Dave Gerhardt of Drift: Using Marketing Bots to Get Rid of Website Lead Forms

There’s been a ton of talk around bots ever since Facebook announced its chatbot platform back in April.  And now more than 11,000 bots have been added to Facebook Messenger.  The original use cases for bots centered around customer support – where you’re looking for a help with something, or maybe a status update, or even needing to change a flight.  But now Drift, a messaging app platform for creating marketing bots, is looking to help companies use the technology to connect with website visitors and convert them to customers – and do so at scale.

Dave Gerhardt, director of marketing for Drift, discusses the role marketing bots can play in interacting with modern consumers, and how marketing bots are poised to make filling out web lead forms a thing of the past.

Below is an edited transcript of the conversation.  To hear the entire conversation click the embedded player below.

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Using Chat Bots for Marketing

Dave Gerhardt of Drift: Get Rid of Website Lead Forms by Using Chat Bots for MarketingSmall Business Trends: Dave is the director of marketing for Drift. We’re going to be talking about lots and we’re going to be talking specifically about marketing. But before we do so Dave thanks for joining me today. Give me a little bit of your personal background.

Dave Gerhardt: I run marketing at Drift. We’re a startup in Boston. We’re a messaging app for marketers. Before Drift I was at HubSpot; also spent some time at Constant Contact. And so I basically spent the first seven years of my career working at SaaS companies, and all of them happened to be focused on marketing tech.

Small Business Trends: Give us a little deeper dive into what you’re doing at Drift.

Dave Gerhardt: Drift is a messaging app and we’re focused on specifically helping marketers have one-to-one conversations at scale.

Everybody has probably used live chat before whether you’re a business or as a consumer on somebody’s website. But live chat has traditionally been only used for customer support and customer service. And the pushback has always been on the marketing and sales side; ‘oh this just doesn’t scale for us. I don’t want my sales reps spending all their time talking to people that have support questions. I don’t want anybody just being able to come to our website and talk to us. I don’t want to deal with unqualified people’.

So live chat and messaging hasn’t really been an option for marketers, but we’re starting to focus on that with Drift. That’s our mission, to solve that problem of having one-to-one conversations at scale. And the reason I keep saying one-to-one conversations is because increasingly this is the way that you and I want to interact with businesses.

Dave Gerhardt: And there’s this funny thing happening, as marketers we use all of the methods that we hate. I know personally I don’t like when I have to go to a Web site and fill out a form and then wait to get a response or just fill in a long form for something. I hate when I get hounded by sales reps emails and phone calls.

But then we go to our jobs and we do all of those things that we hate and that’s just basically because there hasn’t been a toolset out there that that’s proven that there’s a better way to do it. So even though we know as people that we don’t like those things we go to our jobs and we do them because that’s the only way it’s been done.

Small Business Trends: So how do marketing bots change the game?

Dave Gerhardt: Machine learning and artificial intelligence has so much power and we want to give that to the most important part of your business which is the relationships that you have with your customers. And so there’s no reason why somebody should have to show up to your site and be treated like a completely anonymous visitor. Just looking at our website address for example. Even if we get 1000 messages a day, 80 percent of those are our people that are asking the same or similar questions. And so right now we’re using a bot to help get better answers to those questions, but then also get the right message to the right person. This is the whole one-to-one at scale thing. So if you go to our website right now and you type in a question the bots are going to ask you who you’re trying to reach. Is it sales? Is it support? Are you a customer that has a question? And then the bot is going to help route you to the right person, so it’s going to get you to the sales rep that’s working right now.

So we think that bots could actually go a long way in replacing marketing qualified leads (MQLs) and sales qualified leads 9SQLs) different at every company; but MQLs and SQLs are kind of standard across the board. And if you think about why those things were invented in the first place it was to further qualify people. So sales reps wouldn’t waste their time talking to everybody. So you go to this page you fill out this form that has 13 or 14 fields and therefore you’re a qualified person because you meet all of these criteria. You work at this company type, this company size, and to us there’s just a better way to do that and that is by having a conversation on your website and the bot can help facilitate some of that stuff. And so we think that the future is no more forms. No more MQLs. All that stuff happens within a conversation.

