Does your small business have a marketing or traffic funnel that it’s struggling to manage? Then, perhaps, it’s time to invest in some form of automation technology. From generating leads to addressing inquiries, modern chatbots have evolved to the point that they are now capable of handling a variety of different customer interactions. In this episode, Gene Marks and Jon Aidunkonis, along with special guest Arvell Craig, discuss how small business owners can use all this new chatbot technology to their advantage.

Executive Summary

0:39—Today’s Topic: How Can Chatbots Help My Small Business?

2:29—A chatbot is essentially any software or program that can respond to inquiries in a friendly, human-like manner.

4:33—Chatbots allow your business to quickly engage with a larger audience without sacrificing the individual attention given to each customer.

7:04—While a chatbot can never fully replace your business’s customer service department, it can function as a “decision tree” to help your customers pinpoint their exact needs before they have access a live representative.

12:25—Not only can a chatbot can be programmed to respond through a variety of different mediums, but it can also be programmed to recognize your customers’ intentions based on the specific platforms they accessed.

15:33—Chatbots can significantly boost the amount of leads that your business generates if you program them to handle customer interactions during off-peak business hours.

16:15—The average price of a chatbot can range anywhere between $500 – $2,5000 per month.



Jon: Hello, and welcome back to the Small Biz Ahead podcast. My name is Jon Aidukonis with The Hartford. I’m here with Gene Marks from The Marks Group.

Gene: Hello, hello.

Jon: And Arvell Craig, who’s here to talk to us about automation and chatbots. Arvell, how are you?

Arvell: I am doing wonderful. Thank you. How are you?

Jon: Awesome. Great, thanks. Thanks for joining us today. So maybe we can jump right in, and if you want to tell us a little bit about your business and then we can get right into talking about what a chatbot is.

Gene: What the heck, a chatbot, we all want to know. We know, right Jon? You know what it is, but we’re going to learn a little bit more. Go ahead, Arvell.

Arvell: Yes, thank you. No, I’m so excited to be here and I appreciate you guys for inviting me to talk, and talk to your audience about my favorite topic, which is chatbots. The company that I’m with, that I started, is called Chatbot Funnels. What we do, we use chatbot to help small businesses who have a marketing funnel, or a sales funnel, or some kind of process where they’re taking leads to capture them, talk to them online, and then hopefully book a meeting and make a sale. We use chatbot technology, and we’ll get into it more, to help them to expedite that process. And we do a little bit of training, a little bit of teaching as well, those who want to learn and do it themselves.

Gene: Let’s talk a little bit about chatbots. Now here’s my experience with chatbots, right? So I have a little dog who’s a foster, very sick little dog, and we have all these drugs that we buy for the dog on CVS. So I am constantly getting text messages from CVS saying that Lavender’s prescription is… By the way, her name is Lavender. I did not name the dog lavender, that was my wife. But anyway, so we get these little texts saying the prescription is due, and then I respond back, “Sure, please renew.” And then I’ll get another text back, “You’ve ran out of renewals, can we contact your vet?” And I’ll say, “Sure, contact my vet.” And then they’ll come back, “We’ve contacted your vet and now we’re going to renew and here’s- And I get the impression I’m not texting with a human being. I think I’m texting with a bot. One; do think that’s correct? And number two is, is that what a chatbot is?

Arvell: Yeah. I mean, what you described definitely sounds like some type of automation that is used to communicate to customers. And at scale, it’s probably not individual people able to handle those conversations. And so yeah, no, that definitely sounds like a chatbot that’s being used by that company. And you said that’s via text, right?

Gene: It is. So does it have to be by text? I mean are chatbots more of a text messaging technology, or do they use any other types of technologies?

Arvell: Yeah. I mean, the way I like to describe it, the simple way to understand it or describe it I’d say, is this software that communicates to people in a human-like way, somewhat in a non-formal friendly way. And to me, it’s any type of technology that can communicate to you in a friendly way. Think about the old Microsoft Clippy, you remember the little clip board paperclip thing back in the 80s or 90s? The Microsoft Office tools.

Gene: Sadly, yes.

Arvell: To me, that was one of the original versions of software that tried to help you in a friendly way. But chatbots can be… I generally see them on websites, they can go through text messaging, they’re now starting to show up in some social media, you can also get them by voice. There’s voicebots. So it’s all the ways we humans communicate that software is now able to interpret what people say. You don’t have to say it so formally, the software can understand what you mean and respond to you in a similar way. Makes sense?

