Focus on sales technology
9th November 2020 | Jim Preston
Beyond the gimmick
Digital sales rooms: are they fact or fancy?
For some time, the sales industry has been considering how innovations like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) can support the sales process. However, for many, they simply represents a gimmick rather than a genuine means of engaging with buyers and adding value to the experience.
However, with the unfortunate dawn of the pandemic, remote-selling efforts across the globe have ramped up considerably, forcing sellers to reconsider how they can provide a compelling experience for buyers that both showcases their offerings to the best effect while also making them stand out from the competition. So, how do we separate the fact from the fancy?
From paper to PowerPoint
Very few salespeople regret leaving the era of hefting around heavy brochures at trade shows. Being able to run a demonstration or show products on a tablet device or screen is not only more effective, but also doesn’t leave staff feeling like they’ve done a full upper body workout at the gym that day. However, the move to digital hasn’t always helped sellers overcome one significant challenge: making it personal.
This is largely because organisations haven’t always done a very good job of enabling their salespeople. Using just one deck, brochure or sales approach fails to make the buyer experience personal and customised to the buyer’s interests and level within the organisation. For example, using the same presentation for an engineer and a CEO is a recipe for disaster, as the different stakeholders have very different roles, objectives and ways of approaching buying.
Digital, virtual or augmented sales rooms must serve a purpose: engage buyers, provide information and enhance collaboration.
Furthermore, this historically hasn’t been helped by presentation software packages focusing on “tweaks and twiddles” like slide animations and transitions, often luring salespeople into focusing on novelty rather than engaging, high-quality content. Some of the best presentations in the world – such as TED talks – use graphics sparingly and instead focus on a balance of storytelling, human impact and brevity. While these speakers aren’t selling a product, they are selling an idea, so there’s a lot that we can learn from them.
Today’s tools and techniques
Today’s sales approaches have evolved considerably from simple decks, using different approaches – and often, different staff – to engage with the spectrum of stakeholders across the buyer’s organisation. Similarly, many sellers engaged with more complex businesses often adopt a collaborative approach with their primary contact, working with them to build presentations and materials to champion a cause internally. After all, while many buyers will have budget for a deal, they will usually have to fight to show their case internally and get committee approval for larger items. Collaborating with a seller is often nothing short of essential, especially when most buyers have more on their to-do list than a single deal, however complex.
What then does this tell us about using digital, virtual or augmented sales rooms? Primarily, that they must serve a purpose. They must engage buyers, provide information and enhance collaboration, rather than serve as gimmicks. The good news is that digital, virtual and augmented reality systems are capable of doing this today, if they are chosen carefully.
Good digital sales rooms use the concept of a traditional presentation and take it a step further, showing buyers the actual size, shape, colour and other specifications of a product, allowing them to see and experience it three-dimensionally. Cisco’s interactive product catalogue is a good example of this, showing videos of each product and allowing buyers to see as much or as little detail as they wish, catering to multiple audiences from one simple site.
Similarly, Accuray – a manufacturer of cancer treatment hardware – used an augmented reality sales tool to show off two large products without having to physically ship them to a tradeshow. Furthermore, because of the flexibility of the AR system, interested parties could view the demonstration again and again, effectively taking a large robotic arm home with them. This allowed buyers to view the full functionality of the product both onsite and with other stakeholders, but without needing to organise a physical visit to a demo lab – something that is increasingly becoming a necessity during the pandemic.
However, sellers should also ensure that these systems, or at least, their own processes, have analytics built in. It’s crucial that organisations can objectively evaluate how often digital sales rooms (whether they’re simple websites or AR/VR tools) are being used, and how effective they are.
Ideally, the tool should have some kind of tracking built in, so that salespeople can see when a prospect is engaging with the tool on their own – like in the Accuray example – and which parts are the most engaging. Using tools such as sales enablement in conjunction will ensure that this engagement tracking is possible. This will turbocharge the next meeting with the prospect, allowing the sales representative to focus on the parts that were the most used, viewed or trialled when talking to the buyer.
Into the future
In essence, digital sales rooms are like any tool: they can add value when used correctly. There are a very broad variety of platforms and services available, from simple interactive websites to physically accurate AR and VR representations of products. However, salespeople must make sure that the tools they choose are fit for purpose: they must engage with the buyer and be flexible to showcase the product or service to different audiences, enhance the experience, support a greater level of collaboration and, most importantly, be measurable.
Furthermore, with the reality that the pandemic will – in all likelihood – be with us for at least the next six to 12 months, tools to enhance the buyer experience in a distanced, digital, virtual fashion, will continue to grow in importance. With VR headsets still commanding a premium price, it looks likely that augmented reality and digital showrooms will continue to be the channels of choice for the foreseeable future. Both technologies are still in their early growth stages and will continue to mature as vendors add more features and functionality, helping salespeople to provide a more satisfying, engaging and collaborative approach to selling.