Small Business Trends: You’re not saying to use of bots to replace humans, but to enhance the engagement that humans will have and make it a more even fit with the customer to get to the right person.

Dave Gerhardt: That’s exactly what we’re thinking about. It’s kind of funny because artificial intelligence is what is powering this bot. It’s definitely not replacing humans. It’s actually enhancing the role because it’s making it so sales reps can only talk to those hot leads. Support reps can prioritize their conversations by which customers are really pissed off. And so we think of it as being like this little concierge that helps you as the sales rep, as the marketing person, as a support rep prioritize the right conversations so you can deliver a better experience. And this is going to happen across the entire company.

There’s something that we’ve been saying a lot which is customer experience is the new marketing and that means that in this world today where everybody has access to any website, any business, every touch point for your business is an opportunity to wow a customer. But so often today you know how many times do you call your cable company and you talk to five different people who have no context. And it’s kind of silly that can exist in 2016.

So we think about using chat bots and using marketing to deliver the best experience across the entire company whether that is somebody that has a question about sales whether that’s customer success manager whether that’s a product message inside the product or whether that support.

Small Business Trends: The other thing that you said that stood out to me was instead of somebody coming to visit a site having to fill those un-Godly forms, you’re seeing a world where people visit your site and will not have to go through that pain any more.  Just by some interactions with the chat bot, that will provide enough context to get the person to the right individual to have a conversation with the company.

Dave Gerhardt: Yeah because we want to be able to treat you like Brent, not like Brent at gmail dot com, which is just a lead and that’s what you become when you fill out a form. One of the examples that we give that’s extreme but it proves a point. The Apple store is amazing because you can go in there and you can play with anything that you want and you can try anything out for a day. But imagine if you walked in the Apple store and you were playing with a MacBook and just before you started to use it one of their sales reps came up to you and said hey you fill out this form! And you’re like why? I’m in your store right now. Why do I need to fill out a form? To make sure that you’re qualified to try this computer out …

And that’s the experience on most people’s websites today. Marketing and sales are these gatekeepers where they act in this world where information isn’t free, but it’s 2016 and so many so many businesses have already broken the mold whether it’s companies like Slack or Trello or Buffer or Quip which just sold to Salesforce. All those companies have sales or marking processes that feel like a modern business and we want to help bring that to any company.

Small Business Trends: How do folks use Drift? as a standalone? Or  in tandem with something like HubSpot?

Dave Gerhardt: You could use Drift as a standalone for sure. But right now we just happen to be targeting businesses that are already up and running on other tools. So we have we have a deep integration with HubSpot. We’re very close with those guys over there. Also have integrations with Zapier, WordPress, Segment. Basically we are building Drift to integrate with all the tools that you’re already using and we want to be that messaging layer that sits on top of everything else.

Small Business Trends: And so the bottom line … What is the biggest benefit that an SMB gets right out of the box by using a marketing bot?

Dave Gerhardt: You can have more conversations with people. I think that’s the bottom line. At the end of the day businesses are run on people. And I think over the last five years or so we’ve fallen in love with the idea of automation in our marketing and we’ve kind of lost the personal connection. So using Drift you’re able to have real conversations with real people that are going to help you grow your business. And you’re changing the way you’re doing business to match the way that people actually want to buy things. They don’t want to fill out forms. They don’t want to talk to sales reps. They just want to be able to figure things out on their own and then ask you a question when they have one.

Small Business Trends: So basically bots are not just for customer service anymore. They’re at the beginning of the conversation too.

Dave Gerhardt: We should take advantage of this technology and bring it to sales and marketing. That’s what we’re doing.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

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Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.