Sales is "the transfer of enthusiasm," an old saying goes. That's why (up until now, at least) pivotal B2B sales meetings have taken place predominantly in person—and not in virtual meetings, over the phone, or via email.

As the world has become more complex, however, and the pace of change has increased, it has become more challenging for salespeople to keep up with the volume of information they need to ensure that in-person meetings are effective.

In fact, the primary reason that B2B companies lose deals that they should win is that sales teams are unable to consistently articulate the relevant differentiated value of their companies' complex solutions, according to Sirius Decisions research.

Now, imagine the increased difficulty that companies are encountering in the wake of the elimination of face-to-face sales meetings and events, with online conferencing tools their only recourse. Without the ability to connect on a personal level, and with the use of (admittedly boring) slide presentations as their only communications tool, sellers are finding it more difficult to achieve that "transfer of enthusiasm."

Sales representatives have been learning for some time now that they can no longer rely on discussing their products' features to convey competitive differentiation, nor can they rely on their personal relationship-building skills during in-person meetings to transfer the kind of enthusiasm that connects with decision-makers.

The Era of Digital Customer Engagement

Modern selling and marketing require a transformation of how information is conveyed. Rather than "presenting" to prospects and customers, sales and marketing teams must engage their audience.

The transformation to digital customer engagement is challenging for many companies because it involves both a behavioral change (giving the customer control rather than having Sales present) and a change in technical infrastructure (slides and videos are no longer sufficient; interactive applications are necessary).

Having worked with Fortune 1000 companies across the globe on transforming their digital-first sales and marketing strategies, I've collected takeaways from the world's top executives on how a digital interactive strategy helped their sales and marketing teams better demonstrate value and convert conversations into sales.

One of the key insights from those global companies is that focusing only on the mechanics of running virtual sales or marketing meetings as a virtual version of an in-person meeting—without considering the customer experience and desired outcome—is insufficient and ineffective.

Virtual meeting attendees are paying attention only 23% of the time (the rest is spent emailing, surfing the Web, checking their phones, etc.).

The most effective way to engage customers is to involve them and let them control the digital experience. Putting customers in the driver's seat ensures that they keep their focus on the story they are themselves unearthing, helping them to more clearly understand how your company's unique value proposition will help them overcome their business challenges.

Testimonials of Digital Customer Engagement Success

Asked how adopting a digital customer engagement strategy helped their company quickly and effectively adapt to a remote sales and marketing model, as well as move from vendor to strategic collaborator, executives shared their views:

  • Mike Herold, Director Global Marketing, Production Inkjet Technologies, and Roger Serette, Executive Briefing Center Director, Ricoh USA

    When working at home isn't a choice, staying productive, secure, and focused is of critical importance. Our interactive solutions have helped us engage and educate buyers virtually, tell our value story better, communicate technology differentiators, and uncover new opportunities.

    The agility of our platform has given us a competitive advantage and helped our sellers pivot quickly to a digital-first world. We use the platform for our service organization and our marketing organization; our customers use it to communicate to their customers. Our entire organization can now have a 9.5-ton printing press sitting in their office and interact with it [virtually, with augmented reality]. It solved a transformative problem, and that is how we get our entire organization to engage with a product that they may never be able to physically stand in front of.

  • Angela Carnrite, Market Development Manager, Laboratory Products, Thermo Fisher Scientific

    In a competitive industry, it's hard to differentiate on features alone. We rely on engaging with customers throughout their buying journeys, and having digital tools that facilitate this continuous engagement, especially in this world where we are virtually connecting, is really effective.

  • Alexander Emmert, Business Unit Manager Digital Business International, FÖRCH

    We used to follow standard industry practice in manually developing specifications and proposals to design systems configured within our customers' environments. Today, we have automated much of that process, improving the customer's solutions and dramatically reducing the sales cycle and customer lead time. The system automatically creates consistent visuals to represent a common and correct understanding between the customer, Sales, and our inventory system, all the way through delivery and installation.

    The pandemic has highlighted the value of this digital strategy, because the efficiencies and interactive nature of the application have brilliantly transformed our sellers' ability to effectively engage customers and communicate complex product offerings. It is a gamechanger.

  • Lee Howard, Director, GSI Solutions Engineering, NetApp

    When we looked at re-evaluating how we would go to market, we knew we had to have some sort of digital expression... and not only for the physical hardware; our innovation cadence was really focused around quality-of-life improvement. How do you change what you've always done? How do you disrupt that muscle memory?

    We have to get out of talking and deriving value from speeds and feeds and getting into telling stories and articulating business outcomes, and, in order to do that, you have to have a different avenue in which you communicate. This digital interactive platform is key in that transformation.

  • Sally Bament, VP of Marketing, Juniper Networks

    We used a digital customer engagement platform to create a virtual demo area for our virtual summit, among other uses. It gives us a content hub that we can continually refresh and send our customers back to.

  • Dennis Wright, Sr. Director, Central Pharmacy Product Marketing, Omnicell

    With our interactive digital approach, we have achieved consistency in the Customer Experience; it's a much more dialed-in experience, but with flexibility.

The Digital Transfer of Enthusiasm

Regardless of how the business environment evolves, remote/virtual meetings and events will be a major part of how business is done.

To transfer enthusiasm (i.e., sell) in a virtual environment, B2B marketers and sales professionals must raise the bar to create engaging experiences that evoke emotion, provide multisensory inputs, and reveal relevant and useful information.

A long-term digital-first customer engagement approach can change the competitive dynamics forever, leading to more sales and longer-term business relationships.

More Resources on Digital Customer Engagement

Niche Marketers, Is Your Customer Engagement Strategy Up-to-Date?

Senior Marketers Rethinking Customer Engagement

The Engagement Gap: How B2B and B2C Firms Are Missing the Mark

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Poised for Profit: Execs Reflect on Digital Customer Engagement

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image of Gavin Finn

Gavin Finn is president and CEO of Kaon Interactive, a provider of interactive 3D marketing and sales applications that help B2B marketers and salespeople consistently demonstrate and differentiate products.

LinkedIn: Gavin Finn