Are chatbots the future of B2B marketing?

Digital Consultant

February 16, 2017

Chatbots are trending. So is now the time to embrace them in B2B marketing, or will the hype blow over?

59% of B2B clients do not want to contact a company’s sales department during the orientation phase. Findings from Forrester show they would rather be left alone to do their preliminary research themselves.

What does this mean for B2B marketers? First, turn it to your advantage and help your clients. Make sure your content is on point, so you are easy to find when someone is doing preliminary research. But there’s more. Be ready to help the client further with their research when they need you. And don’t take the personal approach but try a virtual counterpart: the chatbot.

There are already plenty of successful B2C examples that you, as a B2B marketer, can learn from. Time to start at the beginning.

What is a chatbot?

A chatbot is software that enables people to have a conversation via text, spoken word or both. Essentially, there are two types of chatbots:

  • Virtual assistants that work on the basis of fixed questions and answers (predefined rules), and;
  • Smart chatbots that apply artificial intelligence to learn from their conversations, and so develop to become human-like conversational counterparts.

This distinction is important, because a chatbot is not necessarily a good conversational counterpart.

Take Poncho, your personal weather forecaster. Poncho is a virtual assistant that follows predefined rules. Get into a chat with it and you’ll quickly discover that a real, flesh and blood weatherperson is hard to replace:

So, are so-called smart chatbots a sure-fire winner? Unfortunately not. In 2016, Microsoft experimented on Twitter with a chatbot called Tay. The idea looked great on paper, but Tay was hauled offline after 16 hours for making racist tweets.

“Beware though, bots have the illusion of simplicity on the front end, but there are many hurdles to overcome to create a great experience” - Shane Mac, CEO of Assist

There have been countless experiments in which chatbots have been a resounding success. Order your coffee at My Barista from Starbucks, send flowers to your mother via 1-800-flowers, get the latest news from CNN, book a plane ticket with KLM and do some banking with My Kai:

Chatbot success factors

Why do these chatbots succeed and what do they have in common?

  • Every chatbot provides a unique service. You don’t book a plane ticket at 1-800-flowers, and Kai doesn’t offer recipe advice. They stick to their specialism.
  • They’re more than a nice innovation. They make a specific process, such as booking a flight, less stressful, provide added value and make your life easier.
  • They are pleasant to use. The process flows are well thought out and implemented, and so they provide good advice quickly and seamlessly.
  • The chatbots respond naturally – unpredictably – and with humour, so it doesn’t feel like you are talking to a robot.
  • They help you quickly and simply. You don’t have to go through 10 steps and three systems to do something straightforward.

The opportunities in B2C appear endless, but what about in B2B marketing?

Chatbots in B2B Marketing

Google serves up more than 252,000 results for ‘chatbots in B2B’ (at the time of writing). It is a popular subject among advocates and opponents.

Be gone customer service – leave it to the chatbot!

Chatbot supporters see myriad opportunities to employ them in B2B. Chatbots cut costs considerably, and customer service can be automated anyway, because the questions are frequently the same. The chatbot takes care of keeping your leads warm during the sales process. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Chatbots? Every sixth answer is wrong!

The counterpoint comes from traditional marketers: B2B isn’t ready for chatbots. Chatbots answer 85% of questions correctly – which means one in every six answers is wrong. This margin of error is unacceptable when you are trying to maintain complex, sensitive and important client relationships.

As far as B2B marketing is concerned, there are few success stories to point to. So, who is right? If customers do more themselves, it saves money. If more potentials convert into customers, you get more money – potentially loads more money – and you get it faster. But does this also apply to B2B organisations? When customer and chatbot can’t understand each other, you are the one who draws the short straw.

It’s time to experiment!

My advice is: who dares, wins. Give chatbots a go and see if they add value for your organisation. And here are some tips to help you on your way:

  1. Keep it small and simple. Don’t try to compete with Alexa or Siri. Determine your scope and focus on a specific segment. Where is the value added?
  2. Determine your goal. What do you want to achieve with your chatbot?
  3. Define your target audience. Think hard about the tone of voice and make sure it matches that of your customers.
  4. Make the effort to create use cases and scenarios. What is the customer journey? What problems do your customers run into? What process are you making more efficient? What systems do you want to connect together?
  5. Choose your chatbot. Which technology best meets your needs? There’s plenty to choose from, so there’s no need to build your own chatbot for an initial pilot.
  6. Do a pilot test and validate your assumptions. You don’t have to hit ‘perfect’ first time out. Monitor the pilot closely and adjust as necessary.

Good luck!

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