Conversational marketing can give your customers the personalized and responsive experience they're looking for—until it doesn't. If you've ever been talking in circles with a chatbot, unable to get a hold of a human to help, you know what I'm talking about.
I've personally disengaged with brands because of their conversational marketing—but I've also used it as a marketing tool myself. So how do you make the most of conversational marketing without tempting the double-edged sword?
9 ways to level up your conversational marketing
Conversational marketing is a way for businesses to engage with their customers in real-time. The goal is to offer immediate and personalized communications with prospects and customers for sales or support.
The best example is a chatbot that's somehow immaculately programmed to direct me down a path to consumer enlightenment—or to send me to a live agent if they can't get me there. It all happens within seconds, right when I need whatever I need.
But conversational marketing can come in many forms. These are the main ones:
Live chat (with humans!)
SMS (bots or live)
Social media messengers
I connected with over a dozen businesses across various industries to learn how they're using conversational marketing successfully. Here are the tips I found most helpful.
You probably don't want to build your chatbot from scratch. Instead, try one of these chatbot builders, which offer pre-built templates and integrate with your other tools.
1. Focus on quality over quantity
Barista Warrior is an eCommerce company that sells coffee-related products. And according to the CEO, Casey Allen, the brand was built around conversational marketing. But it wasn't easy: conversational marketing can be a resource-draining initiative (both financially and time-wise) for any business.
So they got creative: by segmenting their audience, they were able to use conversational marketing to engage only with people who showed great potential for converting.
They do this with an app called Dovetale that helps them identify customers who are extremely engaged. "Dovetale has automation features that help us give customers special deals and affiliate money," Casey told me. "As automation takes care of those time-consuming parts, we have more time to have a great conversation on an individual basis."
According to Casey, their business started to pick up right after executing this conversational marketing strategy. "The big lesson for me has been: quality of conversations trumps quantity of conversations every single time."
2. Help site visitors when they need it
Nolah Mattress had an issue with website visitors leaving before making a purchase. They looked into the problem and saw that prospects seemed to be confused by the options. "We have various mattresses available, and sometimes it's not obvious for consumers how to select the perfect option," co-owner and CMO Stephen Light told me.
They used live chat to resolve the issue. It serves as a kind of salesperson to help visitors make informed decisions about which product to buy.
"When we launched the live chat feature, we noticed our sales increased by 27%. Helping our confused visitors decide which products to buy increases their likelihood of converting into a paying customer, subsequently boosting sales."
Happiness Without, a kayaking/affiliate website, used a similar technique with Drift's chatbot app. "We've found that having the live chat pop up with a quick 'can we help you?' message gives us a good response rate and increases our conversion rate," co-founder Valentina Lopez told me. "It eliminates that one small friction point that would've prevented someone from buying a product."
She continued: "Just today, someone asked us a simple question that took less than a minute for us to answer. That person has now purchased a $2,700 product because we were so on top of the chat and support angle."
3. Integrate your chatbot with your CRM
EatFirst, a global corporate food service and event staffing platform, had too many inquiries to handle them all with humans, so they knew they needed a chatbot.
According to Managing Director Markus Albert, making the AI mimic human-like speech patterns wasn't the core issue—it was about personalizing the experience to the individual they were chatting with.
They did this by connecting their chatbot to their CRM. "We use Salesforce as our CRM, and their chatbot integration means your chatbot has access to customer information stored in the CRM using bot commands," Markus told me. "The CRM collects things like customer name, email, order history, their lead scoring. The chatbot accesses this information during customer interactions to formulate better responses to their queries and even make intuitive recommendations."
4. Make the transition from chatbot to live chat seamless
Nectar is an HR software solution that uses a mix of AI and live chat to do its conversational marketing. Based on their experience, that human factor is critical—you need someone on standby to jump in when the AI can't answer questions.
CEO Trevor Larson told me: "Your customer service agents should quickly read the contents of the chatbot conversation to understand the nature of the inquiry, so they immediately start providing value. The combination of response time with relevance is the key to superior customer service." Nectar's bounce rate decreased as a result of this strategy.
