It seems like chatbots are springing up like mushrooms after the rain. The question is, are they magical — or are they poisoning your conversion rate?
These days, many B2B websites you visit have a friendly robot with a well-intentioned but overly general opening line. “How can I help you?”. How many times have you interacted with these bots? Probably not often, perhaps never. So how come so many B2B websites are using chatbots as their first touchpoint?
There are dozens of chatbot vendors out there — shoutout to Intercom and Drift in the lead. But are these technologies mature enough to deliver upon their promises? More important, are marketers using them effectively to drive visitor engagement and conversions?
Repeat after me… there are no shortcuts in inbound marketing
Before answering the questions above, let’s take an honest look at the current state of inbound marketing. In recent years the mantra, “content is king” has widely been accepted as gospel. Competition has increased with 89% of B2B companies using content marketing strategies. Inbound marketing is no longer the walk in the park (or differentiator) it once was.
Today’s inbound marketing challenges:
- It’s harder to generate demand
- It’s harder to produce high-quality content
To make matters worse, customers today are harder to “fool,” and can smell a clickbait a mile away. They are less likely to provide their contact info before they are ready to engage. Making people provide their contact details before providing value is a dying tactic that creates more damage than value.
No matter if it is a subscription to a blog, getting access to an ebook, or requesting a demo — shortcuts are out. There is simply no way around it — you must provide real value if you want to show prospects you are worthy of their contact details. The same is true for any marketing “hack,” a chatbot that doesn’t deliver on its intelligent, conversational capabilities will deter those who interact with it.
Don’t confuse marketing bots with support bots
The definition of a chatbot: A computer program designed to simulate a conversation with human users, especially over the Internet. Are marketing chatbots able to simulate conversations in an effortless value-driven manner comparable to conversing with a human agent? Not really.
Marketing chatbots have a long way to go before their technology will be able to simulate real open-ended conversations. In most cases, they are using rule-based technology, so logically, they are only as smart as the workflows you set.
Unlike support or product bots that reply to a specific question raised by the user, marketing chatbots face a bigger challenge — initiating the conversation, intriguing the visitor, and providing instant value from the interaction. Hell, that’s a big ask even for a human. Just try pitching your new startup or networking with strangers at a dinner party.
Understanding what your website visitors are after is a complex task. On average, 98% of your visitors are anonymous. Given this knowledge, it is ludicrous to assume you can infer or program a chatbot to guess a visitors’ needs.
So when are marketing chatbots a good idea?
Marketing chatbots are most effective when your prospects are familiar with your offering and ready to speak with sales. At this point, they may be interested in asking specific questions about pricing or product features. After all, a chat window is more appealing than filling out a form… but only when there is already a desire to know more.
The backend functionality of chatbot tools comes especially handy when it comes to scheduling demos and streamlining the admin involved in client-facing roles. Drift’s light form of AI is a perfect example of how these capabilities can prove super valuable.
Chatbots connect with calendars, pull availability, route leads, and interact with websites based on desired targeting. The technology can also be used to help people seamless opt-out of future communications by reading and understanding chat messages like “I don’t want any more emails.”
Like any aspect of marketing, using chatbots effectively requires you to put yourself in the shoes of your prospects while also being realistic about what a tool offers.
Avoid magical thinking — focus on data-based decisions
As marketers living in a tech-first environment, we love new technology. We embrace new features, and bask in the glory of a sleek looking dashboard, welcoming insights. This is also our Achilles’ heel. Time is the most expensive resource we have. We need to be extremely efficient to meet (and hopefully exceed) our goals.
To do so, we need to be hyper-critical when it comes to adding new technology to our stack. We need to be taking into account the amount of work we will need to invest vs. the potential outcome. It’s also critical to take into account the initial setup time you will need to get started and the time you will be spending on on-going operating and optimization.
Don’t be fooled by the promise of artificial intelligence. When vendors call chatbots AI-powered, it doesn’t mean they are intelligent creatures that immediately generate value. The reality of this technology is automating simple tasks like routing leads to a relevant salesperson, finding an open spot on the calendar — not core functionality.
Chatbots are based on workflows. Building workflows require time, planning and optimization. Keep in mind that you will need to budget time and money to operate the technology — there is no magic that will do it for you.
So before considering to implement a chatbot on your site, ask yourself the following:
- What is the goal I want to achieve with this tool?
- How will I measure it?
- Can it replace or improve upon existing processes?
- Which areas of the site or the funnel need a helping hand?
- Which team member will take ownership of this tool and how much time will they need to dedicate?
Implementing a marketing chatbot requires planning which needs to be based on data-based decision making.
This article is an accumulation of insights from a series of conversations with colleagues, prospects, and customers about marketing chatbots. Throughout these exchanges, I have gained some invaluable knowledge in this arena which I hope to put to good use.
We have some chatbot-related surprises that we are going to share in the near future. If you are implementing a B2B marketing chatbot on your website or already using one and unsatisfied with your results — stay tuned.