AI has become a fundamental cornerstone of how tech companies are building tools for salespeople: they are useful for supercharging (and complementing) the abilities of talented humans, or helping them keep themselves significantly more organised; even if in some cases -- as with chatbots -- they are replacing them altogether. In the latest development, 6sense, one of the pioneers in using AI to boost the sales and marketing experience, is announcing a major round of funding that underscores the traction AI tools are seeing in the sales realm.
The startup has raised $125 million at a valuation of $2.1 billion, a Series D being led by D1 Capital Partners, with Sapphire Ventures, Tiger Global and previous backer Insight Partners also participating.
The company plans to use the funding to expand its platform and its predictive capabilities across a wider range of sources.
For some context, this is a huge jump for the company compared to its last fundraise: at the end of 2019, when it raised $40 million, it was valued at a mere $300 million, according to data from PitchBook.
But it's not a big surprise: at a time when a lot of companies are going through "digital transformation" and investing in better tools for their employees to work more efficiently remotely (especially important for sales people who might have previously worked together in physical teams), 6sense is on track for its fourth year of more than 100% growth, adding 100 new customers in the fourth quarter alone. It caters to small, medium, and large businesses, and some of its customers include Dell, Mediafly, Sage and SocialChorus.
The company's approach speaks to a classic problem that AI tools are often tasked with solving: the data that sales people need to use and keep up to date on customer accounts, and critically targets, lives in a number of different silos -- they can include CRM systems, or large databases outside of the company, or signals on social media.
While some tools are being built to handle all of that from the ground up, 6sense takes a different approach, providing a way of ingesting and utilizing all of it to get a complete picture of a company and the individuals a salesperson might want to target within it. It takes into account some of the harder nuts to crack in the market, such as how to track "anonymous buying behavior" to a more concrete customer name; how to prioritizes accounts according to those most likely to buy; and planning for multi-channel campaigns.
6sense has patented the technology it uses to achieve this and calls its approach building an "ID graph." (Which you can think of as the sales equivalent of the social graph of Facebook, or the knowledge graph that LinkedIn has aimed to build mapping skills and jobs globally.) The key with 6sense is that it is building a set of tools that not just sales people can use, but marketers too -- useful since the two sit much closer together at companies these days.
Jason Zintak, the company's CEO (who worked for many years as a salesperson himself, so gets the pain points very well), referred to the approach and concept behind 6sense as "revtech": aimed at organizations in the business whose work generates revenue for the company.
"Our AI is focused on signal, identifying companies that are in the market to buy something," said Zintak in an interview. "Once you have that you can sell to them."
That focus and traction with customers is one reason investors are interested.
“Customer conversations are a critical part of our due diligence process, and the feedback from 6sense customers is among the best we’ve heard,” said Dan Sundheim, founder and chief investment officer at D1 Capital Partners, in a statement. “Improving revenue results is a goal for every business, but it’s easier said than done. The way 6sense consistently creates value for customers made it clear that they deliver a unique, must-have solution for B2B revenue teams.”
Teddie Wardi at Insight highlights that AI and the predictive elements of 6sense's technology -- which have been a consistent part of the product since it was founded -- are what help it stand out.
"AI generally is a buzzword, but here it is a key part of the solution, the brand behind the platform," he said in an interview. "Instead of having massive funnels, 6sense switches the whole thing around. Catching the right person at the right time and in the right context make sales and marketing more effective. And the AI piece is what really powers it. It uses signals to construct the buyer journey and tell the sales person when it is the right time to engage."