Following the recent acquisition by Google of the heart of HTC’s smartphone division for $1.1 billion, I believe this is the exact right moment for us B2B marketers and sales people to status on the real potential of Virtual Reality for the B2B market. I contacted Hervé Fontaine, Vice-President of Virtual Reality B2B at HTC Vive, to guide us through this exercise.
Call me opportunistic, but the recent acquisition of the heart of HTC’s smartphone division by Google rang a bell to me. While a lot of analysts where expecting HTC to “get rid off” its VR business, the Taiwanese company decided to sell its better-known smartphone business off to Google.
Many articles state that “VR is already in decline”. Of course, certain counter-performances happened last year in the VR world : in 2016 the overall VR hardware revenue forecast was $3.8 billion and finally ended at $2.7 billion. VR is not declining, the growth expectations were very high, and most of all, VR is much more than hardware. In simple words: the business health of VR hardware does not give a complete status of VR business in general, just of the most visible part of the iceberg.
What is sure and tangible, however, is that the biggest potential of VR is crystallized in the B2B industries. The overall manifesto of VR is to allow a greater emotional connection with the products/solutions you are trying to sell. The average business opportunity volume being much higher in B2B than in B2C, it makes perfect sense that the pre-sales/sales facilitator that is VR will have a proportionally bigger impact on the the worldwide economy. This being said, let’s investigate whether and why you should investigate more about the potential of VR for your B2B company (B2B2C in most cases). Due to the fact that I spent my whole (though short) career working in the 3D engineering software world, don’t feel surprise if I sound like I am focusing on the engineering, manufacturing, IT, industrial sectors (professional deformation).
Below are listed 7 things you can do with VR which can influence positively your B2B-driven revenue activities:
- Visualize any possible variant and product in the portfolio even if never built yet,
- Educational : get to explain and interact with (e.g.) the features of a car before buying it,
- Save costs in materials to support sales (e.g.): no need to build 1:1 physical prototypes, ability to interactively illustrate travel experiences (aerospace), avoid transporting heavy machinery to events or training, etc.
- Allows category management of (e.g.) retail stores with minimal cost,
- Use gaze tracking for analytics, with the view of product development optimization, ergonomics enhancement, etc.
- Create a critically more engaging emotional experience with client,
- Training staff on the product they will sell before the first samples arrive.
I can hardly believe that none of those seven points ring a bell to you. They go far beyond the simple opportunity to use Virtual Reality as an ultimate empathy machine. To me, Virtual Reality case studies are much more complex, valuable and exciting than in the entertainment world. Virtual assembly/disassembly processes simulation, highly-interactive engineering reviews, hybrid materials behavioral simulation, etc. It goes beyond the fairly ephemeral “wow” effect you feel when playing VR Mario Kart for the first time.
Below the thoughts of Hervé Fontaine, Vice President of Virtual Reality B2B at HTC Vive, who I contacted to comment those assumptions about how valuable can VR be for the B2B world:
“There are numerous ways B2B marketers ans sales can take advantage of VR now that headsets like the HTC Vive are very affordable and easily available. For example, I have seen a medicine pills making machine manufacturer developing a VR simulator instead of bringing the actual equipment on a trade show. It was far easier (the machine weights several tons and needs precise calibration) to set-up and customers were very impressed. VR product configurators are also a very powerful tool to let the customer play with multiple options and make their choice. Industrial companies also often find it difficult to explain to their customers and a larger public their activities and for example for a power grid company a VR application allowing to transport you in the air to install high voltage electrical cables will be a lot more engaging than a simple video showing the same action. Another new trend is to leverage on VR for product consumer tests. Car manufacturers are starting to use VR to test options and equipment for new car models across the world which allows the process to run a lot faster and cheaper than before. The impact on ROI and on B2B decisional process optimization is just tremendous.” — Hervé Fontaine, Vice-President of Virtual Reality B2B at HTC Vive
Some will say that this type of VR problematics and potential investment only concern big and wealthy companies. I partially disagree with this statement:
- Gone are the days when the necessary investment in hardware was not affordable for smaller companies. It was before the democratization of VR headset, and at this time you had the choice between and VR powerwall or CAVE, both type of setups requiring at least a dedicated room, projectors, tracking cameras and ideally a proper air-conditioning system. Not all companies could afford this.
- But as explained above, hardware is just the visible piece of the iceberg. You need an expert to create the most compelling VR scenarios, to actually build your data sets and to keep it consistent, actual and contextually appropriate. Most of the failure of VR projects come from a lack of human resources investment. For sure any company can afford a bunch of VR headsets, not all of them can afford creating a smoothly-running VR-based marketing/pre-sales/sales strategy.
To conclude, I believe that the big majority of B2B companies should at least investigate in the potential of VR to critically impact their marketing, pre-sales and sales processes, but should not do this only by themselves. To make this efficient you need to make VR the cornerstone of your business processes, and this is surely not something you can achieve overnight, in particular if you are not an expert in this domain.