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Navigating the SaaS Landscape: A Conversation with Madhav Bhandari

Madhav Bhandari, Head of Marketing at Storylane

In this Wytpod episode, Harshit Gupta, Director of Business Alliances at Wytlabs, interviews Madhav Bhandari, Head of Marketing at Storylane. Madhav shares his 12-year journey in B2B technology marketing, focusing on early-stage SaaS companies. They discuss Storylane’s interactive product demo platform, addressing the passive engagement in traditional sales demos. Madhav highlights the platform’s ability to offer a guided product experience without sign-ups or sales calls, enhancing buyer knowledge and engagement, and leading to improved conversions.

Storylane helps companies build interactive product demos in minutes with our no-code tool. We’re a product-led growth (PLG) driven company where teams of even one can sign up, start using the product, and instantly derive value in the form of improved deal conversions.

Madhav Bhandari
Head of Marketing at Storylane

Hello, everyone. Welcome to another episode of Wytpod. My name is Harshit, and I’m the Director of Business Alliances at Wytlab. We’re a digital agency specializing in SaaS and e-commerce SEO. I’ve got Madhav Bhandari with me today. He’s the head of marketing at Storylane. The SaaS platform enables companies to build interactive product demos in minutes with their no-code tools. So big welcome to you Madhav. I’m so happy to have you with me today.

Great to be here, man. Excited to chat.

Awesome. Can you tell us about your journey? You’ve been in the B2B technology marketing space for a long time? Would love to know about that, please.

Yeah, of course. I’ve been in SaaS for almost 12 years. I have a relatively specific niche where I’ve been with early-stage companies quite a bit. Companies that are at the 500K ARR mark and you’re now looking to grow at 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, like that. It just happened mainly because I think I got into the world of startups just because I was very interested in starting a company myself, but I didn’t know how. I thought, let’s just join a startup. And then when I joined a startup, I was always interested in how, let’s say, you go from zero to one, and how you go from one to two and 2-to 3, and all those revenue milestones. I was trying to understand from a more business perspective. Then I just started enjoying my journey, and then one thing led to the other. That’s how I’ve been with all my roles so far.

Okay, let’s talk about the storylane, I would love to understand the product, and how exactly the platform addresses specific pain points for businesses in need of basically interactive product demos.

Yeah. I think the real reason this whole interactive demo software came to exist was just that when you look at any sales demo that happens, it tends to be a very, I’d say, passive engagement experience for the buyer. Usually, what would happen is that when a buyer comes to a website, they’ll either have to go in, sign up for a free trial, and then it’ll be blocked by a credit card. Sometimes they’ll have to add in a lot of details, or sometimes they’ll have to talk to sales, which might be a call that will happen a week later. And then when that call happens, usually the call would be like, what? 50, 60 minutes standard demo script. That’s the playbook that’s been running for a lot of years. And usually, buyers never had control over that journey. What did they want to know in all of that? And that’s why We started seeing a lot of these PLG companies and people creating these homepages with product videos and images. But even that was, I’d say, more passive engagement. You give them a screenshot of your feature, but if let’s say they want to go deeper into it, they can’t.

So then the whole PLG experience came in where it was like you could have a free trial of the product and try it. But some products were built from the start as free as more from PLG’s perspective. For them, that was relatively simpler. When you think about organizations that are sales-led, which have never offered a free trial. This is an expensive experiment. They have to go to a developer and then perhaps work on a way to get the free trial without really knowing how much of that would turn out. I think that’s when this Storylane came to be right, where it was saying that, Hey, without getting the buyer to sign up, without getting them on a sales call, without making them watch a video, give them the product experience, a very guided product experience there itself, which they can actively engage on. It’s not like a video. They can go in, explore the features, and look at everything so that once they get on a sales call, they’re a lot more informed. They’ve got the basis cover. They know what the product is about. The conversations tend to become a lot more informed, and a lot more engaging with sales.

