The Three Stages of Chat Maturity
This year, seven out of 10 of people reading this blog post will interact with a chatbot on a daily basis. The usage of chat tools has increased by 67% from 2018 to 2020 and the chatbot market was valued at $430.9 million in 2020.
Companies and customers alike are relying more and more on chat tools to get information, request demos and pricing, speak to a representative, and more.
And while a majority of companies see the value of chat (a recent report by Drift found that 74% of its survey respondents were planning to add a chat solution to their marketing strategy) unfortunately, most companies aren’t getting the most out of their investment.
Chat can and should work as an interactive nurture channel across sales, marketing, and customer service. It should be an organic way for companies to have a two-way dialogue with prospects and customers, adding value to the buying journey while also speeding up the buying process by:
- Providing a personalized experience. In the best-case scenario, companies offer a direct path-to-purchase with robust self-service offerings.
- Pushing people through their journey faster than traditional email or organic interactions, with faster response times and a more interconnected experience with questions, content, rep conversations and more.
- Generating high quality leads (with the “hand raising” that comes from engaging with a chat feature) that are more likely to turn into closed-won opportunities.
When you’re in this ideal state, sales teams are scaling with less effort and fewer resources and companies are offering more personalized experiences along the way.
But you can’t switch on that type of strategic solution with the flick of a lever. It takes time to learn, to plan, and to optimize. Our experience has shown that companies typically fall into one of these three stages when it comes to maturing their chat tool:
- Stage 1: You’re starting to think about the implications of implementing a chat tool and wondering what to consider before getting started.
- Stage 2: You’ve implemented chat, but you’re seeing signs that it’s time to level-up and you want to act on them.
- Stage 3: You’ve reached the ideal setup for using live chat across customer support, sales, and marketing.
Read on as we walk through each of these stages and explain how you can get the most out of your tool.
Stage One: You’re thinking about getting a chat tool
Great! Chat can make a major difference in your ability to connect with customers and prospects at the right time, lead qualification time, sales productivity, and so much more.
But before you jump in, take the time to understand the holistic function and impact of chat. It’s not just a sales, marketing, or customer service tool. It’s a channel through which you can have direct, personalized conversations with your prospects. Building the right foundation is critical to achieving that level of success.
Here are some of the practical implications to consider before getting started:
- Who will own, implement, and manage your chat solution? For example, who is determining the strategy for this tool? Is it sales, marketing, IT, or a combination of teams? Get crystal clear about who handles what, and when. If you skip this step, it’s likely that prospects will be left waiting for a chat response that may not come for days.
- Who will staff live interactions? What about requests that route to email? When will a lead be routed to Inside Sales vs. Field Sales? Have you established clear SLAs that outline who will respond to email requests and when they’ll do it? You may not need 24/7 coverage right off the bat, but make sure you understand who will field all incoming inquiries so that you can respond to both leads and customers as quickly as possible.
- How will chat be integrated and configured with your CRM? Carefully map out the information you’ll need to integrate with your CRM and marketing automation platform like engagement history and responses to progressive profiling questions. This data should be captured and used both to trigger responses within the chat tool, and to move a user through the funnel.
- Do you have the right infrastructure in place? Just implementing chat on your website and walking away doesn’t add any value to your customer or buyers’ experiences. You must plan for and manage this channel strategically. We strongly recommend that you have the following items in place before getting started:
- A progressive profiling form strategy
- Plenty of stage-appropriate content to offer next steps via chat
- Agreement on lead qualification stages and how a chat interaction will change a lead’s score
- A demand process in place to orchestrate all sales and marketing interactions
- Clear, measurable KPIs
Stage Two: You have chat, but you know you’re not fully leveraging it
This second stage is where many companies fall: you’ve implemented a chat tool on your site, but it’s underperforming. You’re not seeing the traffic you expected, the lead quality is much lower than you’d hoped, and response time is too slow. At this point, you’re probably:
1. Not using chat to create personalized, stage-appropriate conversations
You’re literally just chatting with prospects and responding to their inquiries with either a bot or a live person. The tool hasn’t been tied back to a strategy, content model, or lead management framework. There is no (or very weak) integration to your marketing automation platform or CRM, and you’re not personalizing conversations. The data supplied by users during a chat session isn’t captured, and you’re unable to tie insight back to a user’s record.
2. Limiting chat interactions to early-stage journeys or late-stage journeys
At this point, you may be using your tool to aid in the buying journey, but you’re singularly focused on only one part of the journey. This may look like only offering automated responses to thought leadership articles and blog posts (aka early-stage content) or only offering a direct path to speak to a sales representative or see a demo (aka late-stage content). Your chat tool should be taking into consideration where a person is in their journey and dynamically serving the best next action.
3. Responding to all inquiries the same, with either a chatbot or a live person
The best chat tools can dynamically respond to interactions either with a chatbot OR a live person based on the user’s journey. Research shows that when users are ready to speak to a salesperson, they want to speak to a salesperson at that exact moment. Understanding when to move a lead from bot to person is a key part of executing an effective chat strategy.
4. Using chat as a reactionary tool instead of a proactive nurturing motion
This scenario is best represented when chat is used only as a customer support solution. A reactionary problem-solving answer has its place in the user journey, but why not use the tool to also nurture a lead forward to the next stage? Chat should do both.
Stage Three: You’ve reached the ideal state
The ideal state for your chat tool: it’s responding to real-time needs and also nurturing a conversation to a specific point before connecting a lead with a salesperson. In other words, the ideal state is using chat as an interactive nurturing channel.
In this state, you’re personalizing every customer journey. You’re not scaring leads away by prematurely sending them to sales, but you’re not leaving them hanging to find solutions on their own, either. You’re gently guiding a lead along a path to conversion and jumping in to offer real-time support at the exact right time. You’ve created a digital conversation.
You can accomplish this with your chat tool by:
- Identifying past engagement behavior to recommend appropriate next steps. This is especially useful when serving mid-funnel leads, as the tool will know which content pieces are most likely to resonate because it has past behavior to inform future recommendations.
- Progressively profiling leads in real-time, based on either their responses to questions or keywords they type into the chat box. This enables chat tools to recommend the best next step, personalized to that user’s pain points and motivations, almost instantly.
- Putting real-time lead scoring in place, with tight MAP and CRM integration. When a chat tool is tightly integrated with a marketing automation platform, your lead’s score is getting adjusted in real-time, moving the person through the appropriate lead qualification stages and thus closer to becoming a Qualified Lead. As a lead progresses through the funnel, CRM integration allows a salesperson to quickly access critical information about a lead so that they can have a personalized live chat conversation.
Reaching the third and most mature stage of a chat tool implementation takes effort, but it’s worth it. Once you’ve fully enabled the tool and tied it back to your demand marketing strategy, you’re able to focus on continuous optimization.
“Live chat isn’t set it and forget it,” says Jenny Robertson, our Senior VP of Technology Solutions & Architecture. “There is always an opportunity to augment playbooks and bot recommendations,” Jenny says. “There is always an opportunity to optimize chat experience and journey.”
As your go-to-market strategy evolves so should your chat strategy. Continue to improve workbook and bot strategies and further integrate the tool, its inputs, and its outcomes into your Demand Process. Leverage analytics and data to make improvements along the way and look for ways to further personalize your prospect’s experience while moving them through the funnel faster.
By reaching this ideal state, sales teams are scaling with less effort and fewer resources while moving leads through the funnel faster than a traditional nurture program ever could.
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