Drift may have written the book on conversational marketing, but the past 12 months have seen HubSpot’s competing chatbot tool become a real contender.
But which is best in 2020?
Most of the time when we talk about conversational marketing it’s to describe a wide range of principles and techniques we can use to make our marketing efforts more human.
However, there’s no hiding that it’s also about the arms race between tech companies to build the best, most powerful tool to put those principles and techniques into action. Right now, two of the tools at the top of the pile are Drift and HubSpot Conversations.
As a partner of both Drift and HubSpot, we’re constantly asked which of the two has the edge - which is a difficult question for us to answer, not least because both products have changed and improved so much in the past 12 months.
(Disclaimer: we haven’t covered Drift Automation here, which is a separate, full-service solution. Who knows, though - conversational AI may well be the next key battleground when we write up our 2021 comparison!)
Firstly, let’s talk about how Drift and HubSpot Conversations compare when it comes to their unique selling points for marketers. Specifically, we’ll cover the ability to personalise chatbots to different traffic segments, their flexibility and ease of use when scripting chatbots, and your options to connect Drift vs HubSpot Conversations to the rest of your marketing stack.
Chatbot display criteria
Successful chatbot marketing often comes down to your ability to preempt website visitors’ wants and needs, and offer them a simpler, easier way to fulfil them than your competitors. For this reason, the option to target specific chatbot scripts at specific traffic segments (such as paid traffic, or traffic to a particular page) is key.
From our experience, the most important chatbot display criteria for our customers tend to include:
Historically, Drift has always been more powerful than HubSpot when it comes to the criteria you can use to display chatbots to anonymous website visitors. This is thanks to its bundled Clearbit features which allow users to leverage Clearbit’s exceptional database of location and firmographic data.
At present, HubSpot’s chatbot display criteria for anonymous website visitors are limited to URL and query parameter. However, HubSpot has recently launched a beta that massively improves users’ options and brings chatbot targeting in line with the current display criteria available for Pop-up Forms.
When it comes to targeting chatbots at known (cookied) traffic, both Drift and HubSpot Conversations have equally powerful segmentation options. There’s an argument that HubSpot Conversations has the edge for existing HubSpot users - because you should already have your Smart and Static Lists set up in the HubSpot CRM - but both offer similar functionality.
When it comes to flexibility chatbot scripting, there’s not much difference between Drift and HubSpot Conversations in 2020. Both offer the same key functionality you need to build sophisticated chatbots:
There’s a handful of features available in one but not the other - such as Drift’s keyword recognition or HubSpot’s ability to display non-standard input types such as radio buttons and drop-downs within the chat itself - but none that we’ve found is a regular dealbreaker.
Meanwhile, ease of use is a different story. As of 2020, Drift has the more beautiful editor for scripting chatbots - much improved on its 2018 version - with all your conversational branches set out as a detailed flow diagram.
The editing experience in HubSpot Conversations was substantially improved and streamlined in 2019 uniting welcome messages and scripts in a single tool (“Chatflows”). At the time of writing, however, it’s still a step or two behind Drift (and also behind HubSpot’s more mature Workflow tools).
Marketing stack integration
Most marketers weighing up Drift vs HubSpot Conversations will be conscious of whether one or the other is a better fit for their existing marketing stack.
No surprise here: HubSpot Conversations is an excellent option if you already use the HubSpot Marketing Hub or Growth Suite as it offers seamless and elegant integration with most other HubSpot features. For example, it’s easy to enrol contacts in Workflows or send emails from within a conversation flow.
Drift, meanwhile, offers a range of CRM and marketing automation integration options (including one-click integrations with Salesforce, HubSpot, Marketo and Pardot). But do bear in mind these are discrete, third-party platforms and you’ll need to set up and configure your integrations (as well as dig through error logs if something goes wrong).
For sales teams (and other teams looking for live chat functionality as well as chatbots), the Drift vs HubSpot Conversations debate revolves around a whole other set of features to the ones described above; specifically, their respective lead routing capabilities, live chat interface, and app and ability to book meetings within conversations.
The ability to move instantly from a chatbot conversation to a human-to-human interaction is one of the biggest strengths of conversational marketing. However, in a large sales organisation, it can be complex to design and implement all the rules necessary to ensure website visitors are consistently routed to the right person at the right time.