You also start seeing more and more conversions coming in. Just to have that visibility. That’s essentially the essence of any interactive demo software like Storylane.

How does a no-code editor that the platform offers empower users to create, personalize, and tailor product demos? I would love to understand what flexibility it offers in the customization and customizing of the demo experience.

First of all, I’ll say there are three things. First of all, Storylane is known to be one of the easiest interactive demo platforms. On average, it takes just about 10 minutes to set up an interactive demo. The way it works is you have a Chrome extension, you turn it on, and then you just navigate through your product. Then what we’ll do is we’ll start taking captures of your screen and then recording all of the elements and everything. Then basically, as you’re going through, let’s say you go to a Salesforce and then you go to their reporting and then you go to your leads database and pipeline and everything. As you navigate through it, it even keeps taking screenshots and keeps scanning the screen, and then it’s already creating a demo. By the end of it, you have a demo ready. Now, I think the next step where it comes is you then have to guide the user. Where do they go? When they go to that next step, what will they see? Then you can have your small text popups. You can have certain CTAs at specific points where if somebody sees a reporting dashboard, usually people get very excited.

You can add there like, Hey, talk to sales or something. It’s more like just setting up a Chrome extension and doing that. What’s interesting is that because to install this, it’s just a simple JS embed. It’s not any engineer’s work taking away time or anything. If I could summarise it, the tech is there. It’s easy. It’s less than 10 minutes. It doesn’t require any involvement from anybody, and it’s free to use.

It’s an interesting point. Now, you have a freemium version of the tool that people can sign up for and check out. Okay. Now, you believe people that are in your market, have a decent belief altogether. Don’t you see that this is a contrary opinion? They don’t want to offer freemium. That’s the reason they would have that interactive demo created so that people don’t ask for it. They still get to experience their product offering first-hand. What’s your opinion on that?

That’s a very interesting question. I think the free was more from that perspective that interactive demos are developing right now. It shouldn’t be like Cost shouldn’t be a prohibitive thing for most SaaS businesses to adopt interactive demos. That was our reasoning that, Hey, the transition from your traditional standalone demo to an interactive demo should be as seamless as possible. We reduced the time, we reduced the cost, and we said, Hey, you can set it up for free. You can have whatever, unlimited sessions, all of that. It was just from that perspective. Our overall mission is to just make the whole buying process at all the SaaS companies fairly straightforward for the buyers. We were taking the buyer’s side, and that was the reason. It wasn’t because people would be able to try the product more easily. It was more like when we saw our competitors charging 20, 30, 40K a year for these products. It shouldn’t be. Most decisions end there. It’s like, Hey, this is out of our budget. But then at Storylane, you could just sign up, try for free, set up a demo, all there. I think it’s that.

But that being said, if you ever go to our homepage, you can see that we have a very right front and center on the homepage. We have an interactive demo of the product itself, which is a bit of a meta situation because when you have a product about interactive demos, explaining what an interactive demo is, it’s really hard to explain that. We figured out a way, but you can see that on the homepage.

Got you. Okay, let’s talk about the marketing channels that you’re mainly leveraging for your traffic generation and lead generation.

Yeah, I think majorly, We sell to sales and marketing professionals. Folks in SaaS companies, when you think about product marketing managers and demand gen managers, you think of account executives, SDRs, free solutions engineers, and all of that. We think about these folks, high gig out. We see that they spend a lot of time on LinkedIn. We see that they tend to search a lot for their answers on Google, YouTube, and other places. Those have become our channel. We invest very heavily in SEO. We’re investing heavily in paid social. We’re also investing in ads. So yeah.

Got you. Okay. Now, because in fact, your prior experience has been in the same B2B space, I would love to understand what specific SEO and margin challenges you commonly encounter as a space. And how do you address them?

