SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Martin Heibel, Founder at Ciara

Martin Heibel, Founder of Ciara, an all-in-one digital and sales conversation assistant joins us in this SalesTechStar interview to talk about his experience in the SaaS and Sales segment while also discussing key takeaways from his experience as a two-time tech entrepreneur.


Welcome to the SalesTechStar Interview Series Martin, tell us a little about yourself!

My name is Martin Heibel, and I am an entrepreneur and sales-enthusiast at heart. I founded my first startup right after finishing up my Master’s program, managed an entrepreneurship center at a university here in Munich while completing my Ph.D, and in the last year, founded my current company, Ciara.

Long story short, I really am passionate about building companies and innovating. It’s something I’ve been doing my entire life, and will continue to do for as long as possible.

I currently live in Munich, Germany, and love to spend time with family in my free time!

Given your experience as a technology entrepreneur (and given the rise in the number of startups across tech segments today!) we’d love to know what are your top 5 learnings and top 5 points of caution you’d share with upcoming/new entrepreneurs?!

My Top 5 Learnings:

      • Strive for your big, long-term vision, and make sure to take care of operational excellence at the same time.
      • Be a servant leader and stay out of your best people’s way.
      • Any success is team success.
      • Seek regular advice from people you can learn from and draw your own conclusions from their perspectives. 
      • Talk to your customers! I cannot stress this point enough – if you spend a year building a product that no one wants by the time it’s ready, what’s the point?

My Top 5 Points of Caution:

      • Not every personality works together – and that’s okay. Try to find this out early on, especially with your co-founder.
      • One bad investor choice can ruin you. Do not take this decision lightly.
      • No startup breaks because of one mistake, it’s usually a set of topics that don’t work.
      • Founders should try to identify their own mistakes as early as possible and take a clear stance on how to move forward.  
      • Take advice with a grain of salt. Not every person knows your vision or product as well as you do.

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How did the idea/inspiration behind Ciara first come about?

At my first startup, I was in charge of building a sales team. Similarly, at my time working for a university, I encountered many startups and teams that had to build their own sales teams as well.

What I noticed from these experiences were that there was a large disconnect between how much effort and time sales leaders put into teaching and training their teams, and then how poorly they were at providing tools to make this knowledge readily available.

This had me thinking, why do we have so much assistance in our daily lives (think Alexa, Siri, navigation systems, etc.) and nothing at work when we need it, like during a sales call?

When I met my co-founder in 2018, Konstantin, he had the same experience in his prior startups. And that is how Ciara was created.

We found that there is a window of opportunity opening up for companies like us that provide personal assistants for professional conversations. For me, there is no doubt that such assistants have huge benefits and will change the way hundreds of millions of people do their jobs every day.

What are the top 3 ways in which you wish more technology sales teams would use digital assistants to drive their sales goals and efforts?

There are actually 3 ways in which I believe sales teams should use a digital assistant to drive their sales goals & efforts, and those categories are:

      • In-call guidance
        • A digital assistant increases a sales rep’s efficiency and confidence on the phone by providing them with the info they need exactly when they need it.
        • They also help on-board & train new sales reps. They are able to make calls shortly after arriving alongside a digital assistant, as it reminds them what to say if they don’t know the answer yet!
      • Capturing of data
        • A digital assistant can significantly decrease the number of admin tasks a rep has to do after a sales call. They are able to automatically push data back to their contacts in their CRM system without having to leave the assistant. 
        • Saving data in the same format every call also helps bring order to a typically chaotic task. Every sales rep takes notes differently, in a different format, or sometimes not at all, and with a digital assistant creating structure & automatically saving data, this issue disappears.
      • Automation of processes
        • Within a digital assistant, a sales rep is able to update fields, deals, and more right in the moment. This ability will be able to help the rep be able to score deals much faster, even the assistant could be able to for them.
        • In addition, with automated note taking, the rep is able to take notes by only using their voice. This turns a tedious task into an easy one.
    • Using a digital assistant in these three ways will help bring overall consistency to a sales team, which will help improve their performance. I think every team should be using one!
Given the dynamics and constant evolution in salestech/martech today, what according to you will the role of the future technology salesperson shape up to look like?

The technology-driven salesperson of the future will have a significantly reduced amount of administrative tasks, use software or products like Ciara to enhance and improve (not replace) their sales conversations, be highly skilled in virtual presentations, and be an extremely good communicator. 

I believe that this role will rely more and more on technology like a digital assistant to help them constantly improve these areas, like being a good communicator on the phone and completing admin tasks. When a salesperson has more time to focus on building relationships and doesn’t have to worry about so much background noise, this person will succeed and be the future of the salesperson role.

We’d love to dive into your thoughts on the evolving salestech landscape, what according to you will drive demand for specific tools and technologies for salespeople?

