The benefit of experience

The importance of capturing your customers’ imagination is something that has gained a lot of currency in the consumer space but, in fact, this is just as important when closing a B2B deal

The benefit of experience

Small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a fair old fight on their hands when trying to convince corporates to make significant bulk orders. But, when attempting to increase the depth and value of sales, it’s vital to understand that even the purchasing preferences of serious businesses are influenced as much by emotion and intuition as they are by the business case. For this reason, appreciating the important role that imagination and experience can play for the decision is absolutely vital.

Right out of the gate, it’s essential to understand most purchasing decisions are influenced by a sense of trust and connection. “My view is that, in order for people to trade, they need a relationship,” comments Richard Edwards, director of experiential marketing expert Quatreus. And, despite all of the bluster we often hear about the fact that our social relationships are moving online, often immediate experiences form stronger loyalties than interactions online. He continues: “The best way to create that relationship is through face-to-face.”

This would seem counter-intuitive, given e-commerce has so thoroughly supplanted the high street in many people’s shopping habits, but it is worth noting that the B2B space is very different to the world of B2C. Often in the consumer sector, relationships are built around brands and whilst experience is key to strengthening these relationships, customer loyalty is comparatively easy to maintain online. “A lot of us who shop regularly with Amazon feel that we have a relationship with them,” Edwards says. “That is down to truly exceptional marketing and the way they treat us as customers.”

Another example Edwards gives is that of John Lewis; a geographical area in which the retailer builds a store often a witnesses a reciprocal increase in online sales, essentially suggesting the immediacy of a physical connection can actively increase the trust shoppers are willing to place in the brand. “John Lewis has effectively managed to extend what it does in-store to its online activity,” he comments.

However, whilst shoppers may spend up to a few thousands pounds for certain items online, outlays for business owners when buying products and services can dwarf such meagre sums. Additionally, business products rarely have as high a visibility as those aimed at consumers. Drawing on the example of buying an iPad, Edwards explains that an individual already has trust in the product and will simply be shopping around for price and delivery options. “Within the B2B sector, the ‘product’ is often very intangible, very difficult to get a handle on and very difficult to understand,” says Edwards. “And this is not something that people buy online.”

Building this sort of trust takes time. But one thing that can obviously facilitate this is building up a history of real and positive experience of your brand amongst potential customers and it is here that a little creativity can prove superior to simply throwing vast marketing budgets at the problem.

Edwards refers to an event Quatreus put on for BT, running a private screening of the last two Harry Potter films for around 75 of its most high profile clients. It allowed the children and grandchildren of those invited to see that content before it was in the public domain, creating a real event for those clients and their families, and, whilst it would be disingenuous to credit this fact purely to something as simple as a sneaky peak at some pre-release Rowling, it is worth noting that every single client present ended up doing further business with BT. “It’s all about people getting to know bits of their private lives as well as their public lives,” says Edwards. “That is essential relationship building.”

But it’s not just social events that can benefit from a more imaginative approach. Most B2B-focused companies make heavy use of events to network and educate the public about their offering. However, often these enterprises fail to realise the real benefit of meeting people face-to-face, instead swamping their customers with information. “You see people coming up, looking at it, nodding sagely and going probably to the nearest bar to bury their heads because they simply don’t comprehend what it could do for their business,” Edwards comments.

Whilst the figures and data might sound impressive as a hard sales pitch, it’s not necessarily the best way to communicate to a customer the use to which they can put a product. And this is where imagination and experience really come into their own. Edwards elaborates: “It comes back to that age old proverb ‘tell me and I’ll forget; show me, I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand’.”

And this touches on an entirely different sort of experience, one that is, if anything, even more vital. One of Quatreus’s most striking innovations is its ‘experience centres’, which don’t just concentrate on specs or even technical demos of how the products work. “We create real-life scenarios and we create stories, then physically build those environments,” says Edwards.

From vans cut in half to simulated hospital environments, the focus of these experience centres is to put decision makers at the heart of how solutions might function in practice. The  example Edwards gives is that of healthcare: pitching a radio frequency identification (RFID) solution becomes much more simple if the client can witness first hand how it supports the easy tracking and moving of patient notes as they move through a healthcare pathway. This shifts the focus from abstract hypothetical to a scenario the customer has witnessed and can appreciate from a firsthand, practical perspective.

“We put them into an immersive environment,” Quatreus explains. “We shut them away from their emails, the day-to-day, their stresses and the fact that they’ve got three people off sick; we put them right at the heart of an appropriate and immersive environment so they’re getting hands-on experience with what that product can do.”

Engaging with business customers on an experiential level can help them infer values and detail that may otherwise be hard to get a firm handle on. “It’s purely about real life,” concludes Edwards. “The way I describe it is, ‘would you ever buy a car that you haven’t driven?’ And if you wouldn’t buy a car that you haven’t driven, why on earth would anybody expect you to buy something of significantly greater value that they haven’t experienced.”

Josh Russell
Josh Russell

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