B2B marketers and sales teams are accustomed to acquiring leads in many ways, including tradeshows, trade media tactics, webinars, emails, gated content and other web-based forms. Another option for both acquiring and even nurturing potential leads that’s not quite as mainstream yet is the utilization of chatbots.
B2B chatbots 101
According to Salesforce, a chatbot is a computer program that simulates human conversation, either via voice or text communication. We encounter bots frequently in our daily lives, whether through our smart home devices, phone answering services or websites, and there’s an opportunity to further embrace chatbots in B2B marketing. In fact, according to Boomtown, fewer than 1% of B2B sites currently employ a chatbot.
But chatbots can fill a void that B2B marketers are currently experiencing. The 2020 State of Conversational Marketing Report by Drift and Heinz Marketing shows B2B customers are feeling the strains of an increasingly cluttered digital landscape. The report details that since 2019, frustrations have been growing with unresponsive, impersonal companies. Specifically, frustrations with having to deal with poor quality online forms grew 1.6 times over the previous reporting period.
Online forms response time
Let’s think about those online forms. Do you know where each of yours routes to? And how often these form submissions are checked, triaged and responded to? There’s often a disconnect between B2B marketers and sales teams, leading to some gaps in the lead generation process at many B2B companies.
A regularly cited study from Harvard Business Review shows that only 37% of companies responds to leads within an hour, while the majority takes at least a day, if they respond at all.
While every B2B buyer’s journey looks a little different, let’s consider what remains true across most industries:
- 92% of B2B purchases start with search, and 68% of B2B buyers prefer to research online on their own (Forrester).
- The journey typically starts with problem identification, before a buyer even realizes what they’re shopping for. Companies that excel at providing helpful information during this initial research phase have a better chance of remaining in the running when the buyer transitions to the solutions exploration.
- Often a committee of influencers is involved in the research and ultimate decision-making, meaning the initial questions or needs each individual has is typically different. For example, procurement professionals might be looking for ROI information, while operations leaders might be looking for case studies.
We could go on and on about the importance of solid thought leadership and SEO strategies in attracting meaningful web traffic, but if your key mechanism for collecting and following up with potential leads is an online form, there’s a good chance you’re losing time — and qualified leads.
Optimizing the B2B customer experience with chatbots
If you succeed at attracting website traffic, the goal is to convert this traffic into leads. And chatbots can help.
Webinar sign-ups, gated content downloads and other tactics are all viable for B2B companies — and we typically recommend an assortment of lead generation opportunities — but these types of calls to action (CTAs) can feel like a higher commitment than some buyers are ready for.
Chatbots in B2B help convert even the earliest researchers into leads by casually asking for contact information throughout the online conversation. This casual ask gives you an opportunity to add these contacts to your lead nurturing program to stay engaged throughout the entire buyer’s journey.
Our technology partner, SharpSpring, recommends transferring hot leads from chatbot to live chat in real time based on predetermined sales-readiness cues.
Some signals that chatters are ready to be transferred to live chat or to the sales team for follow-up include asking questions about pricing, product availability or specific situational questions beyond general capabilities questions.
Tips for getting started using chatbots in B2B
Implementing chatbots on B2B websites may sound daunting, but it’s actually pretty simple to get started. Here are a few ideas for mapping out potential questions and automated responses:
- Review the past year’s online form submissions to identify common questions or needs.
- Talk to customer service and sales team professionals about information most requested by buyers early in the research phase.
- Audit your website and map pages with potential CTAs to offer up to readers (i.e. visitors on the pricing page might be interested in downloading a competitive comparison one-sheeter).
- Start with one “path,” such as “I have a customer service question,” and script out common questions and answers. Over time, add additional “paths,” such as serving up helpful resources or providing deeper product information.
How to find chatbot software for your B2B website
Beyond the content development for your chatbot, how do you get started in actually implementing a chat bot on your B2B website?
It’s largely unnecessary to develop this technology from scratch. A great place to start is looking at the tools available through your existing marketing technology providers, such as your CRM and/or marketing automation software. For example, known leaders like SharpSpring, Hubspot and Salesforce all have chatbot builders available that integrate with your other tools.
For a detailed comparison of available chatbot software, turn to the popular business software and services review company G2 for their “Best Chatbots Software” to review and compare features, pricing, customer reviews and more.
It’s clear that chatbots have a place in B2B to help generate and nurture leads more effectively than tired form submissions. As consumers become more accustomed to immediate assistance, it’s important that B2B companies keep up with the pace, delivering answers to basic questions, content suggestions and clear transitions for sales-qualified leads to connect more personally on their needs.