Editor’s note: click here for Part 1, or here for Part 3.
When Vaughn Aust, EVP of Digital Solutions, came to MarketStar in January of 2013, he came as a 15 year veteran of B2B channel sales. The concept of the B2C customer journey and the way experience and loyalty play out in the unique and ever changing retail eco-system, were new to Vaughn. He set out to deliberately listen and learn from our retail client services teams and their customers, the tenor of the industry and what was driving innovation. His very first business trip? A visit to CES.
“It was baptism by fire back in 2013,” Vaughn said. “I mean, being new to retail was overwhelming enough, but to throw a technology junkie like myself onto the CES showfloor was like nothing I could have ever imagined. It was also a troubled time in the industry, with traditional brick and mortar retailers reeling from the disruption caused by online alternatives.”
It was the perfect place to take in the product evolutions, and listen to the voice of MarketStar customers relative to what was impacting their retail channel environments. Vaughn said it didn’t take a McKinsey analyst to derive the key themes that our manufacturer clients were looking for – a closer, deeper relationship with the shopper and an ability to create a measurable and meaningful impact on sales. Vaughn came back from CES with a wealth of ideas
As Vaughn visited with MarketStar client services teams, he began hearing water-cooler conversations about something called Virtual Expert. It was a concept that had been bandied about and discussed for years prior to his coming to MarketStar. At one point MarketStar had a technology partner lined up and we included it in a number of pitches; however, the technology just wasn’t quite ready to support the vision.
Fast forward two years, the network infrastructure is now viable to support the vision and we’re excited to be making Virtual Expert a reality. “I can’t take credit for it,” Vaughn said. “As I listened internally to what was envisioned, I knew it was something I could bring to life from a technology perspective but it’s truly been a collaboration across the organization to get us to this point.”
CES 2015 was our coming-out party for virtual expert. It was validating to see the brands response to the product offering as a response to the market challenges. The feedback from both brands and retailers has been incredible and we’re looking forward to continuing to refine the platform to meet the individual and collective needs of the market.
So what is Virtual Expert?
At its core, Virtual Expert connects shoppers with product specialists who drive sales through a curated content experience. It was built to bridge the experience gap between the retailer, the manufacturer, and the customer.
Current use cases for Virtual Expert include deployment in kiosks, empowered end-caps and pop-up experiences. It’s also perfect for deployment on websites and within apps. I hope you’ll take the time to experience a live demo. This is truly bleeding edge technology and we’re not naive to the idea that we’re going to learn a lot and continue to evolve the offering with each deployment. That said, Vaughn, and the rest of our product development team would be disappointed if I didn’t leave you with a clear idea of what we believe sets Virtual Expert apart from the competition.
Below are the three defining imperatives of Virtual Expert:
1. Built for and around our Product Specialists
MarketStar has been an industry leader in finding, recruiting, training, and managing field and phone teams for more than 25 years. Virtual Expert is the next evolution of our ability to extend that hyper-personal and impactful relationship opportunity to more markets and more customers. There will always be a time and a market for a field team. We also know there are products, markets, and opportunities where cost per interaction will be significantly reduced through the use of Virtual Experts.
“We don’t want customers to see Virtual Expert as purely a technology platform,” Vaughn said. “It’s been built to augment and extend our core offerings, and we believe it’s the combination of the platform, people, and our sales methodology that will meet the market needs.”
2. Built for a Curated Content Experience
Ian Barkley, Director of Innovation at MarketStar, brought the idea of curated content to the Virtual Expert story.
“We saw an opportunity to leverage the idea that most shoppers who are serious about making a transaction, have done their homework,” Ian said. “Rather than shy away from this, we wanted Virtual Expert to enable and empower the educated consumer with content and personalize the content story to the work the shopper has already done. If Shopper A has already made up his mind, our role is to reinforce their decision by providing content that supports the decision. If Shopper B is still considering a couple brands, our role can be more perspective and we leverage content that helps create differentiation—like comparison tables or special offers.”
3. Built for Sales
Alec Walker, who led the product development efforts over the last year and a half, said Virtual Expert was built as a sales tool. “Sales are what we are measured by, and we’ve gone to great lengths to make sure the products primary function is to drive sales,” Alec said. “This plays out primarily through the product specialist and the content, but the platform’s interface provides a wealth of additional data and tools for brands to use to either influence during the customer engagement or extend the conversation beyond the Virtual Expert engagement.”
Virtual Expert allows retailers and manufacturers to take back control of the shopping experience—and increase sales. Please contact Matt Peterson at email@example.com or click here to learn more and schedule a demo.