I think the biggest challenge in our space is that it’s a new category. There’s no existing search volume when you think about certain terms. It’s not like you can go in and, yes, there might be some volume here and there, but that’s not large enough to, I’d say, explain the investment that you could put in as here. When you think about a new category, I always lean on relying on adjacent categories to drive demand for your existing category. When you think about all of these folks that I just mentioned, where are they perhaps hanging out? What are they searching for? Is there an existing demand that can be captured in another adjacent category where we could perhaps form a connection? For example, people looking for how to improve their sales demo skills. Now that is perhaps an interesting point where you could get them in an interaction, a demo, or somebody looking for conversion rate optimization tips. Perhaps marketers there could be brought in. That’s how we do it. We lean on adjacent categories and try to capture demand from there and build demand for this new category.

I think it’s a very interesting point. I think there are a lot of SaaS tools out there in the markets that are trying to solve a very unique problem, and they might face a similar challenge where there’s the key one that they’re trying to run. Most of the popular tools show you the search volume. It’s maybe 10 or even 0-10 or even less than that. A scenario like that happens. I’ve seen it in multiple cases, like time-tracking software, all of those things. A lot of industries are getting these things on board. For them as a company, generating new content and researching it is a big challenge because when they don’t see what is in their room, they feel hesitant to put down the resources on it. That’s brilliantly put that. We can still go ahead, search for it in other places, and figure out whether it is worth it or not. Yeah. Makes sense.

Yeah.

Can you share some of the challenges that story-based encounters and the strategies that you’ve employed? It could be anything around. I understand the keyword was one, figuring that out and building your content strategy around it and your campaigns around it. What are the other things that you feel? And especially in the context of, let’s talk about marketing and user adoption.

I think for us, it’s more how do we expand into the market where the category hasn’t penetrated. If there are maybe, I don’t know, millions of SaaS companies out there, I’d say maybe 50,000 SaaS companies or probably fewer would know about interactive demos. 950,000 would have no clue this technology also exists. It’s about how we reach this larger market share without a pre-existing search volume. Also, usually, when you have a category, it’s almost like you have to educate them about the problem and you have to educate them about the solution as well. It’s more like people have product videos on their homepage. It is what it is. Nobody ever thought that, Hey, we could perhaps have an interactive app experience within it. We will have talked about sandbox environments and everything, but I didn’t think about that. That’s the biggest thing. First, you have to reach these people. You have to somehow make them aware that this is a problem that exists. That usually comes from taking certain pain points. Let’s say, for example, it’s a tough market environment. Let’s say sales is closing lesser deals or marketing is generally seeing lesser conversions.

Maybe it’s a seasonal thing or whatever. You can take that pain point and perhaps go deeper into it. What could be potential reasons? One of those reasons could be somewhere around website optimization or something. Then you give them an idea that, Hey, perhaps this is the solution to your problem, and then go there. For us, I think that’s the thing. How do we reach our ICPs with that problem and with that solution? And how can we get there? There’s a bunch of ways. Like I said, we’ve got all of these channels that we could perhaps pursue. It’s just being creative about it. Even on LinkedIn and everything, what we’re trying to do is we’re trying to take topics which are things that people are thinking about a lot in their jobs and how can we do better those things, and then somewhere weaving in this category into those conversations. One example is that we have this short form LinkedIn video series. Because nowadays, nobody has the time to read. Everybody loves less than a minute video. Everybody loves snack advice and everything. We took an interesting angle where we interviewed a head of marketing in their first few days, why an interactive demo is one of their priorities, and went deeper into that problem and solution, why that happened.

Now that reaches this market where it’s like there are these new heads of marketing that are joining, especially in January, where a lot of people switch roles. You have all of these folks that are like, Oh, in the first nine days, maybe this is also something I should consider. It’s just these things that need to happen. We need to scale this much bigger way. That’s probably my biggest, I feel That’s the thing that I’m focusing on these days.

How do you understand? When Content marketing is a big part of what you do on a day-to-day basis. I’m sure because you’ve been in the industry for so long, you are actively taking care of technical help, all of those things. What strategies do you employ to increase the authority of the domain rating of storylane? What are the off-site strategies that you actively involve yourself and your team in?