Both Drift and HubSpot Conversations are capable of sophisticated lead routing within complex sales teams. However, HubSpot imposes a handful of restrictions: leads can be routed within a chatbot script either to their pre-existing contact owner or a specific user or team (but this will automatically end the conversation). Marketing Hub users should also bear in mind that leads can only be routed to team members with paid Sales or Service Hub seats.
The conversations will still appear in your shared inbox, where you’ll be able to assign them manually, but for obvious reasons, this isn’t ideal if you want to reduce your response time close to zero.
Depending on how complex you want your routing rules to be, you may find Drift is the better fit for your organisation for one of two reasons. For one, it allows you to set up “default routing rules” based on criteria such as location or contact segment that exist outside of your chatbot scripts (and can either be invoked or overridden with the conversation flow itself). With the advanced routing functionality available in Enterprise plans, you can take this layering even further.
Additionally, Drift allows users to route leads to their sales teams without ending the original chatbot conversation - meaning busy reps can keep an eye on potential opportunities without the pressure to engage with website visitors before the chatbot has qualified them.
Live chat interface and app
As of 2020, both Drift and HubSpot offer a solid user experience to reps participating in live conversations. Both allow you to send messages via the browser or mobile app complete with customisable notifications and the ability to attach files and drop meeting links directly within the chat window.
We’ve also noticed that some reps prefer Drift for ease of use, and it’s true that the mobile app couldn’t be simpler to set up and use: it does one thing and does it well. But again, it mostly comes down to personal preference - there’s a strong counterargument that pre-existing HubSpot users will value the ability to stay within an app they already use from day-to-day.
Finally, both Drift and HubSpot Conversations are more or less equal nowadays when it comes to booking meetings with your conversational leads. Both allow Google and Office 365 users to connect their calendars and start using meeting links in their conversations. Not only that, both also allow the recipient to book a date and time to talk without browsing away from the page or opening another tab.
As conversational marketing has matured, marketers have started to reach a consensus on the KPIs they need to track to measure chatbot and live chat success. These include:
So how do Drift and HubSpot Conversations compare for reporting?
Let’s start with Drift. Drift has always had pretty powerful out-of-the-box reporting tools and towards the end of 2019 they were given a significant revamp for speed and ease of use. You now get the classic ‘Conversations and Meetings reports’ which allow you to report on your total number of conversations and meetings over time filtered by criteria such as lead stage and team activity (plus an improved reporting view for individual playbooks).
Another recent addition is the Conversation Analysis tool. This allows users to filter individual conversations by criteria such as starting playbook, starting URL, lead score, and specific words and phrases used. You can then review the conversations for insight into how well specific techniques are working for your team.
Finally, we have a lot of time for the graphical conversational flow report (another new addition for 2019).
At the time of writing, HubSpot Conversations’ reporting tools aren’t on the same level as Drift - although once you discount a few surprising omissions (there’s no simple way to report on overall engagement rate) it’s still possible to measure chatbot performance against most common KPIs.
You can do this via the Details report, which lets you break your chatbots down into stages and look at the number of visitors who either responded to a message or dropped out of the chatflow. It’s similar to the Drift conversation flow report, offering very granular visibility into action completion rates and drop-off points.
Overall, Drift has the edge in terms of reporting, albeit with one huge caveat: if you use HubSpot Conversations, you also have access to HubSpot’s much wider, more powerful reporting and analytics ecosystem. HubSpot Conversations is a little siloed from this at the moment, but hopefully in 2020 we’ll see more cross-pollination.
Finally, to compare Drift and HubSpot Conversations on cost, we recommend taking a look at their respective pricing pages:
It’s worth noting that both Drift and HubSpot have a freemium tier in 2020. With Drift, this just includes live chat and calendar integration, whereas HubSpot offers some limited chatbot scripting features as well (enough to cut your teeth on basic qualification sequences). In order to use HubSpot’s full range of conversational features, you need either a Marketing, Sales or Service Hub Professional plan, plus paid Sales or Service Hub Starter seats for every user you want to route conversations towards.
Whether you use Drift or HubSpot Conversations, 2020 promises to be an exciting time for conversational marketing - both in terms of the rising profile of conversational principles and techniques, and the tools at our disposal to implement them.
Today, Drift has the edge over its rivals in many respects - no surprise as the category creator - but the margin is much narrower now than it was this time in 2019. HubSpot Conversations in particular is now strong enough that many of our HubSpot-using customers have started to use it for ambitious, boundary-pushing projects as opposed to a standalone conversational marketing tool, and seen great results.
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