Marketing with Bots: The Pros & The Cons

With marketing bots, we're going to see the best behavior, and the very worst

If you’re the least bit techie, you’ve heard of companies successfully marketing with bots.

If you’re a more ‘analog’ small business owner, though, maybe not so much. But some are saying they’re the future of both lead generation through your website as well as customer service, so I want to share with you my greatest hopes and fears of businesses marketing with bots.

When I say ‘bots’ I’m referring to the increasingly popular automation tools that are emerging to make some tasks easy, fast, and require no human interaction. They’re typically built as automated chat tools, making it easier for website owners to engage visitors without having to hope those visitors complete your ‘Contact Us’ form.

Here’s a full definition from Recode on bots:

What is a bot? Recode

Marketing with bots, then, means the ways you put bots to work to multiple your marketing efforts as a small business owner, entrepreneur, or solopreneur. Here are a few links that provide some backup to this concept of marketing with bots.

So, what can you do right now with bots?

Regardless of the size of your company or the traffic to your website. you can use bots—chatbots in particular—to engage visitors on your website. As in, today. The technology and service providers already exist and they’re proven. And theoretically they’ll work even if you receive only 100 visitors to your site each month.

Here’s how that customer experience would work.

Visitors to your website click a simple little button somewhere on your website—usually floating in the right bottom corner—and start ‘talking’ with you. But it’s not you. You’ve setup a bot to initiate the conversation the same way you would if you were in front of them, giving them one or more questions to answer to understand what it is they’re hoping to accomplish. You can frame things the way you would with your personality, your jargon, everything.

As they answer, you can follow-up in that chat with more questions that have pre-written answers, and/or you can send them to specific pages on your website for them to learn more.

There are numerous services that can help you do this.

Some host the entire chat right there on your site. Most of them that offer this sort of chat offer additional features beyond chat. Check out Drift first and foremost—they’re absolutely the leader in this category. They’ve got a product/feature called LeadBot that qualifies visitors in exactly this way, without you having to create a ‘lead score’ or require site visitors to fill out a form.

Some of these tools, meanwhile, integrate with Facebook’s Messenger tool instead, which has its own pros and cons (real quick: a pro for you is that you get to know who they are through their Facebook profile; a con is that although you’re engaging them and can always send them back to your website, they’re now off of your website to participate in that Messenger-based chat).

There are many providers in the Facebook Messenger bot arena. Two I’m keeping an eye on are ManyChat and Chatfuel. They seem poised to help non-coder entrepreneurs and solopreneurs quickly launch Messenger-based chatbots relatively pain-free.

This is different from the live chat you’ve probably encountered on other websites

You’ve probably experienced live chat on other websites. To look into your mobile phone bill, or your cable service, or whatever. You’ve chatted back and forth in real time with a customer service agent.

What’s different with chatbots is that you’re not interacting with a human live, in the moment. You’re interacting with a script that’s been setup (taught?) how to interact with people, asking them questions and providing links or answers, and in some cases interpreting vague requests.

My greatest hopes for marketing with bots

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My hope for businesses marketing with bots is that you really think through a real-world conversation with your prospects. How would you greet them, like a normal human being? That’s a different thing than what you might think to type as a greeting.

What would you ask them first? Would you aggressively ask them if they want a quote upon meeting them for the first time? Probably not.

Where would you steer them on your website if they want to know about your certifications, or read some testimonials, or have a question about colors, price, availability, etc.? Plan out that interaction.

What would you ask them as a second step? What would you need to know to determine how urgent their situation is? How would you balance your desire to see if they’re an ideal potential client or a bad fit, while also diplomatically giving them the information they need?

My hope is that even those of you who own the ‘analog’ companies out there—heating and air conditioning contractors, landscapers, attorneys, plumbers, consultants, restaurants, you name it—will test out how bots can multiple your marketing efforts.

But I do have some fears.

My greatest fears for marketing with bots

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Surely you’ve had to call Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, or DirecTV. At some point in time, you’ve had to call a customer service line to troubleshoot an issue or clarify your billing.

You dial the toll-free number, hear one ring, and then KABLAM! you’re greeted with an automated attendant who you think is going to give you some numeric options to choose from to route your call. “Press 1 to talk to sales, Press 2 to talk to billing…”

Instead of those options, however, the attendant asks you questions. “Please state your 16-digit account number, or enter it on your keypad.” If you’re like me, you’re instantly irritable, but you’ve given it a go to state that account number. Often it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

You’re instantly irritable because many automated attendants will ultimately ask you a question that it cannot interpret for an answer, leaving you frustrated and the company with a shiny, new, at-risk customer.

So, in short, my greatest fear is that these bots are used to simply duplicate what we already have too much of:

  • Impersonal communications that lead to breakdowns
  • Overly aggressive communications that lead to frustration

My fear is we use these as a poor substitute for human interaction, not an extension of it.

Having said all that, here’s what I’m seeing with using bots for marketing

My opinions aside, what I’m seeing from those who incorporate chatbots with their marketing efforts is a multiplication of their sales efforts. I’m learning of companies generating more leads without any intervention from their sales team. I’m reading of companies and thought leaders who talk of abandoning forms entirely in order to generate leads.

All this seems counterintuitive, but it’s the wave of the future. The less we like speaking to each other over the phone, the more we’re going to see bots taking up the task to engage us.

What do you think about marketing with bots? Are you testing it out? Looking ahead to incorporating them already? A little skittish?

(Photo courtesy of Gabriel White via Flickr. He has done some tremendous photography around the world. Please check him out.)

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