Honestly, we’re not very concerned about all these domain ratings and domain authority. To be fairly honest, that’s not even our focus right now. I think it’s more about how we can be the people who are showing up for us in this 95% unadjusted market. It’s just how you lead the category from the front when you’re going to start uncovering topics that have not been discussed before. What way to look at it is that you go through your LinkedIn feed and you might see that, There are all of these discussions happening and lots of new ideas, new topics, and everything. Then you think from that perspective that what is not covered in these topics? Then you take that and cover it, be it in any form of be it audio, video, some interactive content, or your regular blog post, and try to somehow cover that. Then we have the existing distribution channel, so reaching out there. I feel like I generally have this, at least this has been my learning, where you have to aim to somehow reach the same buyer from at least two or three independently different sources.

Let’s say you’re there and let’s say you receive maybe a post from me on LinkedIn, and then tomorrow somewhere on a podcast with somebody else, you will share Storylane again, perhaps. Then maybe somewhere later on, sometimes you’re searching. I’m searching for something on Google and then you see a story laid in my head. When you’ve got all these three sources, that’s when it hits you on your head. I’ve seen this several times. Why don’t I check it out? That’s when the full journey starts. That’s where we’re trying to be. How can we reach our buyers from all of these different angles, and try to become that factor choice when it comes to interacting with them? Or how can we be the thing? Because this also works even when you think about any brands that you see. For example, this is a very random example but might be relevant for people in India. There’s a brand called Whole Truth. They’re very focused on good ingredients in a protein bar. But the reason why I know about it is because I follow them on Instagram, I have their newsletter, or I follow their founder because they just give such good advice.

Then through that, I have that trust that whenever they release a protein powder or a protein bar or chocolate, I know that I would perhaps choose them at a grocery shelf versus something like a yoga bar which has existed perhaps for a while. That’s the general thought process around this.

I think you would agree. To know, I’m sure you must be targeting some of the competitive keywords as well. Without that credibility, that authority, you might not be able to take the top spaces on such a result. It still facilitates. I was just curious, are you also employing Any of your marketing budget into this should be all those? Is the branding side of things, or is it not something that you’re focusing on currently?

No. On the branding side, there are a lot of things for sure. But I would say that Here’s the thing. I might have a controversial take on this, but again, that’s the whole point of this. But I would say that, at least in my career, I’ve seen so many sites with a DR11, which is probably doing much better for its contextually relevant terms than a DR 70 site. That’s where the whole Google algorithm is going, where most people have built their DRs maybe through a lot of content and some backlinks and all of that, which is great. But I think more and more with this whole AI-led era. It’s a lot more about how you can get that authoritativeness from a topical perspective, not from a DR to a DS code.

I think the EAT update made it a bit evident that you need to be an expert within your space, and that might be a possibility.

Totally. I think that is the case. I know this conversation has been going on where it’s like, backlinks will slowly become irrelevant, will become irrelevant, but they weren’t. Now, I am seeing, at least observing, I think the traditional way of doing link building is not having an impact as such.

For example, we’ve had experiments in the past not at Storyland, but at my previous company, where it was like, We’ve got on a page with 70 backlinks, and it’s still not able to outrank the page. That is a domain that’s just focused on perhaps email marketing software. That topical authority is probably the most important thing that you need at this time. The surfacing insights that AI can’t answer are the most important thing that needs to happen right now. That’s one of the things that I always keep telling our writers, and that’s the whole change that’s happening at Story in our content strategy as well is that we’re I’m just thinking about ways where it’s like, what can we do that the other 10 haven’t done? How can we cover a topic that has not been covered? Like anybody else, perhaps in this space. I think the more and more we do that, it ultimately impacts our rankings and everything. Also, one more point, because I can go on and on about this, but another point about this is just that in general, the SEO strategy is also a lot more, I see it slightly differently now.

For me, things like what is and all of these keywords have become completely irrelevant because all of that is very easily answered by AI. There is no point.

