Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past year, you’ve probably heard everyone’s new favorite buzzword: conversational marketing. Selfie-vlogging chatbot companies have been throwing around this relatively broad term, and it’s gaining a considerable amount of attention— and, worse, misuse. If your skepticism is anything like mine, the one-size-fits-all, 10-minute six-pack abs positioning of the most popular chatbot companies will initially deter you. But, if you unwrap the gimmicks, you can find opportunities to dramatically transform how your business captures and converts inbound traffic.
There’s a caveat here, of course: don’t overhaul your marketing strategy just because you need the shiniest new toy. In this post, I’ll walk through the top 5 conversational marketing mistakes you need to avoid as a business of any size. I will also provide actionable ways to implement chatbots into your current digital strategies.
According to NG Data, the term conversational marketing is used to describe “a feedback-oriented approach to marketing used by companies to drive engagement, develop customer loyalty, grow the customer base, and, ultimately, grow revenue. Conversational marketing is based on the common sense idea of listening to your customer and potential customer’s needs.”
This approach includes a broad spectrum of “conversational marketing” practices:
Although the term is rather broad in its implications, I will be specifically addressing the use of chatbots in conversational marketing.
Chatbot products allow you to conduct conversational marketing by implementing a piece of code onto your website or landing page that enables a chat interface to appear. Free versions of chatbots seldom allow for any of the flashy artificial intelligence capabilities of their pricey counterparts, so you are essentially left with a means to chat with people manually if you aren’t willing to pay.
More robust chatbots can allow visitors to circumvent any form submission and interact with a bot until you or another member of your business decides to jump into the conversation. This is the “marketing” part of “conversational marketing”.
Chatbots are used in various other ways, including customer service. Facebook’s customer support has implemented chatbots fairly well as you can directly reach out to one when faced with advertising issues. Upon doing so you are greeted by a bot and told to stand by as a customer service rep is on their way. This is effective because the user is aware they are being talked to by a bot, but it also reassures them that they will eventually communicate with a real person.
Similarly, I recently took on the challenge of lowering my cable bill online through Verizon. To my delight, a chatbot was there to assist me in the process until a customer service rep joined the conversation. I was able to cut through the nonsense of navigating the site to find out exactly how to get what I wanted by being able to chat directly. The experience was great, and it would have been a nightmare without the technology.
In most cases, however, a human has to join the conversation. The common misconception to those who have never used chatbots is that the artificial intelligence will remove the need for human interaction. This is just not the case for conversations that go beyond simple transactions. The AI is there to answer or automate repetitive questions in order to save the human time and reduce the amount of junk inquiries. Of course, both of these examples were customer-facing situations. This is inherently different than marketing, although many in the space would like to muddy this and make the definition of marketing far more ambiguous. The bottom line is that you need to have different chatbots for different purposes, which brings me to mistake number one.
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to the implementation of chatbots into a sales and marketing strategy is the mixture of the two. Although related in their overall goals, marketing and sales are more effective when they are supplementary to each other. If you have marketing materials like content, landing pages, email campaigns, and paid collateral, having a chatbot on them that directly contacts someone with sales may seem like a good idea on the surface. However, if you are trying to properly scale and track anything from an organizational standpoint (as most businesses do), you’re not going to want to mix your mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce.
This will ruin the fundamental strategy of building a funnel where you ease prospects into the sales cycle when they are ready. Will you get some sales by having a sales chatbot on your marketing pages? Perhaps, but the purpose of those pages should be focused on their respective parts of the funnel so that you can convert a higher volume of them over time. Marketing is a marathon, not a sprint.
If the pages are lower in the funnel, then having a sales chatbot makes sense. If your visitor is downloading a whitepaper, use a simple lead form. There’s no need to engage someone in a conversation about the ebook they want to download, and it will more than likely annoy prospects. The whole point of low-friction offers like whitepapers is to make things easy and seamless for prospects. A chatbot will disrupt that and get in the way of their process.
An alternative to this approach would be to program your chatbot to ask for the same information your form would otherwise– in other words, use a chatbot instead of a form seems like a better way to engage prospects, right? Well, not exactly. Again, the higher in the marketing funnel your offer is, the less friction you should have when engaging that user. If you have a chatbot that asks landing page visitors for the info in each form field separately (their name, email address, company name and so on) through a “conversation,” that’s a hell of a lot more friction than a simple form they fill out and submit on their own. Don’t overcomplicate things just because you have the technology to do so.
A great way to implement sales chatbots into marketing strategies is to place them on thank you pages. Once a user submits the information you need from a marketing standpoint, they are then taken to the thank you page and receive what they wanted. At this point, there is an opportunity to start a conversation. Don’t make the conversation paramount to the conversion; instead, make it an option afterwards. This ensures that the prospect’s needs are met prior to them being coaxed into the next stage in the funnel. They will most likely be open to a conversation after getting what they wanted.
The caveat to this strategy is that you’ll need to make sure that you are properly tracking the users from the initial conversion to the sale. If you don’t, you’re going to create a mess between sales and marketing communication with form-submitted contacts and those in the sales cycle. Without proper tracking, you will have to retroactively connect the two to understand where people are in the marketing and sales cycles. This is an organizational nightmare, so keep it in mind when you are setting everything up.
