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Sales tech’s race to re-bundle Salesforce (aka consolidation)

by Brendan Short
Monday, June 5, 2023

For the last ~10 years, sales tech companies have unbundled parts of the Salesforce suite of products. The next decade, companies will re-bundle these products to try and build a world-class "all-in-one" or "end-to-end" solution (a "compound startup," as Parker Conrad calls it).

All of business is either bundling or unbundling.
-Jim Barksdale

Salesforce went public in 2004 at roughly a $1B valuation, eventually growing to over a $200B valuation. Over the last decade, companies have been unbundling parts of Salesforce and entire unicorns have been built on one single component of the Salesforce suite of products (we’ll explore several examples later in this article).

In the last few years, there have been several companies who are now trying to re-bundle the components of Salesforce (and some new components) to create an end-to-end suite for go-to-market teams—and ultimately, dethrone the CRM King, the man with the tallest building in the skyline of San Francisco: Sir Benioff.

We’re living in a world of abundance, and that is better for GTM teams, and for buyers of software. So, I predict there will be a few winners in the race to build the end-to-end solution, including a couple of up-and-comer companies that started off as simple point solutions (or, small pieces, unbundled from Salesforce) and are now growing to add more product lines to their offerings.

The last decade was about finding solutions to unbundle from Salesforce. The next decade will be about finding solutions to re-bundle to challenge Salesforce.

Today’s GTM Team Tech Stack

There are three ways to build a modern GTM tech stack:

→ Option #1: All-in-one solution

→ Option #2: Best-in-class point solutions

Today you have to weigh the pros and cons and choose between these two options.

But I believe there with be a third option that emerges by the end of this decade — I’ll call it Emerging Solution in this blog.

→ Option #3: Emerging solution


→ Option #1: All-in-one solution

Salesforce (the OG)

The classic example of this was Salesforce.

When Salesforce went public, they popularized the CRM category and invented the SaaS model. They’re often referred to as “the carpet” of a business — the first thing to be put into an office, the last thing to be taken out. That’s because they have had the most important components to running a business. This included data (, customer database (their core product), reporting (natively, now Tableau), marketing automation (natively, now Pardot), internal communication (Chatter, then Quip, now Slack).

These building blocks are the fundamental components of software that are required for basically every “job to be done” within a company that wants to use software internally, as leverage to grow their business as fast and scalably as possible, AKA building a modern GTM engine.

Salesforce grew, by in-large, via acquisitions (over 100 deals done now!) to upgrade their native solutions. And, as new categories have emerged, they have scooped up a category leader, to improve their end-to-end offering. Their strategy, similar to that of Microsoft’s, is to then bundle these tools together and/or upsell customers over time on other products.

However, it seems either Salesforce fell asleep at the wheel the last few years. Or (what I suspect), they are watching the space evolve and will place some big bets to make in the space (acquisitions like Tableau, Mulesoft, Slack, and Pardot are good leading indicators — all of which were $1B+ — so they’re not looking for small fish to fry).

They don’t have any real competing products for large new categories in the GTM space, such as Sales Engagement and Revenue Intelligence.

And Salesforce recently shut down their M&A Team… so the race is on for other companies to try to dethrone the CRM King.

HubSpot (the CRM challenger)

Currently, the biggest direct competitor to Salesforce is HubSpot.

They’re making a real run at Salesforce. It is pretty wild to hear people say “I love my CRM.” I’ve heard this many times lately with HubSpot. (The best you’ll hear with Salesforce is “it’s a necessary evil”.) HubSpot notoriously started in the SMB market, and have slowly made their way into the Mid-market and even Enterprise.

But they have to keep up with fast pace of innovation that modern GTM Teams are requiring, if they want to have a real shot at not only taking out Salesforce, while also competing with the up-and-comers…

Zoominfo (the incumbent GTM Suite)

Zoominfo has been quickly capturing market and gobbling up parts of the revenue stack. Henry Schuck didn’t run the VC playbook, but instead took debt, made acquisitions, and was profitable from the early days. They’ve built an incredible revenue-generating machine. And they went puplic in April of 2021. Nice timing by the way, oof. Just barely got in there before the SaaS crash.

Last year they announced SalesOS (a Sales Engagement Platform, competing with the likes of Outreach, SalesLoft, etc.). And the acquisition of Chorus (a Revenue Intelligence Platform, competing directly with Gong and others) was obviously very strategic as well.

Oh, and their core business is data, which, as we all know, “data is the new oil.” Leveraging that data intelligently for automation will be the next step to ensure the data itself does not become commoditized. We’ll come back to this point.

Apollo (the GTM Suite challenger)

Apollo is also making a run at being the go-to solution for modern GTM Teams. Last year they got a fat round of funding from Sequoia, at a $900M valuation, tripling their revenue in 2021, riding the PLG wave.

It’s been interesting to see them layer on more SKUs over time, completely building in-house, which has enabled seamless workflows across their different products. And they’re starting to eat into Zoominfo’s mid-market market share.

Private Equity (the wild card)

Pipedrive (CRM) + SalesLoft (Sales Engagement) + Drift (Conversational Marketing) + Gainsight (Customer Success) makes for a pretty damn good all-in-one solution.

It doesn’t take a genius to consider that Vista PE firm is making a play at owning the all-in-one category. They’ve paid over $1B for every one of these companies. It’s a classic roll-up play. Or at least creating obvious cross-sell plays between their companies.

