Conversational Marketing: The 2019 Conversion Unicorn

By Andrew Hiban

What is conversational marketing?

When I entered the marketing scene back in 2012, the sales conversion process was pretty standard among all industries, and had apparently remained unchanged for years. All campaigns and tactics lead to a form, which triggers an automated email upon completion. Prospects are tagged and shipped into CRM’s, mapped to reps, and this is where traditional email and phone follow up begin with the hopes of netting conversions. Sounds familiar, right?

Something called “conversational marketing” appeared what seemed like overnight, and this past year or so has been accelerating and gaining popularity in the B2B space. Conversational marketing is a personalized and human experience on your website or landing pages, where prospects have the ability to self identify, ask questions, get information and schedule follow up in a way that is simple, convenient and most importantly, instant. Custom bots are created for specific pages and situations to help shorten the sales cycle and to get hot buyers to a rep in real-time, while educating and nurturing those who are not quite ready. Conversational marketing allows teams to better understand customer behavior and needs that can’t be uncovered from forms, google analytics, or KPI dashboards. Conversion bots are like steroids for the conversion process, helping marketers capitalize on all paid and organic web traffic.  

Communication behavior is changing in business

Successful marketing leaders make decisions based on data, not their gut feelings or preferences. With that being said, if you’re on top of consumer communication trends, you have probably noticed that real-time messaging platforms like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are booming. This trend isn’t just for personal communication; businesses are starting to adopt tools like “Slack” in the workplace to centralize and streamline all employee communications. So, what does this mean for B2B marketing? Well, for prospects it means their expectations are shifting, and they are getting more comfortable behaving in a certain way when it comes to engaging with a new business. However, if your company only operates with gates and traditional forms, you may turning off some buyers or making it harder for them to interact with your brand. It’s important to align your customer acquisition strategy, entry points and process with customer preferences and behavior in order to achieve the best results.

The power of AI web bots

As a marketing leader, you’re constantly trying to get more eyeballs to your website and landing pages. Through paid and earned media, to content marketing and SEO; you may have created a belief that in order to increase conversions you need to increase traffic. What I’ve noticed is many marketers focus more time on growing traffic than dissecting the conversion process, which for many is made up of forms, emails and manual rep follow up. This is precisely where conversational marketing comes into play. Shoveling more leads on top isn’t always the answer to boost lead flow and qualifications.  

You can easily add a bot to your homepage, pricing section, or other high traffic site pages. Start by proactively acknowledging a visitors presence, and ask questions to try and help navigate them to the right piece of content or person. This white glove service generally starts out with a pre-programed custom bot interaction (or operator), and then transitions to a live SDR (sales development rep) once the hook is set. If you are only using web forms, you are probably missing out on engagement opportunities in the sales process, leading up to a conversion. This real-time messaging capability is a low pressure option that most visitors feel comfortable with. It also allows marketing teams to collect important data points that can fuel future efforts. A really cool feature most platforms offer is the ability to view employee availability, and self schedule demo’s or follow up, with the click of a button. Unlike phone calls, emails and forms, prospects don’t feel locked into a sales cycle because it’s more conversational, instant, and on their terms. Even outside of business hours, your bots can book meetings and convert pre-qualified leads 24/7!

Reduce friction and increase conversions

Outside of aligning your conversion process with what people are comfortable doing, conversational marketing also removes unnecessary steps and friction points that have a negative impact on conversions. When you streamline the process for a potential buyer, naturally more people are going to make it through the funnel, and you will see less of a drop off. Once you establish your lead conversion baselines for organic website and paid traffic; add a bot to greet visitors, and test it against the traditional “get started, request a demo or contact us” CTA’s / forms. I guarantee that you will see an immediate lift; not just because you are adding a preferred method with less friction, but because you are opening an additional engagement channel, and prospects can open any door they want.

Market leading products to explore

If you are ready to evaluate the industry leaders in AI bot technology, I would start with the following two vendors, both of which I have personally used. First, look at Drift; they were founded in 2014, have grown exponentially, and are now recognized as the industry thought leader in “conversational marketing”. They offer custom bots, meeting capabilities, landing pages, email marketing tools, bot retargeting and much much more. There is something for every company size and persona. They offer a free version, enterprise packages, and everything in between. Go to drift.com and book your personalized demo through their bot so you can capture an accurate “user experience” (yes, they eat their own dog food).

Another innovator offering a premium bot service is Intercom, founded back in 2011. Like Drift, Intercom has a robust toolbox for building custom bots and sequences to enhance any conversion process. It’s really easy to use, and they offer a free trial so you can “try it before you buy it”. One thing many companies will appreciate is that they offer a low cost package for startups, which happens to be much cheaper than other competitors (if you meet certain criteria). A key difference between Drift and Intercom is that Intercom also offers solutions for customer support teams, and is known for their B2C in-app messaging product, in addition to the standard sales and marketing bot technology. You can use their products a la carte, or subscribe to the whole bundle.

