ABC. Always. Be. Closing.

Movie buffs may recognise the quote. In Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, browbeats/motivates a room of underperforming cold callers with this mantra (plus a lot of extra expletives!).

‘Always be closing’ was largely hyperbole back in 1992 when the film was released. A sales team could only spend so many hours on the phone chasing down and converting leads. The internet was still in its infancy; even email wasn’t mainstream. 

Fast-forward to today and now we’ve got digital display ads, search engine optimization, social media marketing, pay per click and a whole host of always-on online advertising techniques. Mix in traditional marketing (print, TV, radio, etc.) and businesses can always be closing.

But there is often something special missing. Something Alec Baldwin’s constantly cursing character would hate to find missing from his staff’s arsenal – and something customers, too, are largely missing out on in 2020 – conversation. 

Engaging dialogues have all but disappeared from many forms of modern marketing. Can conversational marketing help bring them back, as the name suggests? Well… maybe.

What is conversational marketing?

Conversational marketing encourages more two-way communication during the 21st century sales and marketing process. Not through cold calls, by the way. Only 28% of those are ever answered

No, conversational marketing takes place on the customer’s terms, through technologies like chatbots on a brand’s website. When potential customers land on a site, they can have real-time conversations, rather than being forced to fill out dull, time-consuming forms and wait for a callback. 

Why’s this useful? Convenience. The odds of qualifying a lead drop a whopping 400% after the first five minutes of a customer expressing interest online. People don’t like to wait around, so a business’s window of sales opportunity is small. 

But there are many other advantages of conversational marketing, too – particularly when compared to the “traditional” approaches, which 87% of senior marketing decision-makers say is no longer enough to satisfy most consumers.

What are the benefits of conversational marketing?

    • 24/7 availability: Technology can engage with website visitors when the rest of a brand’s marketing team are out of the office. This can also free up marketers for more complex, strategic work. 
    • Seamless lead gen: Prospects are asked qualifying questions immediately, so the best leads can be put to the top of the pile. This shortens the sales cycle by directing people to the most suitable rep or webpage automatically. 
    • A more complete consumer journey: Conversational marketing can bridge gaps in the sales funnel, ensuring fewer customers fall through the cracks. Every second of delay in reaching out to a lead can be costly.  
    • Build rapport: Lead capture forms are dry and impersonal, while conversational AI can interact with customers in a more engaging, open-ended way.
    • A soft sell: Prospects may not like the thought of a sales rep calling them after a single visit to a website. Conversational marketing lets people learn more about a brand’s goods and services without suffering the hard sell.
    • Customer preferences: Some people simply prefer messaging online instead of picking up the phone or emailing. So much so, 90% of consumers want the ability to use messaging services when communicating with their favourite brands. 

How does AI help in conversational marketing?

“But conversational marketing and sales used to be the norm”, you might say. “It’s not realistic to think brands will continue to dedicate their staff to having more and more in-person conversations in the modern day.” We hear you.

Conversational AI is the automated technology businesses use to deliver their conversational marketing strategy into the market, at scale. Voice assistants, AI-powered chatbots and some messaging services can all fall under the conversational AI umbrella.

Lead-gen automation is one example of conversational AI put to good use in marketing. Conversational AI can delve deeper into what a potential customer needs and redirect them to the most appropriate product, or fall back to open a dialogue with the sales team for those complex queries.

Put into this context, conversational AI can meet the needs of the 90% of people who say they’re more likely to work with companies who immediately answer their questions – no waiting around. 

The impact on KPIs to those brands that deploy conversational AI is pretty good, too. More than half of marketers say AI-personalized web experiences boost conversion rates, while 55% say they improve CX and engagement.

What’s holding conversational AI back in the market?

So far, so good. But some of these conversational technologies have their limits. For one, they’re not natural replacements for the human conversations and the care businesses used to offer to their customers.

Yes, it’s understandable that businesses want scalable, manageable, 24/7, automated customer service. The question is: Is conversational AI in chatbots, messaging services and voice assistants the best we can do?

Many customers don’t think so. In fact three-quarters of consumers now say they want more human interaction when dealing with companies, not less.

Technologies like AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants get some of the way there; they’re able to have more lifelike dialogues, but they’ll find it hard to ever satiate the need for human interaction customers want. 

Personally, we believe “face-to-face” conversational marketing is the next big step. In fact, we think it’s the only logical step.

Where do AI digital humans fit into conversational marketing?

When we say “face-to-face” conversational marketing, we don’t mean speaking to a real sales rep in person, or even online. We’re talking about a digital human who can be an important brand ambassador, even at the very start of the sales and marketing process. 

In reality, you can’t ignore the parts of communication that conversational AI often leaves out.

Did you know just 7% of successful communication is down to the actual words we speak? Our facial expressions (55%) and tone of voice (38%) are the true keys to engaging conversations. If someone looks and sounds bored when they’re talking to you, it doesn’t matter if they’re saying the right things – you won’t be buying what they’re selling. 

This is where chatbots can fall short. They don’t have a face or a voice. They can’t recognise facial expressions or display their own emotions. And they won’t react with empathy or adjust their responses based on your actions.

To take a specific, real-world example, those empathetic responses were top-of-mind when developing Sophie, our COVID-19 health advisor, in early 2020. We found (through anonymous transcripts) that people were asking her some pretty serious questions, so we spent time making sure she responded with particular care and understanding when people said things like “I’m struggling right now”.

You can see a snapshot of Sophie below to see what we mean.

We’re unconvinced a text-based chatbot, automated messaging service or virtual assistant could show that level of empathy and care. And this stuff matters beyond global pandemics too; think about the way real humans deliver great or bad news to customers, and you get an impression of what’s on the table with an emotionally connected customer experience. 

The opposite is also worth pondering: how can conversational marketing work when it misses 93% of what makes a real-life conversation so engaging? 

Digital humans have a face and a voice, which enriches the words they say with genuine feeling. Yes, they’ll answer questions, qualify leads and redirect queries much like an AI chatbot or virtual assistant might, but they have their own unique personalities. 

They smile, joke and naturally build rapport, adding a more personal touch to the marketing experience. And if you’d like to know more about why AI with a face matters, check out what Piers, our Cognitive Architect, has found from years researching the matter

Ultimately, if your conversational marketing options can’t embody your brand so great experiences can be fully owned, it might be time to consider a more human way of working.

A way that lets you add to your Glengarry Glen Ross ABCs. You can of course “always be closing”, but now you can be “always building connections”, too.