How One Startup Is Disrupting The Way You Send Marketing and Sales Emails

Mike Donnelly was in enterprise sales for 13 years and found it increasingly more difficult to reach his customers. Here’s his story on how he’s continuing to solve that problem.

John Bonini on January 8, 2018 (last modified on September 24, 2021) • 4 minute read

More than anyone we’ve talked to so far on Ground Up, Mike Donnelly scratched his own itch when he launched Seventh Sense.

Donnelly was in enterprise tech sales and noticed that it had become much harder to reach customers, even ones he’d had 7-10 year relationships with.

Projects were delayed, meetings unproductive, all because people didn’t see his emails. He started paying attention to patterns and only emailed people when he knew they were more likely to respond.

Then came the moment–“why am I putting all this manual work in when the data is right here?”

Donnelly, and a coworker from the company where he worked at the time, built a prototype. They pitched investors, big ones, and even though they didn’t get funding, they kept iterating. Today, Seventh Sense is integrated with HubSpot and Marketo, allowing users to leverage machine learning to send email to subscribers when they’re most likely to engage with it.

I recently talked with Donnelly on everything from launching the prototype, pitching investors, product iteration, and what finally worked. I included one of my favorite soundbites, which expands on this introduction, below.

On discovering the problem

“I was in enterprise tech sales for 13 years, and one of the things I started noticing was that reaching customers, even ones that I had 7-10 relationships with, was getting harder and harder.

They weren’t responding to my emails like they used to. They weren’t answering the phone. Every single time I would sit down for a meeting with these enterprise customers, whether it was the CTO or the VP of Technology, I’d say ‘this project is getting delayed’, and they’d immediately ask why, and I’d say “because you haven’t responded to my last three emails.”

The resounding response was, ‘Mike, we never saw your emails.’

And so what I’d do is pay attention to patterns. I knew intuitively that Dave Sheedy at comScore would respond to me between 9-11am, whereas Kyle Knack at National Geographic would respond between 5-6pm.

One day it dawned on me–why am I spending my mental energy trying to figure out when to reach these individuals when it’s all there in my data?

So we had a hypothesis that people are creatures of habit, but we wanted a way to prove that hypothesis out, so we built a prototype that analyzed all of my email history to illuminate people’s patterns of behavior. It was pretty eye-opening.”

On the first customer

“We took our prototype to a company doing billions in revenue, went to their CEO and explained to him what we were doing, and he had an epiphany and said, ‘This is brilliant. This solves a huge problem that we’re having within our business. Our phone connect rates are going down, our email response rates are going down, our marketing engagement is continuing to decrease for all the reasons that you said.’

He was willing to be an alpha customer for us, so we went off and analyzed all of their historical phone data. They make between 30-40 thousand phone calls every single day and had ten years of that history. We also analyzed all of their email and marketing automation data. Then we tied that back into their existing CRM and tool sets.

So, before Seventh Sense, a sales rep used to say, ‘okay these are the 50 people I need to call today based on this criteria’ and just smile and dial throughout the day. The new approach, because we were sitting inside their CRM, allowed them to click a time button and it would say ‘call these people at 9am, or 10am, or 11am.’ What they saw was their phone connect rates increase by 37%. As you can imagine, as a business that was a huge value.

What actually became a more interesting statistic for the CEO was the talk time was 17% longer when they connected during a predictive call time. That was an indicator that reps were having more valuable conversations rather than catching people at a bad time.

So they became our first customer.

All the while, my cofounder and I were working full-time jobs, so we were doing this as a nights and weekends project. Once we saw the data we were like, ‘we need to quit our jobs and go at this full time.'”

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About the author
John Bonini is Director of Marketing at Databox. He's passionate about building brands that tell great stories. Connect with him on Twitter @bonini84.

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