The alternative is that they’re planning to flip them for a nice 2-3x in a few years, just like they did with Marketo to Adobe - in 2018 (Vista's sale of Marketo to Adobe was named Deal of the Year)

Earlier this year, CB Insights published a terrific article on the topic: Is Vista Equity Unbundling Salesforce?

→ Option #2: Best-in-class Point Solutions

You’ve probably seen this image before (this was the first version). It shows the unbundling of Craiglist:

Well, over the past decade, there has been a similar unbundling, but of Salesforce. Check out the products Salesforce offers (from an earnings call slide) and the players in each space:

Data has been the fastest-growing product area for Salesforce the last couple of quarters.

This is where the modern sales stack is emerging.

What is required for a world-class tech stack for a high-growth enterprise sales team? Ask this question to 100 people, and they’ll all give you a very similar answer. It’ll look something like this:

  • CRM - Salesforce if you’re big, HubSpot if you’re not there yet
  • Sales Engagement (sequencer) - Outreach and SalesLoft own ~80% of the market, with a couple starting to gain traction, and then a big long-tail of smaller players
  • B2B Database - Zoominfo is king here, coupled with LinkedIn (Sales Navigator). Then there are other players, with lots of recent financings) LeadIQ, Cognism, Apollo, others
  • Revenue Intelligence (call recording) - Gong, Chorus (now owned by Zoominfo), Fathom.
  • Forecasting - Clari, Atrium, InsightSquared
  • CPQ - QuotePath, etc.
  • Others:
    • Mutual Action Plan, Video Conference, Chat, Email, e-signature, dialer, swag sending, video, lead routing, data warehouse, among others.

There are entire companies that are being built just to make the UI/UX of Salesforce more usable — namely, Dooly and Scratchpad. Note: I think this is their wedge and they’re building more, but time will tell.

Outreach vs. Gong vs. Clari

The three biggest breakout successes over the last several years are Outreach, Gong and Clari. All three are private, multi-billion dollar (in valuation) companies attacking the GTM tech space. They started in very different spaces, but have slowly started to overlap. And I think that will continue to happen as they both eye the spot for being the go-to solution for modern GTM Teams.

Both Outreach and Gong have lost their biggest competitors (SalesLoft and Chorus, respectively) to private equity acquisitions. My understanding is they both hope to go public, presumably once the markets settle down a bit more. But both of them will have to expand beyond their current lanes if they’re going to 10x in value from here. And you’re already seeing this happen with the expansion of their product lines—eg: Outreach acquiring Canopy (intelligence) and Sameplan (mutual action plans). This is only the beginning.

By 2026, there will be nearly 100% overlap in products (SKUs) between Outreach, Gong, Clari, Zoominfo and Apollo. Oh, and there will be others too...

→ Option #3: Emerging solutions

Today you have to choose between the “all-in-one” or the “best-in-class point solutions.” But I believe there with be a third option that emerges by the end of this decade.

The reality is, if you’re a serious B2B SaaS company, you have dozens of tools in your tech stack. Fast-growing companies like Airtable, Figma, Loom, etc. are not buying inferior all-in-one solutions. Instead, they’re buying best-in-class point solutions, and patching them together in different ways. There is just too much value to extract from these point-solutions. And in the current market, GTM teams need every advantage they can get to beat the competition, and get to their next milestones as quickly and efficiently as possible — and innovative technology unlocks this for them. Consolidation is en vogue in the current economy (in 2023) but it isn’t giving companies the leverage they need to go on the offense.

Companies just getting started usually opt for all-in-solution, for ease of use, cost and lesser complexity, until they start feeling the pain.

The bet is if the all-in-one (aka “bundled”) solutions can improve to the point where companies don’t have to upgrade to the best point-solutions as their sales teams mature.

The future

My bet is on generative ai, and models that get better over time. Here’s why.

B2C software has benefited greatly from technology—Youtube, Netflix, Spotify get better the more you use them… not worse, like B2B software.

The two competing forces: “bundled” versus “unbundled” are both strong, in different ways. They are both well capitalized, with tons of talented folks working on their sides. With that said, it’s hard not to side with innovation. And the reality is, because there is so much room for innovation on the “unbundled” side, that if I had to choose one, that’s the one I’d bet on. (No offense to my “bundled” friends!)

And the real wild card here is generative AI, which will flip product-building on its head. But that’s a subject that requires a post in it of itself.

Where Groundswell fits in

We went “invisible” earlier this year, because there are too many tools that seller’s work out of on a daily basis. We believe that we can push data into the tools they’re already working from and, more importantly, just do certain jobs for reps, autonomously, in the background (while always keeping a human-in-the-loop).

We officially launched AI Copilot for Prospecting a couple of months ago and we’ve onboarding our customers onto it, and starting to onboard companies from the waitlist (learn more here).

Whether the GTM motions you run are manual or autonomous, you’ll need something like Groundswell to make sense of all of this data that is living in these disparate, silo’d systems today. And automate deep workflows end-to-end.

We believe that we’re at an inflection point of data and tools. That there should be a technology (Groundswell) to make sense of all of the data, by connecting to your data sources, and ensuring that your GTM Team is running as efficiently as possible. And have your GTM motion improve over time, autonomously.

It’ll be very exciting to see where we land by the end of this decade!

If you want to talk more about the future of sales tech, we’re building the future of prospecting, using AI, so reach out to me on LinkedIn or come to our website to learn more.