InsideSales expands chummy Microsoft relationship with new Dynamics platform integration

Microsoft has had a fair bit of investment action with InsideSales, the startup with a unicorn valuation of $1.5 billion, and today they are expanding that relationship with some product integration.

The companies announced that InsideSales Playbooks will be available on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform.

Playbooks offer customers a set of recommendations aimed at sales teams, such as the best person to call and the most likely accounts that will end up in a sale. This is all driven by artificial intelligence underpinnings, which InsideSales CEO Dave Elkington says requires a fair bit of data.

While InsideSales is reaching sufficient size to have a fairly substantial set of data on its own, he said, having access to Microsoft’s considerable data set, including LinkedIn, gives even more data fuel to drive the information in Playbooks.

“All of the data we get through partnerships with platform partners like Salesforce and Microsoft…goes into the data lake and allow us to train the algorithms across every platform and customer,” Elkington explained.

And of course, being partners with Microsoft means having access to its sales team, a highly valuable proposition in itself for a startup like InsideSales. “Microsoft is in a lot of new enterprise deals. Microsoft Dynamics has more traction than most people expect or anticipate in enterprise CRM. They also seem to have a strong footprint internationally, especially in [Europe and the Middle East] and we have strong footprint there,” Elkington explained.

According to market share figures from Gartner, Microsoft is still far back in the CRM market pack with just 4.3 percent market share, well behind market leader Salesforce, which had 19.7 percent for 2015, the most recent year’s figures available.

InsideSales has more than a product-level relationship with Microsoft, with Redmond being part of a $50 million investment round in January, and also participating in a $60 million round in 2015. That round was led by none other than Salesforce Ventures, the investment arm of Microsoft’s primary CRM frenemy Salesforce.

This funding tit-for-tat takes place against a broader backdrop in which Microsoft is trying to at once interoperate with Salesforce, while grabbing business wherever it makes sense. It certainly raised some eyebrows when it announced a big deal with HP last year, grabbing a chunk of business from Salesforce.

None of that matters to InsideSales of course, which is happy to remain somewhat neutral and work with both companies to whatever extent it can. There is no upside for a startup to take sides in this. It makes much more sense to try to work as a partner with as many companies as possible, and take advantage of the traction (and the data) they bring with their customer bases.

“Ultimately, we are a better company for our customers independent, at least for the time being. Our ability to be neutral and cross platform allows us to access more data and provide more value,” Elkington explained.

That makes sense, but it’s hard not to notice they seem to be more involved with Microsoft than ever before, whatever you choose to read into that.