How Bots Can Supercharge Your Startup’s Funnel

As soon as I joined the Drift team, I started to get a lot of questions from fellow startup junkies about whether Drift’s conversational marketing makes sense for startups, in particular early-stage ones. It’s a good question: How soon is too soon?

Thinking back across every startup I’ve ever been involved with, they all (if they’re lucky) go through three distinct stages, nicely summarized in this series of posts by David Skok. These stages are:

  1. Search for product/market fit
  2. Search for a repeatable/scalable sales model
  3. Scaling the business

It’s an interesting thought experiment, answering the “Why and how would I use chatbots?” question with respect to Drift’s platform. Thinking through the distinct challenges at each stage, here’s how I’d integrate conversations into the process.

Search for Product/Market Fit

At this early stage, you’re trying to figure out things like, “Is there a problem worth solving?” and “Which pains that my solution addresses should we focus on?” And though you might still be in stealth mode, may not have a ton of traffic, calls-to-action, or leads, and may not be getting a lot of sales “at bats,” you nonetheless need to maximize the speed of learning.

The good news is that even at this early stage, at least some of the web traffic you’re getting is from relevant prospects — and it’s never too early to talk to them.

At this stage, it’s less about the volume, and more about the quality of a handful of conversations.

I can imagine at least a couple ways to use messaging at this stage. Depending on traffic volume and how early you are in the process, you could staff the chat with an application engineer or someone from the product management team.

And once you get a sense of the types of questions folks have and the paths the conversations take, you could automate the initial part of the engagement by configuring an A.I.-powered bot to ask a couple of the key questions to determine the right next steps (e.g., provide links to specific resources, answer some common questions, or schedule a brief discussion with someone from the product team).

Search for Repeatable/Scalable Sales Model

Once you’re past the “Is there a problem worth solving?” (a.k.a., “Do prospects want it?”) phase, next up is to figure out a scalable and repeatable sales model. And you can start to do that by answering these questions:

  • Which industries are best to target?
  • Which companies – small or large?
  • What sort of a lead gen operation should be put in place (e.g., 100 leads/week, or 1,000 leads/day)?
  • Which sales model – high velocity inside sales, or bigger deals with longer sales cycles?
  • What are the key steps, and conversion rates at each step?
  • What is the right balance of BDRs, account execs, sales engineers, and others involved in the sales process?

At this stage, you likely have some meaningful web site traffic, some offers driving leads, and a small sales team in place. There are several obvious places here to integrate a conversational marketing platform:

  1. Create a “second net” that captures additional leads: If someone’s on your B2B site, they’re not there just for fun – their visit has a purpose. And yet, 95%-99% of them will never fill out a lead form, for a bunch of reasons (e.g., they don’t want your content offers; they don’t want to be called 10 times by a persistent sales rep; or they’re a CXO who won’t themselves sign up for a trial of your software). Messaging is a better match for many of these folks when they’re browsing. (And every day at Drift I see this in action – though we have a healthy flow of product and blog signups, the messaging channel has nearly doubled our rate of demos and new opps created.)
  2. Target different segments with vastly different messages: With Drift, you can use any of the rules that matter to your business to pre-qualify demos. When a visitor comes to your website, Drift’s LeadBot™ lets you qualify the lead based on what matters to you (e.g., company size, budget, industry, role, seniority), and structure the conversation accordingly. At this stage, you may want to experiment with different segments and offers.
  3. Use an A.I. bot to schedule qualified demos for sales reps: These days, a typical BDR is scheduling one qualified meeting per day (two if they’re lucky). So now, imagine the power of connecting every sales rep’s calendar to Drift, and having our LeadBot™ qualify and set up demos and meetings for reps. Think about it – LeadBot™ never sleeps, and never takes vacations. This isn’t a “Human or bot: which is better?” argument – rather, it’s the application of A.I. and automation to be an additive force.

Scaling the Business

Once you’ve zeroed in on the right marketing & sales recipe, you are ready to hit the gas, ramping up the sales and marketing machine as fast as you can. You likely have some mix of inbound marketing and targeted outbound selling going on. You likely have significant visitor traffic, and strong lead flow. And hopefully, by now you’ve also done some experimentation with integrating conversation-based selling and marketing, to see what works well and what doesn’t.

At this stage, our most advanced customers use Drift throughout the funnel (top, middle, bottom) and across a wide range of marketing and sales motions (inbound, inside sales, enterprise). To facilitate deployment at scale, we’ve created Playbooks — pre-packaged campaigns in Drift designed to help you crush your marketing and sales goals, including:

A varsity-level application of messaging is both broad and deep: at the top of the funnel as a second net; tailored to high traffic / high intent pages with content-specific engagement; and further down in the funnel with segment-specific targeting and dialogue to qualify and book demos/meetings with visitors who are ready to engage deeper.

Done right, this creates a materially better experience for, and engagement with, your prospects. With Drift, you can have conversations with every interested prospect, and provide VIP access for best prospects. And, you can impact every stage of your pipeline — capture more leads, get more qualified leads and appointments for sales reps — ultimately driving revenue, higher sales rep productivity, and shorter sales cycle times.

Bottom line: wish I had this technology at every one of my startups! Whether to engage with visitors in the early days, or using it to book meetings at scale, conversation-based marketing and selling works – and it’s never too early to take advantage of it.

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