SteelBrick Acquisition by Salesforce

SteelBrick is a provider of Quote-to-Cash applications to help sales professionals close deals faster. The company partnered with VSC to raise its visibility to drive new customers and maximize awareness heading into venture capital raising periods. While the sales tools sector market size is large at $31B, many of these companies live in the shadow of the 800 lb gorilla of Salesforce itself. Companies on the platform are mostly all relatively unknown and the media and blogger audience rarely covers companies beyond Salesforce itself.

 

The goal was to elevate the SteelBrick brand in a crowded sea of hundreds of enterprise apps and differentiate from industry leader, Apttus, which is a larger company with more capital, and a 9-year head start.

 

SteelBrick Communications Strategy

The main focus of the campaign was to position SteelBrick as a smarter, faster and fresher company than its main competitor, Apttus – a true David vs. Goliath story.

 

Tactics

We focused on five areas:

1. Rework messaging into ‘plain talk’ so the average business writer could understand it.

2. Position Steelbrick as the secret weapon of unicorns that grow fast because they close deals quickly.

3. Differentiate from rival, Apttus.

4. Tell executive management stories of aspiration via feature pieces and thought leadership blogging.

5. Separate from the pack of thousands of vendors at annual Dreamforce conference.

Execution

Plain-talk

We initiated campaigns around SteelBrick ushering in the consumerization of selling, making it easy for anyone to close deals while on the go. We articulated the pain of sales teams in getting deals done due to various iterations of procurement, invoices and product selection.

 

The Secret Weapon of Unicorns

Secondly we made the story about ‘meet the company that powers Unicorns,’ and highlighted fast-growth privately held companies that generated real revenue and grew quickly because Steelbrick was the ‘secret weapon for sales.’ Steelbrick powered leading unicorns such as Cloudera and Nutanix.

 

Differentiate from Apttus

The battle of mindshare between Apttus and Steelbrick became muddled in February 2015 when Salesforce Ventures funded both companies’ Series B Funding Rounds. While potentially problematic optically (at this point, Apttus had raised $41M vs SteelBrick’s $18M), we diffused the financing differential by underscoring that while Apttus was focused on large enterprises, Salesforce was equally interested in SteelBrick’s target SMB market, where demand was just as high and implementation times were substantially quicker.

 

As such, we were able to boast SteelBrick’s impressive 300% revenue growth in the first half of 2015. We generated 30 pieces of target media coverage on SteelBrick’s growth funding story, successfully differentiating our narrative from Apttus.

 

Executive management thought leadership

Personal stories for its experienced management team resonated with the media, including a major feature in Forbes and Business Insider. As stated in Business Insider, “What do you do when you see your first startup sell for over $400 million to a company like Oracle? Come back and run another startup in the same space. That’s what Godard Abel is doing with his startup Steelbrick, a company that offers quote-to-cash technology that makes it easier for salespeople to put together complex quotes and billings for potential customers.”

 

The formula of “experience + prior success” resulted in the placement of 4 thought leadership pieces in top trade publications on a variety of instructive themes, including, “What to Consider Before Developing on a Third-Party Platform” and “What McDonald’s Can Teach Us About Selling.”

 

Focusing on SteelBrick’s speed and cost benefits were clear differentiators for the business media, as Godard boasted in Fortune, “Our customers are able to go live in a month, without expensive services engagements.”

 

VSC secured awards for SteelBrick for Inc. 5000 and The Top 10 SaaS Startups in Chicago Tech, gaining additional awareness as someone to watch in the industry.

 

Standing out and up at Dreamforce

Both Apttus and SteelBrick were Titanium sponsors at Dreamforce. To take advantage of the event, VSC conceived and structured a partnership with award-winning nonprofit, Girls Who Code and developed a social media campaign to get Dreamforce attendees to scan their badges at SteelBrick’s booth.

 

For each scan, SteelBrick would donate $1 to the organization. The Girls Who Code social media campaign was a smash hit: tweets reached 50,000 people, SteelBrick quadrupled its badge scans from the prior year, and Girls Who Code received $20,000 to further develop its programs.

 

Results

In one year, the collaboration with SteelBrick and VSC helped establish a solid separation from Apttus. Apttus owned CPQ the year before our engagement, and all of the sudden we stole 30-40% of total mindshare up from zero and Steelbrick has now passed Apttus in coverage for 2016. That rapid market awareness helped the company grow and become an instant player. SteelBrick generated a 360% increase in media coverage with nearly 40 placements, 30% in Tier-1 publications.

 

Acquisition

On December 23, 2015, SteelBrick announced its acquisition by Salesforce (NYSE: CRM) for $360M, the 3rd largest acquisition for the CRM giant.

 

Even this news left a sour taste in the mouth of rival Apttus, which expressed its surprise at the deal in a recent TechCrunch article: Apttus CEO Kirk Krappe Chats Candidly About 2016 Exit. In the article, Apttus CEO Kirk Krappe said of Steelbrick’s acquisition, in a somewhat surprising tone, “there’s no reason they can’t buy us too.”

 

The article goes on to quote Brent Leary, managing partner at CRM Essentials, LLC who has been covering the CRM business for many years. “I think Apttus felt they had a ‘special’ status in the Salesforce ecosystem, and the SteelBrick acquisition signals that maybe it wasn’t as special as it once thought,” he said.

Find out more about SteelBrick here

Examples of results: