Sean Hogan, CRO at CodeScience interviewed Place CEO Brandon Metcalf for a webinar entitled: Journey Through the AppExchange: How Place Technology Created a New Category. Here are some of the highlights.
Place started to be incubated when you were founder and President of Talent Rover - can you share a bit of that story?
Talent Rover was an operating system for staffing and recruiting firms. We wanted to bring all the different silos of data and functionality that a staffing and recruiting firm has into one product built on Salesforce. I came out of staffing and recruiting and knew what it was like to work in both billion-dollar and small firms.
We started building the company in 2009, commercialized it in 2011, and we just had crazy growth. We went from selling to small firms to winning a deal with the largest staffing firm in the world, the Adecco Group. That was a massive win that catapulted us to success. In 2017, we were identified as the 9th fastest growing software business in the US by Inc 5000. The next year, we were pursued and acquired by our largest competitor Bullhorn.
How did that lead to the foundation of Place?
At Talent Rover, we raised $28 million from angel investors. To raise that kind of money you have to do two things pretty well. One, you have to execute - and we did that. Of course, we had terrible quarters and good quarters, but more good than bad.
But two, you also really have to understand your finances - you have to be able to forecast your finances. I looked for software for early-stage companies, there was nothing really available. In year 2 or 3, we ended up buying the leading provider and after 9 months of trying to implement it, we scrapped it. That led to me creating a whole series of spreadsheets to forecast. As I flew around the world, I would have to find time to put 30 hours a month into our forecasts - on top of the 100 hours that our accounting team was putting in.
After we sold to Bullhorn, I did a bit of consulting. All of the tech and services companies I was consulting for had this exact same pain point. They all wanted these financial models I had created. That set off a lightbulb moment: “Is there a need for software here and can we do for finance what we did for staffing and recruiting?” It was off to the races from there.
Can you tell us about your early product development journey?
The SaaS companies and service clients I was consulting with were asking me: “Is there software that could replace spreadsheets?” The easy way is just to make a solution that replaces spreadsheets and there is software that does that.
But when we started to conceptualize it, we started to think bigger. We asked, “why is it so difficult to create these forecasts in spreadsheets?” We realized that it had to do with the flow of data. How do you get data into the platform, connect all the dots, and streamline the process?
The next point was that one of my biggest frustrations at every company I have ever worked at: finance was living in this magical bubble separated from the rest of the business. Any time the business has a question about, say, the financial health of an account, they have to go to finance and wait for finance to get back to them - it’s a distracting process for everyone.
When finance creates the forecast, they are depending on information from the rest of the business. But they’re usually siloed from the rest of the business, so they have to make the best judgment. Often they get the real sales forecast from the CRO and the CFO may discount that - trust and validation are hard to come by.
So we realized that if we wanted to solve the finance problem with the flow of data, the biggest challenge is really alignment between the business and finance. As soon as those three things clicked we realized we had to build it on Salesforce.
With Place, you have created an Agile finance platform for the whole business - that’s a new category in Salesforce. How did being the lone entrant in a new category affect your initial launch?
We initially launched PlaceCPM as a forecasting and FP&A product, highlighting that it was built on Salesforce. But we found that the people who usually use conventional FP&A solutions are typically not in Salesforce.
Their only experience with Salesforce is not trusting the sales pipeline data because, in their eyes, it is not well-managed. They tend to discount what comes through the platform, they assume it is dirty data. Finance people are very meticulous, everything to the penny. Unreliable data doesn’t work in their world. So the initial response was: why in the world would you build a finance product on Salesforce? So that meant we needed to change how we were talking about it and why.
What adjustments did you make to your marketing strategy?
I reached out to my network and said “I need someone who understands the Salesforce ecosystem from a marketing standpoint.” We hired an interim CMO, who spent the last quarter of 2020 repositioning us. January 2021 we hired a marketing manager with a background in demand gen and since then we have been refining our message. We have figured out how to talk to the finance buyer better but we have also figured out we needed to communicate the value proposition to the C-suite, the sales team, and to the marketing leaders.
The forecasting piece is the fundamental center of the product but we have exposed all the things that our product does for the company. We explain that our biggest benefit is bringing true alignment between business and finance so that people can make better decisions, faster.
Instead of trying to be all things to all people, we concentrate on SaaS and professional services companies. We understand their pain points and we can add a lot of depth: integrated billing, workforce management, project rate cards. We can provide companies like this a greater degree of visibility into their financial performance.
Can you walk us through what this marketing evolution looks like?
We have come up with a new way of illustrating the value proposition. Most of the things on this image we have done since day one but we now talk about it differently. I was frustrated with not being able to articulate the whole value proposition to customers easily, so we drew some diagrams to show the flow of data from the revenue side. We started to see the reaction, people started to understand as much as we are a forecasting solution, we are a revenue operations solution as well.
It made us understand that solving the forecasting problem is a big deal - but RevOps is also a big deal. We needed to weigh up the different priorities of different businesses.
A number of our new customers have bought Place because of subscription management integrated billing, all of the RevOps stuff - plus the FP&A side. So if we were not able to articulate that, we might have lost those deals. Instead, people would have gone to find a non-platform-based solution and they would again be operating in silos.
How is the change in marketing strategy affecting your results?
We have seen some great results. When we repositioned, the rubber started to hit the road in a significant way. If you measure the first half of 2021 against the first half of 2020, our license revenue has increased by 600%.
But what really gets me excited on the execution and adjustment part of this is, the really significant number for us is that our inbound pipeline is up 650%. Prior to Q4, everything was outbound, a lot of that was because nobody knew who we were, there was no framework of reference, there is nothing else like us on Salesforce.
That is a big important number. As we start to articulate what the actual scope is of the product, what it really does, we are more able to charge an appropriate price. This go-to-market strategy has really changed the direction of the company.