In the water-treatment technology business, there’s nothing quite like augmented reality to speed up the flow of sales, says Grant Page, founder and CEO of Magna Imperio Systems Corp., a manufacturer of desalination systems.
Manufacturers of water-treatment systems must invest in high-tech equipment like reverse-osmosis and electro-dialysis-reversal equipment that turn brackish water into clear water suitable for various industrial, defense industry and municipal uses.
But the sales process can be lengthy, with buyers scrutinizing reams of technical specifications, including what can be large dimensions, to see if equipment is a good fit for their operations and available space. It’s not uncommon for different teams of buyers from the same company—including engineers concerned about technical specs, financial managers focused on costs, and senior executives taking an overall strategic view—to make five or six visits to a factory that makes the equipment before deciding on a purchase, Page says.
Shortening the sales cycle
“If a customer visits five or more times, it usually closes the deal,” he says. Houston-based Magna Imperio Systems, or MI Systems, manufactures water-treatment equipment designed to provide large quantities of water suitable for such things as industrial cooling towers and boilers used in industrial air-conditioning systems and power plants.
The trick to a more productive sales process, Page says, is to provide ample information to buyers without requiring five or six in-person visits—a technique MI Systems has been pulling off with a new 3D, augmented reality system that lets buyers use mobile devices at their home location to view how customized equipment will fit their allotted space.
Page figures that will streamline the customer’s review and purchase process to the point where it gives MI Systems an important edge over competing systems by saving customers the time and money required to make several visits.
Since deploying the Axis 3D-AR platform, which is from Vertebrae Inc., earlier this year, MI Systems has seen early indications that customers are beginning to cut by at least half their number of visits to MI Systems—from as many as six to three or fewer—before finalizing a purchase decision.
“That can save more than three months off the usual sales cycle of 12 to 18 months, helping us to keep the sales cycle closer to six months,” Page says.
Putting products ‘in the hands of customers’
“We don’t see ourselves as selling equipment, rather we are selling a total water solution that is more efficient than anything available today,” says Rick Myer, business development officer at MI Systems. “Our Vertebrae implementation allows us, for the first time, to go beyond the catalog and put our products in the hands of prospects, enabling a physical engagement that wasn’t possible before. All of these 3D and AR visualizations are available via the browser, which means both our prospects and sales teams have quick and easy access to impactful immersive experiences that help our potential customers make more informed decisions and help us close deals faster.”
The 3D-AR tool is helping MI Systems to get across to customers the advantages of its products’ concise footprint, which Page views as a critical edge over its competitors.
Founded in 2014, MI Systems has developed its own version of desalination technology based on electrochemical cell research Page conducted as a mechanical engineer focused on chemistry in the U. S. Navy. The company’s technology—described as electrochemical nano diffusion, or END—is similar to the more common electrodialysis reversal technology designed to remove salt and other dissolved solids from brackish water. But the END system is designed to produce a higher percentage of clean water while using less energy in less space, MI Systems says.
Investors have taken notice, providing $21 million in funding earlier this year in an investment led by London-based Cohesion Investments.
A virtual look at a factory floor
The company’s END water-treatment systems are designed to process large volumes of water—and in modular, mobile designs far smaller than those available from other suppliers, Page says. An END system designed to treat up to 500,000 gallons of water per day runs about the size of a conex box, the 20- to 40-foot-long and approximately 9- to 10-foot-high shipping container commonly used in intermodal transport. The final size depends on the features a customer requires in each system.
Using traditional water treatment systems, Page says, an organization might need an area the size of a football field to process a couple of million gallons per day. By comparison, four 40-foot conex box-sized Magna Imperio units from MI Systems would process the same amount of water per day while taking up only a fraction of the space, Page says. Companies that deploy his water-treatment systems, he adds, can expect a return on investment within 14 months.
To drive home the spatial advantage to customers and prospects, the 3D-AR application lets them view an image of a Magna Imperio system as it would appear in their desired location. “They can see in their factory a 20-foot or 40-foot container, and see which fits better into their space,” Page says. “Our engineers can talk to their engineers, helping to design the system better.”
For now, MI Systems is making the Vertebrae Axis AR tool available to sales reps and customers via a web browser accessed through a desktop or mobile device, which they can use to rotate and zoom in to view product details. It’s also planning on integrating it with its website and CRM software, which will enable the manufacturer to better track customer activity and view such online data as how often and for how long customers have viewed its products, Page says.
Santa Monica, California-based Vertebrae—whose other clients include Toyota Motor Corp., which uses Vertebrae’s 3D-AR technology to display its motor vehicles—doesn’t publicize the cost of its products. Vertebrae has raised “upwards of $10 million” in venture capital, employs about 25 people and is expanding its operations, says founder and CEO Vince Cacace, who is a former developer of data analytics for General Motors Co.
MI Systems doesn’t expect its water-treatment systems to become available for self-service online ordering. “Customers will always need some interaction with sales reps or engineers to collect water treatment data, with so many variables,” Page says.
But he says his company may also develop a request-a-quote feature on its website, which runs on technology from SAP SE, to complement the AR application and further expedite the sales cycle.
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