The query-based keywords are obsolete.

Correct. Largely top of the funnel, a lot of these are just like, I don’t see a very bright future ahead for them. But where the bright future lies is in thought leadership for zero-click searches and perhaps for searches that require that personal expertise that AI cannot have on its Perhaps trying out a product or a physical product or a software product, it can’t have its own opinion about it because features change, all of those things change. It can’t do that. Those are things that have a high degree of confidence and will continue to thrive over the next couple of years. So knowing those things, you have to focus and put more of your budget there. That being said, I’ll also say that, yes, I know. It’s not like we’ve just completely shunned backlinks. I think backlinks for us now are more from the perspective that if there is a contextually relevant backlink coming, we’ll do everything we can to make that happen.

But otherwise, it’s not. For example, if let’s say we are an interactive demo company and another, let’s say, a company called the DemoLab comes to us, Even if there is a DR6 domain, we will take it. Absolutely. If let’s say we are getting a domain that’s like DR 70, it’s like a project management software and all of that, it’s okay, sure, we can take it. But for us, that contextually relevant is like at the end of our decision criteria.

That makes sense. Relevancy is the key. If I have to put together the multiple factors, in fact, we as a company, judge any log out there on multiple parameters. But I even see that our client’s business is what makes the most sense. Then all the things, DR and DAS, or TR, there are tons of them. That is when you look into those things, whether they are not the span score. Another important thing. Okay, let’s talk about how Storylane engages with its user community and how user feedback influences the development and evolution of the platforms. How do you do that? Collecting the user feedback and by the way, improving that on the product side.

Yeah, so on the product side, it’s fairly straightforward. So first of all, we have the whole customer success team that’s working with most customers, engaging with them, always having a conversation in case they’re unhappy or something. But also we have all of those things within our transaction emails where if somebody is unsatisfied or whatever, they always have the option to add their feedback. Then I think we can have it in something like a voting dashboard. But I will say that from a user community perspective, we haven’t invested in a community where all users can hang out. The only thing that we perhaps do is that every month, we have a customer webinar, which tends to happen, which is more we invite all Storylane customers to come in, and then we give them an overview of how you’re thinking about certain topics, how you’re thinking about what are perhaps some big features that might be coming in. It’s relatively new. I think we’re just about a couple of webinars in, but that’s the only time when users can perhaps talk with each other and ask questions and everything.

It needs to happen. It’s just one of those things, which initiative do you pick? You got to be like, at an already stated company, you just have to prioritize what works. Something we will do, but not happening right now.

Okay. Now, with your previous track record, you would have significant growth, revenue growth of companies like Hub, or Bonsai, which is, again, quite close. I would love to understand any specific marketing strategy or campaign that played a very crucial role in achieving X amount of results for you. Anything that you would like to highlight?

I don’t think there’s one single thing you can highlight because first of all, these three companies, all the companies, they’re all different in their way, different products, different revenue stages. One was perhaps a 200K ARR, and another one could have been a multimillion ARR. My observation is that what takes you from 100K to a million is very different from what takes you from one to two million and what takes you from two to four. Very different experiences, stages, and everything. But I think it’s more from one common theme that I’ve seen with all of these. It’s just that this might be an obvious thing now, but it wasn’t obvious, at least until then. It was more like, I think content is marketing in today’s world. Buyers have become very tech savvy in a way that they need a lot of content and making decisions versus getting on a sales call or leaning on other sources. That’s where I think it has to be a content-led growth strategy. One common idea between all of these, WeHubSpot, Bonsai, Close, WeFlow, all of these others, even that storylane, it’s a very content-led growth strategy.

