By:
June 07 2018

Are you asking your customers to buy blindly? How visual configuration drives sales efficiency for smart manufacturers

Picture this

You’re buying the new model Tesla. It hasn’t been released yet, but there’s already a six-month waiting list. It’s a big decision. You’ve had to get buy-in from your family, compromises will have to be made, but you’ve made a good case and it’s a go!

At the Tesla website, you click on ‘customer order’ and start to specify your dream car. You pick the paint, select the wheel trim and then the interior. The image of your car updates as you make your choices. You can change your mind. Black leather doesn’t look that great with red paint…you prefer the full glass roof to the sunroof.

You understand what you’re ordering because you’ve seen it.

When it comes to our personal lives, most of us wouldn’t dream of buying something of this magnitude without seeing it first.

Now, think about a highly specialized piece of equipment…a gas turbine or a computer tomograph. Expensive equipment that has a significant impact on a company’s bottom line and that needs a sound business case to get management approval.

There are lots of parallels with the Tesla buyer, and yet purchasers of these kinds of products may very well answer, “Yes, I do place high-value orders without actually having seen what my product will look like.”

 

Why is “seeing” such a big deal?

These buyers all have something in common; they all have very specific requirements. Often, what they are ordering is unique to them and configured according to their precise requirements. These products cannot be tried out before they are bought, and there is no simple way to return them once they have been shipped. And yet they are often bought without any visual support.

You may ask yourself - why is this a problem?

Well… first of all, the customer must trust that the seller has fully understood all their needs. This is often a complex mix of business, technical, functional and service requirements. They must also trust that the ordered product will be able to do what it’s supposed to and that it will fit into its intended place. All this, together with the importance of the product and the sheer size of the investment, spells risk for the customer. This prolongs the time it takes to make an investment decision. And that’s not good news for anyone.

 

Seeing is more than just believing

“When a 3D-visualization of a configured product is available, the purchaser has a much better basis for making an informed buying decision. This is especially important when the decision is taken by a group of executives, as is usually the case for investments that require capex approval,” says Marc Herling, VP of Business Development at Tacton Systems.

Marc has worked with visualization for 15 years and is convinced that it makes buyers more confident. Visual feedback also supports sales when configuring the product in that they can make sure that it fits the specific customer requirements.

 

We’re clever, but not that clever

“Many manufacturers sell products that are highly complex, with thousands, even millions of possible variant combinations,” says Marc. “This creates a challenge for us humans. We are great at abstract thinking, especially if we are trained to do so – like the highly specialized staff on a manufacturer’s sales team. But to turn a complex specification, or the parameters in a sales configuration into a product that you can mentally visualize…that is asking too much – even of the most seasoned sales engineer.”

 

Whose fault is it? (…and why that’s a question you should be avoiding)

Unfortunately, errors do happen. Products are built that don’t meet the customer’s needs or expectations. And once they are delivered, the error either needs to be fixed as quickly and smoothly as possible based on a negotiation with the supplier, or the customer has to file a formal claim.

Neither of these outcomes are good…for the customer or the vendor.

There’s often a lack of clarity around who should take responsibility (and foot the bill) for the error. A lot is at stake here. Vendors want happy customers that will continue to buy from them in the future and provide good references. They are often willing to go quite far to accommodate the customer – even if the source of the error is perceived to lie with the customer.

On the other hand, a customer would often argue that they should have been better informed by the vendor.

“Once the wrong product has been ordered and delivered, there’s pain in every direction. The ability to avoid these situations is of huge value, both in terms of customer satisfaction and margin protection. The customer and vendor organizations are kept busy fixing a problem that could have been avoided in the first place, instead of using the time and resources to grow the business,” says Marc.

 

Visual configuration – the win/win

“Everyone is trying to improve sales efficiency and reduce cost at the same time,” states Marco Lang, Senior Product Manager at Tacton GmbH Germany, a man who knows the pains of manufacturers all too well. His team works closely with the industry and is responsible for the R&D that goes into the Tacton Visualizer, a powerful visualization engine that creates 3D representations of products in real time while they are being configured.

 

“When customers make choices in the configurator they can immediately see the visual impact on the product. This means that they have a better understanding of the product and are naturally more comfortable with their choice. Later, when a quotation is sent out, the visualization can establish and reinforce common ground: your customer can be sure that you configured the product exactly as they want it. And you can be sure that your customer is fully informed about how the product will look once it is delivered. It’s a no-brainer really.”

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