Users aren’t buyers. Unfortunately, B2B companies typically skip over this essential fact.
It is also true that B2B companies tend to buy buyer persona projects quite frequently, and user persona research much less so. We believe this is a mistake. Both research efforts are equally important, and the failure to do either one can lead to a lost customer down the road.
One reason for this divide is that marketers typically purchase buyer persona projects, not product research. These marketers are rightly concerned about the buyer’s journey, how buyers influence each other in the buying committee, and the customer’s key buying criteria. Regrettably, with all of this emphasis on managers, directors, and VPs, minimal attention is placed on users. And users can make or break a product’s success.
The Sad State of B2B Software
B2B software is historically far behind its B2C counterparts when it comes to usability and user happiness scores, as evidenced by the plethora of articles on the sad state of B2B software.
Here is a sampling:
- Why is B2B UX so Hard to Fix?
- B2B UX Common Obstacles and Obtainable Solutions
- This piece begins with the sentence, “B2B UX design is notoriously lousy.”
- The Blind Spots of B2B Product Vendors and How to Fix Them
- Why is B2B Software So Ugly?
- Why Does B2B Software Suck?
Despite the challenges outlined above, more and more B2B software reaches the market every day. Thus, it is imperative that product managers and product developers are armed with the right insights to build better products.
User Hate: It’s Real
Consider Lotus Notes from the old days of its acquisition by IBM. Despite the initial adoption of the messaging and collaboration system, users widely criticized the product. Just look at these Tweets:
“If Lotus Notes was a person, I’d gut-punch it! I hate you, Lotus Notes!” @IAmBDotJones
“Hate is a strong word that i don’t often use, let alone in relation to inanimate objects, but: Lotus Notes, i hate you.” @ordnung
“You know I said a while ago I hated Lotus Notes with the intensity of a thousand suns? Crank it up to a million.” @topley
Users had a lot of problems operating the software. To name a few: the inability to forward calendar invites to others and the impossibility of using the search function to find a particular email. And sometimes it would take days just for an email to reach the intended recipient.
The interface wasn’t user-friendly, and the product failed to perform basic tasks. User persona research could have revealed all these issues before users started creating support groups and “Lotus Notes Sucks” threads and websites.
If you don’t listen to the users and forget user persona research, you could easily fall into the realm of the forgotten. Who remembers products that provided terrible user experiences? If they do remember, it’s all for the wrong reasons: only to reminisce about how awful it was to use.
Feature Bloat Killed the Music Star
It’s well-known that iTunes revolutionized the world of digital music. Initially a music library only, Apple updated the interface to include movies, TV shows, podcasts, and more as streaming increased in popularity. Unfortunately, ease of use went down every time new functionality was added to the product.
“iTunes’ UI design is horrible…not because it has bad designers, but because they’ve been given an impossible task: cramming way too much functionality into a single app while also making it look ‘clean’,” wrote Marco Arment.
To maintain the clean look, developers hid more of the menus, and users could not find their way around.
Redditors discussed another problem in the following exchange:
“The first rule of iTunes is ‘uninstall iTunes’,” wrote /u/underdabridge.
/u/Sefirot8 replied, “I would love too, but they basically have my entire music collection hostage”
iTunes monopolized the market. Once a user chose iTunes, they’d have a heck of a time trying to move that library elsewhere.
Although a highly popular product, you wouldn’t understand that the users were dissatisfied with iTunes unless you asked them directly.
After 18 years, Apple finally did what they should have done a decade before. They split up iTunes into three separate apps. Today, iTunes is no more and Apple users have a Music app, a Podcast app, and a TV app.
Monitoring Can’t Tell You Why
Product managers have one asset today that product managers of 10 years ago didn’t: a ridiculous amount of user data to analyze.
This data, commonly referred to as behavioral data, showcases what users do with a cloud-based application. All of this data is collected automatically and can be analyzed by various applications designed for this purpose, including Heap, CleverTap, MixPanel, and Amplitude, among others.
These tools may collect the following types of information:
- What users click and what they don’t.
- Capabilities that allow organizations to group users into various segments and track them over time.
- Where users get stuck — too much time using a feature, too little, etc.
- Tracking user adoption trends by individual, team, or organization.
What all these tools lack, however, is any analysis of why users are doing what they are doing. These tools measure the what (e.g., a click), when (e.g., on x date), how (e.g., quickly or slowly), and who (e.g., user, organization, etc.). None of them measure why users are doing any particular action.
Fortunately, user persona research excels at answering the why and supporting the answers behavioral analytics supplies for what, when, how, and who.
What Questions Can User Persona Research Answer?
Instead of taking a guess at how users will react to your product, user persona research can answer the following questions:
- Who are your users?
- Why are they using your product?
- Are all users interfacing with your product in the same manner?
- What is the motivation for your users?
- Which features are most liked/disliked by your users?
- How easy or difficult is it to use the basic features of your product?
- What features or elements would users want in a product?
“Having a user persona is having an advocate for the user in the room at all times when making decisions.” Philippe Boutros, Chief of Staff, Cascade Insights
Don’t Be the Last Blockbuster
Ignoring what users want can be fatal.
Think about Blockbuster which had roughly 9,000 stores at its peak, and now has one lone store in Bend, Oregon.
“At nearly every turn, they seemed to be making the wrong choices and one choice in particular seems to stand out.” Jared Rasic, The Last Blockbuster
In 2000, Blockbuster considered buying Netflix for $50 million but decided against it.
In the documentary “The Last Blockbuster,” Doug Benson described how he thought the meeting between Netflix and Blockbuster went.
“I can only imagine it playing like a gangster movie or something. Where Netflix just kicks the door, comes in, and says ‘Hey, do you want to work together or do you want to go away entirely? Because this is going to revolutionize the way people watch movies.’
And Blockbuster probably just sat back and laughed…”
Blockbuster didn’t plan for users changing their viewing habits so abruptly and they didn’t fight for the customers who were leaving for streaming services until it was too late.
Brian Posehn said it perfectly, “Hey, Blockbuster. You blew it.”
Product development teams in B2B tech make this kind of mistake all the time. They ignore the customer and choose to go with their gut.
Is it Love, or Is It Hate?
In sports it’s quite easy to quickly go from being the hero to the zero. Ichiro Suzuki commented on this when he watched the Seattle Mariners’ fans boo their once beloved hero Alex Rodriquez after he chose to play for the Texas Rangers. Commenting on this state of affairs, Ichiro, who holds the record for most hits in a season, 262, said, “There’s not much difference between love and hate.”
The same is true in B2B tech, and not only can users quickly switch their allegiance, they may be using your product while they hate it.
Instead of going with your gut and assuming they think you’re the greatest, ask us to conduct user persona research to see if your users love you or hate you. That way you’ll know if all those clicks add up to love.
With 15 years of experience in the B2B technology sector, Cascade Insights can give you the guidance on how to improve customer satisfaction and lower churn through user persona research. Learn more about our B2B market research in What is B2B Market Research.
Special thanks to CEO Sean Campbell, Chief Research Officer Scott Swigart, and Chief of Staff Philippe Boutros for advising on this piece.