Augmented reality and virtual reality represent the cutting edge of technology. However, as advanced as they seem, the platforms represent more than a sci-fi, could-be future. Unlike more speculative tech plays, like driverless cars (which constantly seem just over the horizon for widespread use), AR and VR are already providing tangible business gains. As such, you can leverage these technologies to achieve functional advantages for your B2B business today.
The market for AR and VR technology has progressed well beyond the theoretical development stage. Data about the industry suggest a massive footprint, with a worldwide market that is expected to grow to more than $200 billion by 2022. This would represent an eye-popping expansion of more than seven times from the estimated $27 billion market that existed just two years ago.
This growth is fueled by concrete functionality. Augmented and virtual reality can improve your marketing and operational efforts on multiple fronts. They can improve your ability to capture new clients, as well as increase your resale conversion rate with existing customers. At the same time, the technology can upgrade your internal training and communication procedures. This, in turn, can help you drive efficiencies and accelerate innovation.
What Are Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality?
Before detailing the potential upside of VR and AR technology, it’s important to understand some basics. Specifically, you should appreciate the difference between the two and recognize the pluses and minuses that come with each platform.
Virtual Reality: Through headsets and other devices, a user interacts with a completely virtual world. An example would be a 3D immersive video game.
Augmented Reality: While this technology uses virtual elements, these are overlaid on top of real-world vistas. Think products like Google glass or Pokémon Go.
What Are the Pros And Cons of VR and AR?
VR provides a more immersive experience. As such, the technology creates an unprecedented opportunity to display products that are either still in development or not physically available to a customer.
However, there are downsides as well. VR technology requires dedicated hardware that can be expensive and isn’t currently widely distributed. Many customers might not have the appropriate headsets, limiting how extensively you can use these experiences in off-site situations.
Augmented Reality is a less ambitious technology. Still, it boasts a wider footprint at this point. Because AR interacts with real life, the experience is typically more grounded. As the name suggests, it augments normal reality, rather than open doors to completely virtual experiences, as is the case with VR.
While not as immersive as its sibling technology, AR can operate using commonly available devices. Often, programs can run on nearly ubiquitous hardware, like smart phones and tablets. (Just look at the example of games, like Pokémon Go.)
As a result of this dynamic, AR has wider acceptance in the marketplace at this point. Stats show that about 68.7 million will use AR at least once per month. This figure compares to just 42.9 million people who report the same usage rate for VR. To put it in population terms, that’s 20.8% of people using AR on at least a monthly basis, compared to 13.0% for VR.
How to Use Augmented and Virtual Reality in B2B
Now that you understand the differences between AR and VR, you’re left with an exciting question: how can you leverage them for your business? There are several ways that these technologies can provide a concrete advantage for your B2B operation.
When meeting with new customers, you can use VR and AR presentations to show them your available products. These technologies allow you to tap into their imaginations and better explain how your offerings can fit into their businesses.
According to data compiled by IDC, 65% of survey respondents said they saw higher win rates as a result of using augmented reality with their clients. This result comes as customers are better able to visualize your products, shortening sales cycles and improving conversion rates.
AR and VR technology can also help with existing clients. The platforms become a kind of virtual showroom, letting you display your product any place and at any time. It can lead to a noticeable improvement in your sales process. The same IDC data showed that more than 30% of respondents were able to shorten sales cycles as a result of this feature.
The showroom aspect can help your business in other ways. You can combine the AR and VR presentations with other technology to further boost sales to long-standing customers. For instance, you can further streamline the process by building a cXML interface. By doing this, your customers can see the VR/AR displays of your offerings and instantly book orders through an integrated eProcurement process.
You can leverage AR/VR technology beyond the sales and marketing realm. It can also help you in product development and in creating custom prototypes.
Augmented and virtual reality allow customers and your design team to conceptualize potential upgrades, without forcing you into the cost of expensive physical prototyping. (In fact, the IDC data set indicted that more than 40% of the survey respondents saw a reduced cost for building prototypes from the use of AR techniques.) With the virtual prototypes, you can then make adjustments to your clients’ specifications and respond more quickly to their feedback.
Beyond their uses in customer-facing operations, VR and AR technology can also be used for internal processes. A key benefit of these products comes from their ability to connect people within an organization, and facilitate education and training.
In one case study, JetBlue used a VR component in its training program. The company found that 96% of participants experienced what were characterized as “strong learning outcomes,” while 97% reported enjoying the program.
These are just a few of the potential benefits you can gain through an intelligent application of virtual reality and augmented reality. Other options include things like gathering customer feedback, improving product development timelines, and augmenting your brand-building efforts. As technologies, VR and AR operate by engaging our imaginations. As such, imaginative businesses can leverage them to improve their B2B operations.
Samantha Wallace is a veteran tech writer and editor who has worked in several eCommerce companies. She has been covering technology online for over five years. She is the Content Advocate for Greenwingtechnology.com.