As buyers continue to be more equipped to do their own research during the buying process, a new wave of technology has blossomed to help aid them in these efforts. Virtual assistants—whether through voice or chat—have been creeping into the B2C landscape for some time now, but experts agree their potential in B2B is even greater. B2B companies, such as Coolfront Technologies, have seen great success by avoiding new hires and implementing bots as part of their sales teams.
According to a study by Forrester, 59% of B2B buyers do their own online research and prefer to not interact with a sales representative as their primary source of research. This is where these virtual assistants can come into play. Also known as bots or chat bots, these solutions can aid B2B marketing and sales teams in a variety of efforts, including:
- Customer service;
- Lead generation; and
- Content discovery during self-service research.
“Bots can certainly help a prospect through the early stages of the buying journey — right up until there is a handoff to a live person,” said Steven Casey, Principal Analyst for Forrester Research, in an interview with Demand Gen Report. “Bots can help people who might have some early interests but don’t know about the company or its offerings, and enable them to learn more. And through that process, they can convert into real leads.”
But as people embark on their own buying journey, “B2B marketers need to understand that if someone comes to their company’s website and can’t find content, they’ll leave,” said Casey. “There is cost associated with that. By adding the bots, they will convert more prospects.”
Bots Can Become An Extension Of Marketing & Sales Teams
“Whatever activities require people to do repeatable actions, it can sooner or later be done with bots,” said Szymon Klimczak, CMO of LiveChat, an online customer service software. “Whether it’s an authorization process, some kind of information lookup (customer information or service status), or integration with marketing automation tools to better react to actions done by a lead, companies will be utilizing bots to push the potential customer closer to the [purchase].”
Additionally, if companies have limited resources in customer service or demand generation, bots can act as an extension of teams. But they may not replace people just yet. Bots can help streamline the research process for buyers, but at a certain point, the conversation needs to be passed on to a live person, experts said.
Coolfront “Hires” A Virtual Sales Assistant, Saves $20K
Virtual assistants can be especially helpful for sales teams that lack the resources or employees to follow up with incoming leads. This was a key challenge for Coolfront Technologies, provider of a flat rate pricing app for HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors.
The company turned to Conversica’s Virtual Sales Assistant, a chat bot tool that communicates with prospects via email, instead of hiring more sales representatives.
“We had leads coming in through the top of the funnel but we didn’t have enough people or resources to be able to contact them,” said Kathryn Morrill, Inside Sales and Marketing Manager at Coolfront. “We didn’t have enough follow through on the [leads] we were contacting. My sales team would reach out once or twice, then move on to the next one that was hot.”
Morrill leads both the marketing and sales teams at Coolfront, so she knew the leads were coming in from marketing efforts. “But we were missing something on the sales end,” she said.
Before implementing Conversica, the company’s first task was to figure out where its leads originated. Morrill used Coolfront’s marketing automation software to figure out the assets that were leading prospects to the company. Next, she needed to capture people’s information and track their behaviors using Salesforce.
“Whatever assets [the prospect] downloaded from Pardot, I threw them into a campaign in Salesforce and then Conversica would take their information to reach out and start the conversation,” said Morrill.
The investment paid off, Morrill said. Following the implementation, Coolfront experienced a lift in conversions from 22% to 31%. The company also saw an increase of engagement levels to around 50%, compared to its original engagement level of 20%. “Conversica also allowed us to save $20,000 in not hiring an additional person,” said Morrill. “And we saw better results as opposed to having [a sales rep] be the lead qualifier.”
Understanding your leads is the ticket to having a successful bot, according to Morrill.
“If you are able to understand where your leads are coming from and the buying behavior of those leads, then you’ll be successful with your [virtual assistant] because you’ll understand what message to send to them,” she concluded. “If you don’t understand that, it’s going to be a lot more difficult to get the [bot] off the ground. The more specific you are with the messaging, the higher engagement rate you’ll have.”
Bots: DIY Or Not?
What’s interesting about bots is that marketers are able to either develop their own, or leverage a solution that fits their needs, such as Conversica and LiveChat. Forrester’s Casey advises B2B marketers to avoid complications with building their own bots and buy a packaged solution instead.
However, there are companies such as Infermedica that have successfully developed their own chat bots. Infermedica collects, analyzes and uses medical knowledge to ask diagnostic questions to unmask patients' conditions. The technology is used by consumers, but the company also licenses it to healthcare companies.
The tool is available via a mobile app, a website and a chat bot. Infermedica’s bot is a reincarnation of the mobile app, and the company chose Facebook Messenger as the platform. But although the company was able to successfully create their own bot, Infermedica faced some challenges:
- Choosing the right platform. Facebook Messenger didn’t allow the company to implement multiple choice options.
- Understanding the user base. The medical chat bot needed to understand human symptoms. The company had a hard time detecting mentions of symptoms and risk factors with the bot.
- Lower engagement with the bot compared to engagement with the mobile app.
“Chat bots are very trendy; however, looking at the user data comparing our mobile app to the chat bot, conversion rates are higher for mobile apps,” said Piotr Orzechowski, CEO of Infermedica. “I think a well-designed mobile app is easier and more natural for people to use. With chat bots, you have to take into account the user’s high expectations. They want to feel like they’re talking to a real person, but no chat bots are that sophisticated yet.”
Tips To Getting Started
One of the challenges and most important elements of bots is the necessary use of natural language when communicating with buyers. Bots need to be fed information before they can accurately do their job, and in order to ensure they speak to buyers like a real salesperson would, B2B companies need to know the language of their market.
When it comes to a natural conversation that’s fully interactive, you can’t fake it,” said Jaime Schwarz, Creative Director for Gyro NY, a B2B marketing and advertising agency. “Marketers need to be fully versed in the language of their customers, which is way more complicated for B2B than B2C.”
“You can have the most sophisticated bot in the world, but if you don’t have the information to support the bot, it’s worth nothing,” added Kristian Kabashi, Head of Operations at Gyro NY. “The first thing companies should do if they want to start using bots is make sense of their own company information.”
As bots make these inroads toward flourishing into their fullest potential, they may be on their way to ubiquity across the B2B landscape. Experts agreed now is the time to experiment with the technology. “You have to build a culture around bots,” said Schwarz. “If you’re an enterprise, it’s great to start internally and get used to it as a culture to understand it’s true capabilities right now.”