Why B2B Companies Are Adding Live Chat To Their Websites

I’m not an expert on live chat (also known as “messaging”) for B2B companies. In fact, I’m new to it. And that’s why I wanted to write this post. We are all new to it. There are no experts yet. But this is a growing trend that deserves more conversation. So let’s talk about it.

You probably have experienced live chat with customer support teams of massive corporations like Verizon or Comcast. Regardless of what your customer support experience was like, most people agree live chat is more convenient than phone support. And so the trend began...

Smaller companies are now adding live chat to their websites. But it’s not just for customer support. For site visitors, live chat is an opportunity to engage in conversation directly with B2B companies. However, it’s also an opportunity for B2B companies to achieve their sales and marketing goals. Live chat for sales and marketing purposes is called “messaging.”

Messaging is the new trend. It seems to be quickly gaining traction because of companies like Drift emerging with messaging technology specifically built for sales and marketing teams. Drift has a free plan, and a technically undemanding implementation process, which means trying messaging on a B2B website is feasible for all types of companies, even those with limited technical resources.

A few weeks ago we tried messaging at my current startup. There were a few things that we thought messaging could do for us:

  1. Convert more visitors to leads (and possibly automate this with bots)
  2. Qualify leads by directly asking qualification questions (probably automate this too)
  3. Use a new channel to engage with hot prospects that are actively seeking answers and evaluating our product (existing channels for this: phone & email)
  4. Discover what information our website might lack or bury from our visitors

What is this new “messaging” trend?

Consider this: the majority of human communication in the twenty-first century is digital text-based conversation. Text message, Facebook Messenger, Slack, WhatsApp, and Twitter are the tools of conversation. At some point in the future learning to type will be as important as learning the alphabet. So why hasn’t marketing adapted to account for messaging? Well, now it has.

A couple of years ago there was this big marketing transformation around Inbound Marketing. The idea of attracting leads into your database by offering compelling content was game-changing in the late 2000’s. The Inbound movement was about adapting to technology (the internet). And so is this messaging trend.

Earlier this month, Drift published a blog post called “A Year Without Lead Forms: 5 Things We Learned Ungating Our Content.” In it, they pitch bots – automated messages that marketers can program to ask certain questions to website visitors – as the future for qualifying leads. Bye bye, lead forms. Essentially their thesis is what I said above that humans want to converse like humans rather than fill out lead forms.

This idea sounds great. What’s particularly encouraging is that the team behind Drift came from HubSpot, which shepherded the Inbound Marketing movement. Marketing should evolve in parallel to technology. This team knows that and how to build the tools.

One of the big takeaways from the Inbound Marketing movement was that getting in early on a trend often meant you’d have a competitive advantage. An excellent example of that is blogging. HubSpot started blogging in 2007 before it was standard practice for businesses to blog. As a result, they became thought leaders on blogging when it became more popular and helped businesses grow.

So part of the answer to why B2B companies are now jumping on the messaging trend is that getting started early on a trend often yields the greatest returns. Messaging might be the number one communication channel for leads and businesses in five years. Think of it like this: if your business figures out how to do messaging well, you’ll have a significant advantage over your competitors.

Messaging is the ultimate personalization tool

HubSpot preaches that personalizing the marketing experience is a vital element of Inbound Marketing. That’s why they have tools in their product like Smart Content, that displays dynamic content based on who the viewer is – such as a website visitor, lead or customer.

An example of how Smart Content works on HubSpot’s homepage.

An example of how Smart Content works on HubSpot’s homepage.

Messaging takes personalizing to a whole new level. Engaging with a business by conversing with an employee in a chat window trumps filling out a lead form that requires answering questions and providing personal information.

However, bot technology hasn’t advanced far enough that bots are a realistic alternative to humans. And so I think the big problem with messaging technology today is how to scale it without having to hire people to be on the other end of the conversation. Chatbots lack personalization. But hopefully not for long.

Who are the big players in messaging tools right now?

