Why Chatbots Are the Next Must-Have for Virtual Events

Chatbots help boost engagement on landing pages, but what role can they play in attendee engagement at virtual events? | Originally aired on February 23, 2021

Rather read a transcript of the session?


Key takeaways.


Humanization can still use automation technology.

With a properly built playbook, a chatbot can help to humanize your virtual event.




A chatbot can drive pipeline for your virtual event.

Throughout the entire sales process, a bot can not only usher leads, but also collect unique data.


Bots can increase engagement pre-, during-, and post-event.

At every touchpoint, a bot can be used to streamline communication and provide resources.


What we’ve found is by adding a little [chat]bot that pops up on the page and says, “Hey, do you want to come to his event?” versus filling out a long form has actually increased our own registrations by 10%.


Episode Transcript

Ellen Smoley: Hi, everyone and welcome to another Coffee Break Discussion. Our coffee breaks are a series of 20 minute chats where we are interviewing marketing leaders and talking everything growth marketing. I like to take a second and introduce my co-host Nick Sal, senior partner marketer at Drift. Nick, thanks for being on the show today.

Nick Salvatoriello: Hey, Ellen. Thanks so much for having me. It's great to be able to share and chat with everybody here today.

Ellen Smoley: Yeah, we are certainly looking forward to it. Our conversation today is around chatbots for virtual events. I'd like to start a little bit higher level Nick, and you tell us... Let's start from the basics. What is conversational marketing?

Nick Salvatoriello: Sure. Conversational marketing is a term that was coined by the company that I'm with, with Drift, and we make a revenue acceleration platform. One of the methodologies under the revenue acceleration platform that we make is conversational marketing and conversational sales.

Conversational marketing is using a set of tactics, best practices to engage and understand and recommend to website visitors, email recipients, people that digital marketers want to interact and engage with in various channels that they do to, like I said, engage, understand, and then make recommendations to them based on signals and feedback that we're able to gather from that conversation, from those various touchpoints, and basically make the whole thing more human. Make it easier and faster for us to get humans what they want and hopefully drive a sale as a result of that relationship.

Ellen Smoley: This kind of crazy world right now that human connection is big and I think that conversational marketing and using Drift really helps connect human to human and, like you said, kind of accelerate those conversations.

Nick Salvatoriello: Yeah, very big right now.

Ellen Smoley: Yes. Let's talk about the other half of this conversation, which is virtual events. Again, let's start from the basics. Why should marketers invest in virtual events? Give us some reason.

Nick Salvatoriello: It's a good question. We've been putting... Drift, if you folks listening don't know, we've been putting out a lot of content for you about virtual events because they've been very successful for us as we had to make this pivot in this pandemic world, as many of you folks did. We just put a lot of this together into a virtual event certification, which I just finished completing with our team, but talking about how they are... Virtual events, first of all, can be accessed by anybody. What we're seeing from big brands to small brands putting on virtual events is they're receiving interest and engagement from audiences that they had never seen at any of their in-person personal events.

I think marketers also find that these events are actually cheaper and dare I say sometimes easier, and easier is a relative term, to put on. You got to learn new platforms and other ways of engaging, but that's why Iron Horse and Drift are partnered and we're here to help with that. But then also we're seeing that they scale really well. If suddenly your event becomes very successful, you're very good at promoting it, or the topic is just right and suddenly you have 10,000 people interested versus 2,000, you're not having to pump the brakes and lock out registration because the conference center or the venue cannot handle that.

I think those are some prime reasons, but I know that you folks track this a lot and work with your clients a lot on that, Ellen. Are there things that you're also seeing?

Ellen:  Smoley: Yes. What we see from virtual events is just the amount of data that you can get from these virtual events. You are able to not only take that data from the two or three days of that virtual event, but turn that data into something that you use into your integrated marketing campaigns that lasts the whole year. If, Nick, you come to my virtual event and I know that you're interested in this certain track, you've been watching these videos, the next time around, I can make a playbook for you. The data from virtual events is just really great, you mentioned easier to scale, and just the lasting effects of the virtual events.

Nick Salvatoriello: I like what you said about lasting effects, because that's what... I mean, I don't know other people here on the line, but I've seen that these virtual events seem to kind of go on and on, as opposed to a physical event which very much feels like the energy dies off once you get on the plane and you drive home, whatever it is. Even in the past, we marketers, of course, say, "Hey, go look at the video," but it's not the same. Because in person versus digital, but since it started digital and it ends digital, it seems to continue on. The conversation is natural to continue on. The consumption of content is natural to continue on. It's a very interesting time.

