Marketers have used sales funnels for almost a century. The term was first coined by E. St. Elmo Lewis, who developed a purchase funnel. While the idea behind a funnel has remained the same over all these years, we have developed new technologies to push leads towards making a purchase. Innovations like customer-service hotlines have moved on to email, and now, we have a potential solution that will further decrease our dependence on human agents: a sales chatbot.
Support and sales chatbot use combinations of rules, conditional logic, artificial intelligence, and automation to allow businesses to respond to customer inquiries rapidly. Companies can take data based on the actions taken by current and potential customers, use artificial intelligence and machine learning to make sense of it, and use this data to predict their next moves.
Sales chatbots can answer customer questions, gauge customer interest in products, and suggest other products they might find useful. They do this using a combination of instant messaging and a large database of answers.
You can deploy a chatbot for every stage of the funnel.
Before we go into more detail about how to deploy sales chatbots in specific sales funnel stages, let’s discuss some other ways chatbots are changing how companies do business.
How Sales Chatbots are Helping Businesses
Chatbots are no longer “the next big thing” -- they’re already here! As of May 2020, there are 300,000 chatbots on Facebook Messenger alone, and countless other websites are seeing the benefits of chatbots. Here are five ways chatbots are helping businesses transform into responsive enterprises:
Chatbots Provide 24/7 Support
While nothing beats the human touch of customer service agents, chatbots are coming close to imitating the experience, at least on chat. Unlike humans, chatbots never sleep or take breaks, and they don’t get tired.
Instead of hiring customer service staff to work at 3 am and wrestling with their schedules, you can get a chatbot to answer customer inquiries. Such a system will ensure that you have a constant presence while your staff can operate at peak hours.
Chatbots Give Immediate, Consistent Answers.
One of my greatest pet peeves is calling a tech support hotline the weekend after Cyber Monday. It’s almost impossible to get through to an agent. If we do get to speak to one, it usually comes after waiting for hours on the phone. And when their suggestions don’t work the first time, we usually end up calling -- and waiting for a few more hours -- again.
With the support and sales chatbots, your customers will never have to wait hours for someone to answer basic questions. Multiple people can ask questions to a chatbot at the same time. Even if thousands of users message your chatbot, they can expect an error-free answer in real-time. This helps make people happier with your product and after-sales service.
Chatbots Help you Save Money.
Every year, businesses spend around $1.3 trillion to answer more than 260 million customer service calls. Even if your business outsources its customer service to another country where the labor costs are far lower, the operational expenses associated with customer and tech support services pile up very quickly. These expenses include agent salaries and incentives, office space rental, telephony, and training.
However, most of these calls are of the “general inquiry” category, which means they could be answered easily. Instead of getting a human to answer these inquiries, you can deploy a chatbot instead, then have the chatbot escalate the inquiry to a live chat with a human agent (if the questions become more complicated). If you’re worried about the cost of coding a chatbot, you’d be surprised to know that there are no-code chatbot platforms that help you develop a chatbot quickly and easily.
Using a sales chatbot will help you reduce your customer support workforce or allow you to assign your employees to more complex tasks. Some industry observers predict that chatbots will answer 90% of customer service inquiries by 2025, which means companies could cut operational costs by billions of dollars.
Chatbots Learn Quickly
A typical customer service agent will require around two weeks for product-specific training. If you’re outsourcing your customer service overseas, you will have to wait for another two weeks for language and culture training after an agent is hired. If your business is expanding rapidly, you cannot afford to wait that long.
In contrast, chatbots learn quickly. As long as you have a large enough data set that contains both questions and answers, they can use artificial intelligence to anticipate customer inquiries and provide informative answers. You can even create learning cycles for chatbots to roll out new pricing and product information or even change welcome messages depending on the season. It’s as easy as putting in new phrases, testing them for a couple of days, and going live.
If you run a SaaS business, you could teach your chatbot to take customer inquiries, search for specific keywords, and build a proposal email around those keywords based on the client’s industry and budget -- a process that could take a few days for a human. Still, you would only require a few minutes for a chatbot integrated with a proposal software.
Sales Chatbots Can Handle Complete Transactions
When you get hungry while working, getting your phone and calling the nearest take-out place could be inconvenient. However, if you’re a Slack user, you can use a chatbot to order food from a Taco Bell near you. The chatbot, called TacoBot, takes human orders and offers add-ons, like chicken taco filling instead of beef, extra cheese, or lettuce:
TacoBot isn’t the only restaurant chatbot in the game. The Starbucks mobile app, for example, has also come up with a feature called MyBarista, which is a chatbot that customers can message through text or voice. The bot then repeats the orders, gives the nearest Starbucks location, and lets the customer pay using different payment options.