I think there are three drivers for demand of these kinds of tools and technologies for salespeople:

      • Augmentation → salespeople are wanting to continuously better themselves and stay ahead of their competition. One way to do this is to be the first to adopt new technologies that help them close more deals.
      • Productivity → people are always looking for ways to cut out or optimize boring tasks. Salespeople are no different! Note-taking, CRM updating, deal scoring, etc. are all areas that salespeople are looking for ways to make these tasks go faster while not sacrificing any quality.
      • Connectivity → the connectivity of existing tools will definitely be a driver in the adoption of new tools and technologies. It doesn’t cut it anymore to have all of these great tools if they do not work together and naturally integrate into a salesperson’s workflow. 
What are some of the common pain points you observe in technology sales and how would you advise sales teams optimize/overcome these challenges by optimizing use of their sales tech stack (and how).
        • On-boarding
          • On-boarding new sales reps is a huge pain point for technology sales teams. We found in a recent study at Ciara that it takes on average 3+ months to fully onboard 1 new team member. This is a significant amount of time considering that is the length of a whole quarter. 
          • One way to bring that length of time down is to first have a specific on-boarding plan when they start that’s not only for team on-boarding, but for sales tool on-boarding. Each tool should be explained and demonstrated within the first two weeks of their arrival. Then, with a digital assistant, let the new employee practice with the assistant helping them. It’s a quick and easy way to get them on the phone, by providing them with the knowledge on what to say, how to handle objections, and more. 
        • Consistent training
          • Typically a sales rep receives training when they begin in their sales job, and that’s about it. In the same survey, we found that 54% of salespeople suffer from a lack of training, yet 77% of them agree that training improves their performance. Why is it that salespeople want training, but rarely receive it?
          • One way to overcome this is to encourage individual training with their current tools and technologies. Ciara offers a Content Library – a collection of various talk tracks and playbooks from world-renowned sales trainers. Encouraging reps to try these new talk tracks and playbooks when they are stuck in a rut or having trouble connecting with prospects is one way to help consistently train them.
        • Knowledge sharing
          • Finally, the third pain point we uncovered in our study was that 1 in 2 stated that they find it difficult to find information they need while on a sales call. What is the sense in on-boarding & training your reps with this amazing information, but then they can’t access it when they need it? This was the exact problem I saw when coming up with the idea for Ciara.
          • You might guess what I will say next – use a digital assistant. By using one, you are able to equip all your reps with the knowledge of the team, the best reps, and standard practices that are proven to make sales. It’s a very simple way to solve a very complex issue. As soon as there is a new tactic that is working well within the team, all that is needed is a quick new playbook, share it with the team, and voila. Everyone is able to access this knowledge when they need it.

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Tag (mention/write about) the one person in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read!
            • Robert Frati (SVP at Slack)
            • Aaron Ross
            • Trish Bertuzzi and even
            • Jacco van der Kooij
Could you share your favorite Sales/SalesTech quote and also some of your favorite entrepreneurial / leadership/ sales books that have been a valuable read!
    • I don’t have many quotes off the top of my head, however, I have an endless list of books. Some of my top choices include:
      • “Blueprints” by Fernando Pizarro & Jacco van der Kooij
      • “Pitch Anything” by Oren Klaff
      • “The New Strategic Selling” by Robert B. Miller & Stephen E. Heiman
      • “The Psychology of Selling” by Brian Tracy
      • “The Sales Development Playbook” by Trish Bertuzzi
      • “Predictable Revenue” by Aaron Ross & Marylou Tyler
Tell us about some of the top sales/salestech/ other events that you’ll be participating in (as a speaker or guest!) in 2020!

The one event I am most excited about has to be Unleash by Outreach this April in San Diego, California.

Ciara is actually a sponsor of the event, and we will be there with a booth and would love to see you there!

We’d love to know a little about your future plans, especially future plans for Ciara!

Sure! I believe the next steps for Ciara are as follows:

Increase the number of successful customers embracing our digital conversation assistant. We just released our Ciara Pro version, which has a price tag on it, and we are working on stepping up the number of people who upgrade to it!

Get more partners for our Skill Store. This includes both more technical integration partners (like a CRM), and content partners (like the playbooks provided by professional sales trainers). We are always on the lookout for more of both and will definitely increase this search more in the coming months!

And last but not least, we are looking to hire top talent. We are a young company with about 10 employees right now, and are looking to bring many more people on board in the next year. Please reach out to me if this sounds like you! 

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ciara logo

Ciara is the leading digital conversation assistant that allows sales teams to communicate with prospects and customers more effectively while on the phone. Used by teams at leading insides-sales driven companies and high-growth startups, Ciara provides real-time conversation guidance to help sales professionals have better sales calls, and ultimately close more deals. Ciara enables sellers to have all-in-one conversations by bringing together their entire knowledge base and sales tech stack into one place.

Martin has been a technology entrepreneur since starting his career in 2004. First serving as the general manager at the LMU Entrepreneurship Center while earning his Ph.D. in entrepreneurship from Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München.

After immersing himself around entrepreneurs he founded IntraWorlds in 2008, a global provider of innovative cloud-based talent relationship and corporate alumni solutions. He served as managing director for nine years and was able to garner top US based customers such as KPMG, AT Kearney, Davis Polk, and PWC. He currently still serves on the IntraWorlds advisory board.

To continue on his entrepreneurial journey, he founded XPRENEURS, an incubator for high-tech startups at UnternehmerTUM, one of the largest centers for innovation and entrepreneurship in Europe, founded by Susanne Klatten. Most recently, he co-founded Ciara in 2019. Martin resides in Munich, Germany and spends his free time with his four children!