Make Your Bots Human

Dave Gerhardt wants those bothersome pop-up forms on B2B landing pages gone. Of course, as CMO of Drift, a cutting-edge, live chat and bot company, that would be great for business. That aside, Gerhardt makes a convincing argument: when’s the last time you said “Oh, great! Another form! I can’t wait to fill this out and get a bunch of emails from a company I barely know.”

Like many CMOs would have been, Gerhardt was pretty skeptical of a non-gated approach to their own content, something his CEO had first encouraged them to pursue. However, his CEO suggested conversational marketing as an alternative. It was pretty uncommon, but they wanted to lead by example and, a year or so later, Gerhardt is fully pro-conversation marketing. The key? Savvy tech use, human conversations, and personable tone for their bots.

How’d you first decide to ungate your content?

Well, I was panicking when David, our CEO, first came to me with that proposal. He said, “I want you to get rid of all of our lead forms and gated content.” And I almost jumped out of my apartment at the time because it’s like, “well you hired me to generate leads and now you’re going to take this away from me. What do you want me to do?”

And his point was “Look, we are going to go teach the market about a new way to do marketing — conversational marketing — and we can’t do it like everybody else, we need to eat in our own restaurant and be able to go show everybody how we did it.”

But you still have lead capturing, right??

Yes. The real answer is that, instead of forms, we’re using bots to capture leads. But the big difference is instead of a form submission, it’s a conversation. And when you thought of form it’s binary, either you fill it out or you don’t. With a conversation, we have so many more people that come to our website and say, ‘hey I saw you from the podcast, I have a question, is your pricing $500 a month? Or is your event tomorrow? Or how do I get to your office?’ Everything is a conversation instead of a form submission, which is where all this stuff really starts.

What occurs when that switch happens?

There are times that people go from conversation to sale or conversation right to demo, where they get on a Zoom call and do a demo. But I think the biggest misconception is you still are capturing leads, and so the thing that we talk about is not ‘hey everybody, stop capturing leads.’ No. Of course, you want to get contact information so you can have a conversation with somebody, but what we learned is that the way people buy today— and there’s so much data on this— basically the concept is more and more people 75-80%of people are now showing up on a company’s website having done almost all of the research that they need to buy. The whole premise is based on that is: if you’re showing up with almost all the answers on somebody’s website, why do most websites act like they’ve never had any information about them out before? Hello there. If you’d like to learn more from us, put your information here.

Drift’s bots are very friendly—is that a tonal suggestion you make?

We care a lot about copywriting at Drift and we think about a lot of principles. One of them is: write like you talk, and say it out loud. Now that you’ve written out everything, read it out loud, and see if, if you had a brick and mortar store, would it sound weird, or would it be funny and work? I think that’s a really simple exercise that a lot of people don’t do. And that’s the goal of having a bot on your website, is to facilitate those real conversations. So, I think it starts with: does this sound on brand for us? Does it sound like a robot? The other piece of it is we don’t want to use bots to replace humans, so we make it very clear that this is a bot, is not named ‘Dave’ and the bot is not pretending to be a Dave. For example: ‘Hi, I’m the bot. I’m Dave’s helper. I can help get you in contact with him. What do you want to know?’

I recall an empathy discussion in your book, what role does that play?

I’m so glad you found that nugget in the book because, to me, that’s the one word that is most important to marketing today. Marketing is about helping people buy, and empathy starts with: What are the good experiences that I have? Why did I love that? And the hard part is, so many times when you have a great experience online, it’s nothing like what actually happens with a B2B company.

Is there content that would be worth gating, for brands?

Yes, for sure. To me it just depends on the value of it. I think what’s changed is, ten years ago you could gate almost anything. And the reason why is, very few people were creating information, and so information was not free, had to pay for it. Today, everybody has a podcast. Everybody has a blog. You and I are all drowning in information. There is too much of it. The gating that works today is if you gate something that is of real value, for example we wrote a 300-page book with a publisher or, for example, I spent six hours making a video course about how to create a podcast right. That is the real valuable stuff that’s worth gating and I think that’s been the biggest switch in B2B marketing.

How long would it take a business to start to feel like they’re getting value out of the bot?

Well the first question I would ask is what would value be? Do you have a sales funnel today? If you say no, then I’m going to say: well, this is going be a new experience for you, but I want you to focus on having conversations with the people that come to your website. I want you to answer every chat. I want you to talk. Don’t even use the bot. Talk to everybody that comes in and see what you can learn. That would be the very beginner playbook moving up from there you could start to replace some of the things you’re already doing in your sales and marketing funnel.

Are bots good for small businesses?

Heck yeah. And the reason is: if you’re a small business, my guess is you are not just sitting around on your website all day thinking, ‘I hope somebody comes here.’ You’re making podcasts, you’re talking to clients, you’ve got so much stuff to do. The power of bots is that they can work 24/7, 365. As a business owner, you can get leads while you’re sleeping— but also, for the customer, no matter when they go to your website, they get help! Imagine if you went to Amazon at 5:07 p.m. and they were like “Ooh… everybody’s gone for the day. No books for you.” Our expectations have been reset as consumers, but for most B2B websites, it doesn’t feel that way. If I go to B2B website, most of the time it’s about waiting. Chat bots can be the perfect layer in the middle to be there 24/7, 365 not to replace a human, but to facilitate a great experience.

Five years ago you could say— you know and I did this too, one of the first things I did at Drift was make a list of 50 influential marketers to follow on Twitter and I just like paid somebody 50 dollars on Upwork to go make me a list of those Twitter accounts. I put them in a spreadsheet, and I made it a view only and I said I put your e-mail in and I’ll give you this spreadsheet right now like I’ve done that, I’m not just preaching because like I think that’s silly marketing, I’ve done that and it’s worked for me— but I think today that information is so common that you can’t gate that type of stuff.

We’re all buyers, we’re all consumers, we are all people. I think empathy is thinking about: wait a second. In a roomful of marketers, I asked “how many of you answer the phone when it’s a number you don’t know.” Nobody raises their hand. I say, “how many of you answer cold e-mails like people trying to sell you stuff.” Nobody raises their hand. I say, “how many of you tried to like skip gated content?” everybody. But then we all go to our jobs in sales and marketing and we do all the things that we hate. And I think everybody goes ‘oh my god you’re right’. So that’s what I think empathy is about is understanding how you buy and understanding that there is no B2B buyer, versus B2C buyer- because of Amazon Uber Lyft? Netflix all those things we are all used to buying that way, and it should work the same way for our businesses.

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