If you have a landing page or piece of content that you need users to read in order to adequately qualify themselves, then don’t put a chatbot there. Many businesses use chatbots on their homepages, and although that may be an effective method for some, chatbots on homepages are more often than not distracting for users. Your homepage is probably strategically designed to educate your visitor and guide them where you want them to go. You don’t want to forfeit that with a chatbot that pops up and steals their attention.
In some cases, the user will have a rudimentary understanding of what you do and will want to have a conversation to clear up any gaps. However, many times they don’t know enough and wind up asking questions the homepage would have otherwise answered faster. This can be even more disruptive to your operations if the homepage has been vetted and tested to optimize for conversions historically.
From the business side, any conversation with a live prospect seems irresistible despite their level of intent. But this mind-set can be short-sighted. Instead, you should be focused less on starting a conversation with anyone and focus more on starting conversations with the right people.
Rather than having a chatbot greet visitors the second they land on your site, try placing them on pages that have varying levels of intent outside of absorbing general information about your business. If you’re a SaaS company, a pricing page is probably the best example of this. Users who navigate to a pricing page have a certain level of intent and curiosity. With most SaaS models there are layers to the cake and a variety of pricing options available. This is a fantastic place to have a conversation with a prospect for a variety of reasons. The most important reason is that most people will actually have the same or similar questions regarding the pricing structure. Over time, you can adapt your chatbot to respond accordingly to these repeated inquiries without human intervention.
Additionally, you will be able to program the chatbot to lead users to a specific direction, which, more likely than not, would be to chat with a sales professional. There you can have the site visitors either continue their conversation with a human or have them book a meeting with a representative at a future time.
At this point, you may have assumed I’m contradicting myself and said to yourself, “But, Brett, don’t I want people to read my pricing page?!” The answer to that is yes and no. The pricing page is closer to the bottom of the funnel, and the information provided there to be read is directly concerned with the sales process. Therefore, the chatbot isn’t vague and intrusive. Rather, it’s welcome and helpful. Your prospects can have the option to read the information or talk to somebody. If executed properly, they’ll get to the same destination regardless.
This brings up another important question: “Should I ditch certain pages in favor of chatbots?” Don’t worry— I’ll answer that one with my next section.
If your marketing process is entirely constructed around the need for someone to initiate a conversation with a bot, you may be in for a bad time. The truth is that many folks on the internet don’t want to talk to anyone unless they need to. The reason chatbots are such fantastic sales tools is that it allows interested prospects to ask questions and engage with representatives where before they would have had to call them. It reduces sales friction.
If I want to order pizza online and there is a pizza bot that takes my order, fantastic– as long as it just asks me what size and what toppings I want, and it doesn’t try to upsell me on ten extra items. Similarly, if I want to sign up for a webinar, I don’t want to talk to anything to do so. I just want to attend the webinar. My intent in signing up for the webinar may be grounds for a conversation after the fact, not prior to it. This goes back to my point about placing bots on thank you pages: not everyone who engages with your marketing channels for the first time has the desire for conversation.
When approaching your marketing strategy, you need to discern when a conversation is:
This decision should be based on how complex the process is for whatever action you want your visitor to take. If you want visitors who land on your blog to sign up for your email list before they leave, that’s a simple ask and a simple process – try something like an exit pop-up that prompts them to enter their email address, click a button and be done. But if you want visitors on your pricing page to sign up for a free trial or book a demo, that’s a more complex process where confusion might arise; a chatbot could help them decide which plan makes the most sense for them and what their next step should be, based on their budget and goals.
Here is a list of common pages that usually should and should not have chatbots:
Good Candidates for Chatbots:
Usually Shouldn’t Have Chatbots:
Think of it this way: If you have less than 12 items at the grocery store, you’ll most likely choose a quick self-checkout over waiting in line to talk to a real person just to have a conversation. (Or maybe you do— I wouldn’t know I’m from Boston.)
Chatbots can make a lot of complex processes easier for prospects and customers. With that being said, they aren’t the magic pill that many would like to believe they are. The reason why so many marketers have subscribed to the excitement is that chatbots are an excellent sales tool. This is vastly different than being a great marketing tool. Their success is largely reliant on the inbound traffic that you are feeding them.
The often-times pricey chatbot tools are a worthy investment if you have already built the necessary foundation of marketing practices around them. Before you even think about installing a chatbot, first invest time into the basics.
These are the basic marketing practices that you’ll want to focus on:
Once you have this strong foundation in place, you’re ready to implement chatbots into the marketing and sales flow. If you reverse the funnel, addressing the sale first, you’re going to kill the top of your funnel and subsequently the rest of it will die over time.
In one rather ridiculous case study I saw, a client compared the revenue driven from a chatbot to that of Google Ads. Let’s clear something up for those who may harbor some of the same beliefs when it comes to their beloved conversational marketing bots: chatbots are an inbound sales and customer service tool. They can be effectively compared to things like forms and other chat tools, but ultimately comparing them to an outbound marketing platform like Google Ads or Facebook is unfair.
If you are strategically using them properly, they can indeed dramatically increase your sales, but they aren’t going out there and actually driving net new traffic to your site. To reiterate: if you invest in some of the rather pricey chatbot options, don’t count on your site traffic increasing because of it.
Chatbots are changing the ways businesses organize their websites and process leads. They’re only going to improve over time, and I’m curious to see what the next evolution in artificial intelligence and marketing will look like. If you have already invested in conversational marketing or are considering doing so, just take your time with it and remember that you don’t need to sacrifice what’s already working well just to hop on a new trend.
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