Gatineau's VanillaSoft proving its worth during pandemic, new chief revenue officer says

Darryl Praill headshot
Darryl Praill has just been promoted to chief revenue officer at Gatineau software firm VanillaSoft. Photo provided

As the new man in charge of growing sales at a company that exists to do exactly that for its customers, Darryl Praill knows the pressure is on.

“If the revenue numbers don’t hit, they always look at you,” says Praill, the newly appointed chief revenue officer at VanillaSoft, a software firm with a major presence in Gatineau.

Although the company is based in Texas, most of its top executives, including Praill and CEO David Hood, live in the National Capital Region. About 50 of VanillaSoft’s 75 employees work in the Ottawa area, where they’ve spearheaded the development of a sales engagement platform that’s quietly carved out a sizeable market niche.

In a nutshell, VanillaSoft’s subscription-based software is designed to help clients boost sales by generating potential leads and continuously prompting sales reps to follow up with phone calls, emails, texts or messages on social media sites such as LinkedIn. 

Praill – who joined VanillaSoft almost three years ago as chief marketing officer after previous stints at a variety of tech firms including Cognos – says market research suggests that most reps take at least three days to contact potential customers and fail to follow up on nearly half of all leads they receive. 

He says VanillaSoft tries to ensure that sales reps are “productive 100 per cent of the time, not 35 per cent of the time” and are using all the resources at their disposal to turn potential clients into signed customers.

“If you spent $10,000 on a trade show and you generated 500 leads, you don’t want to ignore 300 of them,” he explains. “You want to call them all.”

VanillaSoft, which landed a $3-million capital investment from Quebec’s Fonds régionaux de solidarité FTQ Outaouais in the spring of 2019, battles toe-to-toe with U.S. behemoths such as Atlanta’s SalesLoft and Seattle-based Outreach ​– both of which have secured hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. 

“And yet here we are, kicking ass, competing and doing very, very well,” Praill says, noting that the privately held firm’s revenues have consistently grown between 30 and 40 per cent annually for the past several years. “For me, this is fun.”

'No one’s talking about us'

VanillaSoft’s local headcount has nearly doubled since last year, and the new chief revenue officer says he doesn’t think the company gets the credit it deserves for being a major player in the country’s SaaS sector.

“We’ve got a company here in Gatineau that no one knows about because we’re in Gatineau,” he says. “No one’s talking about us.”

While revenues at the firm, which bills its 4,000 customers by the month, dipped slightly when the COVID-19 pandemic began, Praill says that cratering sales in industries such as tourism and hospitality were largely offset by gains in other sectors, including insurance and hospitality.

And although marketing software firms such as HubSpot found that the volume of deals dropped 30 per cent or more after the coronavirus hit, Praill says activity on VanillaSoft’s platform fell just seven per cent for the first few weeks, then bounced back. 

“Our software is helping (companies) survive COVID,” he says. “I see the impact it has on organizations every day.”

Praill says he expects to start chasing more venture capital once the economy is back on surer footing. VanillaSoft still has plenty of room to grow, he adds, noting the company has actually added 10 employees since the COVID-19 crisis began. 

The past Forty Under 40 recipient says he’s “jazzed” about effectively being the No. 2 man at a company that he believes is more vital to its customers now than ever.

“This is a hot space,” he says. “I’m having a blast.”