The way I define my role, I’m not a head of marketing, I’m a chief content officer. That’s how I say, call myself. We’ve got to adapt to where these folks are consuming content and how we can reach them in the best possible way and be helpful. I can give you some examples of that. For example, at HubSpot. For us, it was like when you’re at 200K, you don’t have enough predictability in customers and you don’t have that much traction. One way we tried to get traction is that, Hey, we’re going to share our startup journey transparently. We made the radical decision where we revealed all of our revenue numbers and all of our strategy. Every decision we make, be it why we go for a paid plan, why we ditch our free plan and go for a free trial, or how we find our technical co-founders, all of those. At least back then, I’m talking like 2016, then it was like that was an interesting perspective. People love to read transparently. Even today people love to read startup journeys transparently, but the mode of communication and mode of content have changed a little bit.

But back then people loved to read those long blog posts and everything. We used to share that. We used to get a lot of traction through that. Then through that, maybe a small percentage of those would convert to customers. But then that was at that time a big thing. It was where the predictability started and then you can go into other channels. Even, for example, Close was a very CEO-led content strategy where it was like Steli, who was the CEO and founder at Close, had a very big personal brand because he was known as Silicon Valley’s best salesperson. We used his content brand to drive revenue. That’s probably the best approach, perhaps using that whole content-led growth approach. I think that’s majorly been, I think, I would say the biggest magic trick out of the bag, if I may say that. I think another observation for me was just that when you’re especially in that, I don’t know, 500K to 5 million ARR journey, one of the things I’ve always observed is that when you’re at somewhere about the 200K, 500K mark, you have a bunch of these marketing channels.

Then we’re investing heavily or a little bit into SEO ads, affiliates, this, that. At that point, you just have to think more from an investment manager’s point of view. The way you have to think of it is that when you come in, this is like a portfolio where you have all of these stocks. For example, you have SEO affiliates, but all of these are different stocks. You have a C which might have a very different risk profile and a very different background. Someone, if you come from a venture-backed one, is much more aggressive, and can go slightly unprofitable for the short term, while you might come with a bootstrap founder who might have a very low risk appetite, wants to be very profitable, but be okay with lesser growth targets. You Basically, tailor your portfolio based on that conversation with your CEO and based on everything you have. Then you try to balance it by what’s the lowest risk, highest reward bet you can go for. Those are just more general frameworks. I don’t know if that answers any of your questions.

No, it makes sense. Now, coming to my very last question to you. Now, with a 100% remote work background, how do you leverage remote work culture to foster creativity and collaboration within your marketing team? What challenges have you encountered, basically, in this context?

So collaboration, I’d say it’s less, I think it’s more like you just have to over-communicate. Everybody has to over-communicate a lot, be it for every hiring decision or be it Anything. We tend to use a lot of these Loom videos and audio recordings and all of that. Try to have as much async conversation as possible. If sometimes an async conversation is taking too long, you have a one-on-one or a group call and then make decisions on your own. But I don’t see that limitation in terms of creativity being limited by it. I come from 12 years of remote team experience, but I have worked in offices. I think it’s more, it’s just a different style. I don’t think it’s one or the other. I don’t know how to be creative and how to collaborate. When you look at office teams, many are also operating out of slap. Even though they might be sitting on two desks away, they would still be communicating a lot. Hey, can you send me these details? This, that. They might be using project management tools. They’re using emails. Those things remain the same.

It’s more about you having to intentionally over-communicate everything. I think that’s that. Then on the creative aspects, it’s more like just finding time to sit down. For example, at Storylane, we have a bunch of these creative folks in the marketing team, and we sit down just to chat about if there’s any creative campaign that we need to happen. We have a budget to do maybe a creative campaign every quarter, which can be a little bit more backy, and more experimental. We’ll come into the call, but the call wouldn’t be discussing the idea. It wouldn’t be explaining our ideas. It’ll be more like the ideas were shared in a document. We’re all aware of it, but the call is more about alignment. Which one do you guys like the best? Which one do you work on the best? Yeah, I think that’s probably the best way to do it, at least. I think it works.

Well, thank you. This has been a wonderful experience. A wonderful chat. Thank you so much for investing your time, and energy, and sharing your experiences with me. I appreciate it.

Glad to be here, man. Thank you for all the questions.

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