Ellen Smoley: It is. And definitely what we tell our clients is plan ahead for that post event strategy. So whether that's a content repository for all of your on-demand content, make sure that people have a way to find that after you're done with your virtual event. So we talked about what is conversational marketing? Why should you invest in virtual events? Let's talk, drift for virtual events. How and why we should use drift pre, during, post? First, we'll start with pre, which pre-event is driving awareness as well as that continuous engagement to get people to convert from the registrant to an attendee. So, let's kind of talk through that pre-event, how can we use drift for promoting or helping drive that awareness?

Nick Salvatoriello: For sure. Now, as Ellen had brought up earlier, we're all about driving conversations and the relationships and trust and deals that come out of those conversations. So Drift has conversational marketing technology, chat bots, which can recognize first and foremost, if somebody who's coming to your website is maybe a good prospect for the event. Are they a target account that you want to nurture to the event? Are they a potential sponsor you've been looking to hunt down? By having a system that can detect the email address, the IP, the cookie, whatever we can work with nowadays, and then queue up and say, Hey, we've got a virtual event for you. And here's how you can be involved with it. Having a bot take care of that in real time, and then also perhaps route in somebody, if there's a deeper conversation about sponsorships speaking at the event, high profile contact you definitely want to go to the event, and then bringing sales right into that conversation is awesome.

So smart chat bots like that, can drive registration drive engagement with the event. What we've also found, Ellen, is when people actually get on that registration page, another thing we're all about here at Drift and at Iron Horse is helping reduce the friction for buyers that make it easier for people to engage and get stuff done. And what we've found is by adding a little bot that pops up on the page and say, "Hey, do you want to come to this event?" Versus filling out the long gratuitous form there actually increased our own registrations by 10%. And just by making it a little bit easier, just to pop in an email address with the bot, they get the rest of the data from there.

Ellen Smoley: That's super interesting. You mentioned kind of reducing the friction with the form, which is a big thing. A lot of these events that we have gone to, they ask a lot of questions in order to help you get the best experience, but in order to get people into the door and then kind of ask those questions, Drift is a very, very unique use case for that. So I think that's super interesting. And then also tell us about some of the email bots and sending out those communications via email.

Nick Salvatoriello: Well, I think any marketer today knows that email is still a very important channel. When we look at the data and the channels that really work well for driving events, it's no different in this digital world. Email is still one of your greatest channels to drive registration. However, in my experience, the traditional emails that marketers are sending out and that we're receiving are sort of like no reply at your company, that type of thing. So yes, you should be sending emails, AB testing emails, all the email best practices on and on and on. But what's cool about using conversational email, which is some backend technology that Drift offers our customers and that Iron Horse helps their clients use as well, is to take away the no reply aspect. And why do we have no reply? The marketer couldn't handle that many responses to our... Yeah.

And also it wasn't relevant. The marketer isn't targeting these accounts to sell them. They aren't a CSM or an account executive knowing these customers very well. So it would start these sort of side conversations that would have to be rerouted and bring the reps in. Without going into a lot of detail here, Drift email has the ability to, if someone replies back to the market or they know that email address is in a database that's tied to Drift and that belongs to an account executive person, who's trying to seek sponsors for the event or something like that, and they get a... Excuse me. Get a BCC'd copy as well. And they go, Hey, I'm so glad you were expressing interest in the event or you asked that question. It allows them to jump into an email thread where originally you just have to say, well, no reply. We hope that that attendee will hunt down that account executive or they'll link up afterwards perhaps.

Ellen Smoley: Right. Yeah. And you mentioned an incredible stat of using those email bots for registration, reducing that friction and then having you reply yes, to sign up for virtual event. Tell us about that stat.

Nick Salvatoriello: Oh yeah. So I think 60%. So Drift puts on and as we started it, we basically started this in 2020 with the all digital first sort of event strategy, Rev Growth is our ongoing events that we do a quarterly and 60%, over 60% of all our registrations come out of email. So it became very important to us that we did everything possible to make that count. And if we knew that a lot of the activity and the engagement coming back to us was coming from an email again, how can we use technology, our own technology, to then take that intent, take that interest and alert the account people, the executives who are targeting these people as well. That's why we're putting on the event to engage and to set those team members up for success for demos and conversations afterwards.

