Augmented Reality for Sales Performance Support

by Hari Kumar

There’s a lot of hype around innovation: It can turnaround businesses. It differentiates you from your competitors. It is present inside everyone…Blah. Blah. Blah. The constant, all-pervasive, repetitive jargon around the word “innovation” has taken it to a point of banality. Ah, what a paradox!

Renowned market leaders like Intel, Siemens, Motorola, Apple, Google, Sony, General Electric, and so forth have always been ahead of their times. Just consider the fact that the average number of patents filed in America is around 23,000. If one was to identify a common trait among these innovative organizations, it is the use of technology.

Successful organizations are never scared of toying with new ideas, thinking the unthinkable, and bringing to reality what looks too forward-thinking to be true. Much like we are fascinated today by sci-fi movies that show people conjuring computer screens out of thin air, who could have thought that some 20 years ago that touch screens would be common place today?

Bottom line: Constant innovation is inevitable to withstanding competition. An organization that ceases to innovate will quickly lose out sales and market share. For example, consider the story of Kodak: After enjoying unrivalled position in the film-based business for several years, the industry leader lost out to the digital photography revolution (a technology that Kodak actually invented in 1975) simply because it was too complacent to change.

Let me not scare you with such larger-than-life examples, though. The truth is that innovation CAN turnaround businesses, it DOES differentiate you from your competitors, and creativity IS present inside each of us. The hard part is to know how to call on innovation and convert inspirational words to doable actions. In the sales arena, augmented reality (AR) could well be one such doable action that can truly set organizations apart by providing a next-generation customer experience.

At its very core, AR applications are capable of empowering sales representatives with extremely relevant information at the exact moment they are dealing with a customer. Unfortunately, even though augmented reality has been around for years, we rarely get to see it in action—especially in in sales.

Case in Point

Imagine yourself as a sales representative or manager on the retail sales floor that has an integrated AR application system and supporting devices. Equipped with an AR enabled tablet, for instance, in an apparels section, sales reps could link up to a customer’s mobile device and view an entire profile, including recent purchases from the apparels section. Armed with immediate and relevant knowledge about the types of brands and apparel he prefers, the sales rep is in a position to make personalized recommendations.

Now, flip the perspective and picture yourself as a loyalty-card customer holding a smartphone while you walk down the aisle of your favorite multi-brand tech store. There’s a new device on display that catches your fancy, and you immediately pull out your phone to scan it. A whole spectrum of actions suddenly emerge on your screen: a video library of recorded customer reviews about that device, an AR video that superimposes a video on the scanned image displaying the many regular and extended features, any special price discounts, and so on. As you move about the store, “talking” portraits that suggest cool tips about the latest trends and newly released products in the techno-device market.

Moving Forward

Augmented reality can add a whole new dimension to how sales reps conduct their business—converting an opportunity to sales quickly, especially for time-crunched customers who prefer quick shopping and hate having to exchange products. For instance, one app could use a device camera to scan a piece of clothing and then superimpose it on the customer’s body to show them how it would look on them. Meanwhile, another app could virtually place a home décor item inside a living room.

In fact, AR has applications not only for the actual point of sale, but the entire selling process, which starts from employees’ training to actual point of contact to after-sale service. Sales recruits can benefit from AR by quickly learning about a new product launch via video manuals that aid technical training. Additionally, virtual store walk-throughs can help managers determine staffing needs at any given point and even manage inventory levels by scanning a particular section of the store. Finally, organizations can turn smartphones and tablets into help desk support for after-sale service needs.

One good example of AR supporting the entire sales continuum is Audi’s Augmented Reality iOS app, which car owners can use to scan more than 300 features of a specific model car. Now this definitely has value for customers, especially those that cringe at the idea of calling on a sales person to double-check on trivial information.

Indeed, cutting-edge multimedia and 3D capabilities have the potential to transform performance support and boost customer experience by integrating real-life objects with digital content. After all, innovation is what innovation does: real improvement, quantifiable results.

Does this all sound too good to be true? Perhaps. But the technology exists to make it a reality—albeit an augmented reality.

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