Join thousands of weekly readers and receive practical marketing advice for FREE.
MarketingSherpa's Case Studies, New Research Data, How-tos, Interviews and Articles

Enter your email below to join thousands of marketers and get FREE weekly newsletters with practical Case Studies, research and training, as well as MarketingSherpa updates and promotions.


Please refer to our Privacy Policy and About Us page for contact details.

No thanks, take me to MarketingSherpa

First Name:
Last Name:
Jul 08, 2003
Case Study

How to Use Site Chat to Generate Sales Leads: 4 Best Practices & Test Results

SUMMARY: This Case Study includes creative samples -- showing how a successful chat invitation looks -- which we highly recommend you click through to view. Inspirational for anyone who's ever consider adding a chat option to their site.

This story is about a huge B-to-B company -- not an eretailer or mom'n'pop site. Chat has finally come of age in suit-and-tie business sales, and it's producing a *much* higher ROI than inbound sales calls.

Niall Booth describes the frustration of having highly-qualified prospects visit his Company's site … and then leave again without signing up as a lead to be contacted.

"The analogy we use -- you're an ice fisherman; you can see the fish swimming below the ice, and you just don't have the tool where you can dip down and pull the fish out."

It's a frustration shared by every single business marketer we know.

Booth, Global e-Campaign Manager for Global eXchange Services (GXS), needed to generate leads for both inside sales and field sales from site traffic. He had a pet theory that adding a live chat offer could help.

Only problem -- GXS had already tested live chat in 2000 while carefully watching ROI, and the results stank.

At the time, the inside sales team were given "half an afternoon's training" with the chat tool, and then pretty much left to their own devices.

"It was a case of, this is how it works, use it if you feel necessary. We'll let you run with it and we'll come back in four months and see what you think. Of course it was doomed to failure right from the start," says Booth.

Undaunted, the GSX team decided to test adding chat again.


This time the team knew chat wasn't going to be an easy-win solution for lead generation, they'd have to work hard to get a worthy pay-off. After careful research, they decided to implement the following four best practices --

Best Practice #1 Formally assigned chat-only schedule

This time, instead of letting inside sales reps chat when they felt like it, the team agreed to a formal schedule. Each rep would get one hour per day when they were 100% focused on handling site chat.

If, during that time, a prospect requested to switch the conversation to phone (which sometimes happens when prospects don't feel like typing, or the conversation is complex enough to require it) then the rep would ask a substitute to come in and take over chat until he or she was ready to return and focus on it.

To keep things utterly fair, the chat schedule rotates each month so everyone gets a different hour of the day. For example, a rep who had 9-10am ET for June would have 10-11am ET for July.

Best Practice #2 Thoughtful placement of chat invitations

"It's very easy to be intrusive into someone's experience on your Web site," notes Booth. "The last thing that you want to do, after you've made spent $150,000 on your last marketing piece and trade show, is once you've got them to your site, alienate them!"

The team avoided this by obeying three rules:

Rule A) No passive chat invitations.

You won't find a button on the GXS site that you can click to start chatting. That's because they never want a visitor to click it when the chat isn't manned late at night or with a rep who speaks the visitor's language (remember, this is a global company.)

Plus, inside sales reps' time is valuable. Some of the people visiting GXS' site may not be sales prospects -- for example job seekers. If HR decides someday to add chat to their part of the site, that's fine, but in the meantime, those visitors are not going to provide a high enough sales ROI to be worth chatting with.

So, GXS relies on pro-active pop-up chat offer that's triggered by the rep manning chat.

Rule B) Only invite surfers most-likely to accept

"If someone is on page seven of a 16-page tutorial, it's going to be rather annoying if we suddenly pop-up and say, 'Hello, would you like to chat?'," notes Booth.

On the other hand, "If you look at their activity and they've been jumping around a lot, that's an indicator that they can't find what they are looking for. So, it's great because no one knows the Web site better than inside sales folks. We can act as guides, and very often that's the help that they're looking for.

"Sometimes the sale is made without trying to make a sale. That fact that you were there; you've been thorough; you've guided them…"

Rule C) Don't pester anyone with multiple invitations

If a site visitor doesn't respond to the chat invite pop, it goes
away and never returns during their visit.

