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AI and automation have the potential to transform the sales industry. A 2020 Harvard Business Review report found that AI could create up to $2.6 trillion in sales and marketing, with the bulk of the value coming from improving alignment between sales and marketing and delivering data-driven coaching to salespeople.

But AI introduces its set of challenges. A recent Teradata survey found that 90% of businesses anticipate “significant barriers” to full AI sales adoption and integration, partly because AI systems can require costly data prep and infrastructure. But beyond the technical challenges, AI-powered marketing and sales tools can be perceived as “creepy” if not implemented thoughtfully and responsibly. For example, retail chain Target infamously used customer data to figure out a young customer was pregnant before she’d informed her family.

Entrepreneurs Ran Oelgiesser and Rotem Dafni sought to address the challenge of infusing sales with AI in RightBound, a platform designed to automate manual business-to-business (B2B) sales processes. RightBound does data collection and outreach on behalf of sales reps, involving them when prospective customers express interest.

After a year in which its customer base more than tripled to “several dozen,” RightBound today announced that it raised a $15.5 million extension to the series A that it closed in May 2021 — bringing the total series A to $27 million. Innovation Endeavors, Operator Collective, and IBI Tech Fund participated.

“We are planning to keep the fast growth of the business, and therefore we heavily invest in hiring to support that pace. In the last six months, we’ve doubled the number of employees to more than 50 employees, and we are planning to continue this momentum in 2022. The funds will be used mostly to support that growth in product, engineering, data science, as well as customer success, marketing, and sales,” Oelgiesser told VentureBeat via email. “We launched our product in mid-2020. Most of our growth came in 2021, with five times growth in annual recurring revenue. Our goal is to maintain high growth of three times in 2022.”

Automating sales

Founded in 2019, RightBound gathers insights on development efforts and makes recommendations to update sales playbooks. (In sales, “development” refers to identifying, connecting with and vetting prospective buyers.) The platform learns customer profiles by analyzing sources including a target company’s general information as well as employees’ email addresses, phone numbers and past roles. RightBound also orchestrates initial outreach on behalf of sales teams with a blend of emails, surveys, follow-ups, gift cards, social outreach and targeted ads.

Oelgiesser previously cofounded Kidaro, a desktop virtualization app acquired by Microsoft in 2008 for $100 million. He later became senior product manager at Microsoft, in charge of overseeing the business integration of Kidaro and helping to define the go-to-market strategy for Windows 8 Enterprise Edition. Dafni also served in various engineering roles prior to cofounding RightBound, including at Juniper Networks and VMware’s networking and protocols R&D division.

“RightBound eliminates the need for [sales reps] to manually search for prospects. Because the platform is connected to dozens of data sources providing visibility into all relevant company and persona data, prospect behavior, and sales activity, it constantly sources relevant prospects, segmenting and adding them to the sales funnel and [customer relationship management platforms] once they have been verified and enriched with details,” Oelgiesser said. “Using AI and machine learning, RightBound customizes the communication track of each prospect, factoring in channel, content, timing, and frequency to set the path most likely to engage them. These elements are hugely beneficial to sales development teams and reps in terms of being able to do their jobs more efficiently and effectively, and not get bogged down in preliminary research on prospects.”

Expansion in AI sales

RightBound is one of a growing number of startups — others include Atrium, Gong, Dooly, People.ai and Orum — applying AI to sales processes like enablement, outreach and analysis. Proton.ai is developing AI-powered technologies to support sales operations teams, while Highspot is leveraging AI to promote sales enablement playbook and workflows. There’s also startups like Second Nature, which offer AI-driven coaching to salespeople and sales teams.

The growth and investments reflect the broader upward trend of funding in AI startups. In 2020, venture capitalists poured over $75 billion in companies developing AI products — much of which went toward business process and support service products that stand to benefit from pandemic-spurred digital transformations.

“One challenge that we see with sales across organizations today is that the teams of sales development reps are at velocity growth and implementing many software-as-a-service tools simultaneously. Additionally, [software development] reps and salespersons usually have very short tenures in their roles — factor this in with the recent ‘Great Resignation’ happening and it could mean churn in the sales department is greater than ever before,” Oelgiesser continued. “As sales teams adjusted to the new reality of selling during a pandemic they needed a different, more efficient approach in order to break through and sell effectively. Our solution became not only relevant but extremely valuable to sales organizations over the past two years.”

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