Meet Customer Expectations Now with Experiential Sales Programs
We’re now in what’s called the “Age of Experience,” where “immersive experiences will turn browsing into virtual inhabiting,” according to Forrester Research, which predicts that some 80 percent of consumers will see the world as all-digital, erasing the distinction between physical and digital experiences. In line with that blending of the physical and digital worlds, now customers expect an immersive, informative experience with a product or a service before they make a purchase.
Now, experiential sales drive a 62 percent increase in customers’ feelings of connection to the brand and a 50 percent life in brand loyalty. On the B2B side, we're seeing technology companies start to realize that the way they’re selling products no longer connects with their buyers, who now expect the kind of personalized, immersive experiences they have as consumers. The result of this focus on experience is that B2C and B2B brands need to increase their investment and deliver experiential sales interactions.
Experiential sales is both a strategy and a tactic that sales teams and sales leaders use to engage prospective customers by developing a hands-on product experience early in the buying cycle, with technologies like 3-D or virtual reality or with hybrid physical-digital events. The goal is to create realistic, immersive experiences customers will remember. Unlike a traditional product demo where the salesperson drives the experience, experiential demos allow the customer to look at the product or service independently and allow for interaction between the customer and the salesperson.
The scope of the experience depends on what your customers want and what they’re comfortable with as well. For example, we typically find that Millennial customers expect to share information like clothing sizes or measurements in exchange for virtual clothing try-on experiences that other age groups might find invasive or unnecessary. The key is to build experiences that give customers the information they need wherever they are in the sales cycle and meet their comfort level for personalization and immersion.
Laying the Groundwork for Experiential Sales
A successful experiential sales program starts with the right stakeholders. The VP of sales and account executives should be involved because they have important customer knowledge. The CMO and product marketing team need to be involved for their insights into building products and services differently to support more personalized physical-digital hybrid or 3-D experiences. Finally, the CIO will be the one to work with consultants to determine what technologies and platforms the company needs for experiential sales and oversee their implementation. All these leaders and departments need to communicate and unify data throughout the buying process to create one-to-one immersive connections with customers.
These stakeholders will build the immersive experiential strategy, which starts with goals, budgets, and then an omnichannel sales plan. To set goals, you need to define the immersive customer experience you want to provide and understand how it differs from the experiences you offer your customers today. For example, are you planning a retail experience, or one for manufacturing customers? How can you make them crave that experience? What experiential sales KPIs make sense for your brand to measure?
It’s also important to take a step back and understand what you’re trying to achieve as a business with your experiential sales experiences. For example, many retail businesses and automakers are seeking to replace the in-person shopping experience with a virtual try-on or in-car experience that gives customers the information they need to make a buying decision. For airlines, on the other hand, the goal might be to woo business travelers with tools and technology that shows customers what the business class cabin on each plane looks like, how much room and space they will have, and what their in-flight experience will be like.
Choosing the Right Technologies for Experiential Sales
After you’ve built your strategy, it’s time to explore the technology and the customer experience solutions that support your experiential strategy and your unique audience. With a plan for your strategy and KPIs, it’s time to see what kind of tools you have in place now that can support your strategy and which tools are outdated legacy systems, so you can determine what systems you need to have in place for your experiential sales program. To deliver experiences that are immersive end-to-end, brands need capabilities that interact through the full product-development life cycle and reach into sales and marketing. For example, the marketing systems have to be integrated to the development system and to the sales system in order to deliver personalized, immersive experiences.
To start, you must have a Big Data solution in place, because data fuels immersive experiences, including augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality, 3-D product configuration, customization, content-driven commerce, dynamic imaging, and so forth. You also need artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) tools that focus on hyper-personalization. These are the technologies that will allow you to automatically fine-tune the interactive experience to align with specific customer profiles and appeal more strongly to your audience. Your experiential sales program will also need a customer relationship management (CRM) system that focuses on content, direct commerce, and omnichannel commerce, so you can deliver the right experience to each customer at the right time and in the right channel throughout the sales journey.
Building an experiential sales program is a complex process that requires a detailed understanding of what customers want, organization-wide communication and data unification, and an investment in technology to support the kinds of experiences that will move your customers to buy. The results can be stronger bonds between your brand and your customers, greater customer loyalty, and more conversions based on richer and more meaningful experiences.
Wanda Roland is vice president and CX global sales offer leader, digital customer experience, at Capgemini Americas. Roland brings over 17 years of consulting experience to Capgemini’s DCX practice, where she advises clients on strategy, leading large-scale implementations, agile transformation, architectural design review, and digital design. She is highly skilled in transforming marketing, sales, and customer service to improve customer experience and customer lifetime value.