User Experience

How to Deal With Increasingly Picky Business-Software Buyers

How to Deal With Increasingly Picky Business-Software Buyers
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When the topic is B2B software, easy-to-use and intuitive aren’t words that usually come to mind. More often, descriptions like clunky or confusing are more appropriate. Here’s another: crappy.

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What is it about software built for businesses, that we expect it to be pretty much unusable? I’m not going to name names, but you know who they are. They’re “powering” the HR, finance, sales and reporting functions of the world’s enterprises and SMBs alike.

Dig a bit deeper and you’ll find a few reasons why B2B software has traditionally gotten a pass, despite torturing users with a clunky experience. Notably, the people who green-light the software haven't been the same ones using the software. And that’s been a problem..

In addition, the people actually using the software have seemed tolerant of their crappy user experience (UX) because that's just part of their job -- or so they think. As a software developer myself, I find that sad.

Poor UX is also expensive: When you have many, many users, bad UX costs you money, in terms of extra support. In B2B, companies compensate by hiring more humans. But while that gives users the guided tutorials and support they need -- creating a negative co-dependency -- the companies with the bad UX don't solve the customers' problems.

But, wait, there's hope -- what I like to call Great UXpectations. Read on.

We've been guilty of substandard UX ourselves.

It's been almost a decade that HubSpot has been around, and we too have been guilty of delivering a substandard (read: crappy) user experience at times. But we've reacted to our customer feedback, and I'm proud to say that our customers now tend to love where HubSpot has gone. It’s been no small investment to get us there.

The listening function alone -- added to the response -- has resulted in significant costs. When you have many, many users (as with B2C), you can amortize the investment in user experience across a broader base. When you have only hundreds of users, it doesn't matter as much.

The hope on the horizon that I alluded to is coming from our collective expectations for a great user experience. That's true, whether we're talking about users sharing photos with friends, finding a date or quickly analyzing sales trends from the past quarter. As B2C software has become woven tightly into the fabric of our daily lives, we've become far less inclined to differentiate between software that’s for business or pleasure. Because, quite often, those parts of our lives are intertwined.

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When we look to technology to power our personal lives, the new expectation is that your 85-year-old grandmother should be able to use it. That's what I mean by “Great UXpectations.” So, what companies are delivering on these Great UXpectations?

Shopify, for one, is bringing ecommerce to the masses -- bringing stores online in droves. Entrepreneurs are finding Shopify's user-friendly interface a saving grace for bringing their goods to the global market. Uber is another example of software that provides a seamless solution for getting from point A to point B, regardless of who is paying for it: you or your company.

Is Uber easy to use? You bet. Does the company listen to its riders and drivers (actual users) to provide updates to the platform? Yup.

Uber also is a good example of the disruptive factor of the next generation of user-friendly (and often free or freemium-model) B2B software. It got its foothold in companies through employees using the app. Those employees then demanded that their own employers get on board and adopt.

Others such as Box, Dropbox and Slack (all terrific UX) have penetrated the business through usership among their employee ranks. Notably, that didn't happen because the afore-mentioned companies knocked down the doors of purchasing or IT departments and CIOs.

At HubSpot, we’ve seen great initial results from a few of our most recent products for businesses, including our browser plugin Sidekick, as well as HubSpot CRM. Already, more than 60,000 companies are using our sales platform. We see that as a sign that, like our peers at Dropbox and Slack, users are finding these products really useful.

A happy user is a chatty user. He or she tells a colleague -- be it a fellow sales team member, a business development associate or, just maybe, the CIO -- and the love grows from there.

So, if I were to pull out my crystal ball -- or maybe just play Captain Obvious for a moment -- I’d say that those B2B software companies that aren’t doubling down on UX right now should expect to see their growth stall. There’s just too much opportunity for upstarts to disrupt the technology in businesses one user at a time until adoption becomes inevitable.

The consumer is in control now. And the expectations are great.

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