So if those conversations are beginning, they can be beginning right there in the registration email flow, or they could be starting right on your website at the registration page. And those are opportunities to say, "Hey, account executive, your contact is responded to this email, the invite for the event, they're on the landing page right now registering. And they've got a question actually." And we can route them in at any point in there or the executive can route themselves in and start talking to that contact. Conversations.

Ellen Smoley: Yeah, that's incredible. The 60% number when we were talking last, really just stood out in my mind because email is such a big channel in helping people simply reply and get their answers immediately is key to that number

Nick Salvatoriello: Hundred percent. And also making sure, there are many customers probably today who are like, sure, we know about Drift. We know about chat bots or conversations, but maybe they haven't updated those bots to take the event into account as well. That should also be mentioned. If you're already running automated playbooks that will trigger conversations with the bots or live people, have you updated the logic and the flow to mention there's an event going on? You can have the conversation, the bot check is this person registered or not, and then offer as in terms of a normal playbook for a demo or pricing questions or whatever, to bring up, Hey, what we actually address a lot of this in this upcoming event, would you like to come? So the bot could be promoting this right to your normal site traffic as well.

Ellen: Yeah, super cool for pre-event and a big chunk, and what Iron Horse is doing with their clients, is during the event. So during the event, we are using the bots to kind of act as that help desk. We are reducing friction for people who need help or technical support. We're helping move people from one place to the other in a virtual event. And we're also helping manage all of those communications that are coming in, manage that engagement. So let's take a second and talk, during event.

Nick Salvatoriello: Yeah. I'd love to, and please, you and I talked obviously a little bit before this and just some of the things you said you were doing with your clients were just very interesting in the trenches there, the virtual event. But the first thing I'll throw out to kick us off is we covered in our virtual event certification, a lot of our content, we looked at best practices, successful digital virtual events would be having an MC, a virtual MC of some kind. I've actually done that for Drift. That's why I expressed interest in this chat and stuff like that. But you can make the bot be a potential MC. You could have a concierge sort of person that is engaging with your audience and bringing them on to the next piece of content or the next speaker that they want to engage with. But I wonder what some things you folks have seen?

Ellen Smoley: Of course. And the really neat thing about the Drift bot is you can change its icon to kind of match the theme of your virtual event or the theme of your brand. So we have done a virtual event that the bot very much matched the product, or it looked like the product, or it was a ski theme, virtual evnet. So we had a little ski themed ski patrol down in the bottom.

Nick Salvatoriello: There you go.

Ellen Smoley: But something that we've done during the event is really creating those playbooks that are unique per the page that the attendee is on. So if the attendee is on the speaker page, perhaps it's hooked up to a knowledge base. And if I'm looking for Nick, I could type in Nick's name. And that knowledge base would show me those sessions that Nick is speaking at. So if I then move to the homepage, I can get in contact with sales, with sponsors, with event support.

If I'm having technical issues, I can chat in and the really cool thing, and what we've found during our virtual events is if someone does need that technical support, we know what page they're on. So we can narrow down and know exactly where they're having those issues to help them resolve them.

Nick Salvatoriello: I love that.

Ellen Smoley: An interesting stat is, we had a thousand conversations come in for one virtual event. 90% of them were handled by the bot. So the bot was either answering those questions or helping triage to other places. Only 10% were passed to a human. So it's just kind of crazy to think about if all of those conversations would've come through an email support channel. There's no way our event support would've been able to handle all of those conversations.

Nick Salvatoriello: No.

Ellen Smoley: So that was a key player in helping kind of manage everything that was coming through.

Nick Salvatoriello: I love that. I mean, I'm sure any marketer here, who's looked at their own website analytics after doing even an in person event will see that their own homepage and website traffic jumped, right? You drew a lot of attention to your company and what you're doing and people are going to wander around and look at your website. Well, context is everything. As you said, you know what page they're on, we know that the person on your homepage is also a register or kind of a real time attendee at your virtual event right now. Wouldn't you want that to be something that was referenced or cited by whatever conversation or engagement goes on with that visitor via chatbot or a human conversation? So being able to say, how do you like the event so far? Are you lost? Are you looking for help?

Ellen Smoley: Yeah. It kind of acts as that feedback loop too. Right? So depending on the branches that your attendee is clicking on and moving through throughout the bot, you can help kind of optimize that virtual event. So what we saw is that a lot of attendees were saying, "I don't know where my agenda is. I can't find my agenda. Where do I find this?" So as the event was going on, we had this real time data coming in through drift, and we took that information and we were able to optimize the site in real time. So not only is it a feedback loop of helping you understand what to do different next time or how to better optimize your site, but also the satisfaction of attendees and how they're feeling during the virtual event.

