At Hypergrowth 2019 in Boston, the big product announcement from founder and CTO Elias Torres in his keynote was the acquisition of Giant Otter, an MIT originated start-up. Its technology has been integrated with the Drift B2B marketing platform to create Drift Automation, available now to Drift enterprise customers globally.
Dr Jeff Orkin, and members of his MIT team that developed the technology, have now formed the Drift AI lab.
Drift is a leader in B2B conversational marketing, which essentially means the deployment of solutions familiar from the B2C space to make the B2B buying experience increasingly personalized and self-service; which, in turn, means chatbots.
The advance signaled by the Giant Otter acquisition is the introduction of chatbots which can perform as successfully as human sales reps. Torres described it as “the most technically advanced development of my career.”
Who the hell is this guy?
The back story is key. Torres was on his customary tour of thought leaders in the machine learning space, carrying with him the presumption that most solutions claiming to be AI-powered, when you looked under the hood, were “full of s***.” He met with Orkin at his lab in Cambridge, Mass., and was surprised to be told that his company, Drift, would not scale because “your bots suck.”
This was not encouraging. Torres’ initial reaction, he said, was: “Who the hell is this guy, with no customers and no revenue, telling me my company is going to fail?”
Torres knew he could just walk out, or challenge what Orkin was telling him. He offered the challenge. He gave Orkin transcripts of 50 conversations from Drift-powered pricing pages, and invited him to build a better chatbot. Two weeks later, he had the result. Torres tried to break the bot (as we all do, asking annoying bots questions we know they can’t answer).
He tried misspellings, bad grammar, taking the bot off topic. The result: “His tech was better than mine. I just saw the future of marketing automation.”
No more decision trees
Torres demonstrated the bot live on the Hypergrowth stage, but of course he posed a limited number of questions to it in that setting. More persuasive were the on-stage testimonials from brands trialing it, including Keap, Tenable, and Smartling.
Clate Mask, CEO of Keap (formerly Infusionsoft), had already seen a growth from one to 30 percent of lead conversion using the standard version of Drift. The advantage he saw in Drift Automation was that “our customers now lead the conversation.” It was real AI, he said, no more bots following “decision trees.”
It should be noted that the full-scale version of the technology is based, not on 50 or 100 conversations, but on much larger data sets. But the sets are specific to the customer.
Below, Dave Gerhardt, Drift’s VP of Marketing, backstage at Hypergrowth
What comes with it?
Drift Automation is available initially to enterprise customers. It comes packaged with a Conversation Analysis tool, geared to searching and interpreting transcripts with an eye to optimizing websites and landing pages which brought them to the conversation.
It also comes with a human (yay, humans) Conversation Designer. Each instance of the solution is customized to the purchaser, based on the company’s own conversation transcripts, and the Conversation Designed trains the algorithms around that specific, local data.
The big picture
The announcement of Drift Automation brought substance to remarks Drift CEO David Cancel had made to kick off the one-day conference. “Customer experience is the new marketing,” he said, “because the customer has all the power. You win on customer experience.”
The key for B2B marketing, he said, was to imagine a cool customer experience for highly considered purchases. Drift hopes that coherent, responsive chatbots, which can maintain a conversation, and even schedule meetings, as effectively as a good sales rep, is breaking that ground. The results will tell, and we’ll be looking out for the results.