Jon: It does. I think what would be interesting too is, when you think about that kind of interactive automation, you have to be pretty cognizant of what you want the bot to be able to do, right? Because if it’s built off process and it’s built off expectation, it probably can’t navigate change or emotion or tone in the same way that a human service rep or sales rep could. So what are some considerations a business might want to have before they start thinking about bot technology? Where it could go, things that maybe bots aren’t suited to do, or more sophisticated custom solutions might need to come into play.

Arvell: Gotcha. Yeah. I mean, I think the first thing that businesses, small businesses need to understand, and I like to explain it this way is, the first thing that you have to understand is that the reason why bots are popular now, one of the main reasons why you need them, the first thing is really just to understand or just believe that they’re important. The big thing is that about three, four years ago, statistics have shown that the way in humans communicate by messaging, they spend more time online messaging in the messenger type tools versus just browsing social media, just browsing and scrolling. That’s the big thing that got me into it, that I always like to address first. We’re not using chatbots because they’re cool. We’re not using chatbots because we’re geeks and we’re nerds and we want to play around with stuff. We’re using chatbots and automating messaging type communication because this is the way the majority of humans communicate globally.

Okay? That’s just the first thing I’d like to set the stage. This is how people talk to their friends, so why can’t they talk to a business in the same channel that they talk to their friends. In businesses that allow people to talk to them in that sense, are going to capture a lot more engagement, capture a lot more opportunities, because there are creating less friction. People don’t have to pick up a phone and call your business or fill out a long contact form and wait six or 12 hours, three days, for you to get back to them because you’re busy. That’s just one thing I like to say first of all, just so that you understand that you are allowing people to talk to you the way they talk to their friends.

Jon: Good.

Arvell: Okay? So that’s the first thing, okay? So once we establish that, and that’s when Facebook, which it’s a very popular site, right? It’s been called Facebook. And so in 2016, they opened up their messaging platform to allow developers and marketers to open a… If you have a Facebook business page, and people started sending messages to business pages a lot back in 2015, 2016, so that’s why a lot of businesses can’t keep up with all those messages. Even comments, right? Everybody’s into social media, you’re posting comments.

So Facebook allows businesses to now automate the responses when somebody sends their business a message on Facebook. And that’s what got me into this 2016, 2017. So that’s getting more into the history, and that’s why we’re looking for any small business that is investing into social media or investing into driving traffic from ads, especially Facebook, that’s the first step I’d say. And then you were asking, you’re saying earlier, we don’t try to make bots answer every question because you can’t do that, right? Bigger companies can probably invest into that kind of machine learning, big data scraping and knowing thousands of conversations.

So we generally don’t do it that way. We focus on sales and marketing, and what we try to do is, you can think of it like a decision tree, where there’s yes or no, or three, four, five options. So we imagine or we build out that decision tree for a company. And the main thing we’re trying to figure out is, what is the intent of the person, right? And then what are the problems that the company can serve or can solve?

In other words, it’s not an unlimited amount in the path, right? It’s not a customer service. He can’t read your emotions, we’re not here to fix your emotions. But a company that can do three to four and 10 different services, the goal is to build out the bot so that we can figure out which of those five to 10 services that they’re looking for, and then quickly facilitate a solution, or quickly facilitate a meeting, or facilitate some kind of capture. So the person is qualified to talk to a live person.

Gene: Putting the decision tree together, I realize there’s a whole separate thought process. Trying to figure out the people that are… The questions that are going to be asked and what the typical responses would be – but even starting at the very beginning, if I’m a business and I want to capture these communications this way, do you find that most of your customers are doing this through a company’s website? Would you recommend that a business set up a separate phone number that can capture texts that are sent to them? Would you say that… And let’s keep Facebook aside right now, although that’s another big area, but where would I go to get this process started, before I even consider all the different branches of a tree that we would have to go down responding to certain questions? If that makes sense?

Arvell: The main thing, I kind of do and that’s kind of what we do, right? Because most businesses, even marketers, don’t understand this technology fully, and so it is a real niche nuance type of solution. What we generally try to figure out is, how are your customers trying to contact you? Where is the opportunity? And then if the company has an avatar, if they have a ideal prospect, the goal of the bot is to hopefully save the company some human time, from talking to people who might not be qualified, who might not be ready.

Gene: Let’s take my company for example. We get leads from our website, people fill out forms. Okay. And then we also get emails that just say, they’re like, “Hey, do you guys do this kind of work, or interested in this kind of software that we sell?” How would that apply in my business? Somebody makes that request. Would a chatbot be part of the response, how would that work?