There are two big players that you should evaluate if you’re considering messaging on your website. The first is Drift. Because Drift’s technology is built for sales and marketing teams, it has more sales and marketing features than its competitor Intercom. For instance, you can schedule a meeting right within Drift’s chat interface (although it only connects to Google Calendar at the time of publishing this post).

Drift also integrates with HubSpot, Salesforce, Wordpress, Slack, Sendgrid and a few other products. It’s vital for CMS, marketing automation and CRM systems to connect to the messaging tool. If you can’t use the information you collect with messaging in the rest of your sales and marketing efforts, then what’s the point of having it in the first place? Drift, which has only been around for a few years already has built key integrations, but certainly, has a long way to go.

The disadvantages of Drift are that it’s new and lacks maturity. it also hasn’t quite got chatbots figured out yet. That said, Drift’s product and customer success teams seem very eager to hear customer feedback and quickly implement changes.

The other big player is Intercom. Intercom has a mature product that is ideal for the entire lifespan of product adoption. Intercom can work on your website but also has more advanced functionality to work within browser applications. It also has far more integrations (just compare Drift’s integrations webpage against Intercom’s).

But Intercom lacks the sales and marketing specific features that Drift has already built. As well, Intercom doesn’t have chatbots. They even blogged about why they don’t have bots (spoiler: because chatbots aren’t smart enough yet).

How my team experimented with messaging

At my current startup, we implemented Intercom first, several weeks ago. Would our audience engage with live chat if given the option? We set up live chat to prompt a message to viewers on our pricing page. Live chat proved fruitful as our visitors and leads engaged with us quite frequently. Within a week we had more than a hundred conversations. At this point, it was evident that live chat was a viable communication channel for us.

However, we realized there were limitations with Intercom. Intercom doesn’t seem to work well for sales and marketing objectives. Intercom’s live chat tools, which apparently is a mix of two of their products Engage and Respond (it’s weird), do not possess lead routing. Without lead routing how could we get our sales team involved? Intercom also didn’t have saved replies built into either of these tools. But we also really wanted to experiment with chatbots.

So we explored other live chat options and eventually decided that we should test Drift’s “messaging” tools (live chat + bots).

We are still in the “testing” process with Drift. We have not calculated the impact of messaging yet. Like most startup marketing teams, it's difficult to allocate as much time as we’d like to work on this project. But messaging shows promise and could eventually be a key communication channel for our sales and marketing teams with our website traffic. The volume of "inbound" chats is encouraging.

Drift’s chatbot

One of the big reasons we wanted to try Drift was LeadBot. I built our first chatbot, and we tested it internally with our development team.

What we originally found was that while the concept is promising, Drift’s LeadBot wasn't smart enough yet to handle the broad spectrum of communication a chatbot might get from website traffic.

UPDATE: A few months later, LeadBot is much improved. The Drift team implemented buttons so a visitor can respond to a LeadBot question rather than type out an answer. This makes the visitor experience much cleaner. Drift also added "End conversation" functionality, more powerful logic AND attribute mapping so you can take visitors answers to LeadBot questions and use them within conversations to make the bot smarter.

What should you do about the messaging trend?

If you want to solve for one of the four objectives I outlined earlier, then you should give it a shot. Again, the objectives are:

  1. Convert more visitors to leads (and possibly automate this with bots)
  2. Qualify leads by directly asking qualification questions (probably automate this too)
  3. Use a new channel to engage with hot prospects that are actively seeking answers and evaluating our product (existing channels for this: phone & email)
  4. Discover what information our website might lack or bury from our visitors

Between Drift’s free plan and Intercom’s 14-day trial, you can try both and find out which is better for your team. Additionally, LeadBot is an exciting tool. It’s worth attempting to build a bot that interacts appropriately with your website’s audience. Just exercise caution with how you use it. The good news is that the Drift team is spitting out product enhancements at a rapid pace.

On June 6th at 1 PM, I will be hosting an office hour on VentureApp about this topic. Join the office hour to ask me anything. If you want to add it to your calendar visit their website.

Learn more about live chat for B2B websites
Join me June 6th at 1 PM on VentureApp to ask me anything about live chat for B2B websites.