One of the hot-button terms at INBOUND 2018 bubbling up in presentations from experts across the board was conversational marketing. While our agency’s industry is fraught with buzzwords (that aren’t always in it for the long haul), I’ve been particularly interested in this topic for a while – especially due to the recent rise of AI’s role in marketing and sales. Not to mention the numerous automated chat tools popping up all over the B2B technology landscape.
These days, marketing is all about creating a personalized experience for your prospect or customer. That’s no secret. People absolutely expect that businesses cater to their unique needs during the buyer’s journey – and to be wooed by informative, accurate and fast responses to their most pressing questions. So what better way to do that than to have a one-to-one conversation with that person in real time?
Theoretically, this doesn’t sound too difficult. There’s no doubt that your sales reps, service teams or account managers have these types of interactions with customers and potential buyers all the time. In many cases, they’re only a phone call away. However, what is challenging is having these conversations—and providing helpful answers—immediately.
Enter chat bots.
While bots may seem a bit risky to deploy on your site, if you do it right, you have an easy opportunity to simultaneously please your prospects and customers, accelerate your pipeline, and facilitate a unique user experience – at any time of day. To set the stage in this post, I’ll begin by covering the four pillars of conversational marketing. And I’ll follow up by giving you a glimpse of PMG's first chat bot, as well as some tips based on what we’ve learned from the results.
1. Conversational Strategy
The main idea behind conversational marketing is to meet prospects and customers how, when, and where they want to have interactions with your business. But before launching a full-blown chat bot (using HubSpot’s new Bots tool or an application like Drift), start by setting up a chat window on your site. We use HubSpot Messages, which is now included with the Starter package – and having this in place enables the Bots functionality later on.
Know that you don’t need to have a big team to effectively use HubSpot Messages. It’s just important that you have a point person to whom notifications would be sent (and a backup in case the point person is out of the office). However, if you find that messages are flying in and you need more people involved in the monitoring process (like your entire sales team, for example), you can use HubSpot’s tool to set up routing rules so every incoming chat email gets answered as efficiently as possible. Obviously, it’s a best practice to respond to a chat message ASAP, but you can also allow a user to enter their email address in case they don’t have time to wait (see the screenshot below).
However, the optimal way to avoid leaving prospects hanging when you're busy is to create a bot that can help them get what they need without human assistance. As for your conversational strategy, begin by mapping out the different stages of your buyer’s journey. What is a prospect trying to do on your website at each stage? At the top of the funnel, they probably have a specific question about a topic in which you have expertise. In contrast, bottom-of-the-funnel prospects are likely looking for pricing information and a way to set up a consultation about your solution.
Use the bot to offer prompts that reflect interests a prospect might have at these various stages. To avoid confusion (this application isn’t that smart yet), don’t set up the bot to ask open-ended questions. Instead leverage drop-down menu contact properties that serve as multiple choice options. Finally, only use the bot on website pages that signal a relatively high purchasing intent – product or service pages, FAQ pages, pricing pages, catalogs, etc. Once you have the information about what the prospect is looking for, then you can use if/then branching logic to lead them to the right solution… a link to your knowledge base, new content, a demo video, a pricing or software comparison chart, or a way to schedule a meeting directly with your team.
Pro Tip: You can also use the bot to further qualify your prospects. You likely already have buyer personas (I know we’ve worked on them with many of you) and drop-down form fields that help you recognize contacts who fit these descriptions. You can use these same fields in your bot’s conversation track, and then integrate those responses with your lead scoring process.
2. A Personalized Experience
Yes, a bot lightens the chat load for your team, but it also makes it easier for them to have personalized conversations at scale. Just because a prospect is communicating with an inanimate automated tool, it doesn't mean the experience isn't tailored to their needs. Just do NOT pretend that your bot is a real person. Setting up someone to think they are talking to another human and then failing to deliver on that promise is a huge turn-off!
To make the experience a little more warm and friendly, infuse some personality into the bot's conversation track. Use humor to make the process of inputting answers more enjoyable, and be sure to ask questions that directly address who they are and what they're looking for. Most importantly, consider your buyer personas and what the possible goals each of them might have upon engaging with a chat bot.
By getting to the heart of what they want (without going overboard with questions), you are able to create a purposeful story for the user. "So you're interested in X - that's great! We can help you achieve that. You can book a meeting with us using X link. In the meantime, why don't you check out X resource for a little more information on the topic."
Pro Tip: At the beginning of the conversation, ask for the contact's first name. This can be mapped to your CRM's "First Name" contact property, and then you can repeat the name a couple times throughout the conversation to give it that familiar feel. Moreover, all answers to questions should be mapped to your CRM so that the information is not only captured in the chat transcript but in the contact record, as well. This is easy to do with HubSpot and applications that integrate with it.
