What are chatbots, conversational marketing, and how to get started: Q&A with HubSpot's Connor Cirillo

Author: Steve James

An Interview with HubSpots’s Conversational Marketing Manager, Connor Cirillo

We recently sat down for a Q&A session with Connor Cirillo to get his thoughts on how to get started with chatbots and conversational marketing. Connor will be presenting at the HubSpot User Group Milwaukee meetup on March 22. Our team has been digging in to different tools like HubSpot, Drift and Chatfuel to integrate within inbound strategies. Starting with some of the tips Connor provided in the below video is a great place to start.

Steve: Hey everybody! Thanks so much for joining this Q & A session with Connor Cirillo, from HubSpot and he's going to be flying in to Milwaukee on March 22nd for HubSpot user group so we're extremely excited to be talking to Connor today just to give you a sneak peek of what we’re going to be talking about in March. Thanks Connor for joining us. I appreciate it.

Connor: I am excited to be here. This is going to be awesome.

Steve: Yes. Thanks! Well, can you give me a little background information like who you are, what you are doing over there at Hubspot?

Connor: Yes sure. I am Connor Cirillo, I'm a conversational marketing manager at Hubspot. So my job is to figure out how businesses can talk to their users and their customers, much in the same way that we chat with our friends and lead the global word out for like chat box on site and Facebook messenger. Really any way that we would want to communicate one to one with the business, I really help lead a lot of those efforts.

Steve: Perfect. And one of the terms that your title as a conversational marketing manager, is that correct?

Connor: Yes

Steve: I've really noticed that conversational marketing is becoming kind of that coin term for a lot of this. What to you is the definition of that? How do you phrase that?

Connor: Well I think of conversational marketing, it's much more on emphasis on that relationship, the way that when I talk to you Steve or talk to anyone else is really a one to one interaction. Marketing needs to get back to that way. With emails, some of the other channels we've been using is this one to many approach. When I get an email in my inbox, from a company, I know what really went to a lot of people and I feel a little distance from that. But when I get a text message from a friend or even from a business if it's done well, like I innately feel much connected to that because that's a place I talk to with my friends and family.

So conversational marketing is about how do businesses use this new technology to build incredible one to one relationships much in a way that we build in with each other and we can automate some of that and some really cool things that we can get into how to do that. But it's really the shift of instead of talking to a lot of people at once, how do I make every person I'm talking to from a marketing sales and support side, really just know that they're special to me and my company.

Steve: That's great. And I think that definitely resonates, everybody uses Facebook messenger and they're texting and everything and now we're seeing people, marketers transitioning to even chatbot, it's a little bit different right? It's that transition to a little bit of an automated process but you're still taking that conversational tone and implementing that into a chatbot.

For people who don’t know what a chatbot is, what’s your definition? How do you describe that to people?

What Is A Quick Definition Of A Chatbot?

Connor: In order to define a chatbot, I think it is important that we define what conversation is. Conversation throughout time and history, across channels has been, it’s an interaction between two or more groups. So, right now, we are having a conversation, if I was talking to my team, that's a lot of people on a conversation. What a chatbot does is a software that actually replaces and replicates one part of that conversation.

So, in the case of it was you and me and you were asking questions like what chatbot are, the chatbot will be able to actually respond to you and say "Hey, Steve! A chatbot is a software program".

So, bots are really the way that we can mimic and replicate like what that human interaction looks like, which is we get back to how it helps businesses build better relationships.

Not every business can be on 24/7 365. But using chatbots, we can actually replicate and automate some of those conversations that businesses have over and over again that in the end will help users having better experience and like your business more.

Steve: Yes, that's great. From the benefits standpoint, I think the scale opportunity there is immense for a lot of organizations where customer service and teams don’t have to be always on. I think that's a huge benefit and that makes a lot of sense.

Is there any organization and industries that you've seen that really take off with this? Obviously, there's some use cases that probably flown around already but internally within HubSpot as you're talking with other people, is there industries that are kind of like just waiting for this technology to start implementing a lot more that the use cases are perfectly aligned with their industry?

What Types Of Organizations/Industries Are Finding The Most Value With Chatbots?

