Sunday, February 15, 2015

User experience in B2B - meh

The other week I was discussing the all-too-common difficulty of selling user experience design to executives and bigger companies in general. Startups seem to get the importance of user experience, and certainly companies whose customers are consumers. But why is this so difficult for big companies who are in B2B biz?

User experience design here means the way of developing new products/services/business that starts with deep user and customer insight. The stuff that Lean Startup, UX, User-Centred Design and Customer Development advocates preach about. Not the "pretty user interfaces with round corners and company colours" kind of "UX design".

In any case, here is how Big B2B software business works:
  • Vendor company builds a product or service to fill a perceived business need. These are often called Enterprise Solutions. It's OK to forget about people who actually use the solution (users). Instead, focus on the people with the money (buyers).
  • Vendor's sales people sell the service to a big Customer Company. The process probably involves Excel sheets about cost-savings and efficiency, as well as dry martinis and dinners with Customer's management.
  • Vendor's and Customer's organizations are deployed for a joint delivery project. Consultants and analysts draw lines between boxes. Systems are integrated. Custom features are developed. Much project reporting is done.
  • Customer's management lets the people doing actual work (users) under them know, that the new Solution is now set-up and they are supposed to use it.
  • Users throw fits and complain about the horrible usability of The Solution.
  • Management tells users to shuddup, since The Solution moves the bits like it is supposed to, does it's job, and saves costs. 
  • Users grumble and submit to the tyranny of The Solution.
  • Vendor company pays bonuses to it's sales people, and moves on to the next customer.
What is the difference in B2C business or even in B2-smallC business? The person doing the buying and the person using the solution move closer. The smaller the Customer, the more likely it is that users can directly influence buyers. In small companies they can even be the same person.

In conclusion: good user experience is largely irrelevant and plays little part in business between big companies, but becomes more important as the size of customer organisations grows smaller.

Which is sad for UX advocates and users of Enterprise Solutions.

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