3. Real-time Responses
Even when they have an important question, people don't always want to talk to a person over the phone, particularly if they aren't a customer yet. A chat bot provides them another option – one that's a little more DIY and low-pressure. But it's still critical that they can find the answer they're looking for in a short amount of time.
In light of this, your bot can serve as a customized search feature of your website. Based on specific "trigger" keywords included in a prospect's question, you can pull up articles from your resource center or knowledge base that can provide a quick answer. You can also set up typical FAQs presented by the bot from which a prospect can make a selection, and then accompany them with canned responses or instructions that he or she would find valuable.
Pro Tip: Offering a real-time response to a bottom-of-the-funnel question is a great way to accelerate your sales process. But another technique for increasing your sales team's odds of booking a meeting with an Opportunity is to include a link to your team's calendar directly in the chat bot tool!
4. A Feedback Loop
One of the most important aspects of using a chat bot is that it provides transparency into the conversations. This is beneficial for a number of reasons. Chief among them is that Sales and Marketing both have access to the same data, and they can review transcripts to drive the creation of future content. Are certain questions consistently coming up? Then it's time to produce a new blog post, explainer video or piece of sales collateral that frames that question favorably for your business and showcases your team's expertise.
It's a good idea to sit down every week (or every day depending on the volume) to review all the chats that transpired in the previous time frame. What is working well? Is anything causing confusion? Do any leads require additional follow-up? Can you fill in any data gaps with information that you can infer based on the contacts' responses? These are all questions to consider when evaluating your bot's effectiveness.
Pro Tip: If a human does take over the chat at any given point (you can execute an "agent hand-off" using HubSpot Messages and Bots), you should also check out their chat transcript to identify relevant coaching opportunities for your sales team. Chat is still relatively new—especially for smaller B2B businesses—and not everyone is going to get the hang of it right away. Therefore, be sure to take notes on ways your team can better leverage this channel and close more deals.
Insights from PMG’s First Chat Bot
A couple months ago, we created our first chat bot – aptly named PMG-bot. (Feel free to get a little more creative with your own name). But we actually started, like I mentioned in the first pillar section, by setting up Messages on 8 different pages on our website. The pages we selected were based on our services and industries, and the copy included in each opening chat window was customized to match the content of those pages.
Each chat initially showed Susan's face, and she received the notifications when someone would engage with her via chat. But we found that we were getting enough volume that it was difficult to respond to every user as quickly as we'd like to. So we decided to take advantage of HubSpot's new feature and build a bot!
And the results?
So far—in a very short amount of time—the bot has helped us to generate 4 sales qualified leads (update: one of whom closed as a customer!), a few newsletter subscribers, and several other leads simply looking for more information. Two of the SQL folks are actively engaged in our pipeline!
While we're taking time to look at what we can improve about the bot (for instance, we want to add in a First Name verification question for those who type in their inquiry when they are prompted for their name), there are a few things about it that are really working well.
- Lead Qualification: At PMG, we associate a property called "We Sell" with lead scoring. If someone self-identifies as selling B2B Products / Services (which is our specialty), we use the bot to ask more questions and offer them a chance to book a meeting directly through the chat. If someone says that they sell Marketing Services, we steer them in a different direction. Furthermore, the bot asks for the contact's geographic location. Given everything going on with GDPR, it's a good idea to have this information right up front.
- Personas: We also have the bot ask about the chat user's job role. We have content on our website that specifically addresses the needs and pain points of our various buyer personas, and knowing this information is helpful for lead nurturing, not to mention potential sales conversations.
- Content Promotion: It's great to give people options. For top-of-the-funnel prospects who are exploring marketing and just beginning to understand that they could use help in this area, we offer a subscription to our newsletter, as well as information about outsourced marketing. If they aren't at all ready to get in touch with us, these choices present conversion paths that bring them into the loop for future nurturing opportunities.
- Booking a Meeting: Perhaps the most important function of the chat bot, if a prospect matches our ideal buyer persona criteria, we encourage them to book a meeting directly with Susan on her calendar. And so far, so good! The bot makes this process super simple, empowering the user to make contact with us as efficiently as possible, 24/7.
- A Touch of Personality: Albeit corny, we've also set up the bot to deliver a cheesy joke if someone decides that they simply just want to see what the bot does. For us, it's on brand – we like to have fun. And we feel like this is a nice way to show our personality to someone if they book a meeting and then further interact with the bot.
- Notification Workflow: Finally, we used the Workflows tool to set up notifications for both Marketing and Sales. We want to be immediately alerted when someone is interacting with our bot in case we want to take over the conversation. If we happen to be free, it's good to give ourselves the option.