Connor: What's funny is actually this technology applies to pretty much every kind of business. If your company has interaction with people on an ongoing basis that are repeatable like people ask them a lot that could be an FAQ. Your FAQs call the FAQ with that frequent part because people ask the same questions over and over again. If it's predictable like things that qualify a lead on a sales side, there are certain things you need to know where you can pass on the sales inputs and outputs are pretty defined if you know the information you need. Like there's only so many ways that conversation can go. And there's the impactful part of it. Do you have interactions with customers and your lead that drive revenue into your business if you're qualifying a lead, if you're having them fill out a lead gen form, whatever the case may be. Business is how lots of interactions with customers that add value to your business. If any of the stuff your company does really falls and checks those boxes, bots can give great place and chatbots can be a great way for you to scale and automate delightful conversations, bringing it back to building better relationships. There have been companies I've seen, banks doing it very well, I've seen travel companies. HubSpot’s a B2B software company, we find people love talking to us the way that they talk to their friends and family.

So, you see this bigger shift happen where everybody messages. That just dominates the way we spend our time on our phones and computers and businesses are now starting to match that. So really if your users are people, your customers are people, they want to message you.

Steve: Yes, I think that it totally makes sense and I think I myself using chatbots or instant messaging all the time when I am trying to solve a problem or looking to connect with something from a customer service standpoint I just feel like I'm not going to the phone, I'm looking for that chatbot immediately even looking on HubSpot and customer service. It's just an efficient way to get a quick answer and I think it aligns with any business. I could see a lot of our many manufacturing clients really love to have this opportunity on their site which is something that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that they can install these chatbots not just on Facebook Messenger but also within a website or put it on other platforms.

So, I think that's where the new technology of website and CMS are starting to merge together, we're seeing the opportunity there for customer service and sale and marketing kind of intertwine utilizing this technology.

You think from a KPI standpoint, there are goals standpoint that there's a framework that they should follow or is it really just trying to sit down at the beginning and talking to the three departments maybe customer service, sales, marketing and start small? And align that specific KPI what are their end goals with each department? Is that kind of how you guys work? With clients and/or end users?

What Are Typical End Goals/KPIs For Chatbots?

Connor: Yes. When you're building a bot, focus on doing fewer things better. You should kind of spent a lot of time up front figuring out what's the most important use case, what conversations or what interactions do we have that are repeatable, predictable, and impactful. Once you figure out what things checks those boxes, that could be qualifying data, it's a very common one that people see a lot of success. Focus on doing that really really well. Figure out what kind of KPIs right? If it's qualifying leads, cool! Maybe it's the amount of leads you pass to sales, maybe it's a conversion rate of how many people go through that bot process.

The numbers you want to look at are pretty dependent on the use case and I tell people you don’t have to go from zero to terminator. You can build iterating over times, smaller bots first that do fewer things better. There are two schools of thought of like, how do you design a bot. There's what we call the light and utility. If the used case that you’re building a bot for is a very recurring repeatable thing, it could be like distributing content through Facebook messenger. People will get that over and over again. The goal of how you built that bot might be to design a delightful experience that people would want to come back to. Because it's a very habitual thing. And in that case, there are retentions on the metrics that you want to look at.

On the other side, if the use case you are looking for is an important one but maybe doesn’t happen all the time like qualifying a lead. Let's say if I'm a prospect, I don’t really need to get qualified once. So that experience should be focused on making it amazing. Focus on the conversion like how many people get though this experience, how many chats do we pass to sales. It’s a utility thing though, to find that one metric really shows success on whether you are heading on the right direction.

Steve: Okay that helps a lot. One of the big things that I struggle with when I was starting to test this out was trying to figure out the tone of the chatbot, like the language that you use and trying to make sure that it covers maybe the culture of the company and stuff like that. Is there a place where you kind of like lean to for users to start with? Like should they look at other chatbots first to see how they interact or is there some place, an online resource that you guys look at, just like other flows of conversations that they can kind of look forward to get ideas from?

Where To Start With Chatbots And Conversational Design

Connor: That's a good point. There are two places that I think people can go to really figure out what conversational design. The first is actually to look at what you are doing already. Look at the words that your company uses when you articulate yourself, you position yourself like how do you do that? Are you a friendly approachable company, are you a prestigious, deeply rooted powerful company? And there's not a right way to do it or wrong way to do it. Every brand has a different voice. When you think about chatbots, this is actually how you personify your brand like on a one to one basis.

So, it should mirror the personality of your company. You can definitely play around with other bots to understand like this is how chatting works. What I found really helpful is just talk to your friends. When you are having conversation on Facebook messenger, pay attention to the things that you do. It's little things like I actually might send you a gift and convey like "cool! I'll be on the call at 1" and I might not even need to use words. I can use this rich media to express the same thing. We have so many tools to express ourselves. We do this stuff all the time every day. This is not new behavior. When we're having this conversation, like zooming out, "Oh! That's how I make great conversation with my friend. How can my business do something similar?" I think that's a great way to do it too. A bit caution I'll give to people though is that you can have personality without the person.

