing automation tools that earned 90% of the praise we heard at Dreamforce rank 1st and 3rd in G2Crowd’s Marketing Automation matrix.
 

Group 2 - Prospect Intelligence

The industry consensus around the sales intelligence market offers the most compelling support for this article. As with the other products mentioned, the common points of praise bestowed upon Dreamforce’s most heavily evangelized sales intelligence were twofold: Robust engineering and massive product utility.

To wit: at Ops-Stars, a sales and marketing operations event running concurrent to Dreamforce, we spoke to hundreds of operations leaders - and it seemed like every other one we talked to was using Datanyze. Mind you, this was at an event sponsored by one of their top competitors, who were praised in plenty of featured presentations over the course of the event, but, unlike Datanyze and DiscoverOrg, almost never mentioned during an organic conversation with an event attendee. Pre-arranged plug versus organic evangelism: Which do you think our team took more stock in?

Also worth nothing: The price points of Datanyze and DiscoverOrg trend towards the higher end of their industry spectrum. If that has impeded their growth and customer satisfaction levels in any way whatsoever, there was no sign of it in San Francisco. High price point was, in fact, a common point of discussion in the user praise we heard throughout the week. If we could sum up the general consensus in a single phrase, it would be: “Pricey but worth it.” G2Crowd’s Lead Intelligence and Sales Intelligence industry matrices back up the anecdotal evidence we gathered at the conference.
 

Group 3 - Sales Acceleration And Rep Management

In the broad category of rep management, there was one name on the lips of just about every sales ops leader we talked to: Outreach. The love affair their users seemed to have with the product was astounding - and of all the products covered in this article - proved most resounding. Everyone seemed to be using these guys. And to a person, they freaking love them to a degree rarely seen.

In a telling conversation we had with one high-level sales leader at a growing SaaS company, he copped to a fascination with the rapid rollout of new features the company has delivered. “I actually went back through their product release updates on their blog and did some calculations,” he admitted. “They’re releasing something like 4.8 new features/product updates each month, which is insane.”

That genuine, word-of-mouth product evangelism is the ultimate competitive edge. Organic client referrals beat paid advertising in 100% of prospect eyes, 7 days a week. At the end of the day, it’s client evangelism - be it in-person or via a digital review platform like G2Crowd - that wins the day. 

The overarching point: Outreach, Ambition, and an LMS product I heard evangelized organically multiple times, LearnCore, all adhere to the same mantras of success: Robust engineering, broad/powerful product utility, and excellent product experience for admin and everyday users. Those were the prevailing points of differentiation in product evangelism - discussed over and over again last week, ad nauseam.
 

Group 4 - Internal & Customer Communications

The final space where we heard insurgent SaaS products evangelized with frequency was in customer support and business communications. Pre-eminent among these products were Intercom and Slack.

The former product, Intercom, is a high-growth customer analytics and communications platform that we adopted roughly 6 months back. As we quickly learned at Dreamforce, we were far from alone in our transition to - and satisfaction with - one of the newest, priciest additions to the customer support space. Slack is - well, it’s Slack. Everyone uses it. Everyone loves it. The user evangelism backs up the hype and then some. We left the conference convinced that they could go without spending a single future dollar on advertising and still become a multi-billion dollar company, based on word-of-mouth alone. And if you need further proof, just take a look at G2Crowd’s Team Collaboration Matrix - where Slack’s customer satisfaction score is so high, it verges on pushing it off the grid entirely

These two products, along with SMB-oriented CRM and client communications platform, InfusionSoft, stood out at the conference thanks to the anecdotal “net promoter score” we personally witnessed. In the latter case, InfusionSoft is noteworthy since it was numerously referenced as an excellent precedent to Salesforce - the company hosting the conference, mind you - for SMBs not yet ready to adopt an enterprise-level CRM.

As with Datanyze at its competitor’s event - if you want a sure sign that a product is good, go to an event that’s hosted by one of their competitors and see how many times an attendee begins discreetly evangelizing it to you.
 

The Big Takeaway

In 2016, users aren’t evangelizing SaaS products that do one or two things particularly well and then suck at the remaining functions they profess to offer.  Niche products don’t get organic word-of-mouth referrals or unprompted evangelism at events like Dreamforce. Hype-driven industry incumbents don’t get word of mouth.

Dreamforce week, after all, is only so long. Conversation time is precious. The peer-to-peer discussions we took part in carried that underlying sensibility. Therefore, the subjects of discussion fixated on the standouts in the sales, marketing and customer success stack. To get brought up, you either had to be notably exceptional or infamously bad. No one has time to discuss mediocrity.

So perhaps that why the standout products that seemed to make the biggest impression on conference attendees were - by and large - the biggest, most expensive, and most ambitious parts of their sales stack (and yes, there was a pun in there). To the Sales and Marketing Ops Leaders we met, their most valuable tools weren’t the low-cost, high-value tools fixing their niche problems. They were the mega-tools replacing 3 or 4 of those lower-cost tools in one fell swoop.

Taken into account with industry data from sites like G2Crowd, the anecdotal evidence tells a story that corresponds with our biggest Dreamforce take-away, both as a SaaS service provider and a consumer: It’s best to build - and buy - the product with maximal utility, engineering quality and word-of-mouth user evangelism.  If you’re not doing that here at the end of 2016, now is the time to start. It sure seems worth the cost.

About the Author

Jeremy Boudinet

Jeremy Boudinet is the Director of Marketing at Ambition, a software platform that drives sales, customer service and account management teams.

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