Visual Product Configurator

Selling in the Era of COVID-19

June 18, 2020

Your customers can’t visit you right now. Your sales people can’t visit your customers where they are. But customers still need your product. What do you do?

Even with many brick and mortar facilities shut down, life and business continue.   The fear and uncertainty that paralyzed us has given way to the resignation that we all now have to do business in the ‘new normal’.  The new normal means less face-time with your customers, less opportunity to collaborate in person to solve problems and fewer chances to showcase your products at trade shows and events. At KBMax, we are living in the same world as our customers.  Consider what follows as a case study of how one company is tackling the challenges of business in the era of Coronavirus internally and with our customers.

“My sales people aren’t meeting with prospects face-to-face any more. How can we adapt?”

Visual Product ConfiguratorFor companies who hadn’t brought digital into their sales process with virtual selling, putting the right technological foundation in place is essential so that you can communicate with each other and with clients. All while organizing, recording, and protecting your data.

As a company, KBMax had been operating virtually and globally for almost ten years. Over the years we had used Skype, Teams, Go-To-Meeting, Zoom, Google Drive, and other tools to work and collaborate internally in a remote working environment.   Culturally, we had evolved in a remote working environment.  Our recruiting, business processes, and internal meeting formats are all well attuned to electronically enabled social distancing. Internally, we didn’t have to adapt that much.

Externally though, our customers and prospects were thrown into complete disarray.  Customer personnel who had offices with doors now are sharing kitchen tables with children who were remote schooling and dogs that love to say ‘hello’ during web meetings.  Sales meetings became phone calls.

In the end, our customers adapted.  In some sense, people were freed of the time commuting to the office and walking from meeting to meeting.  As a virtual company doing virtual business, we became busier than ever.  Customers and prospects had time that was previously consumed by meetings and they had the freedom to meet with us over the web.  As a vendor delivering tools that help them reach their customers remotely we were uniquely equipped to help them with the challenges the pandemic provided.

 

“What tools do I need?”

Visual Product ConfigurationIt goes without saying that web meeting tools like Go-To-Meeting, Zoom and Microsoft Teams are invaluable to companies who are now working remotely.  Add to that virtual workspaces and collaboration solutions like Google Drive and Salesforce Quip, and you have the basics of a virtual company. As a software firm you add tools like Slack and Jira.  Over time HR policies, standards and the like can catch up, but these are the bare necessities for a sales team to work internally.

A lot of companies have been experimenting with remote workforces so a lot of the tools were already in place.  The real challenge has been on outbound tools.   How do you call your customers when they are no longer at their desk?  How do you collaborate with customers on meeting their specific needs when you can’t visit them in the field or review their requirements?

I will speak from a somewhat biased perspective as someone who left a 17 year career in the CAD and Product Development industry to work in the visual product configuration space.   “Seeing is believing”, and as human beings, we are wired to process what our eyes take in 60,000 times faster than what we read.  There is comfort in being able to see what I am buying before I make a purchase.   I know what I’m buying.  The salesperson knows what they are selling, and the folks on the shop floor know exactly what it is they are supposed to ship.  For anyone selling complex products in a world where you can’t bring the physical product to your customer before they purchase visual configuration is no brainer.

“How can a visual product configurator help you generate revenue in the era of COVID?”

  1. They give customers a crystal-clear visual understanding of what they’re buying (no nasty surprises.) Buyers take full ownership of their configurations, understand every option available, and feel fully invested in their purchase decisions. Conversions increase and returns decrease as a result.
  2. They’re quick and easy to use – customers can intuitively point-and-click or drag-and-drop in three dimensions to rapidly assemble the most complicated, customizable products.
  3. They provide a fully immersive shopping experience that brings products to life and connects the customer to the brand on a deeper emotional level.
  4. They can be self-serve, reducing the burden on the sales department, avoiding many of the most menial, slow, and recurring sales tasks.
  5. Configurations can be sent to engineering in a language they understand, reducing the endless back-and-forth between sales and engineering departments that traditionally precedes a deal.
  6. Product and pricing rules built into the software eliminate human error, reduce rework and chargebacks, and increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
  7. Buyers can be guided subtly towards the configurations that are most profitable for the seller, via upsells and cross-sells.
  8. Gather valuable behavioral data as buyers interact with the software to inform better products and sales processes.
  9. They appeal to Millennials, the largest (and increasing) generation in the US labor force, who value self-education and advanced technology over high-touch, relationship selling.
  10. They can be rolled up into CRM, ERP, and other systems you already have to exploit the powerful, added benefits of intelligent pricing and automatic quote generation.