One of the big misconception that people get is “Oh well, nobody wants to talk to a bot. They always want to talk to human and I should make them think it's a human even if it's not.” And that really could not be farther from the truth.

You should set your expectations very early on. Most people don’t care whether they are talking to a bot or a human as long as it solves their problem and you make it clear what it is going to do, people are totally fine. If I tell people you can have the fun character of your band, particularly if you have maybe a young approachable band, you can have a lot of fun with it.

You also don’t need to deceive users and make it pretend like it's a human. You can be upfront. We say this is a HubSpot bot. You can do a lot of cool stuff with us but it's not a human and people are okay with that.

Steve: Yes. I think that's a great example again of just looking back and looking at your personas but then also looking at just who you are and how you talk. I mean when I went to inbound last year, we use the Facebook messenger bot that I think was running just talking about getting agendas and looking at the speaker information and I loved how you guys inserted the gifts and like the emojis and everything else because it's just felt like you're almost texting a friend and you almost knew this bot-person type thing to give you questions back by the end of the day. It was pretty impressive.

So, I think that's an interesting way to think about. It doesn’t have to be this sale type of messages. You can add that personality into it.

Connor: Right.

Steve: Do you think from a generational standpoint or demographic standpoint that you guys are seeing, obviously you guys have data and you love data HubSpot, you look at everything right? Is there anything that you are noticing in terms of like specific age ranges or anything else that people aren’t using it or is it pretty much across the board it's working far better than you anticipate it?

Demographics - Who Is Using Chatbots? Male? Female? Generational?

Connor: When I first got started with this stuff, I was a little bit skeptical. Maybe the older generation like the baby boomer's going to want to chat with the businesses. That's one of the questions like "I don’t really know?" What we found is, people across the board, every demographic, age, gender, really doesn’t matter. The way that we as people now talk to our friends in instant messaging and even some of those older kind of generations like it's not at all different. A lot of cases, there's a great stat where some of half baby boomers rather message with the business than call. Messaging is just more convenient for everyone. There's not any one that messaging is a worst experience for, inherently.

And so, we found that really across vertical, across who you're talking to, whatever you are doing, people really message you. Again, we are B2B software company and people are totally fine chatting with us to download ebooks and all that fun stuff. If you are a B to C brand, I've seen a lot of fashion brands really tapping into that personality that you were just talking about and grow a massive audience quickly.

I am not really seeing any places that I would stray away from like it's really just messaging works!

Steve: So, I think the big thing would be just making sure that it works and just like you said starts small. Don’t try to go too big right? And not become this like trust becomes an issue right? So people are asking questions and not getting the right results and stuff like that. If you start too big and try to do too much, that's probably going to happen like you guys started small and did you see any issues at the beginning when you started from a trust standpoint or people messaging you or saying, "Hey this isn’t what I wanted or I want to really speak to human type of approach"?

In Your Experience, Are Users Finding Chatbots Trustworthy?

Connor: Yes, so a lot of people particularly in this phase excited about bots, they're willing to talk to them but a lot of consumers haven’t talked to one yet and that's what's really interesting. They don’t know that they haven't. So, if your company's bot is the first one that they're interacting with, so maybe the first one that they aren’t aware of, it really is on you to set the tone and say "Hey! Our bot can do x, y and z. If you need help, here's a way to get in touch with a human, maybe, here's another place to go if this is not what you are looking for but being clear, being upfront, and being honest, really the transparency which is one of our guiding principles for everything that we do. We're just very transparent.

When people want support, they want to talk to a human, back in the day when we were not ready to handle that, we say "Hey we can't really handle this right now but here's a way to go get help somewhere else." So, it's all about being helpful and not just telling people “Hey, I can't do this. But okay maybe this isn't the right place but here's a great resource you can use or another place you can go.”

You also don’t have to replace all your humans with bots. It’s another thing I hear a lot, it’s like "oh my God! What if I replace all my customer service people and then like the question can’t get answered. Bots and humans work best together. Bots will help your human to be better. For customer service, maybe your customer service bots handle like the 30% of FAQ stuff that is just pretty much at the top of your head and you know it. What that lets you do then is your customer service people can focus on other 70% people that maybe need a little more help, maybe need a tailored experience and by automating the easy stuff, predictable stuff, you really let your people and your workforce have more important conversations. It really enables your team to be more successful which is great.

