The Ultimate Conversational Marketing Playbook: What You Need to Know About the New Way Customers Buy

Conversational marketing isn’t new.

After all, we’ve been using conversations to connect with people and sell things since the dawn of time.

But in the last couple decades, the buying process has grown unnecessarily complicated. Instead of having more conversations, we’ve created more distance between businesses and buyers. Blame it on automation, aggressive sales tactics, or spray-and-pray emails—the end result is the same: the B2B buying process is broken.

That is, until now.

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With the rise of conversational marketing platforms, it’s finally possible to get closer to your prospects, book more meetings, and shrink your sales cycle.

So, What Exactly Is “Conversational Marketing”?

Conversational marketing means having real-time, one-to-one conversations with people in order to capture, qualify, and connect with your best leads. This is how we do it at Drift, and it’s what we like to call, The Real-Time Selling Methodology.

Why does it work? Well, think of the best buying experiences you’ve ever had.

What comes to mind? If you’re like a lot of people, it’s probably when you were able to have an easy conversation before buying something, like at an Apple store.

Conversations like these create the opportunity for a warm, human buying experience. And when done right, they also have the potential to help close deals faster than anything else.

It’s Easier to Scale Than You Think

But there’s always been that question around scaling conversational marketing. With so many visitors to your website, how could it ever be possible to engage in real-time conversations with all of them? And how would you be able to qualify them quickly?

For far too many marketers, the answer was forms that looked something like this:

In a lot of cases, visitors filled out these long lead-forms just to get in touch with someone. After that, they’d typically wait hours (or days) before either hearing from a sales rep, or getting dumped into a series of automated emails.

For a long time, this was considered the best-in-class lead generation and qualification practice for two main reasons:

  1. Email was basically the only option customers had for communicating with businesses online
  2. Forms and nurturing sequences provided the fastest way for marketing and sales teams to qualify leads at scale

But in a world where the first tools we turn to for communicating are powered by real-time messaging—whether that’s Slack, SMS, or social media—the typical lead form response time feels like a relic of the past.

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Wait for days to get a reply after expressing interest in a product? No modern buyer shops like that. Messaging has conditioned us to expect real-time responses, which lead forms and nurturing sequences almost never offer. 

When Drift filled out lead forms from 433 leading B2B SaaS companies, it took 55% of them 5+ days to respond—a ridiculously long time to wait when you just have a question about a product (our lead management study). These kinds of delays in response time have a massive impact on whether you ultimately close that business. In fact, according to Harvard Business Review, there’s a 10x decrease in your odds of making contact with a lead after the first five minutes.

By implementing conversational marketing tools, businesses can fix the lead response time challenge. New messaging solutions give marketing and sales teams a way to have real-time, scalable conversations with customers in a format customers actually want to use.

Marketing At the Speed of Conversation

According to a recent study from Twilio, 90% of consumers want to use messaging to communicate with businesses (and the majority prefer it over email).

Conversational marketing uses real-time messaging and intelligent chatbots instead of lead-capture forms, so leads never have to wait for follow-ups. This allows leads to to engage with your business instantly whenever it’s convenient for them, like when they’re on your website.

This gets you closer to customers, and removes a ton of friction from the buying process.

Practice Makes Perfect

OK, so it all makes sense in theory, but what about the actual practice of conversational marketing?

So far there hasn’t been a playbook that shows you what you need to capture and qualify leads faster, or how to actually implement a conversational marketing approach within your business.

Since we’ve seen thousands of businesses transformed by conversational marketing, we decided it was time to write that playbook.

So we turned to the data from over 50,000 businesses using Drift and put together a series of plays you can use to get started with conversational marketing. 

Ready? Let’s go!

The 7 Plays You Need to Make to Become a Conversational Marketing Pro

1. Let your website visitors talk to you.

Want to get started with conversational marketing? The easiest place to start is your website.

With a real-time messaging tool that lives on the pages of your site, you can engage with visitors based on criteria you set. For example, if someone visits your homepage and lingers for more than thirty seconds, you can trigger a chat window to check-in and ask them if they have any questions.

On pages of your site that are typically high-intent, like a pricing page, you can customize chat with more focused messaging. There are a ton of options, but to get started, Drift gives you the ability to roll out chat functionality on as many or as few pages as you’d like. Then, you can staff it with an intelligent bot or a human—and you can decide the human/bot split at any time.

