Chatbots, IVAs Can Help Close the B2B Digital Gap

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Though they’ve been used in business-to-consumer marketing for some time, the social distancing forced by the COVID-19 pandemic provided business-to-business companies an intriguing opportunity to also leverage chatbots and virtual assistants, according to a Forrester Research report.

The trade shows, conferences, and other face-to-face events that were the staples of many B2B organizations went by the wayside in March and are unlikely to return until later this year at the earliest. Social distancing has fast-forwarded the B2B buyer journey into an almost exclusively digital adventure, points out Forrester analyst Steven Casey.

Without face-to-face meetings, B2B buyers are getting their information from vendor website content, search engines, and technology information websites, according to Casey. “Organizations that fail to meet their buyers’ increased expectations for help throughout omnichannel digital journeys will lose market share to competitors that do,” he warns.

With the B2B buyer journey almost exclusively digital, B2B marketers can improve digital experiences through chatbots and virtual assistant-generated chatbots, Casey says. If designed and used correctly, the technologies can meet modern buyers’ expectations of immediacy; help marketers chase the leads sellers never get to (or the ones that never get to sales); and keep opportunities moving between human touchpoints, Casey says.

Casey wants companies to fight the urge to use the technologies to convert prospects as quickly as possible with a handoff to sales, saying that’s not the optimal use of the technology.

“In the B2C market, the technologies were first used to deflect calls, then to handle basic marketing,” Casey says. But the same strategy shouldn’t be pursued in the B2B arena.

Instead, the technologies should be used to help map the buyers’ journeys, which are typically longer in B2B deals than they are in B2C ones.

“B2B marketers need to take a more customer-obsessed perspective when deploying these technologies and reorient their chatbots and VAs to help more buyers toward their goals by handling more open-ended questions and making personalized content recommendations, for example,” Casey says.

The B2B buyer who instead is handed straight to a salesperson or other live human can be put off by the experience, Casey adds. “You need to provide the prospect with relevant information. If you notice that he’s been looking around your product page for a while, you could offer (via a chatbot) pricing information, for example. You need to help with the journey.”

Casey adds that B2B sellers shouldn’t be too invasive with chatbot assistance offers, though. Instead, websites can produce buttons or icons offering chatbot help if the prospect desires. That enables prospects to conduct research on their own, Casey says. “That gives the buyer the decision of whether to engage the chatbot.”

The same empathetic approach required to create engaging content also applies to the conversations created by chatbots and VAs, Casey adds. Customers should feel like they’re texting with a friend.

Beyond chatbots and virtual assistants, B2B sellers can employ other technologies to aid the digital journey, Casey says.

“Digital messenger-based platforms like Facebook Messenger have already conquered consumer and employee experience; business communications will inevitably follow,” Casey predicts.

The fact that conferences have gone virtual can offer some advantages, according to Casey. Many of them are recorded in advance, which enables presenters to answer chat questions in real time when the session is first made available. The recording is typically available for some time, but the presenter will only be available for the chat during a scheduled time.

Augmented reality/virtual reality devices can help create simulated trade show floors and product demonstrations when recorded video is insufficient, Casey says.

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