5. Don't be afraid to go all-in on live chat
HANG TN, a sports apparel brand in Nashville, Tennessee skips the chatbot altogether. Instead, they use Google Voice's text feature to show off their authentic brand voice and truly connect with their customers: "It's an area where we can differentiate," owner Ryan Dunlap told me. "Year-to-date, our text-conversation conversion rate has been close to 26%."
Other businesses are also leaning in to live chat as their primary form of conversational marketing.
ScrapingBee is a SaaS tool you can use to scrape valuable information from the web. Some use it to extract real estate listings from dozens of websites, and others use it to scrape job boards and company websites for open positions.
The tool is versatile, which means their customer base is variable. Creating a chatbot to accommodate everyone didn't seem like the right choice, so they opted for live chat.
"We tested a live chat widget in one of our landing pages when we ran a Google Ads campaign. It increased the retention by 15% that month. The landing page performed better than other landing pages without the live chat button on it," says CEO Kevin Sahin.
6. Connect your conversational marketing to your email marketing
Content marketing firm Content Powered has landed a number of clients because of live chat: "It gets the conversation started, helps solve problems, and sometimes starts a great new business relationship," says founder and CEO James Parsons.
But the benefits aren't just for immediate conversions, he says. "Even if we don't get new clients out of it, it still feeds into our email newsletter, so new chats have the opportunity to become email subscribers. I've seen many of those same people appear on our Mailchimp newsletter analytics as having clicked through to an article."
They make this happen by connecting Drift to Mailchimp using Zapier: whenever someone starts a live chat with them, the lead is automatically added to a specific segment in their Malichimp list. "It's still double opt-in," says James, "since we value engagement and real subscribers."
Zapier lets you automatically send information from one app to another, helping you reduce manual tasks. Learn more about how Zapier works.
7. Use Facebook quizzes to trigger engagement
Matt Lally runs a gifting website, TheGiftYak, and has had success using curated gift lists to drive traffic to affiliate links. But he wanted to make the user experience more personalized and engaging than a simple blog post.
"With my background in paid marketing, I knew that Facebook was a great opportunity to connect with potential users," Matt told me. "Facebook Messenger offers some really great personalization and conversational features. I created gift quizzes and developed some very basic conversational triggers for Facebook Messenger Ads."
The result was a very efficient cost-per-click to his website. But keep in mind that, while it's easy to get this kind of thing up and running quickly, the messaging is key. According to Matt, "these should feel organic, not promotional."
8. Engage people via SMS
Texting your customers is a great way to reach them where they are. And you can set up an SMS chatbot to take care of the process. Via SMS, My Supplement Store managed to sell about $10,000 per month without any human intervention.
Marketing manager Jeff Moriarty explains: "Thirty-five days after any customer places an order, a chatbot starts a conversation about re-ordering the previously placed products. The chatbot asks them first if they would like to re-order. If they don't, it stops there. If they do, it questions them about each product and if they want to include that in the new order. Any time during the conversation, they can request to speak with a human via SMS. Otherwise, when they finish the conversation, they're given a link to complete the checkout on our website."
9. Just...talk to people
LinkedIn has grown from a professional social network to a powerful marketing tool—and I'm not just talking about advertising. By conversing with people in your market, you can develop relationships and create connections that can help grow your business.
Aurelius Resources, a lead generation agency, uses LinkedIn to create connections organically. Founder Michael Potorti sets up groups that his target market would be interested in. "I use targeted messaging to invite each individual person to the group," he says. "If they join, I continue the conversation via messaging and eventually offer to jump on a call with them to discuss how I can help." He's grown one of his groups from zero to approximately 2,000 members in a few months.
I actually use LinkedIn as a conversational marketing tool, too. After optimizing my profile and connecting with others in my industry, I get 80% of my new clients through conversations on LinkedIn Messaging.
I no longer have to "apply" to gigs the old-fashioned way. Instead, I find LinkedIn posts from professionals needing my services and send out a quick DM. The conversation is able to proceed quickly because it's live, and more than half the time, I'll get at least an introductory call—if not a project.
Conversational marketing is a win for consumers, yes, but it's also a win for businesses. Make sure you're adopting the right kind of conversational marketing for your audience—and doing it well—and you'll see the impact it can have on your brand and your bottom line.