“Whatever happened to real, face-to-face conversation?” This might be a phrase reserved for older generations that fear the technological revolution will leave the children of the future incapable of face-to-face conversation. Indeed, there is plenty of content (yet little proven evidence) that reinforces this dystopian idea.
While we shouldn’t forget the importance of ‘real’, face-to-face conversation, most of us will agree that technology improves our conversational skills, rather than limits them.
Conversational selling, for example, is the process of retaining your customers and attracting new ones through one-to-one conversations. It’s therefore typically been performed face-to-face, but thanks to technology, conversational selling no longer requires physically meeting with someone. The internet and mobile devices allow us to have real-time conversations with potential leads from practically anywhere in the world.
This isn’t to say that B2B companies should neglect physical meetings with leads or potential clients when possible, as this is still arguably the most effective form of driving engagement. No matter how closely online communication can mimic real conversation, it will never fully replicate it.
So, how can technology enable and enhance conversational selling for B2B companies today?
Conversational selling in the modern marketing world
Cold calling has been a go-to method for conversational selling. But when only 28% of people who are cold-called engage in conversations and just 1% of calls ultimately convert into leads (and even less for attaining actual customers), we’re not sure if there’s really much ‘conversation’ going on.
Currently, email, arranged calls and physical meetings are the main sources of conversational selling. But these methods are also far from ideal. For online marketing, open rates hover around the 18% range, while click-through rates sit on average at just 3.16%. Face-to-face meetings still reign supreme—95% of people say face-to-face meetings are essential for long-term business relationships while the conversion rate for in-person meetings is 40%. Of course, arranging physical meetings takes up considerably more time, effort and money than sending an email or making a call, meaning you simply can’t arrange as many as you might like.
On landing pages, resources like case studies, eBooks, and whitepapers are often locked behind lead capture forms. Modern lead capture forms have, on average, 11 mandatory form fields. If that seems like too many to you, you’re not alone – the average landing page form conversion rate is just 2.35%, leading 84% of businesses to think their lead generation strategies are inefficient. These inbound leads are left to wait until a sales team member responds to them, which can take hours, days, weeks or potentially forever if they’re waiting on a response to a query that never gets solved.
Customers want information provided to them in a way that feels natural. They don’t want to feel obliged to hand over personal information or wait around for an email response to get that information. That’s why real-time online conversation, having enveloped the consumer world, is taking hold of the enterprise. Instant messaging platforms like Microsoft Teams and Slack are revolutionising office communications, while live chat services make it much easier to answer customer support queries. And now, chatbots are facilitating a brand-new interface for conversational selling.
Instant messaging and chatbots
As the name implies, instant messaging platforms better facilitate real-time conversation, making it far more conversational than a platform like email. The first instant messaging platforms were AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) in 1997 and MSN Messenger in 1999. But it has now evolved to a point where any number of people can communicate in real time from anywhere in the world on free platforms like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. It’s understandable that instant messaging has become so popular; online conversations have a more natural flow, enabling quicker information sharing and more personable interactions.
Chatbot technology combines the essence of instant messaging with artificial intelligence. Chatbots use natural language processing (NLP), natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language generation (NLG), which, combined, allow chatbots to derive the meaning and intent of the written text. There is already a huge range of chatbots, from a companion for insomnia sufferers (created by a mattress company, no less) to a medical diagnoses practitioner. In the marketing sphere, chatbots are also booming, and for good reason. Chatbots can:
Put your company on the biggest platforms
The top four messaging apps (WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, Viber) have surpassed the top four social networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn) for global monthly active users. 65% of smartphone users don’t download any new apps in a month, but the apps they do download and keep are the ‘core’ apps like Facebook, Messenger and Twitter. So, a chatbot on Messenger or LinkedIn will give you access to as wide an audience as possible.
Improve the customer experience
Whether it’s providing information, content or support, chatbots put the customer first. In any and all these situations, chatbots provide real-time assistance the same way a salesperson would in a physical store, except chatbots can serve hundreds of customers at once, 24 hours a day! Chatbots can be programmed to give automated answers to repetitive questions immediately, and forward more specific questions on to real employees when actions that require human intervention must be taken. This transition creates a seamless experience for the customer – and one they’re much more likely to remember.
Improve lead generation
Chatbots can also initiate the conversation, rather than just answering customer queries. With cookies, consumer information is linked to almost every web visit and transaction. Chatbots can use this information to personalise their conversations with customers, assisting them along the buying journey in a conversational manner. This adds up to create more engaging conversations, improving your company’s brand image and overall lead generation.
Build a B2B chatbot
In 2016, Facebook introduced chatbots to Messenger, opening the doors for developers around the world to create their own bots within the app. In the six months following their announcement, more than 30,000 bots were created. Another tech giant, Microsoft, has some of the best NLP technology around and allows developers to leverage that technology through the Microsoft Bot Framework.
In 2018, you don’t need to be a developer to build a chatbot. You can do so without any coding proficiency and in as little as 10 minutes. Companies like ManyChat make it easy to build a chatbot to function on Facebook Messenger. They have their own helpful how-to guide, but let’s break down how a small B2B business owner might use a Messenger bot.
1. Identify the purpose
Arguably the most important step—you need to decide what you’re going to use your chatbot for. There’s no point jumping on the chatbot bandwagon for the sake of it—you need to know what it’s going to provide visitors to your Facebook company page. This could be:
- Help and advice on technical topics
- Links to your website pages (blog/services/solutions)
- Additional content for further reading/learning
- Information on the company – its history, upcoming events, webinars, etc.
- E-commerce if your company sells product copies (or product demos)
It could be a combination of all of these—your chatbot can be as simple or as complex as you design it to be. Remember, though, that this is for Facebook users. As such, they may have different wants and needs to regular visitors to your website.
2. Write your welcome message
Once you’ve identified your chatbot’s purpose, the first step is to create your welcome message. This is the first thing that website visitors will ‘hear’ from your chatbot when they visit your Facebook business page. You might use your welcoming message to try and direct traffic to your main website, your blog or services page. Just make sure it feels like a conversation… don’t simply list what your company does. Suggest questions they can ask the bot to try and elicit a response and get the conversation started.
ManyChat lets you add buttons the same way you would add calls to action to the end of your blog, prompting the user to take further action. You can also add media like images, videos and audio to your welcoming message in the hopes of boosting interest and engagement.
3. Automate your replies
Finally, you’ll want to create set responses that trigger when certain phrases (or keywords) are typed in. If you’re a company that serves multiple industries, you might want to suggest blog content around ‘Construction’ or ‘IT’ when these phrases are mentioned, for example.
Automated replies are essential (and highly effective) in getting a conversation going between you and the customer. The more you add, the more you can craft a realistic conversation.
Modern conversational selling with meaning
Like many other elements in the marketing and business spheres, conversational selling is changing to fit in with the modern world. Depending on your platform, your chatbots can use the latest AI technologies to push the boundaries of what’s possible for conversational selling. If you don’t have the developer firepower, you might just want to build a simple chatbot that sits on your company website or social media page to give visitors a warm welcome and suggest ways to interact with your business.
Those that are able to embrace chatbots and conversational selling can put their business at an advantage today and prepare themselves for the future.
Fifty Five and Five offer a full suite of marketing services for B2B technology companies. Whether you need a chatbot to engage customers or some compelling content to drive traffic to your site, we can help. View our full range of services and get in touch with us to find out more.