Steve: Yes, that's perfect. I think one of the best examples of bots that I've seen for events is use cases is for events like you guys partner day at inbound and I've seen for a number of other ones as well. It's like they're settings expectations at the beginning, right? This is what we can do to provide you guys a bot. Here's five things that you can find information on and then if you need more questions, it's really passing over to somebody else. And so it's really kind of mapping out that workflow or that kind of conversational strategy at the beginning to kind of outline one of those steps you want a user to take and where you want them to understand what you can't help them with really, kind of that tone.

When you guys map out those conversations, what do you guys do internally? Are you writing using post it notes, going up on the wall and just kind of thinking through flows or are using a specific piece of software, like what's your approach?

Some Tips For Making Your Chatbot Effective

Connor: I start at the end, with what the goal of the conversation is. Is kind of like, if it's lead generation, then there are certain inputs and outputs I know I need these pieces of information and you'll get the eBook at the end. Once I kind of know what that goal is, I actually work my way back when I write out every single piece of information I'm going to need in order to make that happen. Once you have that, you actually start to role play and you can role play with a team mate or talk it out. If you can have this conversation in person, I use this as a realistic example, you walk into a coffee shop and you ordered a coffee like there's back and forth, they need information, you have to tell them what you want. It's not all that much different from chatbots.

So, if I'm trying a new thing, we'll role play with my team mate or just in your head and just have those conversation of how would this go if I was doing this in person? If this really is a one to one experience, which is the whole point of this channel, this technology, what would that feel like? There are certain things I can infer.

So with Facebook messenger, when you use Facebook Messenger, you actually get a user's name right away. You never have to ask that. So imagine if they're walking with a name badge, I already know your name Steve, awesome! “Hey, Steve! How are you doing?” It’s little things like that where the conversation, you can use all that little pieces of data you're getting, to build a very rich experience. The best way to do it is map it out like a flow chart. I use a piece of software called Lucidchart, which is a great way to just map out kind of how conversations and systems will lay out and the best thing you can do is just talk to your team mates, sit down at a desk, it can be a little bit painful at first but it really is helpful when you just talk out, use a script and then really talk out what that conversation will look like. You'll notice there's a lot of little things you'll pick up on of "Oh if I already knew Steve's his name, I don’t have to ask him twice" So let's just get rid of that question and the more you do that, the more you'll sift through and you'll end with a very very clear and delightful conversations with your users.

NEW RESOURCE Chatbot Scripts: A Step By Step Guide (With Examples & Templates)

Steve: That's some great advise! I’ve used Lucidchart in the past but I didn’t think about that, that's a perfect opportunity to use that piece of software to kind of map that out. That's perfect.

Okay. I know you're coming to Milwaukee in March and you're going to be talking a lot more in depth about all of this information. What do you think is the biggest takeaway that you want attendees to get when they come to the HubSpot user group?

Connor: Well I hope to see everybody there. It's gonna be a reallyawesome event. What I'm going to walk through is that your business can get started with this stuff today. Whether you have marketing, sales, customer support, whatever the most important parts of your business are, there are ways you can use chatbots and use messaging to build delightful experiences for your users like generating more leads, closing more deals and really make your business kind of shift as a whole. It's super important. I want to make sure you have very tactical takeaways. So, I'll walk you through on how we kind of got here stuff but you will leave going--this is how I get started. This is how to think about what use cases make the most sense. Here are some exercises I can run with myself and my team to get us setup for success. I also might give you a preview of what's coming in the HubSpot conversations product which will have our own bot builder. And the more on that I'll see you in March.

Steve: Yes, thanks for the tease. Been fortunate to know a little bit about that but I'm super excited to …hopefully the timing work out well, we're coming at the end.

We're super excited to have you. We obviously appreciate you flying out and we're going to have a great group of people attending. We already have a huge amount of people that are already registered.

So again, it's March 22nd and it's going to be held at Bishop's Court in Brookfield and for more information, just look at the bottom of this blog post and we'll kind of connect you with the registration page.

Thanks so much Connor for spending time on this. We obviously appreciate it and I look forward to having you in Milwaukee.

Connor: Alright! See you soon.

Steve: Thanks a lot!

Milwaukee HUG: March 22, 2018 Meetup - Registration Page

Topics: HubSpot, chatbots

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