Marketers, meet Nicole. She’s a tireless chaser of all those leads you generate, following up even with those that went cold some years ago. Nicole talks to them, finds out their intent, sends all the relevant requested information, and then hands the hot lead over to a senior sales person to complete.
She’s the link between your brand’s marketing and sales teams. She’s also a computer program, and the above description is, in a nutshell, the workings of the AI sales assistant built by Singaporean startup Saleswhale. Needless to say, Nicole—or whatever name a brand chooses to give their assistant—is getting people’s attention.
“These leads are usually languishing in the database, that no sales person in their right mind would wake up and say ‘I’m going to chase these leads’ from years ago,” says co-founder Gabriel Lim.
Lim, a software engineer, began the company in 2015 as a side project, analyzing sales reps’ inboxes and making recommendations to follow up on potential leads. “You know, this email ended with interrogative intent—‘can you send me more information’—why didn’t you reply within 48 hours?’”
Soon enough he was spending more time on the side project than his paid job, and after bringing on two more co-founders and winning funding from Silicon Valley startup incubator Y Combinator, Saleswhale returned to Singapore after six months in the US with a new mission: to bridge the gap between marketing and sales.
The assistant plugs into a brand’s CRM—currently Salesforce, with HubSpot and Microsoft Dynamics coming soon, according to Saleswhale’s website—and then, depending on the deployment, works autonomously to interact with cold leads.
Nicole is the name of the assistant used by Randstad, Lim explains. ‘She’ has a headshot, and a branded email address, through which leads are contacted.
“If the lead replies and asks for more information, the assistant attaches the right collateral and sends it back,” he continues. “Then, if the lead expresses interest in a deeper conversation or meeting, the assistant hands the lead over to an actual sales person.
“It means [sales staff] spend less time following up, cold calling, sending information, all of that. They only handle the leads that really require a conversation with a sales person. That’s how the idea evolved and where we found our niche.”
Crucially, Lim says, the AI assistant is programmed to understand intent, thus being able to determine whether a lead is expressing interest and knowing how to respond. “If they reply saying ‘please send me more information, but don’t waste my time’, we can understand the intent and reply contextually with the correct collateral.”
With such a focus on sales, presumably that’s the department Lim spends his time talking to?
“That’s a misnomer because our product is called Saleswhale,” he replies. “We mostly talk to CMOs, VPs of marketing, marketing operations people, because the problem we’re solving is mostly to help the marketing team.”
Think about it, Lim says: as a marketer you’ve spent US$125,000 on events, trade shows, content marketing etc, and you generate around 6,000 leads in three months. Then your boss is asking ‘where’s the ROI?’ and you say sales are following up…you think.
“This is a huge problem for marketing teams because they’re spending a ton of budget they have to account for, their teams are spending lots of effort generating leads that aren’t being followed up, which wastes their time, effort and budget,” Lim says.
But he’s quick to stop himself from villainising sales. “They have better things to do than call up thousands of leads all the time. So you’re caught in this no man’s land.” Budgets get slashed when there’s little perceived ROI, so it’s in both marketing and sales’ interest to work effectively.
“This is really important, this marketing and sales gap that people have taken for granted, saying that’s the way it is, marketing are dogs, sales are cats, all that stuff,” Lim says. “We really want to bridge this gap.”
Lim says clients report that with less time doing the laborious, boring tasks of chasing leads, both marketing and sales teams are making much better use of their time, and with ROI improving, so is their relationship.
“Our mission is to free up humans to do more meaningful work,” Lim says. “I just talked to one of our marketing directors and she said that because our assistant has freed up their time, her team can spend more time working on campaigns for a large client, put together a decent pitch, do more deep work to prepare,” and sales can concentrate on giving a better, personalised service to leads who are worth their effort.
“A lot of people think that having AI will reduce or replace jobs, but the way we see it, it augments humans,” he adds.
Having just secured US$5.3 million in series A funding, Lim says Saleswhale is focused on rapid growth in the four sectors the company is currently active: recruitment, education, technology and hospitality. In terms of the AI technology, his top priority is developing more tools that can integrate seamlessly as part of the offering, with attribution top of the list. Lim also wants to open a US office in the coming year.
“Talk to any marketer right now and they know demand generation, lead generation, content strategy, events,” he says. “But the question is, now that you’ve become more sophisticated, you generate all these leads through events, whitepapers, ads, gated content, what do you do with them? That’s where we come in.”