With less fraud risk in the food and beverage industry, it was only a matter of time before chatbots could process orders, from initial contact to payment and delivery. We wouldn’t be surprised to see more businesses, not just from the food and beverage industry, use chatbots as another customer purchase channel in the new normal.
The 4 Stages Of The Sales Funnel & How Chatbots Can Fit In
We’ve already discussed different ways chatbots are used for sales. We’ll now talk about how chatbots can be used at each stage of the sales funnel. Let’s dive in.
Before your business can attract customers, you need to make them aware of your existence. The awareness stage is where a consumer discovers a brand or product. While most potential customers get to this stage through advertising, email, YouTube ads, or social media, sales chatbots can elevate the customer’s awareness level by providing a personalized experience.
How chatbots fit in: Many websites have virtual assistants that don’t pop up right away but instead wait for a while, then offer to help the user find what they need. You could customize these chatbots to provide answers based on how the user arrived on the site or which landing page they’re currently browsing. Your Facebook or Instagram pages could also accommodate simple chatbots to answer basic inquiries or even use a quiz bot for a more engaging experience.
Why chatbots work: Normally, a visitor would just get on a landing page or social media page, look around a bit, then leave. A chatbot engages the visitor by starting a conversation and pointing them in a specific direction, depending on how they respond. This step alone helps your brand leave a strong first impression on visitors, which is crucial in building a connection.
When the lead shows interest in a specific product or service, they start seeking more information. They could go to the Contact Us page, call a salesperson, or send an email through the form you provide on the page. Or you could use a sales chatbot for faster response time.
How chatbots fit in: Even if it’s 10 PM on Sunday and your customer service reps are out for the weekend, the most rudimentary chatbots can answer preliminary questions, such as “Is this available in my area?”, “How much do I pay per month?” or even “Is anyone there to take my call?”. They could even take an email address, run it through an email verification service, then send relevant documents, such as a product spec sheet, to the site visitor.
Why chatbots work: Unlike customer inquiry hotlines, a chatbot on your site means a customer doesn’t need to wait for a long time to talk with someone who could answer their questions. You could even use a customer’s browsing history to suggest products related to what they have searched for in the past. For example, if a visitor searches for dog treats on your site, a chatbot could suggest feeding bowls.
At this point, the lead is about to decide whether they’ll make a purchase. The most common conventional marketing methods here include informational content and advertisements, but chatbots could also serve as an extension of your sales and marketing team.
How chatbots fit in: A chatbot could help provide your leads with bits of information that could push them towards deciding to purchase. They could also use previous chats with the person and their browsing behavior to give a human salesperson the information they need to close the deal and determine whether a lead is qualified or not.
Why chatbots work: Chatbots take a lot of the guesswork out of the sales process. Because they gather data on the visitor’s behavior, a human marketer can check for patterns that indicate a strong interest in the brand or an intention to purchase, saving time and effort that would otherwise be spent on leads who are not likely to buy at all.
The bottom of the funnel is where the customer makes a purchase or subscribes to a service. At this point, a human usually steps in to help the customer with the purchase process. However, as we’ve seen in the Taco Bell example above, customers can also buy directly through the bot. Depending on the industry, a chatbot could facilitate the customer as they renew their subscription or make a repeat purchase.
How chatbots fit in: Marketing and sales teams could use data gathered using chatbots to create strategies for suggesting new products that add value to the customer’s purchase. A chatbot could also send useful information or reminders to the customer, such as the due date for subscription renewal or even a cart abandonment email.
Why chatbots work: A marketing chatbot takes and generates a lot of data. You can use artificial intelligence and analytics to analyze this data, helping your business determine what a customer is likely to buy next. If you understand what a customer is likely to buy, you can place yourself in a position to make an offer when a customer revisits your site.
Regardless of your business’s size or niche, a chatbot can help qualified leads through your sales funnel, giving the information they might need to make a purchase while providing you with data that could help you make the sale.
Before you develop or deploy a chatbot, you need to define your customer journey first. Your chatbot should feed into how you do business. You want to provide a good customer experience for potential buyers. Even a simple chatbot armed with answers to frequently asked questions would go a long way in streamlining your marketing process and growing your business.