Is B2B Conversational Marketing and Sales Effective for Industrials?

Ed Marsh | Feb 16, 2024

Tl;dr - Somehow, we've confused buyers' appreciation for the convenience of internet research with a preference to be isolated. Research leads to questions, but we've erected barriers to asking questions naturally, in real-time, like we always did in person. We need to put conversation back into manufacturing marketing and industrial sales, and provide multiple convenient channels to accommodate prospects' and customers' preferences.

B2B Conversational Marketing is Human

Conversation is human. We connect. We ask questions. We tell stories. We exchange information through dialog.

B2B sales has naturally and traditionally been conversational. Cold calls, engaging people in a trade show booth, sales meetings - they're all built around conversation. B2B conversational marketing and sales are building blocks of today's business environment.

Somehow, though, when the computer rolled around, conversation became passe. I'm not just talking about using alternative means to face-to-face or telephone. I mean, somehow building an asynchronous communication framework that is so disjointed that it's no longer conversation.

SMS certainly lacks the nuance and richness of telephone, but at least there's a "conversational" flow to it.

Interesting research indicates that societally, we're increasingly isolated, less conversant, and engage much less frequently face-to-face with people. So there's likely some social element at play.

But something odd has happened in B2B sales since the internet became the go-to destination to research our business problems and solutions.

There's very little conversation. It's inhuman.

Sure, sometimes we want to research on our own. We want to access details, pricing, downloadable specs, information on how to purchase, reviews, etc. Until we have a question. Then we want some dialog because often the answer to one question begets another.

Sometimes, we want to go into a store and poke around on our own, getting our bearings and understanding our options. Then we may leave or decide it's time for help. And when we reach that point, we want someone knowledgeable and readily available for a conversation.

conversational marketing helps put buyers at ease, increases conversion rates, and shortens the path from visit to meetingWhat would you think at that moment if the person you turned to for a conversation handed you a clipboard and demanded you provide various information before answering your questions? You'd probably be put off. I'd likely leave.

Yet that is exactly what we do to visitors on most B2B industrial websites. We let them browse, and then when they're interested, we tell them to fill out a form.

Some may want to do that. We should give them that option (not just a "Contact Us" form that's the same for accounting, HR, service, and sales questions - but one specific to the item/page of interest.)

Once they submit that form, we must decide whether we'll reinforce their negative expectations by having our BDRs run a sequence that pesters them until they reply and set a meeting, or try to answer the question. But we all know that there aren't "simple" questions in complex B2B industrial sales. There are lots of "what ifs" and conversation is necessary to arrive at an accurate answer.

Forms may appeal to some, but they're not always the best answer.

We also need to be human. We need to encourage conversation using whatever channel our visitor wants. That's the essence of conversational marketing and conversational sales.

Industrial Mindset

There are two odd business mindsets that have evolved regarding buyer preferences.

Recently, many tech companies (and the trend seems to be spreading) have made clear that they have no interest in buyer phone calls.

NONE! They explicitly omit telephone numbers from their website and materials. As GenX, I find this odd, frustrating, arrogant, and annoying. Sometimes I want to talk to someone. I want a conversational exchange of information.

Industrial companies have a different, albeit equally insular mindset. Although decision makers in those companies use the web like everyone else, and their teams use the internet extensively in their routine business, many leaders of these companies insist that their buyers are different. They maintain that their prospects don't use the internet, don't start with online research, refuse to use chatbots, won't use SMS, don't download information, etc.

It's not projection because they acknowledge that they use those tools.

It's just wierd.

What would happen if a typical boomer-owned industrial manufacturing business suddenly saw the volume of phone calls explode? They'd quickly add more trunk lines and staff to answer calls.

But when one agrees to experiment with conversational marketing chat tools and chat engagement grows on their site, their response is often, "We don't have anyone available to answer those. We should probably turn that off."


Improving Customer Experience

Underlying this is a simple question.

Are we primarily focused on our process and system? Or are we focused on creating a satisfactory experience for our buyers?

If so, forms and the typical process aren't the best answer. Increasingly, we hesitate when forms are long, and pause to weigh our interest in the gated information against the likelihood that we'll be harassed by a BDR who assumes we're ready to buy.

Why put people in that position? Why not make it easy for them to find what they want and contact us when they want, using the channel with which they're most comfortable?

After all, the "buying journey" isn't bifurcated into types of marketing content and then sales engagement. It's a contiguous journey from the buyer's perspective.

We should provide the tools that help them connect and use channels that reinforce connection and conversation.

Whether they want to lurk, submit forms, send an SMS, call through the site or separately, or engage by chat, we should provide those options.

When we create great chatbot experiences, we can provide a natural flow of engagement, beginning with chatbots that assist without threatening pressure, to live chat, to scheduling a meeting, or even moving straight from chat to Zoom.

This improves the buyer experience and typically boosts visit:lead and lead:meeting conversion rates.

Everyone wins.

If we think conversationally. Why is our website different than a tradeshow booth?

Helping Your Team Connect

We've all heard the statistic that buyers are 70% of the way through their buying journey by the time they want to speak to a sales rep. But we also understand instinctively that sometimes they want to get more detail, seek clarification, or expedite an informational inquiry. B2B conversational marketing and sales can help.

There are also metrics for average connection attempts required to connect with an inbound lead form submission (>8 now) vs. the attempts made by an average sales rep (<3.) Have you tracked your lead follow up success rate? Your team is likely only connecting with a small percentage of the leads you're investing to create.

And what kind of customer experience is it to exchange seven emails and voice mails just trying to set a meeting? Not to mention, how persistent do you think the prospect's interest will be? Will it endure that process, or fade quickly after the form submit button is clicked?

If we think of revenue growth as an integrated system that can be improved and optimized, then we might seek out Muda to be eliminated. Conversational marketing and conversational sales are about making prospects and customers comfortable, improving their experience, and eliminating waste in our engagements with them. 

Having someone eager to initiate a conversation with our team isn't waste - it's wonderful.

Conversational Marketing and Sales - Digitally Enabled Humanity

The single biggest concern I hear from business leaders these days is that it's increasingly difficult for their reps to create new conversations.

So, shouldn't we do everything we can to facilitate that? Even if most engagement starts digitally?

Let's put conversation back into business.