Arvell: Yeah. Maybe. What the bot would do, if you had a bot on your website and people are looking, the goal is to… It would speed up the process. If somebody is looking to make a buying decision quickly, they will most likely be more willing to chat with someone. I don’t know what your sales team looks like, but if you find out there’s somebody who fills out the form-

Gene: They’re not very good looking by the way.

Arvell: … real quick, or-

Gene: None of them are very good looking, I just want you to know.

Arvell: But yeah. So I’m just saying that the bot is going to make the process faster. If they say, “Can I talk with someone now?” Besides him not performing, waiting. If they say, “I’ve got my credit card ready, I need help now.” The bot can help to distinguish that. It can book a meeting. We’ve got him plugged into your calendar and we’ve got him plugged into your phone service.

Gene: Got it.

Arvell: That’s the first line of opportunity. Yes.

Gene: Right. So specifically people come to my site, they’re asking questions, I have a chatbot on my site, somebody asks a question, and then depending on their question, your delivery, like what a good chat bot will do, we’ll have a decision tree behind it that will then be able to read that question and maybe respond directly back, without even a human from my office being involved, until a human needs to be involved. Does that make sense?

Arvell: Right. And you would determine what are those qualifying questions. You’d tell me when is it worth it to buzz you at 6:00 PM at night, to ring your phone, that you’ve got a hot lead. Or they can just fill out the information and do your standard form. But that’s what we try to figure out: Where’s the hot lead and what are those criteria? Is it budget, is it chai, is it timeline, and we lead the person, the bot leads them down that path, if that’s where they’re going. So that you know that you should talk to this person as soon as possible.

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Jon: That’s interesting how you of think about it as a lead qualifier. Are there ways where you can think about this technology to be triggered, depending on the source of traffic to a website. So if you know someone came in through a shopping moment, a paid search lower funnel, you kind of already captured them, and somewhat at least pre-qualified that they know what they’re interested in. Can you trigger different types of engagements, or even decide when and where something like this might show up? Or is it, once you implement it on a digital property, it’s there for everyone to see, and the experience as the same for everybody?

Arvell: Yeah. And this is where some of my bias comes in and about the industry in general. If you search chatbot tools, platforms and builders, you’ll find 50 maybe. You’ll find a hundred different. So that’s the big confusion with chatbots is that there’s so many different options. So the platform that I use, that I recommend for most clients, it has the ability to know if they came from a Google ad, to know they came from Facebook or social, you can program it. If they’ve come to your site three times, we can program it differently. We can read their IP address, the whole Clearbit and other kinds of technologies, that knows what IP a person’s coming from, like account based marketing. We can know what company they’re coming from.

So there are ways for those people who want those kinds of features, we can do all that with our service, with our system. But mainly chatbot platforms are just for customer service and their customer support and their live chat. And they’re just not built with that marketing stack mindset. And so they don’t have those kind of features. You got to figure out, find the best platform for your goals. And that’s a big point that you just don’t know what you can do until you get the right software.

Gene: Great point. Where do you come, the human element of this obviously? I mean, this is automation, chatbots are any other artificial intelligence that people get concerned that that’s going to replace employees, put people out of work. The robots are taking over. How do you respond to that when people say that kind of stuff to you?

Arvell: There’s definitely a truth to it. If the services that a human does can be replicated. You think about ATM’s and Walmart and stuff like that. So there’s definitely a threat. But the way we always set it up, most companies, the bot is not going to do 100%. It’s not going to replace. So it’s going to do 50% or 80%. Hopefully it’ll facilitate low end things that don’t take intelligence. It’s going to replace 80% of that low end work. And then when a human is ready, the bot can pass the lead to a real person. So there is a threat. And so again, the people have to make sure that what they’re doing is valuable. I can’t deny that. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. But in the next coming years, it is possible. If what the human does is simply follow a script, that a bot can do, then yeah, there is a threat there.

Jon: So would you recommend, and do you often when you’re working with new clients… So is there a thought process of when a bot would be activated? So to your point, it doesn’t replace the entire human interaction. So if it’s a lead generation and you work 8:00 to 5:00, you probably don’t want to start qualifying leads at 7:00 or 8:00 at night, without some kind of interaction to say, “Hey, someone will get back to you tomorrow.” Unless you have that always on ability to connect with the human. And same thing for service. If you don’t have someone who’s available to take over the conversation, are those things that people should think about before investing in this technology or in the way that they implement them?

Arvell: Ideally, there’s definitely going to be… The people who think that they can’t use any human effort at all, it’s definitely not going to be a good situation. But I’ve got clients that say we need a bot to help handle leads and we have no time. We have no human time. So the bot will end up leading them towards, just to make sure the information, fill out a form. It’s not going to bring on a live person in that situation.

