Experiential learning is the process of gaining practical or fundamental meaning from direct experience. According to David A. Kolb, an American educational theorist, knowledge is continuously gained through both personal and environmental experiences. In essence, it is all about making investigations and discoveries to acquire firsthand knowledge instead of hearing or reading about the experiences or narratives of others.
Experiential selling is the application of experiential learning to the sales profession. To draw the necessary parallel, the old adage that people buy on emotion and justify with logic is entirely true. This certainly explains why even when you have laid out decisive arguments for why a prospect would benefit from your solution, they don’t buy in the end. So how do you create the emotional engagement so vital in a B2B sales environment? Use experiential selling to create Aha! moments.
Aha! moments represent the inspirational flash when the customer “gets it.” Aha! moments are not really associated with logic. Logic has much more to do with an individual’s capacity to reason. For instance, while I may believe the logic that I am wasting a lot of time with email, I don’t “get” what that really means in terms of lost productivity until the email system shuts down. Logically speaking, in sales we are trying to create the highly coveted and immensely productive “aha!” emotion.
That is because passive listening, by itself, seldom engages the prospect on an emotional level, and engagement is fundamental to experience.
However, when you ask (the right) questions—questions that get buyers to really think something through, to visualize the chain of processes, and come up with an answer (or solution) on their own—the 300 watt light bulbs go off.
Whatever the context or circumstances, most people are wired to believe what they experience (whether physically or mentally), not what you tell them they will experience. Without actually having their hands on the wheel, the prospect will never ‘get’ where you want them to go.
How can you use experiential selling to create aha moments?
Trials and Pilots
You can get the prospect to try or pilot your solution by putting them in the driver’s seat. Let your prospect begin to navigate their way toward your goal. Freemium pricing models, where software vendors offer a free version of their software, are good examples of this in hands-on-the-wheel action. The idea is that the prospect will use the software, envision the solution track, experience the benefit, get emotionally attached, and then want more. This level of stimulated involvement generates the not only the impetus for change in the prospect’s mind, but places your solution at the nexus of that emerging relationship. Eventually, they will be energized enough to subscribe to a paid version in order to experience the additional benefits. At that stage, the advantages become far more tangible, and the outcome, for you and the prospect, begin to become more realistic and attainable. The problem with this approach now, is that it is too common-place. Prospects are bombarded with offers of free trials. They have also come to learn that free trials are not really “free”. They require a commitment in time and focus, both of which come at a high cost.
Promotional videos can work well if you can give the viewer the experience of using your software. But the key is to start the video by listing the problems or obstacles your viewer likely faces. First get them in a state of mind where they are reminded of the burden the problems represent. Then help them visualize that a solution exists, and is fully compatible with their operational agenda. Even better, is if you can get them to interact with the video. Bring the ‘connectivity’ beyond a passive framework into a real-time scenario. Find an opportunity for the viewer to input a number, or to guess at an answer. If you are selling CRM, show how an email template is created, the time-saving and productivity advantages, then build in the functionality for the user to try it themselves before moving on. By incorporating the ‘experience’ into the selling process, the prospect’s ‘learning curve’ is far less problematic.
Buyers are far too busy, too frazzled, and their focus is being stretched in too many directions these days for them to make the cognitive leap beyond what is being presented. This results in a disconnect in the vital transitional stages leading to the experience, and the subsequent emotional associations so critical to the buying process, and closing the deal. (see Dumbing it Down: How to get Smart Buyers to Buy).
ROI tools that the prospect directly interacts with are often quite effective. But they are even more influential when the buyer has actively participated in creating the data input. This self-generated interaction obviously enhances the likelihood the prospect will buy-off on the calculations and your solution.
Marketing content is also a great tool if it is interactive. Buyers relish self-assessment scorecards where the results are based on their own thoughtful input. If you’re producing marketing content to help educate or coach your buyers, you’re missing the mark (and perhaps the sale) if you don’t integrate an element of interactivity.
We frequently produce marketing content for sales tools companies. One such document was “Top 5 Reasons Why Video is Revolutionizing Remote selling” created for iMeet. We could have just described the reasons in the top five list and surely the reader would “understand,” but instead, we chose to drive the point home by infusing a more striking ‘experience’ into the framework. See how we did it here.
Experiential selling taps into the prospect’s innate desire to learn through a more emotionally connected encounter. Put your valuable time and money on the fact that they are willing to be actively involved in the experience, and will choose to reflect on what they have discovered. Your task is to lay the groundwork for them to conceptualize the experience within a collaborative effort, so that the problem solving and decision making phase of the sales cycle leaves your solution the valuable and achievable idea they visualized for themselves.
Author, Nancy Nardin is the foremost expert in sales productivity tools. As President of Smart Selling Tools, she consults with many of the top sales productivity software vendors as well as end-user organizations looking to select the right tools. Click to get Nancy’s What & When weekly digest with invitations to complimentary webinars and informative publications. Follow Nancy on Twitter @sellingtools or subscribe to her Tool Talk blog. Nancy can be reached at 916-596-3035. To schedule a free 30 minute consultation click here.