If you’re a regular internet user (or even just an occasional one) you’ve likely come across a chatbot on at least one occasion. You might not have even realized you were conversing with a bot, but it’s thought that at least 80% of us have interacted with a chatbot at least once in the last year.
And with the chatbot industry expected to grow more than four-fold between 2022 and 2027, it’s clear their prevalence is only going to increase in the coming years. But while chatbots have typically been associated with B2C interactions, what does this mean for B2B companies? How can chatbots be leveraged to establish and nurture B2B relationships?
In this post, we’ll examine the role of chatbots within the B2B space and explore the key reasons for a B2B organization to deploy a chatbot as part of its sales and marketing strategy.
First, let’s define what a chatbot actually is.
What is a chatbot?
A chatbot is an AI-driven service that enables B2B and B2C customers to carry out certain actions online through text or (increasingly commonly) voice commands. Also known as “dialog agents” or “virtual assistants,” chatbots are typically programmed with pre-specified rules and algorithms that allow them to “understand” human language, as well as learn from different user interactions.
Chatbots can be deployed as part of a B2B company’s website or app, as well as integrated into other third-party platforms like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp. Some B2B organizations even develop bespoke chatbot apps, but the most common form of B2B chatbot is likely to be deployed via a third-party platform such as Tidio (or a Tidio alternative like Crisp).
However, it’s important to note that not all chatbots are built the same. While some have powerful machine learning capabilities enabling them to distinguish context and evolve their understanding of user queries, others are limited to predefined instructions only — meaning they require human input in order to interpret and respond to questions or commands. Here are a few examples of the different types of chatbots in use today:
- Menu-based chatbots: The most primitive example of a chatbot, a menu (or button)-based bot is essentially a glorified decision tree hierarchy. Similar to automated phone menus (press 1 for X, 2 for Y, etc.), this type of chatbot requires a user to make several selections so that it can understand the user’s query and offer the most appropriate response. There’s very little artificial ‘intelligence’ at play here.
- Rule-based chatbots: Slightly more advanced than a menu-based chatbot, a rule-based chatbot works to predefined conditions (using an if/then type of logic) to create conversational flows. This type of bot still demands a high level of human input in order to build the conditional logic it draws from, and it can typically only understand very specific and usually fairly basic queries.
- NLP chatbots: Natural language processing (NLP) is a subset of artificial intelligence that enables a machine to process and ‘understand’ human language. By parsing text, an NLP chatbot can effectively ‘listen’ to what users type (or speak aloud) and respond appropriately by recognizing specific keywords. However, these chatbots can fail when presented with a series of very similar questions.
- Contextual chatbots: The most cutting-edge type of chatbot, a contextual chatbot (which uses an advanced type of AI called machine learning) has the capability to develop its understanding over time based on previous interactions with users. Unlike the aforementioned examples which rely on human input or keyword recognition, these bots are ‘intelligent’ enough to discern context and evolve through experience.
It’s worth nothing that many businesses adopt a kind of ‘hybrid’ chatbot model which incorporates elements of more than one of the above examples. For instance, an NLP-based chatbot may be used in combination with a menu-based bot — if the NLP function is unable to discern a user’s query through keyword recognition, for example, it can then default to a button-based system where the user selects from a series of options to provide the bot with some more specific context.
Why are chatbots important for B2B companies?
With the B2B buying process ranging anywhere from 6 weeks to a full year (much longer than the average B2C purchase), it’s imperative that B2B companies have a clear understanding of how they can optimize their sales and marketing strategies via technology. B2B customers are likely to appreciate the convenience of having a bot at their disposal, as well as the potential for increased productivity as they interact with these bots.
As part of an overarching B2B marketing strategy, there are a number of compelling use cases for deploying a chatbot — including:
Improving lead generation and lead qualification
A well-designed chatbot can help to increase the volume of leads generated by a B2B company’s marketing efforts, as well as boost the quality of leads generated. There are a number of ways a chatbot can aid in sourcing and qualifying leads:
- They can generate leads 24/7: a human B2B sales team can only cover so many hours of the day — meaning potential leads might be missed outside of business hours — but a chatbot is never ‘off’. It can keep generating and qualifying leads even when your human staff have clocked off for the day.
- They can promote lead magnets: A chatbot is a great way of enticing leads by promoting your key lead magnets; for example, by offering gated content or material in exchange for their email address. The most advanced bots can even offer targeted lead magnets based on visitors’ past behavior and the previous pages they’ve visited.
- They can route leads appropriately: A chatbot can be an ideal way to capture a potential lead in the first instance, but at some point that lead will need to be referred to a human sales or service agent. Based on the information the user gives it, a chatbot can direct the conversation to the most appropriate team or team member to (hopefully) close the sale.
- They reduce the need for static forms: Over two-thirds of internet users abandon online forms without completing them, principally due to their length or complexity. A chatbot can split the information gathering process into short, manageable steps, helping to keep leads engaged and reducing drop-off rates.
Improving brand awareness and reputation
Deploying chatbots to engage with prospective and existing customers via social media platforms like Facebook Messenger or WhatsApp can help to build brand awareness and reputation by effectively being in more places at once. The ability of a small B2B firm to increase its reach will be limited by the capacity of its team and the number of hours in the day, while deploying one or more chatbots can engage more users, across more channels, at any time of day.
Brand reputation can also be massively influenced by a chatbot. Keeping leads and customers waiting for a response is not likely to create a great image — and this can be particularly problematic for B2B companies experiencing a high volume of sales queries. The 24/7 availability of a chatbot can help businesses keep their reputations intact by providing instant responses around the clock.
Improving customer retention
A well-built chatbot can help B2B customers with any issues they might be experiencing, as well as provide helpful information regarding the organization’s products or services. High-quality, efficient customer support is essential for retaining business, since just one negative experience could cause an existing customer to bolt.
A more advanced chatbot is also capable of personalization, meaning it can offer tailored and highly-relevant information and solutions based on a user’s past interactions or the pages they’ve visited previously. Personalization is key to increasing retention (80% of consumers are more inclined to do business with an organization that delivers tailored experiences), and so a chatbot can be a key retention-driving tool.
Chatbots are not simply the preserve of B2C companies looking to automate their customer support processes — they’re increasingly being leveraged by B2B brands in generating and qualifying more leads, providing round-the-clock support, enhancing brand recognition and reputation, and helping to drive customer retention.
If your B2B brand has previously dismissed the prospect of adding a chatbot to your website or app, you may want to reconsider.