The great thing about getting started with conversational marketing is that you can see big benefits quickly without making drastic changes to your website or marketing strategy.

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When the marketing team at Leadpages decided to give it a shot, they kept things simple: They just added Drift messaging to their site and waited to see what would happen.

No targeted messages, no bots, no changes to their website—just a little chat widget that gave visitors the opportunity to start a conversation if they felt like it:

Within a month, visitors had already started 310 conversations with their marketing team. What happened in those conversations?

  • They were able to answer questions and turn what might have otherwise been bounces into sales.
  • They were able to get instant customer feedback on their website (without having to send out surveys or pay for user testing).
  • They could give prospects a more human introduction to the Leadpages brand.

That was enough for them to decide that they not only wanted to have more conversations, but they wanted to have ones with people who were most likely to be thinking about buying.

That’s when they kicked things up a notch.

2. Use targeted messages on high-intent pages to uncover people who are ready to buy.

If you have lots of traffic, you’ll quickly notice that adding messaging to every page on your website can lead to a ton of conversations with people who aren’t serious about buying.

But there’s an easy way to fix this: Only put chat on the pages that serious buyers visit, like your pricing page. You can also add an automated message that lets visitors know you’re available if they need help. And that’s exactly what Leadpages did in order to start having more conversations with interested buyers on their pricing page.

You can also uncover visitors with buying intent by greeting them with an automated message that asks questions based on what visitors are most likely to be curious about. MongoDB uses this strategy on all of their product pages:

By being direct and asking visitors if they have a question about pricing or sales, MongoDB has cut down on conversations that aren’t likely to lead to a purchase. That’s allowed Director of Demand Generation, Andrew Racine, to stop worrying about handing his sales team leads that aren’t qualified.

“By asking visitors if they had pricing or sales questions we were able to weed out a lot of noise/junk and get our LDR (lead development rep) team the types of conversations they needed.”

– Andrew Racine, Director of Demand Generation, MongoDB 

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If you want to make sure you’re surfacing the conversations that are most likely to produce sales, asking qualifying questions on high-intent pages is a great place to start.

3. Forget forms and capture more leads with real-time messaging.

Real-time messaging doesn’t just start conversations—it also captures leads for you. And unlike the old-school forms you may have used to do the same thing, chats feel human and way more personal. This often leads to a better buying experience, and higher visitor-to-lead conversion rates.

For example, rather than forcing visitors to fill out a lead form to book a demo at Drift, we use our chatbot to get meetings on the books.

Since replacing lead forms with messaging nearly two years ago, we’ve seen:

  • More leads—net new leads have increased by over 15%
  • More pipeline—50% of business is now driven by conversations
  • A faster sales cycle—it only takes 3 days on average to go from first conversation to demo

But we’re not alone.

When RapidMiner replaced their gated content and lead forms with messaging, they were able to capture over 4,000 leads within just a few months, while also influencing over $1 million of pipeline.

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When SalesRabbit tested their “Request a Demo” form against a chatbot that helps visitors request a demo, they found that 42% of people who booked a meeting through the bot actually completed the demo, while only 25% of people who used the form ended up completing one.

Substituting conversations for forms doesn’t mean you’re giving up capturing leads. Any email address a prospect gives you over chat automatically gets stored as soon as they enter it.

The Power of the “Second Net”

While we think the benefits of #NoForms are clear, we also know that ripping all of the forms off your website isn’t always feasible in the short-term.

That’s why a ton of companies get started with conversational marketing by using it as a “second net” that gives visitors a faster alternative to filling out a form. Perfecto Mobile did this on their “Contact Us” page, and according to CMO, Chris Willis, the approach increased their conversion rate from 6% to 10% and allowed them to qualify and close leads much faster.

“Leads that come in through chat tend to have a higher velocity…If they’re able to skip the form and have a conversation in real-time, we’re seeing that move very quickly.”

– Chris Willis, CMO, Perfecto Mobile

Look, you don’t have to blow up your entire marketing strategy to start experimenting with conversational marketing. Using real-time messaging as a second net will give you the ability to quickly compare performance of your forms with chat.