Overall, these are two great companies with products you should definitely explore if you have yet to weave this new conversion channel into your marketing plan!

 

2019 Success in B2B Sales Prospecting

By Andrew Hiban

Without a doubt, prospecting is the most challenging part of any sales cycle. Most reps put forth a ton of effort, but see little in return. Most online sources suggest you should only find a 1-2% success rate for scheduling cold appointments, but is that really true?

Part of why prospecting is so dang hard these days is due to the sheer volume and frequency of “sales attacks”. Think about the prospect you are about to contact; that same person is getting bombarded by hundreds of other vendors from various industries. This creates a ton of white noise, making it impossible to stand out even when you have a compelling story to tell. To top it all off, there is a lot of bad prospecting out there, which ruins it for the premium brands. People are starting to become intolerant of cold calls and cold emails, period.

So how can I thrive and be successful in 2019 as a Sale Development Rep or BDR?

Make prospecting more human

When your prospecting, the odds are always stacked against you, but there are small tweaks you can make to your approach to gain an advantage. Psychologists suggest humans remember visuals better than text, specifically colored images and people. By simply adding a photo to your email signature, you can show prospects you’re a real person and not a faceless sales robot. It’s a minor change, but certainly makes a difference and adds personality. Don’t be afraid to bug marketing and ask them for a more modern email signature. Push yourself this year, and think about additional things you can do to add life to your strategy, and it will help separate you from the pack of hyenas killing your prospects.  

Personalize your communications

To some extent, prospecting is a game of numbers; however, quality always wins over quantity. Bulk emails and marketing automation are a functions of a digital marketing team, not sales. The most effective approach for cold sales emails is personalizing your outreach. Personalization has a positive impact on a human brain, and is a great way to warm up a stale or cold email. Try to find an uncommon commonality, leverage mutual connections, and even compliment or congratulate your prospects when appropriate. LinkedIn and chatting with gatekeepers is a great way to get some of your sales ammo. Personalization not only helps you stand out, but it slows you down in a good way, making you more intentional and effective.

Use the right technology

If your using spreadsheets or struggling with your CRM, you are not alone. In order to run a successful micro campaign, you need to leverage the right technology. A “Sales Engagement Platform” like Salesloft or Outreach.IO helps sales development teams become more organized through the use of sequences. Good technology like SEP’s help you become more self aware of your activity and performance, and allows you to automate routine and manual tasks. A benefit your manager will love is that it will become impossible for a prospect to fall through the cracks. Ask your marketing team to check out AI Sales Bots like Drift, which helps you get in front of more qualified opportunities. Also, if you haven’t enabled prospect self scheduling yet, make that a 2019 priority.   

Stand out from the crowd

There is no way around it, if you want to succeed you need to stand out and silence all the noise. There are hundreds of people going after you prospects at any given time, and their inbox and voicemail boxes are full. Try to think about what everyone else is doing, and do the opposite. Some of the most successful reps are using personalized video content embedded in their emails to get prospects attention. Check out Vidyard, they have a free option, and most sales teams see a 500% increase in scheduled appointments as a result of using the technology. Sales teams are also starting to sprinkle GIFs and memes into their email strategy, because visuals are processed 60,000 times faster then text, and most people have a sense of humor. Getting someone to crack a smile in the workplace may be a creative way of differentiating your efforts. Bottom line, there are a lot of successful techniques out there to explore; don’t be afraid to be a pioneer. Once everyone adopts a certain tactic, it loses its effectiveness.  

Expand your sales channels

Email and phone calls have become the most crowded channels for sales prospecting. Some of the top reps have started expanding their efforts to greener pastures, creating a multi pronged approach. If your in the b2b space, LinkedIn is the next logical place for you to explore. Tools like Sales Navigator allow you to view profiles, connect and drop InMail messages quickly and easily, complimenting your existing activity. If a prospect is getting 100 emails a day, they may only be getting 1 LinkedIn message or request per day, which is 100 to 1. The chances of being noticed and getting a response increase exponentially when you explore “roads less traveled” by other prospectors, as long as it’s rich with your targets and personas. Ask your marketing team to do some market research and provide guidance to support your expansion.

Test, test & test

Most people assume campaign testing is only a marketing function, but its not! If you are spending time architecting a pitch, email content and other campaign elements, why put all your eggs in one basket? Successful sales reps repackage and repurpose existing marketing materials with a new and creative spin, but the star performers come up with different versions (A/B) and perform experiments. Try splitting up your target list and test different subject lines, body copy, pitches, and the use of images/video and links. If you’re always testing, you will be able to kill bad ideas quickly and pour gasoline on the winners. Focusing more time on what is working and becoming smarter overtime is how the top achievers operate.