Saleswhale Doubled Their Pipeline Velocity QoQ for Three Quarters Straight by Ungating All Their Content

b2b marketing guest interviews Aug 09, 2021

In Conversation with Gabirel Lim, Co-founder and CEO of Saleswhale

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Using ebooks, whitepapers or any sort of content download has been a very popular approach in B2B marketing to generate the so-called leads. But in Saleswhale, they went for a more unconventional approach instead by ungating all their content to their buyers and prospects. 

In return, they are able to double their pipeline velocity QoQ over the last 3 consecutive quarters. 

In this episode, I chatted with Gabriel Lim, Co-founder and CEO of Saleswhale about how B2B marketing should be done to drive revenue back to the business from an engineer’s perspective. 

Gabriel started off his career as a software engineer then eventually founded Saleswhale which is a Singapore-based startup that uses AI to help marketers and salespeople close deals. They were the only SEA startup who got enrolled in the YC16 batch and have raised US$5.3 million worth of Series A funding. 

Let’s dive in and see how they are doing B2B marketing differently. 


Can you share a bit with us about your journey of founding Saleswhale? 

So it's a really funny story. Basically it all started off as a toy. So it was back in 2015, Gmail just launched their API. So, this is really cool as a software engineer where you have this API that you can manipulate your email inbox.

I was doing a bunch of stuff and playing around with some deep learning, natural language processing stuff. And this toy eventually turned out to become a sales tool that got us into YC 16 and we were the only Southeast Asian startup in our batch.

For the next year or so, we continued looking at the product and the technology. Then we realized instead of being a sales tool, we actually have more pull and demand from the market as a marketing tool. 

So that’s what our journey is like so far. We know nothing about B2B marketing, nothing about demand generation, but it seems like we are in this space now.


How did you find out your product is being received as a marketing tool instead of a sales tool? 

So the original iteration of Salewhale is to take the neglected leads and emails that sales reps have in their inboxes and reach out to them. So to make sure that they don't slip through the cracks. 

Then one day, I received an inbound inquiry from a Fortune 500 company. The Regional Marketing Director reached out and she said she had been looking for a tool like this for the longest time. She wanted me to go to her office and show her the demo. Then she literally told me that I was actually building a marketing tool and it was for demand generation which could solve a huge pain point for marketers.

She said that B2B marketers generate like tons and tons of leads quarter over quarter and yet, most of these leads are not followed up by the sales team because they feel it would be a waste of their time. So marketers need help to nurture these leads and filter out the handrasiers who actually got a strong intent and are more ready for a sales conversation. 

So that was kind of the aha moment for us and the light bulb went off. There is a lot of gravity toward this direction and we just double down on it. 

And that insight was super important because without it, I suspect that we would have died.  


And how has that changed the company with the new positioning that you had? 

So everything changed, right? This is interesting because it is like a sailing point for all marketers. I would say positioning is not a marketing exercise that you just sit down in a room, pull up your positioning canvas, stare at it and plot stuff. Because once your positioning changes, everything in your company changes. From your product strategy, your marketing strategy, your ICP all the way to the way you message and speak to your ICP.

So we literally had to rethink and repeat all the stuff we did for the entire company to be aligned with this new positioning. 


So you being an outsider coming into B2B marketing with a software engineer hat, what’s your first impression?  

When I put on my engineering hat and I look at some people doing things just because this is the way it has always been done for the last decade and obviously not working, that surprised me. 

The way that so many people are optimizing for MQLs, launching campaigns, whitepapers just to get these leads or signups. And then, trying to blast a newsletter to them to drive up your MQL score, get the person to click on the newsletter, or visit our website three times. Hit the MQL quota and the job is done. 

Looking at this as an outsider, this is insanity to me. First of all, you misaligned incentives between marketing and sales. And if you just think from the very first principles perspective, that's not how buyers buy in this decade.

But in all fairness, I do believe that a model like this probably worked in the past. And I think a lot of this actually is propagated by the marketing automation vendors themselves. They want you to generate leads, nurture them, score them with their tools and they get incentivized if you get more leads. 

This might have worked before but right now, this is simply not cutting it. 


So how are you doing marketing differently in Saleswhale? 

So we did use whitepapers and eBooks prior to the pandemic. But over the last one year, what happened was we took all of them and turned them into long form blog posts and we just ungated everything. We just turned the entire freaking PDF into a blog post and that's it. 

And it was super scary. Because we turned something that was generating like hundreds and hundreds of leads and we were getting their contact information into our HubSpot. And now, we got nothing as we are turning them into a blog post. 

But after we did that, we saw the engagement for these content just skyrocketed. You see like hundreds of downloads per month, getting tens of thousands of views on this blog post because you just dramatically reduce this friction for your ICP to consume this content which you spend weeks and months creating.

In hindsight, I felt that we should have done that earlier. 


Why did you decide to make this scary change? 

Looking at the number of leads that we got from these whitepaper downloads, and how many of them eventually then turned into demos and sales meetings, the conversion rate was super low. We are talking about like 0.1%, 0.2% max. 

The second thing is if I would ask myself as a modern buyer, as a millennial who is a decision maker today, do I still want to kind of fill in my email address to download a piece of content that can be of really low quality? And there's just so much lousy, low quality content right now, masquerading as lead magnets. 

So why instead, why not open source this? Put the content into a blog post and just let anyone who consumes it. If the content is good enough, they will continue reading, and there's a second order benefit as well of helping your SEO. 

With that being said, I would love to say this is a fairy tale that once we ungate everything, our metrics start to go up. No! Instead, once we updated everything, all our metrics crashed such as leads, MQLs, demos to even sales pipeline. It was an instant crash almost overnight. 

But it takes patience, perseverance and courage to just continue doing it. Continue putting out content, thinking about nurturing strategies beyond just whitepapers and newsletters. How do you put up like short form video content, LinkedIn posts to educate and engage with your audience in ways that deliver values. 

So once we did that, I think after the first six months, we actually saw our pipeline velocity double quarter on quarter for the last three quarters straight. 


During that 6 months, how did you know ungating content was working? 

How do you know it's working is when you listen to Gong’s calls. As a marketer, you should be listening to sales calls. 

So when you listen to sales calls, and hear that your prospects say they have been following our content on LinkedIn, following my profile and reading all our posts, that’s how you know it’s working. And this is something that you are not able to track clearly and I call this the dark funnel. These people, they may just read, look or watch your videos, but they don't engage. 

You need to have that confidence, that faith to keep pushing out quality, educational content out there. 



Connect with Gabriel Lim on LinkedIn: 

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