Can salespeople generate leads with chatbots?
Amanda Curtis, CEO and co-founder of Nineteenth Amendment speaks fervently about the time she stepped out of her comfort zone by pitching her business to potential prospects on a ski lift, despite being less than a confident skier.
“The day of the event, I woke up at four in the morning and headed to Hunter Mountain, where I spent the day heads down, skis up, raising our seed round on a mountain.
“It was terrifying…but in the end it was well worth it when we won fourth place out of 85 companies.”
For Curtis, the hardest part of that pitch was binding into a set of skis and taking the risk of looking foolish to potential prospects in the process of making a sale.
However, for an increasing number of salespeople, the act of even getting onto the ski lift with a prospect would be a dream come true. Learning to ski would be a breeze in comparison to the effort often required to get to that point.
2015 research from Sales for Life states that 57% of a consumer’s buying decision is completed before they are “willing” to talk to a sales rep, while 77% of B2B buyers don’t ever talk to a salesperson until after they have performed independent research into a product or service. The upshot is – according to 2016 data – 45.4% of salespeople miss their annual quota.
Not all of the blame can be shifted to changing buyer behaviour, however. Conversion rates from websites are stated to hover around 5%, whilst Drift recently undertook a secret study into B2B lead times and found that 93% of businesses were failing to response to a potential lead within the ‘5 minute window’ that InsideSales.com states is crucial to making a lead count.
The related InsideSales study states that, "the odds of contacting a lead if they are called within 5 minutes are 100 times higher versus one called in 30 minutes. The odds of qualifying a lead if called in 5 minutes are 21 times higher versus 30 minutes”.
The stats make it clear that lead qualification time is something that needs more attention.
In B2B, marketing departments are increasingly being asked to take on much of this burden – according to a recent Sift Media report, generating leads is the primary concern for 65% of marketers. But what if there were an additional option to aid both sales and marketing teams struggling to meet customer expectations?
We understand the benefits chatbots can bring to customer service and outbound marketing if placed in the correct stages of a customer’s journey, but what for a prospect’s journey?
Web Profits co-founder, Sujan Patel says that chatbots should be considered as a method of acknowledging a prospect when a human is unable to do so:
“In a sales context, chatbots can be used to engage customers, answer simple questions, and determine how and when leads should be deemed ‘qualified’ and escalated to the appropriate human representative.”
Patel says there are three associated stages – launching a chatbot such as LeadBot when people remain on your website for a certain period of time or when they visit certain pages such as pricing or FAQs; programming the chatbot to say hello and answer a rudimentary set of questions to guide a website visitor towards a salesperson; and applying further artificial intelligence to refer leads to the right person, “who can then connect in real-time, as the conversations are happening on your website”.
Of course, the other advantage is that chatbots don’t have to leave the office at 5pm.
“A benefit of chatbots is they don’t need to sleep,” says Clint Oram, chief marketing officer at SugarCRM.
“Whilst customer-facing employees are bound by working hours, chatbots can offer instant and ongoing engagement, collating valuable data, taking initial enquiries and building an overall picture of the customer’s needs for the business.
“With social media channels now a part of both B2B and B2C relationships, it’s crucial that businesses are closely monitoring interactions with their platforms to see who is engaged with their content and chatbots can be part of that process too.
“Also, chatbots are increasingly being embedded into business’ back end technology, which means that customer data can be collected, stored and analysed in one place to help provide a complete 360-degree view for the business.”
Real estate reality
One industry already experimenting with bots for lead generation is real estate, is the US. Based in San Diego, chatbot provider Automabots is implementing a lead capture bot into a number of Californian realtor websites that it states is providing a 300% increase in conversion rates.
“When real estate prospects interact with chatbots, the bots “learn” their preferences and use these criteria to deliver the most relevant MLS listings,” says Grant Gould, the company’s CEO.
Gould states that traditional lead-gathering and generation methods offer poor returns for real estate agencies, and that conversion rates are even lower than most industry averages – between 0.5 to 2%.
Chatbots can offer instant and ongoing engagement, collating valuable data, taking initial enquiries and building an overall picture of the customer’s needs
He adds: “Despite the emphasis placed on content and social media marketing, most agencies report that referrals are still the best prospects. Only about 5% of real estate deals came from online leads in 2014. Such leads come in via ads or organic search, and they lack the targeted focus necessary to improve the likelihood of a sale.”
Elsewhere, Drift’s LeadBot has been introduced into marketing agencies and tech companies, such as 15Five, to help nurture top of funnel leads.
Whilst the chatbots are undoubtedly offering a capturing service, the dangers are that sales and marketing teams will, in the future, rely on their capabilities too much in the nurturing phase, as the sophistication of the intelligence behind them builds.
As Gould states, “Bots can also provide value estimates and market information to help sellers make better decisions. By providing targeted options, lead generation bots provide qualified leads directly to your agents. But once your bot provides client information, it’s crucial to begin nurturing these leads as soon as possible.”
“In today’s digital world,” Oram adds, “customers want efficiency, ease, and authenticity when they communicate with a company – and although chatbots are certainly evolving to deliver this level of experience, I don’t think we can write off the importance of human employees just yet. Indeed, a report by market researchers Vanson Bourne found that 91% of respondents agree that there should always be a way to contact a real person.
“That’s not to say chatbots haven’t come a long way in recent years; they certainly have, and are becoming increasingly skilled at responding to a range of customer queries. Take the Swedish bank, Swedbank, for example, whose web assistant Nina now has an average of 30,000 conversations per month and can handle more than 350 different customer questions. And technology is becoming impressively accurate at understanding human language; IBM recently set a new industry record of 5.5% for conversational speech recognition. This shows how chatbot technology is evolving from simplistic responses to ones which are capable of meeting a wide range of customer needs.
“To counteract this, businesses need to step away from viewing the future of the customer experience as “chatbots or humans”; it’s both. The role of AI and its brethren – chatbots, virtual reality, NLP – should be to bring efficiencies to business operations, particularly when it comes to automating tasks and processes like data entry where, quite frankly, machines are better than humans. When that happens, humans are free to do what they do best, which is having substantive interactions with other humans.”
And for salespeople struggling to hit target, this means more time to close deals, face to face. Even if it means throwing on a pair of skis and venturing out into the unknown in order to do so. Judging by this video, it will be a while before the robots take over in this domain, in any case.
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Chris is Editor of MyCustomer. He is a practiced editor, having worked as a copywriter for creative agency, Stranger Collective from 2009 to 2011 and subsequently as a journalist covering technology, marketing and customer service from 2011-2014 as editor of Business Cloud News. He joined MyCustomer in 2014.