In October 2014, Salesforce’s Chief Customer Officer Jim Steele was busy walking around the halls of Moscone Center. He was at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference, where tens of thousands of customers gather to hear Salesforce’s latest pitches and schmooze.
Making quick stops here and there, Steele was about to leave when one booth immediately caught his attention. It had the biggest crowd around it.
Steele looked up at the logo: Insidesales.com.
It was a familiar name. He remembered some of his largest clients, like ADP, VMware, and Dell, saying great things about it. It was also a company Salesforce had invested in recently.
Soon, he set up a meeting with its CEO, Dave Elkington. He quickly reminded Steele of Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff: bold, smart, and not afraid of change. By then, Insidesales.com was on Benioff’s radar too, and Elkington was invited to Salesforce’s headquarters to do a presentation.
A week later, more than 50 top Salesforce executives showed up for the presentation. Elkington walked through his software, which analyses all kinds of sales data, including email and phone records to social media and things as menial as weather conditions or baseball scores. Its algorithm combines all this data to come up with a predictive sales strategy.
“Everybody was just blown away. It was like the holy grail of what sales organisations have been looking for,” Steele told Business Insider.
In fact, according to Steele, customers see an average of 30% sales increase within 90 days of using Insidesales.com. Companies like Microsoft, VMware, and Marketo already use it. He says Insidesales.com has been doubling in size over the past five years, during which it’s raised roughly $US143 million.
So when the chance to join Insidesales.com came, Steele knew it was going to be an exciting opportunity. “It’s exactly the same size of Salesforce as when I first joined it,” he says.
During his 12 years at Salesforce, Steele was responsible for really opening up the enterprise market. When he first joined the company in 2002, it had about 2,000 customers and $US25 million in sales. Now it has over 300,000 clients driving over $US 4 billion in sales. He was part of the team that signed Salesforce’s first thousand-user deal (a company called SunGard) back in 2003.
Steele is expected to do the same thing at Insidesales as president of worldwide sales and chief customer officer. “I’ve seen a lot of exciting companies over the years, but none of them were this compelling. I feel as excited as I was 12 and a half years ago when I first joined salesforce,” he says.
Before he made his move official, Steele had one last person to convince: Benioff. As much as he’s known for encouraging his employees to pursue new opportunities — just like he did after spending 13 years at Oracle and growing close to Larry Ellison — Benioff has also had friction with some of his former employees who left for a new startup.
Steele told Benioff, “Marc, you’re the one who taught me to embrace change, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here. This is no different than what you did in 1999, when you started Salesforce. I want to go take what I learned and do this all over again, with a young and exciting company.”
Benioff was disappointed, but eventually accepted the move. He even told Elkington, jokingly, “Don’t hire any more people from Salesforce.”
But with the way Insidesales.com has been growing, Steele might just be the first of many more to come.