How To Automate An Efficient Sales Process With Bots

Look, I get it: You’ve probably been hearing a lot of buzz about artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots recently — about how they can help automate the sales process to improve efficiency by enabling sales teams to grow leads, reduce administrative tasks, and shorten sales cycles.

And while it might sound like science fiction, we’ve already started see the impact AI and bots are having on today’s sales process.

The Evolving Role of Sales

Research out of the McKinsey Global Institute (published in HBR) shows that…

[Tweet “40% of time spent on sales work activities can now be automated using AI.”]

But this doesn’t mean that sales reps need to worry about losing their jobs to bots.

As Alex Hillsberg wrote in his article Artificial Intelligence: The Sales Renaissance is Here”:

“Offloading 40% of work doesn’t make you, the rep, less important. Just more efficient … At worst, sales reps need to adapt to a new role. They’ll be marketers, even managers, sort of. They need more analytical skills to derive insights out of data and use it to run territory campaigns.”

This is the sales rep of the future: no longer managing forms and spreadsheets, but managing intelligent lead capture and qualification campaigns.

Instead of going down a list of leads and calling them one-by-one to see if they’re a good fit, the sales rep of the future will spend more time behind the scenes, managing a fleet of bots that can qualify leads at scale.

How Do Bots Actually Improve Your Sales Process Efficiency?

For starters – At Drift, our sales reps don’t have desk phones.

Instead of spending the majority of their time dialing and smiling, they’re using messaging to talk to leads and to book demos in real-time.

Of course, selling in real-time via messaging has its challenges:

  • How do you deal with all the volume? 
  • How do you focus on having conversations with the most qualified leads?

We’ve been working on this problem for over a year now, and we’ve come up with a variety of tactics for dealing with it.

Here’s our step-by-step approach to automate an efficient sales process, including how bots fit into the picture.

improve sales process chatbots

1. Create Separate Conversation Inboxes for Sales, Support, Success, etc.

It’s super simple tweak to the sales process, but also super effective. At Drift, we have all incoming chats from leads get routed to a dedicated Sales inbox.

Here’s why this is a significant step for increasing sales process efficiency:

Reps Don’t Waste Time With Unqualified Leads

When we automate the right leads directly to the sales inbox, we ensure our sales reps don’t have to worry about answering customer support questions, or getting interrupted by random site visitors who have no intention of buying.

Bots Route Inbound Chats To The Right Department

Because routing incoming chats to the right department would be a tedious task for a human (especially during times when there’s a high volume of chats coming in) we have a bot take care of routing for us.

When a visitor drops by the site and starts a chat with us, the bot pops up and says:

“Hey! Would you like to talk to sales, support, or anyone?” and then routes the chat accordingly.

For those who respond “anyone,” we have the conversation get routed to an inbox we use for chatting with anonymous visitors. Everyone at Drift takes a shift monitoring this inbox and responding to folks, which brings me to step two.

2. Set Up Human Chat Shifts During Peak Hours

In theory, you could have bots reply to every incoming message you receive and never have a human get involved in the conversation…but what would be the point?

Bots Don’t Replace Humans, Just Enhance The Experience

At Drift, we think about bots as existing to facilitate better human-to-human interaction, not automate humans out of the picture. That’s why everyone at the company has a specified day and time when they do “chat duty.”

By having a real human present to chat during peak hours, we’re able to keep an eye on our bots (who are still learning) and make sure our visitors, leads, and customers are getting the answers and outcomes they’re looking for.

Anytime someone requests to talk to a real person, or if we see someone struggling to get the information they’re looking for from one of our bots, we can hop in right away.

3. Set Up Real-Time Push Notifications For Hot Leads

In addition to being “on-call” in case leads decide to initiate conversations, our sales reps can choose to get push notifications when one of their target leads is live on the website.

Enabling Reps to Proactively Engage Prospects

We want our reps to start chats with leads and ask if they need help with anything. It’s just like having a salesperson greet someone at the door of a brick-and-mortar store (only it’s online, and that store is your website).

Of course, from a scalability perspective, having reps send individual messages to particular leads as soon as those leads land on the website can get a bit problematic.