“Why a 3D vs. 2D Visual Product Configurator?”

3D Product ConfiguratorI’ll defer to my colleague, Tyler Beck, who spells this one out really clearly in his piece What Does a 3D Product Configurator Have to Do With Star Wars?   It’s a visual thing so you will have to read his article but anyone who has tried to sell a product with a 2D manufacturing print instead of a physical or digital prototype will get it.    Human beings are built with binocular vision – we are designed to process information in perspective, in 3D and being able to rotate, zoom and interrogate the products and options we are choosing real-time makes us more comfortable in making complex decisions, faster.  As a sales person, my job is really about educating the customer on what my product does and how it does it better than the competition.   Anything I can do to accelerate that process helps my customer, but it also helps my bottom line.

 

I’ll wrap it up with some key points I’ve borrowed from Randy Illig in his Forbes article Put Your Thinking Caps On: How To Sell During The Coronavirus Pandemic.  I’ve excerpted some of his article and added a response on how the team KBMax tries to help.

How is the pandemic currently impacting B2B sales pipelines?

  • One leader observed that customers are focused on their employees’ safety, as they should be. But it is causing some softness in the pipeline, which he thinks will continue. His sense was that the comeback will be faster and stronger than ever, although it will expose weaknesses, and those who are weak won’t make it.
    • KBMax is providing tools that help sales people get their product in front of customers remotely.  This means both customers and sales people are safe.  It also means our customers prospects are seeing, evaluating, and configuring their products while the competition sits at home.  Even if customers aren’t buying right now our customers are grabbing mindshare during the lockdown.
  •  Another reports that clients are fortunately maintaining—not cancelling—meetings by moving to video. As clients work from home, some are granting more access (virtually) to the sales force and even accelerating projects. One leader said about a large client: “They have problems to solve that they can’t solve with existing resources, so they’re moving on it.”
    • KBMax this is the world we live in and we are helping our customers reach the customers they can no longer visit in person.
  •  As one leader cautioned, “This is not an excuse to do nothing. Our employers will continue to expect us to produce results.”
    • One of my early bosses and mentors once told me excuses don’t change quotas because excuses don’t pay salaries, pay rent or keep the lights on.  #COVID-19 is no different than the .dot com bust of 2000 and the Great Recession of 2008.  Different crises require different solutions.  Sales people are as responsible for solving the revenue problem as we are for solving our customers problems.  

What can sales leaders and other professionals do to survive this disruption?

  •  A number of executives suggested we must learn how to excel at the remote sale. Think about how to turn everything virtual. For example, so many companies do corporate tours where they show their facilities and capabilities. Move that entirely online, so someone could be sitting at home and have that same experience. We should quickly be building those assets. Turn everything virtual, with an emphasis on video.
    • We are not just enabling visual product configuration for sales.  The same technology, the same platform and the same visual experiences are leveraged for virtual product tours.  You can get a good look at one of these here.   Marketing loves these type of experiences because they leverage the same content generated by sales and engineering.  Sales loves them because the only thing better than a lead is a lead where an educated customer tells you what they want to buy from you.
  • There’s one skill we always need to work on, and it’s become even more critical: listening. Converse with customers rather than relying on a slide deck. One leader said, “I’m always against PowerPoints because it just says you’re lecturing, but you really don’t know if the client is focused on a PowerPoint over the phone. If you’re situationally conversing, you’re at least understanding if they’re distracted or you’re having a solid interaction and engagement.”
    • KBMax tackles this through self-service and collaboration.   Tuff Shed is a great example of how customers can pick through options, make selections, and order unique products they want.  When a customer is uncertain if they have made the right choices the quote they saved on-line can be forwarded to  Tuff Shed or Home Depot rep to finish the configuration and ordering with professional advice.  This collaborative selling allows customer and sales person to quickly iterate through designs, choices, and pricing real-time, in a single visit rather than multiple back and forths asking engineering if something is possible.

On the whole sales reps are used to working remotely on their own and they have been doing so since the first traveling salesmen left his office millennia ago. Shopping and buying remotely is a relatively new experience that has come into its own in the last decade.   Amazon in particular has acclimated us to buying products on-line during the pandemic.  As consumers, we will expect the same type of experience at work that we get at home.  Customers want to shop on-line and explore products before they ever get face-to-face with a sales person.  The world has forever changed, and those of us in the sales world will change with it.

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The Author

Kevin Jackson

Kevin Jackson
VP Sales at KBMax

Kevin has over two decades of experience helping customers transform their manufacturing, product development, and sales.

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