Experiential Participation is What Leads to Buyer “Aha Moments”

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.

Why experiential participation? It stems from experiential learning which is the process of gaining practical or fundamental meaning (knowledge) from direct experience.

According to David A. Kolb, an American educational theorist, knowledge is gained through both personal and environmental experiences. Experience is the key word. Students learn best by doing. When people acquire knowledge by firsthand experience instead of  hearing or reading about the experiences or narratives of others, it has more of a meaningful and lasting impact.

Experiential selling is the application of experiential learning to the sales profession. It is a means to help buyers come upon their Aha! revelation as a result of an emotional engagement triggered by firsthand experience and investigation.

Aha! revelations represent the inspirational flash when the customer “gets it.” Aha! revelations are not really associated with logic. Logic has much more to do with an individual’s capacity to reason. For instance, while I may strongly believe the logic that I a waste 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 and I can suddenly work without interruption.

You can set the stage for prospects to experience Aha! revelations by asking key questions. But you will rarely stimulate those essential aha! moments with statements. That’s 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! revelations?

Trials and Pilots

You can get the prospect to trial or pilot your solution which puts them in the driver’s seat. Freemium pricing models, where software vendors offer a free version of their software, are good examples of this in hands-on-the-wheel approach. The idea is that the prospect will use the software, experience the benefit, have the light bulb go off, and become a passionate believer. This level of stimulated involvement not only crystalizes the impetus for change in the prospect’s mind, but places your solution at the nexus of viable solutions.

The problem with this approach, is that it has become all too common-place. Prospects are bombarded with offers of free trials. And they’ve learned that free trials are not really “free”. They require a commitment in time and focus, both of which come at a high cost.

The secret to leveraging trials and pilots in this trial-saturated environment can be found in the demo. Instead of demoing a product, ask the prospect to take the wheel with you being the co-pilot. Presumably, you’ve given them a high-level understanding of what your solution can do for them.  So ask them a question, “Based on what’s most important to you, what would you like to focus on first?” It’s a powerful question not only because it allows you to gain insight but also because it helps the buyer solidify their own thinking. For this to count as experiential selling, the next thing you say should be along these lines, “Well let’s start there then. I’m going to hand the controls over to you and step you through the process.”

Promotional Videos

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 their problem represents. Then help them to see that there’s hope for a viable solution. Most important, is to find a way for the prospect to interact with the video. Bring the buyer beyond a passive framework into real-time discovery.

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 will have a sense of discovery which, as we now know, is key to Aha! revelations.

Buyers are far too busy and frazzled, and their focus is far too stretched in far too many directions for them to make the connection between what they’re seeing and what it really means (think back to my email example). This results in missing the jarring emotional connection so vital to the experience and the subsequent buying process.

ROI Tools

ROI tools that the prospect directly interacts with are often quite effective. But they are much more influential when the buyer actively participates in creating the data input. This self-generated interaction obviously enhances the likelihood the prospect will buy-off on the calculations and on your solution.

Marketing Content

Marketing content is also a great tool if it’s 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.

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 indeed, that their preference is to actively discover.

Your task is to lay the groundwork for buyers to move beyond conceptualization 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.

note: This post is a revised version from a Smart Selling Tools’ classic you can read here.