Our solution: We created targeted bot campaigns that can appear to specific visitors, leads, and customers and engage with them in real-time.

Here are three examples of how we’re using those bot campaigns to proactively drive sales.

using chatbots for lead capture

How to Use Bots to Capture Leads

A year ago, our CEO decided to ungate all of our content and get rid of lead forms.

That left the marketing team in a peculiar spot. Because without forms, how were we supposed to generate leads for the sales team?

Turns out that you can capture (and qualify) leads on your website entirely through messaging. And thanks to bots, that can happen at scale.

Leveraging Bots on the Blog

For example, we recently launched a bot campaign on our blog. The bot asks visitors two questions:

  1. “How’d you find the Drift blog?“
  2. “Want to join the 15,000 marketing/sales geniuses who get our emails every week? Just drop your email below.”

Unlike a form, the bot is interactive, and can give different follow-up responses based on what people answer.

Another thing the bot can do that a form can’t: route leads to the right department, or even route them to the right salesperson (based on sales territory/geography).

That way, leads who are interested in learning more can have 1:1 conversations with sales right away, instead of having to wait for a phone or email follow up.

How to Use Bots to Qualify Leads

using bots to qualify sales leads

Just like with lead capture campaigns, you can run lead qualification campaigns with bots that target specific pages of your website.

We display these bots on our high intent pages, like our pricing page, so we can hone in on qualifying just those leads who are likely to buy.

When it comes to writing scripts for our lead qualification bots, we follow the this approach:

  • What?
  • Who?
  • How?
  • CTA 

Here’s how it all works:

Step 1 – We have the bot ask leads what brought them to our website (or to a particular page on our site).

Step 2 – We have the bot ask leads who they are. (What company do they work at?)

Step 3 – The last question the bot asks is how they’re thinking about using the product (e.g. for accomplishing x, y, or z?).

Step 4 – Finally, we end the bot’s script with a call-to-action (CTA)

One of the best CTAs would be to schedule a product demo with a sales rep. From within the messaging window, the bot can show leads the times you have open on your calendar, and — after they pick one — it can send meeting invitations to both sides.

And because these bot campaigns can run around the clock, 24/7, sales reps can qualify leads while they’re asleep and wake up to find new meetings on their calendars.

According to research from

After a lead reaches out, the best time to follow up is within the first 5 minutes.

[Tweet “Responding to leads in 10 minutes vs. 5 minutes decreases odds of qualifying that lead by 400%.”]

By having bots on your site that can respond to leads in real-time, your sales team will always be able to follow up within that critical 5-minute window.

Now that’s what I call sales process efficiency!

How to Use Bots to Upsell Existing Customers

In addition to using bots to capture and qualify leads on your website, your sales and customer success teams can use them in-app to upsell and cross-sell existing customers.

For example, if you wanted to encourage folks on your “Basic” plan to upgrade to your “Pro” plan, you could send a targeted in-app message to just your “Basic” plan customers.

Or, if you launched a new product feature within a specific section of your app, you could run an in-app campaign that only appeared when customers navigated to that part of your app.

At Drift, we recommend keeping the scripts for these types of upsell campaigns short and sweet.

After all, these are people who are already paying to use your product. So while you want to alert them to new features and help them get more value out of your product, you also don’t want to annoy them.

When we recently launched an in-app bot campaign for a new product feature, we had the bot ask a single question:

“Any questions about [this feature]?”

A CTA then appeared that prompted customers to schedule a demo with us if they wanted to learn more.

Final Thought

Selling with bots isn’t about removing humans entirely from the sale process, it’s about making sure the humans on your sales team are joining the right conversations at the right times.

By removing complexity from the sales process, and allowing reps to focus more of their time on having quality conversations, bots are poised to help sales teams become more efficient than ever before.

Erik is a brand marketer at Drift, a Boston-based company that’s reinventing marketing and sales software using messaging. A regular contributor to the Drift blog, Erik has spent the past eight years writing and designing content that produces measurable results for brands and businesses. He’s previously worked on the marketing teams at HubSpot and Placester.

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