4. Scale conversations and filter out the noise with intelligent chatbots.

Even if you’ve got a modest amount of traffic on your site, you’ll likely notice a ton of conversations pop up when you add chat. Historically, this prevented a lot of people from getting into conversational marketing. In a perfect world, you’d have an infinite number of sales reps available to start chatting with people 24/7. But the reality is different. If you’re like most businesses, there’s only so many people who can answer chats during the day.

And that’s where chatbots come in.

No, they’re not designed to replace human-to-human interaction—instead, they’re designed to facilitate them.

So, what can bots do? Quite a lot.

For starters, bots make help available for the customer whenever they need it (rather than having to wait for a sales rep).

Chatbots can also be used to uncover buyer intent. For example, when RapidMiner implemented Drift, they were able to quickly scale conversational marketing across their whole organization.

Rather than trying to field every single conversation manually, they used Drift’s LeadBot to greet website visitors and ask the same qualifying questions their sales team would usually ask.

The questions they asked allowed the bot to understand what the visitor was trying to do. Then it connected them to the person or resource with the ability to help.

But bots can do a lot more than just ask, “How can we help?” and “Are you currently using RapidMiner?” According to CMO Tom Wentworth, “What brought you to RapidMiner today?” has also been one of the most effective ways to not only qualify leads and route them to the right people, but also to learn how they can improve their website.

“By asking that simple question I start to figure out patterns around things that maybe our website’s not doing today that it should be. So these conversations have actually spurred us to rethink: What’s the structure of our website? What’s the information that we should be surfacing more easily because customers have these questions and we’re not answering them?”

– Tom Wentworth, CEO, RapidMiner

5. Save your sales team from having support conversations.

Open up a real-time messaging channel on your site, and one thing’s for sure: People will try to use it to ask support questions.

But you don’t have to worry about sales reps getting distracted by conversations that won’t lead to sales. Instead, you can use bots to make sure any support questions are routed to your support team. This gets your customers the help they need quickly, without pulling sales away from more productive tasks.

SalesRabbit noticed that 19% of their demo requests were actually coming from customers who needed help with the product.

The fix? A single question they added to their chatbot’s script:

If the visitor selects “Yes,” they’re routed to support instead of sales, saving tons of time. With the script changes, the percentage of demo requests from customers is down to just 5%.

By uncovering intent and qualifying visitors with questions in real time, you can speed up response time, help more visitors at scale, and keep your sales team focused on talking to leads you know are qualified.

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6. Use laser-focused targeting and personalization to talk to your best leads.

Sometimes you know a lead is likely to be qualified before you even talk to them.

For example, if you sell software to large auto manufacturers and someone from Toyota is visiting your pricing page, there’s a solid chance your sales team will want to talk to them.

That’s why a lot of businesses use conversational marketing to narrow the target audiences for their messages. This way, they’re only starting conversations with leads that are likely to be qualified (just like in the Toyota example above). They’re focusing on lead quality versus lead quantity.

Behaviorally targeting leads would include some of the conversational marketing strategies we’ve already covered, like serving messages to visitors who are on specific pages rather than any page.

It would also include targeting leads on other types of behavior like the number of times they’ve visited a certain page or the amount of time they’ve spent on your website.

But you can take things further with other types of targeting as well. Let’s touch on them quickly.

Firmographic Targeting

Earlier, you saw how Perfecto Mobile increased their visitor-to-lead conversion rate from 6% to 10% by adding real-time messaging to all of their pages with lead forms.

But when they started narrowing the audience of visitors who received their messages based on company size, they were able to convert 20% of the leads they started conversations with into demos.

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This is an example of firmographic targeting—serving messages to leads based on characteristics of the organization they work for.

Using Drift’s integration with Clearbit, Perfecto Mobile was able to identify company size based on any anonymous visitor’s IP address. If the company was large enough, that meant they were qualified.

“We’re able to, by IP address, identify companies by their size, and only present to our SDRs chats that come from companies that we want to sell to,” said Perfecto Mobile CMO, Chris Willis.

Segment, the customer data platform, wanted to take a similar approach to conversational marketing, since they’d already figured out that only around 10% of the people visiting their website were an ideal fit to talk to sales.

16% of their signups represented 86% of their revenue—and those were the kinds of people they wanted to reach out to in real-time.