Gene: So Arvell, what does all this cost? If I was going to… And obviously I’m not going to put a gun to your head or hold you to it, but we’re going to hire a firm like yours to help us put a chatbot process on for my company and for my website. How do these things get paid for? What is the general cost for this?

Arvell: Yeah. There’s mainly two costs. There’s the software, depending on what you need. If you’re using SMS and you’ve got to get a system set up to that, or it’s a website bod. If you need the IP address, I mean, there’s some that start free, where there’s messenger bots that start off free. There’s BDB bots that start from $500 a month, and then they go up to say, $2000, $2,500 per month just for the software, depending on the need, depending on how many live reps, right, also need to be included in the service. So there’s that.

And then the work that we do. If you look for… In the chatbot, there’s conversational marketing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of that. That’s the buzz word. Think of inbound marketing, HubSpot invented that phrase maybe 10 years ago. Now there’s conversational marketing. So there’s conversational designers or conversational copywriters. So there’s a whole industry of people who are skilled at writing the copy, and understanding how to communicate to lead. So there’s their costs, which again, I say it looks almost like any other marketing service, it doesn’t have to cost more than a few thousand dollars to get started. Just building a website. Yeah.

Gene: Great. This is really great information, Arvell. We appreciate it. Let me recap just some of the things that we’ve learned, just to make sure that, that our listeners can take away a few things, particularly if they don’t know that much about chatbots.

Chatbots, you told us it’s just software that understands and communicates with potential recipients on the other line. You remind us that humans are spending more time doing messaging online than actually browsing, and chatbots are there to take advantage of that. Particularly when it comes to businesses, it allows more of that messaging and more chatting and more communication, so that businesses can capture more opportunities.

You told us that the chats themselves are… Facebook, is a big source of chatbots, mainly because of how they open up their messenger to have automation and more automatic responses. But now a lot of companies are doing it through emails, but primarily through their websites to initiate those chats, both for sales and customer service reasons. The chatbots themselves can be configured, particularly yours, if you’re involved, depending on where a visitor is coming from and where they’re located, or maybe what company or whatever other identifying characteristics can be built into the algorithm, and may determine how a chat conversation goes, which is huge.

Like you said, cost themselves of the chatbots, it’s a few thousand bucks to get started. So it’s nothing that’s hugely overwhelming. But of course, the cost will vary depending on the number of users, whether or not you want to build in more conversation into the chat bots as well. So there’s some development that’s involved too. But it’s definitely something that’s in the affordable range of most small businesses. Did I leave anything out?

Arvell: No, no. You’re good. I guess one of the only other things I would throw out there, especially for small businesses, is just to understand. Think about chatbots as qualifying leads, as saving time. I’ve had people come to me who are just getting started, and they realize that the chatbot doesn’t drive traffic. It’s something I need to explain. Some people think they really have to already have things in place, and they’re missing opportunities. They’re missing leads. They’re not responding fast enough. A chatbot is like that assistant that comes in to capture what’s already happening, versus if the businesses are just starting. If they don’t already have traffic and already have something happening, they definitely don’t need to consider automation or chatbots when they’re starting. That’s just something I want to clarify.

Gene: That’s great.

Jon: Yeah, Arvell, I think that’s a really great point. I think about it as that last step in your initial funnel. So yeah, no, I think this was great. I think this is good insight on how to use some new technology to help simplify your business process, and really appreciate you taking the time to stay connected with us today.

Gene: Yeah. Arvell, what’s your website again?


Gene: Got it. Thank you.

Arvell: Thank you.

Jon: And Arvell, where can people find you online? So is it just at the website? Do you have a social account or anything where people can follow to stay up to date on the newest chatbot trends?

Arvell: Yeah, they can definitely check out, one thing is, is a really simple overview course I just created, which people can find on But then just my name Arvell Craig on pretty much everything from LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. Those are the main ones you can find me at. Yeah, but mainly Arvell Craig is where you can find my content and my information on chatbots and conversational marketing, all that kind of stuff.

Jon: Well I think that’s about it. So thank you all for joining us today and we’ll see you on the next one.

Gene: Arvell, thank you very much. And for everybody listening, thanks for joining us for another edition of the Small Biz Ahead podcast. For the latest on small biz trends, visit the Hartford Small Biz Ahead blog. We’ve got articles, how-to’s and videos to help you run your business more efficiently. Check us out at Jon, thank you. That was awesome. Arvell, that was awesome.

Arvell: Thank you.

Gene: Thank you. And we’ll see you all on our next episode. Take care.