SalesTechStar Interview With Laxman Papineni, CEO at Outplay
Laxman Papineni, CEO at Outplay catches up with SalesTechStar to discuss the latest trends in B2B sales engagement with tips on how B2B sales teams can empower their sales processes using better insights:
Welcome to this SalesTechStar chat Laxman, tell us about your journey through the tech market and more about the Outplay platform: what inspired Outplay and since its inception, how has the journey been?
Two things inspired Outplay. The first, my own experience and expertise in sales and marketing. And the second, my start-up journey with two failed start-ups in its trail. Outplay is my third venture (third time’s the charm!). My first entrepreneurial foray began right out of college with my co-founder Ram. We set up a network of expert bloggers for enterprises and advertisers in search of their services. In the foreground, we had this sophisticated marketplace for enterprises. But behind the scenes, it was only me, Gmail, and Google Sheets trying to make the perfect match between blogger and enterprise. I could have really used a tool like Outplay at the time to take over all these repetitive manual tasks. But a tool like that simply didn’t exist then.
Over the course of time across my other start-up experience, I tried many tools that eventually emerged. And they were all great. But they were also lacking in some way and never fit the bill 100%. Some were clunky, a nightmare to onboard and adopt. Some didn’t offer the support we expected. Some were plain overpriced. And others were simply outdated because they were built at a time when sales meant something else. In the post-pandemic era, selling is more accelerated, personalized and digitized at the same time. Social selling and multi-channel approaches are non-negotiable, which is why Ram and I decided to bring our sales, marketing and entrepreneurial expertise to plug the gap between what existed and what we (and everyone else) needed.
Our customers and end-users have been the focal point of our journey from the time when Outplay was just an idea. We began with a customer development exercise where I spoke to over 200 sales leaders across the world to understand what they were using currently, what worked and didn’t, what they were missing and also their openness to try something new. These inputs formed every decision we took as we started building Outplay. I remember even showing these folks product wireframes to see what they thought. So many people from the initial days are still part of our journey, some as employees and some as customers.
It has been three amazing years since. We’ve acquired more than 600 customers and a $10 million funding from Sequoia Capital India. We have a fully-remote team with over 100 people from across India, And we are just getting started.
How are you seeing the sales engagement niche evolve today? In what ways are changing user needs redefining the sales engagement experience and demand for new features?
The development of the whole sales engagement space has been huge. The category that barely existed a decade ago is now a well-defined one with multiple players trying to empower salespeople today. Like I said previously, the post-pandemic era has really accelerated the sales process by years. Before it was just cold calls and emails. Today it’s all about meeting prospects on their favorite channel – SMS, WhatsApp, LinkedIn etc. Before it was spray and pray. Today, every sales decision and outreach is driven by customer data and sales intelligence. Before it was a lot of manual work that filled a sales rep’s day. Today it’s about automating and personalizing at scale.
One really important thing we’ve noticed and try to solve for is ease of use. There’s no point in using a tool that doesn’t make a sales rep’s job easier. Think about 5-7 years ago. The only tool available to a salesperson was a CRM, if that. Today a named sales rep uses anywhere between five to eight tools. They’re using a CRM, a sales engagement platform, conversational intelligence, a forecasting tool, and a prospecting or database tool. That’s a lot. What they actually need is for all these tools to integrate perfectly and give them a single pane of glass that lets them spend their day selling efficiently and successfully. Instead of just trying to find their way around each tool.
At the end of the day, no one wants to log into seven different dashboards. They want ONE dashboard with all the intelligence to help them book meetings and close deals.
So that’s going to be the key going forward. Sales reps can and will have to use a bunch of tools, but they need that ONE tool to bring it all together.
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Although B2B salespeople today have an array of sales technologies / sales engagement platforms from which to choose, to help drive goals, there is still a lot of dearth in how teams optimize these platforms or sync data for inter-team benefits and centralized coordination. What best practices/thoughts would you share here?
