With technology developments making 3D and augmented reality content more easily accessible, 3D and AR are gaining traction as content visualization tools that can foster online B2B transactions, Vince Cacace of Vertebrae writes.

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Vince Cacace

3D and augmented reality (AR) are quickly becoming must-haves for B2B sellers—not only as an enablement tool for sales reps, but as a means of supporting business buyers’ online journeys along the path to purchase.

Corporate buyers are increasingly bringing their off-the-clock experiences as online shoppers to work with them. In response, B2B suppliers are super-charging their own tactics, in line with what we’ve seen from online B2C sellers, including ecommerce sites that feature customer reviews and personalized recommendations as well as brand outposts on social media.

Among the latest features to gain traction are 3D and AR for commerce. Thanks to the growth of open-development platforms for iOS and Android, 3D and AR content can now be accessed without specialized hardware or even custom apps. As a result, adoption of practical 3D and AR experiences is on the rise: 57% of respondents in a recent Vertebrae survey said they wanted AR to help visualize how products would look in their environments.

To align with these trends, close to a quarter of B2B companies reported using AR and virtual reality tools in 2017, with another 20% saying they plan deployment by the end of 2019, according to a survey by Accenture Interactive.

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3D and AR experiences help prospects and customers visualize products from multiple angles and in real-life context. Those new perspectives can enhance every point on the path to purchase, whether the deal is enabled by sales reps or transacted entirely via the mobile or desktop ecommerce site.

3D and AR assist with:

♦ Self-service research in the discovery phase

As corporate purchasing moves online, many buyers prefer to do their initial homework independently, without the intermediary of a sales rep. More than two-thirds of corporate purchasing agents said they preferred self-service product research in a 2017 survey, up from 53% in 2015, according to technology research firm Forrester Research Inc.

Web-based 3D and AR tools that need no specialized app or hardware to view product images can enhance this initial research, starting with the Google search results. At its recent I/O developers’ conference, Google announced that AR and 3D visualizations would be accessible in search results, meaning that B2B buyers using mobile devices will be able to open 3D and AR product visualizations directly from the search engine’s results page.

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On the ecommerce site itself, 3D tools integrated within product pages give corporate buyers the opportunity to examine product features and functions up close, ensuring compatibility with existing systems and alignment with internal purchasing guidelines. Using AR visualizations, prospects can view life-sized 3D representations of their products in their own environments—a crucial feature when sizing equipment and other large items.

♦ Accurate consideration of customizations and long-tail options

Whether assisted by sales reps or not, prospects considering complex installations or big-ticket purchases benefit from web-based AR that enables visualization of the entire product catalog on-site. Rather than basing decisions on a single physical sample or a limited range of items depicted in a catalog, prospects can view models relevant to their needs, along with appropriate additions and customizations, within the real-life context of their physical environments. This tailored approach is crucial for B2B buyers: More than two thirds of B2B prospects expect vendors to provide content specific to their company, according to a June 2018 survey of more than 250 marketing executives by Demand Gen Report, a provider of marketing research.

AR tools embedded in the core ecommerce experience, not sequestered in an app, can be accessed wherever corporate buyers conduct their research—aan important consideration, given that 56% of B2B buyers say it’s very important for content to be available seamlessly, with no signup necessary, Demand Gen Report found.

And for sales reps, the ability to access AR and 3D renderings on the road via the ecommerce site, not an app that requires updates and maintenance, makes demonstrations a seamless part of the consultative process.

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Sales reps for desalination system provider Magna Imperio Systems offer immersive product visualizations of its END® water treatment systems to help prospects explore the product line in detail and get a sense of scale and product features, leading to unprecedented engagement. Four in 10 prospects now return to the corporate website to explore products in AR, giving MIS a powerful B2B sales tool that builds confidence in purchasing decisions and helps close more deals.

♦ Speedier approvals, thanks to visualization

Once purchasers have honed their product selections, 3D and AR renderings can help speed internal approvals by giving management teams accurate and detailed views of products. B2B buyers can successfully argue for prioritizing investment by showing how products will fit into real-life environments and what new efficiencies might be realized with specific functions and features.

Web-based visualization tools can be saved and shared via standard URL links, eliminating the need for managers with purchase authorization to download a specialized app to view and approve the product under consideration. With 3D and AR tools removing these internal purchasing hurdles, vendors win points with buyers for boosting efficiency.

♦ Upsell and re-engagement support post-purchase

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3D and AR tools can also help foster positive experiences once products are delivered. Pop-up AR manuals (as seen in Hyundai cars) and annotated 3D renderings can help installation and initial product training go smoothly. Advanced visualization tools can also encourage re-engagement and repeat business by demonstrating how accessories and upgrades would enhance existing purchases.

Web-based 3D and AR can enhance B2B ecommerce sites at every stage of the path-to-purchase, enabling access to tools that support accurate research, faster decisions, and post-purchase re-engagement.

Vince Cacace is founder and CEO of Vertebrae Inc., a provider of 3D and augmented reality applications used in ecommerce. He has also worked as a vice president at Hit Doctor Studios, a music and technology organization, and as a developer of data analytics for General Motors Co.

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