Think, for a second, about how your communication methods have changed over the last five years. Back then, you almost certainly emailed, and you may have even picked up the phone once in awhile.

Now, though, there's a good chance that messaging plays a much bigger role in your life, whether via texting, social media or apps like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. As a result, it's no surprise that, according to research conducted by Twilio, nine out of every ten customers want to be able to communicate with businesses using these same messaging programs.

Despite this evidence, most companies continue to rely on the phone and email you've moved away from over the past few years. So where's the disconnect? I'd argue that it's a bigger problem than businesses simply missing out on an active communication medium.

The Problem with Traditional Contact Methods

Here's the thing... businesses aren't just behind; they're actively doubling-down on old means of communication. They're investing in more forms, more gated content, more nurturing emails, more cold calls and more outbound advertisements.

And I'm not saying those things are bad, but they give us - what - a 5% conversion rate? How strange is it that marketers want to brag about scoring a 5% conversion rate when, by default, that means they aren't properly supporting the 95% of people they worked so hard to get to their sites?

When 95% of your visitors' needs are going unaddressed, you need to do something different. You need to be sure that you're meeting their needs in real-time, using the on-demand, messaging-focused methods customers are demanding. But that's clearly not happening.

In early 2017, the Drift marketing team conducted a "secret shopper" style survey that involved reaching out to 433 B2B companies in order to measure their response times. The results, according to Erik Devaney, as reported to Chatbots Magazine, were astonishing:

"We found that 93% of companies are ignoring the 5-minute rule. Just 7% of companies responded to sales inquiries in 5 minutes or less, while a whopping 55% of companies took longer than 5 days to respond."

Further data gathered by found that the time between lead generation form submission and a salesperson making contact has a direct effect on whether or not those leads become clients. In particular, their research suggests that:

"The odds of contacting a lead if they are called within 5 minutes are 100 times higher versus one called in 30 minutes. The odds of qualifying a lead if called in 5 minutes are 21 times higher versus 30 minutes."

Yes, InsideSales' data had to do with phone contact, but if nothing else, it illustrates just how important fast follow-up is. There's one thing you need to be doing in this on-demand, messaging-focused world, and it's this: responding to leads in real-time.

How to Guarantee Real-Time Lead Engagement

Clearly, benefits exist to quick follow-up with your prospective customers. But if it's so important, why are so few companies doing it?

Well, for one thing, most sales teams are made up of humans. They don't work 24/7. They need ramp-up time. They need sleep, and they need training. Not to mention the fact that, once human CSRs or BDRs are tied up with inquiries, they can't take others until the current contact is resolved - at least, not without jeopardizing the quality of their service.

Unless your budget is virtually unlimited, human teams aren't always up to the task of on-demand follow-up. That's where chatbots come in.

How Chatbots Can Revolutionize the Sales Process

Chatbots are AI- or rules-powered services that automate interactions via a chat interface. Drift's LeadBot is one such example that's specifically designed to qualify leads, though others - such as Hubspot's GrowthBot, Moxie and Twyla - can be used to facilitate different parts of the customer support process.

In a sales context, chatbots can be used to engage customers, answer simple questions, and determine how and when leads should be deemed "qualified" and escalated to the appropriate human representative.

Imagine that you're a B2B SaaS company. You've struggled, in the past, to connect with leads in a timely manner, and you decide that chatbots could be the solution to your problems. Here's how the implementation and execution process might look in practice:

You choose a chatbot program like LeadBot and, to avoid annoying all of your website visitors, decide to set it to launch only when people remain on your site for a certain period of time, when they visit certain key pages (your pricing pages, for instance) or when they exhibit web surfing behaviors that seem to indicate they're having a hard time finding what they're looking for.
You program your chatbot to open up with a simple message - something like, "Hey there! How can I help?" Depending on the program you've chosen, your chatbot may be able to answer simple questions on its own (including the ones your team is already asking today) or it may simply refer the new lead to the right person within your company, based on rules you set. Your chatbot may even be able to learn from the responses provided to offer better support in the future.
These leads - along with any information the chatbot has gathered on them - can be automatically referred to the right person, who can then connect in real-time, as the conversations are happening on your website.

Now, when your sales reps receive leads, they'll know - thanks to your chatbot's qualifying questions - that they're talking to your ideal customers. Even better, they're talking to these prospects when they're actually engaging with your brand - not hours, or even days later.

As Kelly Abner shares on the Marketo blog, "A 10% improvement in lead quality can result in a 40% improvement in sales productivity." The great thing about chatbots is that you don't have to increase your human capital costs to achieve these results.

They're a win-win-win, for you, for your customers and for your business's bottom line.

Is your company using chatbots in the sales process (or do you know of another company that is)? I'd love to hear what your results look like. Leave me a note below sharing your experiences with these new tools: