Drifting into Conversation: Chatbots

Drifting into Conversation: Chatbots

October 2019 | Marketing Technology

The next big thing is supposed to be Conversational Marketing. Don't ignore the hype. Chatbots really will transform B2B marketing.

Conversational Marketing has been a talking point for a while. The emergence of chatbots over the past 2 years have made it possible to add online chat as an interactive element to campaigns. As with any new technology, it's taken time for marketers to identify the best ways to use for what is effectively an entirely new delivery channel. Chat scripts are hardly a new concept, telemarketers have been writing them for a very long time. Applying those call scripts to online chat is also familiar to most marketers because online live chat has been around for over a decade. The difference is that live chat has historically been owned and controlled by Sales or Customer Support teams, which limits its use for marketing. Chatbots change that equation.

Leading the charge has been Drift, who spent the last 18 months preaching the conversational marketing message to anyone willing to listen. There is more to martech's hottest start-up than hype though. Their product does have a key differentiator compared to the competition: platform integration. Drift doesn't just pull in your account and contact data, it uses it to personalise the conversation. In an era where personalisation is at the top of everyone's priority list, this gives the platform a major advantage. The chatbot experience is supposed to be seamless. Prospects don't want to feel like they're talking to an AI rather than a human, so context and understanding the customer at the other end of the conversation is crucial.

Extending the Conversation

The buying cycle is, in effect, just a long conversation. Engagement is seen as a two way conversation, in which the marketer reacts to buying signals by delivering targeted content that matches the specific product interest and funnel stage of each customer. Chatbots just make it much more personal, by allowing direct interaction with customers without the enormous cost of hiring the people having those conversations on the side of the marketer. A large part of this is because many of the conversations that customers have with businesses are repetitive. Multiple customers ask the same questions over and over because finding that information through web search or site search is too complicated.

Live chat solved the quick question scenario years ago. AI makes it more useful by automating many of the basic conversation flows that occur every day. That's great for support reps but is not why chatbots are so powerful for marketers. In a marketing context, the key benefit of chatbots is not what your organisation is telling the customer, but is instead what the customer is telling your organisation. Information capture has become one of the hardest tasks for any marketer. Privacy scandals and data breaches have made prospects much more hesitant in volunteering information about themselves or their interests. Ad blockers and cookie laws have restricted the capabilities of businesses to make up for this data gap by using web tracking and engagement history. When introducing chatbots as a friendlier and more informal method of data capture, the idea is that you'll get a higher response rate and therefore more leads.

The New Form?

Drift claim their product can replace forms entirely. This is an exaggeration, just as Slack's claim to replace all email communication has proven to be false. It can definitely supplement forms though, by enabling profile building and a mechanism for collecting the kind of supplementary interest or business need questions that have been discarded from forms in the name of progressive profiling and driving form conversion rates. As any Sales rep will tell you, prospects always volunteer more information in a two way conversation than in a broadcast communication mechanism such as email. Chatbots can put this tendency into practice using playbooks to request information that is then fed into the contact's profile in CRM or Marketing Automation, assuming the prospect consents to such data capture. All that is needed is an incentive for a prospect to initiate a conversation with the bot. A finely crafted welcome message that appears to visitors browsing your website is supposed to be the solution to that problem.

Some use cases work better than others. A chatbot can be used to register contacts for an event or webinar, but it doesn't replace the registration form. Instead, it provides a supplementary method for driving registrations when a contact is searching your website for information on a related topic. Rather than asking prospects to fill in forms that list a bunch of vague or generic interest options, chatbots facilitate a more organic method of finding out exactly what a lead's pain points actually are before serving up appropriate content or offering a route to Sales. Your lead qualification teams will have a set of questions that are used to assess someone's readiness to buy and to determine precisely how pain points and solutions are best suited to that prospect. These are the kind of soft sell qualification questions that you use when talking to prospects at events or in an informal environment. As in those settings, prospects won't volunteer information straight away but can become quite open once engaged.

The Speed Advantage

The interactive nature of chatbots makes them a lot less intimidating than a traditional web form, as well as a lot more immediate. One of Drift's USPs is that the standard lead routing process still has a time lag measured in hours, if not days. A chatbot short circuits this and the frequent issues of 'telephone tag' played by the LDR Team. If a website visitor interacting with a chatbot does indicate a level of interest equivalent to an MQL, then they can be escalated to Sales there and then. The escalation can even be to the account owner in CRM, assuming that the rep is available. If not, the visitor can book a meeting in the account owner's calendar straight away rather than negotiating one over email much later. This is a significantly smoother and more engaging experience for a prospect than a traditional contact us form, with the corresponding increase in conversion rates.

Leads that are not yet ready to convert can be directed to a relevant offer and routed into the correct cross-channel nurture track, without the prospect even realising that they've given out large amounts of information that can be used for segmentation and campaign personalisation. Combining this interest data with company identification and firmographic profiling gained through technologies such as Demandbase or website personalisation solutions, allows a full prospect profile to be built out even for contacts that haven't necessarily opted-in to outbound email marketing. That is the revolution that Drift and their competitors claim to be leading.

Written by
Marketing Operations Consultant and Solutions Architect at CRMT Digital specialising in marketing technology architecture. Advisor on marketing effectiveness and martech optimisation.