"We're here if you need us. We're going to tap you on the shoulder to see if you need us. If you don't, we'll go away. There's absolutely no pressure at all."

Best Practice #3 Maximize yeses with invite design

GXS humanized its invitation by featuring a photo of the actual sales rep on duty who the visitor would be chatting with. (See below for link to sample.)

The invitation is in the primary language of that prospect (for example an invite for visitors in Italy is in Italian), and it includes the direct phone line of the sales rep so anyone who hates typing can pick up the phone instead (and not have to worry about dealing with an annoying automated phone system just to get a quick question answered.)

Best Practice #4 Real-human chatting - not scripts

Inside sales reps are generally extremely gifted at phone conversations, but not necessarily great at written grammar or spelling.

So, Booth was tempted by the idea of giving the reps a list of canned, perfectly written, answers to common questions that they could cut and paste into their chats. It would save typing time too.

But after testing the idea, he found, "Prospects on the site could very easily tell it was an auto-response. Half the time it was too fast or too perfect. There's nothing worse than thinking you're talking to a human being and then realizing halfway through that you're being duped."

He switched tactics and asked reps to hand type every answer, no matter how imperfectly spelt or laborious it might be.

"The odd typo can do you a lot of good. I know it sounds silly but if you forget to put a period at the end of a sentence, or you forget to capitalize a word, or you forget to put an apostrophe in a word, it shows you're human and it's not an auto response to a question.

His instruction to reps now is, "Just be yourself. Talk normally as if you were talking to the person in the office next door. Sometimes a one-word answer is fine. Sometimes you need to say, 'Sorry, can you hold on for a second?'."

This sacrifices a bit of speed, and may mean extra reps have to help out in chat if too many prospects want to chat at the same time. However, Booth feels the pay-off is worthy of the investment.

He says it's more important to treat each chatter as a highly valued prospect than it is to save a bit of money by having reps juggle too many chats at once. Efficiency doesn't always produce a higher ROI.


Compared to the ROI for inbound sales calls, chat definitely has higher ROI. Booth says, "It's outrageously more. It's an order of magnitude more. It's more than an order of magnitude more."

The inside sales team are naturally ecstatic -- in fact if one of them can't make his or her chat shift, the others "scramble for it." "Oh please, let me have Jim's hour!," mimics Booth.

As expected, the best times of day for overall revenues derived from chat are 12noon-5pm ET when businesspeople in all four North American time zones are at the office, so more prospects visit the site.

However, Booth notes, "Strangely enough the time we see a lot of activity is East Coast companies in between 8-9pm ET. So, people come home, say hi to their significant other, probably have a bit to eat, and then they sit down with their laptop and they go surfing. We have numerous opportunities we've engaged in this time frame."

Booth tested offering chat all the way up until 10pm ET, but found ROI was steadily strong until about 9pm ET and then dropped significantly after that.

Useful metrics -- the inside sales team generally trigger the invitation to appear for about 20% of site visitors whose surfing patterns fit the profile. Of these, an average of 8.3% accept the invitation to start live chat. Plus an additional unknown number pick up the phone instead.

When considering these metrics for your own site, bear in mind that GXS is marketed as a destination site to a fairly focused group of key prospects. It's not a site an idle Web surfer would drop into. Your chat stats will vary depending on the overall quality of your current traffic.

Useful links:

1. Link to samples of chat invite (for US and Italy):

2. Link to Eloqua - the marketing tech company that powers GXS' Chat (as well as their email campaign systems)

3. GXS home page
See Also:

Post a Comment

Note: Comments are lightly moderated. We post all comments without editing as long as they
(a) relate to the topic at hand,
(b) do not contain offensive content, and
(c) are not overt sales pitches for your company's own products/services.

To help us prevent spam, please type the numbers
(including dashes) you see in the image below.*

Invalid entry - please re-enter

*Please Note: Your comment will not appear immediately --
article comments are approved by a moderator.

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly Case Study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions

Best of the Week:
Marketing case studies and research

Chart Of The Week

B2B Marketing

Consumer Marketing

Email marketing

Inbound Marketing

SherpaStore Alerts


We value your privacy and will not rent or sell your email address. Visit our About Us page for contact details.