How to Use Interactive Storytelling for Virtual Selling

By Gavin Finn, professor at Tufts University and CEO, Kaon Interactive

Staring at a mosaic of strangers’ faces on a small laptop screen will never have the same impact as sitting among (and interacting with) your peers – feeling that special in-person energy that comes with human engagement. Yet, according to McKinsey, over 90% of B2B sales have moved to a videoconferencing, phone, or Web sales model.

It’s no easier for internal meetings – a recent Gartner article states that sales leaders are struggling to conduct “business as usual” kick-off events.

No surprise here. However, it is becoming more evident that this rapid shift to selling in a virtual setting – though difficult at first – can benefit B2B companies in the long run.

How so, you ask? Once decision makers accept that virtual selling is here to stay, it will become not solely a necessity, but an opportunity to explore new ways to create truly engaging and interactive experiences to convey a company’s complex value differentiation story – and close sales. This is especially true when the customer is thousands of miles away because the digital interactive sales process can reduce the cost of sale and increase sales effectiveness.

Albeit a sad truth, the average adult attention span is a whopping eight seconds (according to a Microsoft survey). Thanks to smartphones, smart watches, and all the other smart devices we use every day, we must think smarter and work harder to avoid the top concern of all presenters on video calls: the dwindling attention spans on the other side of the screen.

Sales and marketing teams have an incredibly limited time to make an impression with potential customers. This highlights why an interactive experience is crucial to cut through the clutter and stand out in a sea of virtual meetings. Call it a modern twist on the traditional in-person sales meeting.

What Is Engagement?
Cognitive science shows us that engagement has three components:

  • Multisensory experience (the prospect is doing more than just passively watching)
  • Intellectual knowledge transfer (the prospect discovers relevant and useful information)
  • Emotional connection (the prospect builds a bond that is more than analytical)

So, what does this mean? How do we channel these core concepts of interactivity into a virtual sales process?

First and foremost, if you were planning to show any static PDFs or product sheets, don’t do it. Try swapping out static data dumps for a question to engage the audience right off the bat – keeping them focused on a subject that makes them think and creating a focus of attention. Then, get them to do some interacting themselves – have them drive an application or a game-like experience. Third, tie these activities into their world rather than your products – focus them on discovering for themselves how they can solve specific problems.

When sales leaders realize that video conferencing tools are simply not enough, they can transition to a customer-centric meeting, featuring interactive applications that show customer workflows and other dynamic experiences such as value calculators. Giving prospects tailored, interactive experiences (with content that is specific to that individual’s role and situation) is 33% more effective at educating buyers than static content – fulfilling the “transfer of relevant knowledge” requirement of interactivity.

Customer Engagement and Effective Value Storytelling
While the rapid shift to selling in a virtual world can be difficult in the short term, viewing it as an opportunity to revolutionize the customer’s buying experience will yield long-term competitive advantages. According to an October 2020 McKinsey report, companies that invest in digital platforms and agile applications that can be used beyond the COVID-19 crisis will realize increased customer loyalty and long-term sales growth. These interactive applications facilitate a customer’s digital buying journey, allowing the customer to drive the pace, scope, and nature of their dialogue with the sales team.

Many leading B2B global enterprises are already in the process of adopting these platforms as part of their long-term growth strategies. Companies utilizing visual storytelling applications that can be created once and deployed everywhere are seeing an increase in sales, higher productivity, and higher satisfaction rates for digital experiences. Why? Because they have created engaged customers and successfully articulated their value differentiation – and, yes, they’re doing it remotely.

While overall economic activity has declined since mid-March (when COVID-19 began to have an impact on the broader economy) the interactive sales and marketing engagement index has increased by over 80%. This underscores the swift transition both in technology and process that B2B sellers and buyers experienced, and the trend is expected to continue indefinitely.

Interactive customer engagement applications demonstrate the advantages of a digital platform approach rather than a one-off point solution tactic. Now, more than ever, the solutions-oriented collaboration between sales professionals and customers is a business imperative. As digital engagement becomes more dominant, sales organizations must use digital experiences that elevate the customer experience across the entire buyers’ journey.

Gavin Finn is a professor at Tufts University as well as CEO of Kaon Interactive, the global leader in interactive B2B sales and marketing software.