Conversations should be at the heart of today’s B2B marketing strategies.
The hard sell is easy. Just automate and repeat. Spam the e-mail lists. Program the ad buys to follow the online buyer around the web, wherever they go.
Wouldn’t it be easier to just talk to the online buyer?
Conversational marketing tries to do that. Rather than resorting to the hard sell, taking a conversational approach means noticing where the online shopper is in their quest to buy something, then tailoring the automated prompts to move towards the sale.
This may mean using AI-driven chatbots early on to offer assistance to customers or answers to their FAQs, but the goal is to qualify the lead before putting a real person in touch with them. Conversational marketing is personalization, but it takes data and dialogue to make it so. And it is better suited for B2B marketing, where there are fewer buyers, but spending more to acquire big-ticket items for their firms.
Just remember, there is more than one way to approach a customer.
Teaching the machine how to chat
LiftAI takes a data-driven/buyer intent approach towards conversational marketing. Machine learning produces automated conversations based on buyer behavior, explained Don Simpson, LiftAI’s founder. “You look at 75 FAQs, and you can have 5.7 million permutations of how people ask that question.”
When the platform detects a “high conversion intent,” the platform then switches the online shopper over to a real person to complete the sale. In order to advance someone showing high intent along the customer journey,”we need to identify who they are and get help to them,” Simpson said.
Getting to that point is…“challenging,” he said. For one client, LiftAI figured out there were 77,000 paths that led to a purchase, Simpson recalled. The program has to know what people did in the past and how they navigated through the web site in order to score “conversion intent”. “If the client scores between 95 and 100, do this. If the score is between 90 and 95, do that,” Simpson explained.
Low intent scores may be indicative of a support call, so the AI can be adjusted to handle simple issues. But that does not mean low scoring clients are ignored. Simpson recounted one case study where LiftAI’s platform helped increase conversions among high-interest clients from 12 to 18 percent. But also notable was the increase in conversions for the low-interest cohort, from .5 percent to 2.5 percent—a 5x gain.
“You can’t afford to put a sales person in front of every client,” Simpson said. The cost would be prohibitive. But the chatbot can still engage that client, answering questions, building trust, and in turn build a relationship. “You can move them into a higher cohort in real time,” he said, and still gain the sale.
LivePerson focuses on a different aspect of conversational marketing: speed. They know where the customer is in the funnel. All the customer wants is information. “The customer wants an answer to a question,” said Amber Armstrong, CMO at LivePerson. They really don’t care who answers. “The idea is that with conversational marketing, you can get to what you need as quickly as possible.”
While the visitor is getting the information they need, the business is also learning from the interaction, Armstrong said. Eventually, that visitor will be connected with an agent, but even that interaction becomes data that further trains the AI. That transfer point is reached when the bot cannot answer a question, so the human must act.
“Being able to do chat on a web site is nothing new,” Armstrong continued. Using these conversations to enable true commerce is more powerful. “We allow the transaction to take place in the message as much as possible.”
The customer can start the dialogue by engaging in text chat on the web site, or the online seller can respond to the customer after they scan a code or join a loyalty program, where the brand puts the idea forward and the customer jumps in.
There is no prescribed customer journey. Instead, the customer is enabled to drive the journey as they wish, Armstrong said. “We take all the data we have from the interaction with the brand to understand intent.”
AI can be overkill
“Data is intent,” said Justin McDonald, SVP and GM for Conversational Marketing, at Terminus, a multichannel account-based marketing platform. The key to conversational marketing is getting as much first-party data as possible, regardless of source. It could be e-mail, chat, or “data exhaust” — the data trail customers leave behind as they scroll through web pages, he explained.
All of this information is routed through an algorithm-driven “account matching process”, where the data is “de-anonymized”, matched against existing data and used to flesh out a profile of the customer, McDonald explained.
All this data is used to build a playbook which outlines how the web site will deal with a class of customers that share similar traits. What that message will be is dictated by the playbook, which can be tweaked in real time to suit the situation as the interaction changes. “Logic rules all decisions in the playbook,” McDonald said.
McDonald offered the experience with one client as an example. “They had 46 playbooks. [We got that] down to nine, where landing messages were finely adjusted and configured at the playbook level.”
Terminus takes a “crawl, walk, run” approach. Start by acting on data at the home page, which is high-volume/high-traffic. Choose two or three high-intent products, then craft suitable playbook experiences, McDonald said. Playbook responses are triggered based on customer navigation, or by product line, or both.
As for AI, McDonald is skeptical. “AI is a misused term regarding chatbots and conversational marketing,” he said. The technique is good at providing support but is overkill at the top of the funnel.
“A good logic tree accomplishes [everything] without having to train AI.” McDonald said. “If-when” conditions can drive the chat in accordance with the playbook. That message can also be transmitted through multiple channels — e-mail, banners, content — all personalized to deliver a consistent customer journey, based on the individual or their intent.
The effort is about “getting a prospect connected to resource in real time,” McDonald said. “You don’t want to bombard the team with unqualified leads.”
“Conversational marketing is B2B.” he said.