Like Perfecto Mobile, Segment started using the Drift and Clearbit integration to identify leads based on their company. But then they took their targeting a step further by running the prospective company through their own lead-scoring model. If it identified the company as a good fit, the visitor would receive a custom message that even mentioned their company by name. For example, here’s what it looks like when a Drift employee visits Segment:

Impossible to ignore, right?

Segment’s leads thought so, too. After implementing this personalized campaign, they saw a 5x increase in engagement (people clicking on the chat CTA) and a 2x increase in conversations. Today, real-time messaging is their #1 source of qualified opportunities.

Even though this may seem like an advanced strategy, the nice part is that Segment didn’t have to dramatically alter their entire approach to sales and marketing. In fact, they didn’t even remove any lead forms from their site. They simply added a single targeted messaging campaign as a second net.

Account-Based Targeting

If you want to get advanced with conversational marketing, meet the equivalent of cranking your targeting up to 11: account-based targeting.

Today, 70% of all B2B companies are already doing some form of account-based marketing (ABM).

It might sound complicated, but the definition is pretty straightforward—it’s when your organization treats a particular prospect or account like a market of one.

Rather than marketing to an industry or companies that meet certain firmographic criteria (like in the previous examples), ABM targets individual companies with personalized content and campaigns.

But historically there’s been one big problem with ABM—when the people from the account you’re trying to sell to come to your website, they have to jump through the same hoops as every other website visitor in order to talk to you.

That’s where account-based targeting with conversational marketing comes in.

With this approach, your accounts will be greeted by a personalized message from their account owner when they visit your website:

Meanwhile, the account owner will receive an instant notification that someone they’re dying to talk to is live on the website:

And if the account owner is unavailable, a bot can jump in and book a meeting or take a message:


7. Extend conversational marketing beyond your website.

Of course, if you’re taking an account-based approach to marketing, you’re probably actively reaching out to prospects with outbound email. Now, you can connect those emails to this kind of conversational experience on your website by triggering personalized messages when your prospect clicks any link you send them.

Instead of forcing them to go to your website, decide if they want to respond, return to their email client, and wait hours to get a response back, they can simply start a real-time conversation right there on the website.

The best part is that you don’t have to reserve this conversational experience to just your high-touch accounts. Your marketing team can do the same thing to start turning every marketing email they send into the opportunity for website conversations.

After all, email is still an effective way to get prospects back to your website. Now you can connect that experience to real-time messaging in a unique and engaging way that keeps conversations going beyond the inbox.

How to Get Started with Conversational Marketing

Getting started with conversational marketing doesn’t have to be complicated.

A conversational marketing and sales platform like Drift integrates with all the tools you’re already using (Salesforce, Marketo, etc.), and you don’t have to dismantle your old lead forms and automation sequences to start seeing the benefits.

Like we mentioned earlier, you can leave your old system in place and simply add real-time messaging as a “second net,” and automatically source additional leads that are likely slipping through the cracks right now.

If you want to experiment and prove the value of this approach before trying to get adoption across your entire organization, it’s easy to start small. A single BDR can schedule meetings for dozens of reps.

But the simplest way to get started is to just ask yourself what kinds of conversations you want to have. What would be most beneficial to your current goals? Do you want to attempt to capture and qualify as much of your website traffic as possible, or do you want to target conversations at a small percentage of your highest quality leads?

Those questions will help you figure out where you want to drive conversations on your website and what types of targeting and filters to implement.

The Benefits of Conversational Marketing Are Clear

You’ve already seen plenty of customer data that proves the impact conversational marketing can have on businesses, but let’s review them again quickly:

  • You’ll create a more human buying experience. With bots handling all of the tedious tasks, your reps can give 100% of their focus to providing a human touch and helping people.
  • You’ll grow your sales pipeline. Conversational marketing now drives 50% of our business at Drift.
  • You’ll shorten your sales cycle. ThriveHive has shortened their sales cycle by 63%—from an average of 11 days down to only four.
  • You’ll learn a ton about your customers. When you’re having conversations with prospects non-stop, you’re learning about your prospects non-stop.
  • You’ll add a net new source of leads. At Drift, we’ve added over 15% new leads by having conversations. These are leads that simply couldn’t be bothered to go through lead forms in the past.

So, now that you’ve got the seven plays needed to become a conversational marketing pro, you’re ready to get started. But don’t worry–we’re still here to help. If you have questions that come up a long the way, just start a conversation with us.

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