Nick Salvatoriello: It's just bringing all the things we're trying to do as event marketers, just that much closer together to us in one dashboard, ease, faster feedback loops, faster connections, faster satisfaction for the participants.

Ellen Smoley: Exactly.

Nick Salvatoriello: Yeah. Hopefully more demos and opportunities coming out of this as a result, faster.

Ellen Smoley: Right. I mean, during that event, if someone wants to get in touch with sales, there's an immediate way to get in touch with sales, you have sales on your backend that can easily plug in their calendar. And I know you do a lot with training as well. And training is a big thing for helping your Drift support staff, to make sure that they do have the right kind of tone and conversation when they come into that. Or if someone is wanting to book a meeting, you give them a reading link. So training is a big part of that and helping your team understand the right kind of communication for [inaudible 00:16:33]

Nick Salvatoriello: Right. I mean, totally because again, even us here at Drift, and at Iron Horse, we are all evangelists for the state of the art, for how we can engage and interact and converse with target audiences. But even our teams still need to be oriented and trained as to how those motions might change or adapt to be in good context with the event that's going on. So you're right, making sure you gather your SDRs, BDRs, some CDRs conversation development reps, but letting them know, "Hey, here's the event, here's what the bot's going to be doing first. And if they qualify, here's where you'll be brought in. Here's where you can go to find the content and the context of what they've been consuming so far, here's where we want you to drive them next if it's still in the event. If it's post event, here's the type of content that they were looking at. And here's what the next step offer might be for attendees of that segment."

So I think post event, when we're getting down to our last minutes here would be a good thing to look at too, how you handle all the outcomes if you did this right.

Ellen Smoley: Exactly. So post event, that primary focus is driving those on demand views. It's also following up with attendees. So it is just as important as an in-person event when somebody stops by your booth to follow up with them. So following up with them and creating that post event, integrated campaign strategy. So yes, we are getting down to the last couple minutes. Let's spend some time on post event and kind of help us. How can we use the bots to do that on brand post event strategy?

Nick Salvatoriello: Right? Well, again, because the bots are tied in with your marketing automation platforms and your CRM and so on, the bot can tell who was invited, who actually registered, but didn't show, who registered and did show up and then also if they registered, showed up, what did they engage with? So that's all great data that a good sales rep or an account manager will want to get their hands on so that they can have proper follow up to get the feedback from the event. Why'd you come? Why didn't you come? You look at, did you find that interesting? Would you like to hear more? Those conversations be far more likely to convert and get to the next step if you're doing it in context with the event and the bot can begin that conversation before the sales rep even knows that their contact is back on the website the next day after the event.

And so the bot can tee up that conversation and then route in the rep or book time on the rep's calendar, if the rep was working the event needs to take a rest or is on another call, the bot can go ahead and have the initial stages of that conversation. Even book the meeting on the rep's behalf, but all that needs to be trained and prepared ahead of time.

Ellen Smoley: Right. Yeah. And I think a big thing that we're all talking about is account based marketing, using the bot for personalization, segmentation. When somebody from that target account comes back to your website, targeting them in a different way, cause you already have all of that great knowledge from your virtual events and using these bots to also play a role in your account based marketing.

Nick Salvatoriello: Totally. And I'll just say, as we close, I got a lot of my soundbites and understanding from this, it's all packaged up in a free certification that we offer. Just came out, it's red hot, and I can drop it in to chat here, but it's a comprehensive guide and class from all of the professional practitioners here at Drift who put on successful events with thousands of attendees and even small intimate events with 20 or 30, really high fit, highly targeted ABM style contacts, and we've got quotes and soundbites from customers of ours who've used our bots as well. And I think we're even hopefully, and I don't want to bring this up too fast before it's approved. We're going to be featuring perhaps Iron Horse's case study because some of the great work that you folks have been doing.

Ellen Smoley: Right. You guys might see a familiar face on there. So Nick, thank you so much for your time today. We hope that y'all enjoyed this 20 minute coffee break and learned a little bit about chat bots for virtual events. Nick dropped the virtual event certification into the chat. Iron Horse as well has some really great virtual event content. So check those out and we hope to see you next time. Thanks Nick.

Nick Salvatoriello: Thanks for having me. Appreciate it.

Ellen Smoley: Cheers.

Nick Salvatoriello: Chairs.