How B2B AR and 3D product demos shorten the sales cycle
Leading-edge technologies like augmented reality (AR) will drive the future of retail. At least, that’s what Senior Advisor for McKinsey John Straw thinks.
According to him, the companies that will win out in the long-term are not those that worry “about how [cutting-edge technology] affects the P&L” but those that zero in on how “it’s going to affect the value of the business to the consumer.”
Although 3D and augmented technologies are already quite common in the B2C space, Straw is not necessarily just talking about consumer brands. For B2B retailers looking to reduce the sales cycle, improve customer engagement, and minimise costs, AR can be a powerful sales tool—one that is still underutilised.
Here’s what AR features are available to B2B brands today, why this technology is a worthwhile investment and a list of companies already using AR to empower their sales teams.
B2B AR features
Interactive product catalogues and on-site product visualisations are arguably two of the most important B2B AR features. Let’s take a look at each one in turn.
Interactive product catalogues
No matter how well-written or visually enticing, sales materials like product catalogues and brochures may fail to give prospective buyers enough information about your products, their features, configuration options, capabilities, etc.
A much better idea is to bring your product line to prospects and give them a feel for how your products look and work.
Unfortunately, bringing even a small portion of their product catalogue to a potential buyer is unrealistic for most companies. In some instances, like if a company is selling heavy machinery, it may not be possible to bring any products at all.
With 3D interactive product catalogues that can be visualised in AR, sales teams can “carry” all products with them at all times. Prospects can overlay AR versions of products onto their environment, rotate them around, and learn about their key technologies.
If at any point during the sales consultation, a customer changes their mind about what they want, sales representatives can quickly switch to a different AR product line without having to arrange another appointment with the prospective buyer.
On-site product visualisation
Sales representatives can also use AR-powered apps or web experiences to help prospective customers visualise how their products will look on-site and in real-world scenarios.
For instance, a business selling machinery to a company can use AR to visualise a true-to-life-size version of its products on-site. In this way, the prospect has a better idea of how the product will look in their environment, i.e., if it will fit.
Similarly, an interior design retailer or agent could turn to AR to show, for example to a prospect looking to create a new office space, how particular furniture and decor pieces will look in the empty space.
A good example of this is IKEA’s Place AR app, which lets B2C and B2B customers “try-out” furniture by superimposing it in their environments.
Sales representatives could even provide prospective customers with access to AR product experiences ahead of time, giving them time to visualise the different options available.
By the time the sales meeting takes place, the representative can start the conversation at a later stage. This can lead to more engaged customers, faster decision-making, and a shorter sales cycle.
Benefits of B2B AR experiences
For customers, the benefits of B2B AR experiences include:
- Clear expectations. When they can preview products in their own environment ahead of time, prospects can have a much clearer understanding of what they’re after.
- Smarter decisions. Being able to see precisely how products look and fit in their space leads to less indecision and more empowered choices.
- More engaging experience. Rather than leafing through a brochure or watching a sales rep show them how a product works, prospects can interact with products first-hand, resulting in a more engaging experience.
- Cost savings. By being able to visualise products in 3D and AR, customers will make more empowered purchasing decisions, making it less likely that they will make a product return and saving on any return-associated costs.
Brands can benefit from B2B AR experiences in the following ways:
- Competitive edge. AR experiences are still relatively rare in the B2B space. As a result, any company that uses this technology will stand out.
- Shorter sales cycle, faster sales. With AR, sales demonstrations are noticeably shorter. The reason why is that sales reps don’t have to set up their products, and customers don’t have to go through product catalogues and brochures to understand their features and benefits. Instead, they can immediately see how an item will look in their environment and interact with it, leading to more confident decisions being made more quickly.
- Reduced returns. When buyers can see exactly what they’ll be getting, they are less likely to make wrong purchasing choices.
- Less logistical cost and effort. From transport to insurance, physical product demonstrations come with plenty of logistical challenges. But because 3D product lines live on sales reps’ mobile devices, B2B brands using AR technology don’t need to worry about any of these challenges.
- Ability to visualise unavailable products. Even if products are not readily available or are currently out of stock, with AR, sales reps can still show prospects what they will look like, shortening the customer approval process.
- Upsell and cross-sell opportunities. Rather than showing a prospect just the product they’re interested in, AR visualisations allow sales reps to demo an entire product line, making it easier to up-sell and cross-sell.
Brands already using B2B AR features
These B2B brands are already using AR to boost sales and customer experiences.
One of the largest Coca-Cola bottling companies in the world, Coca-Cola Hellenic used to rely on traditional Powerpoint presentations with 2D images to sell beverage coolers and other equipment to retail stores.
However, this sales method made it difficult for prospects to visualise whether the equipment would fit their space and what model, design, and colour would best match their surroundings.
Turning to AR allowed Coca-Cola Hellenic to create and share real-life simulations of their equipment with their prospects, who can now choose the most efficient placement for the company’s products within their store.
After developing a 3D interactive catalogue all the way back in 2006, Cisco was ready to take things to the next level in 2017.
The leading technology company turned its existing catalogue of over 800 3D products into 360-degree photo-realistic AR designs that could be activated through various devices, including but not limited to mobile phones.
Cisco’s investment quickly proved to be a success. At trade shows, the interactive AR catalogue led to a 9% increase in booth traffic year-on-year and increased the amount of time people spent at a booth, as well as their engagement levels.
The catalogue also decreased product shipping costs by a whopping 65% and gave salespeople access to significantly more products.
For the umbrella-sharing startup Rentbrella, selling umbrella-sharing machines to businesses used to be a long-drawn-out process.
Before, the sales team had to visit prospective customers and take photos of their properties to see where these machines would fit. Then, these photos had to be sent to the marketing department, where a composite image of the best ones was created to be shared with prospects. In total, the entire process would take between one and two hours per location.
Determined to find a way to save time and money, Rentbrella partnered with Poplar Studio to develop AR visualisations of their umbrella-sharing machines. Property managers and landlords can now superimpose umbrella machines onto their sites in real-time to see how they will look in different areas.
AR visualisations have already saved Rentbrella 200 hours. By the end of 2022, the company expects the sales team to gain 2,000 extra hours they would have otherwise spent going to locations and taking photos.
Buying blinds online is remarkably complex. Prospective buyers have to measure their windows, look for and preview blinds on screen, and if they want to be sure that the blinds they’re buying will work for their space, order several samples.
Louvolite, a supplier of high-quality window blinds, wanted to make the experience of buying blinds for customers easier. So it collaborated with Poplar Studio to design an AR product visualisation accessible through its app.
Customers can now virtually “place” blinds on their windows directly through their mobile phones and can even “open” and “close” them for a more realistic experience.
Customers can also customise the size of the AR blinds by selecting the corners of their windows and choose from a multitude of available fabrics.
Getting started with B2B AR experiences
To get started with B2B AR experiences, brands need to do two things: create 3D assets of their products and then turn them into AR visualisation experiences.
Neither step is difficult, especially if you work with an expert in this field. With years of experience turning products into 3D models and designing compelling AR visualisations, Poplar Studio can help you go beyond traditional marketing strategies to improve sales enablement. Ready to talk B2B AR? Get in touch with us today.