This is a very important question and we covered a bit of this in the previous one. So a sales rep has access to and needs a lot of different tools to help them hit those targets. The good thing is that these tools effectively give reps everything they need to sell better, faster. But that is only if they don’t have to spend forever on learning how to make the most of them first. So what we’re seeing now is a demand for a tool that gives reps an all-in-one view, and this is common to both SMBs and enterprises.
A decade ago, players like HubSpot created the niche for an all-in-one solution. The sales engagement space is asking for the same thing today – all-access without disruption to a reps day. That is, access to all the tools within a single dashboard. This can be either through integrations, or through built-in functionalities. If you take the example of Outplay, we offer a host of completely seamless bi-directional integrations with a whole marketplace of tools including CRMs and prospecting databases that’ll help our customers’ tech stack work as one. And in the next couple of weeks, we’ll also be launching our native prospecting database layer. Which means that reps will soon be able to prospect, engage, schedule meetings, record, analyze and search calls by keywords, and automate tasks – all without leaving Outplay. That’s trading in 3 different tools for one. Either way, through integrations or native functionality, reps need a single platform to do their jobs, save time and costs, and drive revenue.
If you had to change 5 things about the way B2B sales people approached sales engagement, what would they be?
Okay, so a lot of salespeople today still confuse CRMs with sales engagement platforms or think they are interchangeable. That’s not true. CRM is your system of record and sales engagement is your system of engagement. There is a huge difference between both platforms. If you’re using a CRM, that’s a good start. But a sales engagement platform can really drive up efficiency and revenue, and offer incredible RoI.
The second one is this. There are a lot of tools now that help reps automate and make it easy to execute an email blast to 1000 prospects in one go. But is that going to increase your conversion percentages or number of meetings? Not really. Personalization is integral to standing out and striking a chord. I would recommend all sales engagement platform users to find the balance.
A good way to do this is to always study your data. Which is my third point. It is important to track the right sales metric and go beyond the obvious to see what has and hasn’t worked. Things like click and open rates are no-brainers. But I recommend digging deeper to understand what channels prospects are most responsive on, what time of the day they are more active, what subject-line is really resonating, and so on.
Something that goes hand in hand with this is to understand what has worked and replicate it. I’m not sure if reps today take full advantage of what has worked for their colleagues. Templatizing what has worked and making it accessible to everyone – that’s a real game-changer.
And lastly, context. Having deeper context about your prospects, their pain point and their journey with you is essential. And this can only be possible when your sales engagement tool and your CRM integrate perfectly with each other. If you’re an organization that has been around for five years or more, chances are that your prospects or their peers have explored your solution already. So having the context of which rep in your organization’s history has reached out to which prospect in a particular account – that’s vital to have.
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A few thoughts on the impact of AI on salestech/sales engagement and the kind of platforms/features you feel will become more prominent over the years?
The potential and impact of AI in sales tech is huge. The biggest gift that AI can give reps is the gift of time, which reps can then use to personalize their connection with prospects. There’s a lot AI can do. It can be something simple yet powerful like letting reps know when your prospect is out of office, so that they can automate the timing of their outreach and personalize conversations around the subject.
There’s more. Every time a rep receives an objection, AI can identify it and arm your reps with responses that have worked for other reps in the organization. Along with stats!
We’ve spoken a lot about ease of use and access. One thing AI can do for reps is to centralize conversation across multiple channels (emails, messaging, calls etc.) and help them use that information to personalize and forecast outreaches.
Another cool thing we’ve one at Outplay is we’ve integrated it with a tool reps spend literally their whole day on – Slack. AI can do a bunch of cool things in this integration. Right from prospecting on slack to more. Based on a study of past data, AI can even suggest alternate contacts to go after in an account if a prospect isn’t responsive in an ongoing outreach sequence. Or even suggest the best time of the day to send an email. The possibilities are endless.
But at the end of the day, it’s important to remember one thing. Sales reps are the real superheroes. AI is the trusty side-kick that can enhance their superpowers, help them hit the targets and help you hit your revenue goals.
Outplay is a sales engagement platform that offers sales outreach, dialer, email open tracking, email click tracking, and many more features for sales teams.
Laxman Papineni is CEO at Outplay.
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