A B2B company talking about acquiring millions of customers is on the unbelievable end of the credibility spectrum.
Normally, that’s in the consumer space where big numbers gather to pay small amounts which on aggregate add up to large revenues.
The San Francisco-based advertising company AdRoll is going after millions of customers in three tiers: those who help themselves, those serviced by an inside sales team and those who need an enterprise sales team.
The man creating and running what they call the sales hacking culture at AdRoll is Suresh Khanna, a Silicon Valley baby, who is chief revenue officer.
He was born in the Bay Area, went to Stanford, was an investment banker, did an MBA at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, and worked at a number of blue chip companies, including Siebel, SAP and Google.
“I tutored under Sheryl Sandberg (now chief operating officer at Facebook) for a number of years at Google and learned a lot about leadership by just being under her shadow and watching her do what she did.”
He stayed at Google about six years and was running North America new advertising sales, bringing business to the Google platform.
He finally felt it was time to move. “I came across the AdRoll founders. We had some friends in common, and instantly hit it off with them,” he says.
In AdRoll he found a technical genius CEO in Aaron Bell, and an evangelist Don Draper (from Mad Men)-style president in Adam Berke who steals the show on stage. And then there’s Peter Krivkovich, the chief financial officer and chief operations officer, a hard case business school type, totally numbers driven.
“I’ve been here two years and we’ve grown quickly,” he says.
“We had 40 people and now we’re approaching about 400. We’re on about a $150 million run rate. We are the fastest growing advertising company in America.
“But the one I’m most proud of is that we’re the best place to work in San Francisco.
“We’re talking about extremely fast growth and it can be hard to keep the train on the tracks when you’re growing so quickly and you’re extremely ambitious and very fortunate to be a values-driven organisation, very transparent and people love working here.”
Suresh sees the market opportunity as vast. If you have a website and a goal, you are AdRoll’s target market. That’s millions of businesses.
And how do you build a business machine which goes out and attacks that market in a profitable way?
It’s all about retargeting, or recapturing potential customers. That works on the fact that 98% of people who visit a website leave that website without converting, without transacting or doing what the website wants.
“Lots of marketing dollars are spent trying to get people to be aware of your brand and visit your site, and even the ones who do convert you might want to have some re-engagement,” Suresh says.
He’s developed different tactics for different markets.
“We largely started at the lower end of the market, to solve problems for the small and medium businesses, because there are less people going after that market because it’s harder.
“It takes a tremendous investment in R (research) and D (development) and automation to be able a run a $500 a month campaign for a small site and do that profitably.
“So now we look after those spending $300 a month to those with $300,000 month.”
The sales hacking culture is about working smart.
“If you have a basket of 100 leads, who should you call first and in fact you should call them within five minutes because the close rates are higher the faster you call them.
“And there’s a whole science to how you optimise that engine to win as many deals as possible.”
AdRoll partners with a small start-up called Infer which creates competitive intelligence on the run, by gathering internal and external information about a company and rating the chances of successfully turning them into a customer.
Infer sits on top of a contact management system such as Salesforce.com.
It tells a sales executive which lead he has the best chance of converting to a customer. This increases the hit rate and reduces the amount of downtime when new customers aren’t being added.
“They can take any lead you have and it has information about that company, how many employees, where it’s headquartered, and combined with all the internal data,” he says.
“It uses all that information to spit out a score and it says this lead has 85 out of 100 which means it has a pretty good lead and has a high likelihood of it closing.”
Infer says it gets sales signals from three sources: crawling the web, purchasing data, and inferring signals from raw data sources.
“The last of these is the most subtle, and it’s our equivalent of Google’s secret sauce for web search,” says marketing head Jamie Grenney, a former Salesforce.com executive.
“We track thousands of signals and we use machine learning to narrow it down to those that are statically significant, for that customer.
“Every company needs a personalised model to yield the most accurate predictions. A typical model will start with a couple thousand signals and narrow it down to a couple hundred that really matter.”
A lot of actionable information can be found in publicly available data such as revenue, employee count, industry.
Infer also looks at how many online sources are talking about the company. Do they have a Facebook profile or Twitter handle? These signals say how legitimate/mature the company is.
More can be found out by checking whether and how a company appears in various lists, from Fortune 500 to Crunchbase.
Infer puts it all together and creates a scale for the sales executive to act on. A lead with a high score gets immediate attention.
It’s given AdRoll an edge.
Suresh gives his sales team the best tools he can find. He hires smart, collaborative, humble, ambitious sales people. And he invests in training.
“And a sales hacker culture is an investment by me. We want to hire ambitious people who have a sense of urgency and want to work hard but we want to arm them with as many tools and technologies to make them as efficient as possible.
“Sales hacker culture is something we talk about internally. It’s a mindset around being smarter about selling.
“If in ten years time, there are a whole bunch of companies launched out of AdRoll, nothing would make me more happy.
Because we’ve invested so much in training we’re able to hire the best and brightest people.”
AdRoll just announced round of funding, $70 million from existing investors. This brings the total raised to $89 million.
“We’re hiring everywhere in every office for every team,” he says. “We have about ten people in Sydney and we’ll more than double in the next nine months.”