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How Chatbots Could Save Marketing

Chatbots are the worst. You can’t mute them fast enough on most websites. But there they are being all, you know, helpful and friendly. Blech.

Get off my lawn, stupid robots!

OK, slow your roll, marketers. What if I told you the rise of the chatbot army (artificial intelligence) and more strategic approaches to conversational marketing could fill up your sales pipeline?

“I feel like the way that people have been doing marketing for the last 15 years has been rather constant – form to marketing automation system to CRM, and around and around and around – and it hasn’t kept up with the way that people themselves are progressing in society, and how to actually talk to people,” said Sara Pion, a growth marketer at Drift, a leading conversational marketing platform company that we work with here at Acquia.

The idea of programming a chatbot to start a conversation isn’t new, but marketers are getting smarter about how to use AI. With a dedicated approach, marketers can set bots like virtual assistants (think of a dedicated Alexa for visitors to your site) to meet customers where they are 24/7/365.

That sure beats fishing expeditions of collecting data from multiple touchpoints, making educated guesses as to where people are in the buying journey, sending emails with gated content, following potential buyers around with retargeting ads, and waiting for them to interact with what we show them.

In the words of “Seinfeld,” why don’t we just let customers tell us what they want to see?

Getting people what they want faster so they can be ready to talk to a person faster is the first goal, right?

I’ve gone through the process of evaluating marketing tools, software, and services for my own job. I have never once gone to a company’s website without already knowing a little something about them, or already having formulated a series of questions.

So, Let Customers Ask the Questions

If a chatbot asks me what I’m looking for, and I say the latest Gartner and Forrester reports related to their stuff, I expect I’ll get links without delay, and without searching the site or Googling.

One of Drift’s clients had a bot deliver a Forrester report on a conversational landing page with only an email address and a few other qualifying questions. Then it served up the report right there.

Other companies register visitors for webinars through their bots. Acquia doesn’t … yet.

“You didn’t need to get it in your email the next day,” Pion said. “It’s just, we got the information we want from you, you get what you wanted from us.”

How Chatbots Could Save Marketing

The trick is to encourage customers to ask as many questions as possible without putting the burden or pressure on them. Let every question they ask be a data point.

For me, I want every single buying experience in my life, personal and professional, to be exactly on my terms. I want to drive. I want marketers to read me by what I tell them, not by where they hope to push me. I am an obstinate, persnickety curmudgeon. And I will totally ghost you.

“People do a lot of their research outside of your website. They’ll look at the space itself, and see, ‘OK, what are the best tools for this specific space?’ And then before they even come onto your website for the first time, they have one specific question in mind of like, ‘OK, great, I know that Drift is a conversational marketing platform, I know it can get me from point A to point B, but do they have this specific piece of a Marketo integration that would be super-helpful for my team?’” Pion said. “And going through a really rigid flow – even a bot flow where you have to answer certain questions before you even ask your question – is not a great experience, is basically just another form.”

Reward Them for Being Smart

Every person wants to be smart, or be treated as such. They are skeptical and will reject anything short of a meaningful conversation.

The cures for buyer skepticism are authenticity, self-awareness, and being human. As much as we can program chatbots, we can’t teach them to have empathy or to be witty. We need to make them helpful, logical, and fast – think of a concierge at a hotel assisting a VIP.

The best way to treat someone like they are smart is to save them time.

A chatbot can say, “Based on what you’ve been telling me, I feel like this blog post would actually be a great place for you to start.” The visitor can then read the blog post, and ask the chatbot another question. Or maybe that blog post has the CTAs, related content, and next steps laid out perfectly already – like an ungated data sheet, a video, a webinar, or an eBook, actual thought leadership that establishes your brand even more so as an industry expert without nauseating product hype.

“Not every path leads to asking for an email booking a demo,” Pion said. “The bot can help guide the user’s journey and kind of be a little bit more concierge-y, and be like, ‘This is what would be best for you right now. But this is just my suggestion. If you want to do something else, do something else.’ But in a conversational way, where you don’t have to follow one funnel. You actually get to split it up, and have different journeys depending on how ready someone is to use your product or service.”

What About Qualifying Leads?

Chatbots can qualify leads faster because they can accomplish the same things forms can in a more efficient manner, Pion said. And it just feels better.

“There is that aspect of attribute mapping from each of the responses that your site visitors give you so you can use all of the lead scoring and all of the crazy back-end CRM qualifying that they don’t have to see,” she said. “All they know is that they’ve had this experience with a bot, they got the information they wanted.”

Chatbots can also connect highly qualified leads with a sales team way faster.

“Because filling out a form, or waiting for that report, and then having your sales team be like, ‘OK, this person gave us their email on this form a day ago, and then 30 minutes ago, they got that email, so I’m going to follow up with them. That’s already been like a day and a half, whereas with this, they get your email, they get their piece of collateral, and the sales team can jump into the conversation right after they get it and be like, ‘Hey, hope you enjoyed that. By the way, I’m your point of contact. I’m here if you have any questions,’” Pion said.

Isn’t All Marketing Conversational?

It sure should be. 

You can’t just throw content up on your website, and direct emails and ads to people you think you know a little about. One-way social media isn’t going to save you either. But you also can’t just put any old chatbot on your site and be done with it.

None of that tells your story. None of that allows potential customers tell their story either.

“What I really think it is, is having your company actually talk to your future customers how people want to be talked to,” Pion said.

Personalize content they want in the format they want and on their time, not your time.

“I feel like marketing now is switching to a place where it’s more about providing a delightful experience before people become customers, and that includes understanding who they are as people, who they are as buyers, and tailoring your content towards them,” Pion said.

thinking emoji

It’s also knowing how to talk to people once a live sales or marketing person jumps into the chat.

It’s important to be clear that your company is there to help, and the best way to help is by knowing everything there is to know about a product. Trusted experts can explain things easily, and they always ask if what they’re saying makes sense, she said.

Trusted experts (and bots) can also use emojis. No, really.

Want to Learn More?

First, you can check out these Drift case studies on Aventri (How Aventri used Drift to book $1.7M in new business for their sales team in five months), and Ipswitch (IT Software Company Books $3.6 Million Of Pipeline In Their First Eight Months Using Drift).

Second, it just so happens that we have an entire session on this very subject at Acquia Engage Austin.

Jeff Geheb and Leah Sand of VML will talk about conversational AI and how we can use emerging technology to have better, more intelligent conversations with humans.

“I think the next most disruptive thing will be the effect of machine learning on products and services. If you look at the paradigms of the businesses we are in, a lot of it still assumes a very manual way of looking at serving messaging and content to people, even though we’re automating things, things like personalization,” Geheb said at last October's Acquia Engage. “The truth is that machines can do that better than we can. So the idea of us picking the content right for somebody vs. data proving that out – large volumes, large populations – directing that, machines orchestrating that on our behalf, that would change most of the paradigms we understand about how to message.”

Machines making us more human. Now, that’s something every marketer should geek out about.

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