Looking for great B2B UX design? Doesn’t exist. Try this instead.

Too many businesses are convinced that when they’re designing business-facing services they can follow a whole other set of rules to consumer-facing design. In fact, there’s a prevailing feeling out there that if you’re designing for business, you don’t need to worry about usability at all. But the truth is, good business-to-business user experience design doesn’t exist. Business users want to do the same things that consumer users do (because they’re consumers too!) and your design is stopping them. And that’s losing you business. So it’s time to forget B2C or B2B and start thinking human-to-human UX.

Why do people make such a mess of B2B?

Tradition and company culture are partly to blame here. Business-facing divisions of companies are used to rubbing along on a personal relationship basis, usually on a less industrial scale to customer facing divisions. In the past, a Rolodex, a phone and a hefty expenses account might have been all you needed to manage those relationships. Now? Times have changed.

Online has fundamentally shifted the way businesses interact, making relationships more agile and less personal; but there’s still a hangover from the old days, a reluctance to encourage clients to self-serve. Other culprits behind the shocking state of B2B UX design are the small budgets B2B teams often have to work with and the complacency brought about by a niche or captive audience. There’s also a perception that B2B is “too complicated” to do online, especially if there’s extra paperwork, authorisations or regulations to adhere to.

Why so-called ‘B2B UX’ is losing you business

A caller to a recent edition of Radio 4’s Money Box programme reported a typical story of how poor B2B UX led to the loss of a customer. A hospice charity received a renewal notice for their business energy contract from British Gas. But it only showed renewal options, with no headline prices to make the options clear. A spot of research and a call to British Gas led to a substantially cheaper rate being offered. The charity also found alternative suppliers offering even better rates, and unsurprisingly switched. This lack of initial transparency, apparently based on an assumption that business customers are less interested in price comparison than commercial customers, led to the loss of a long-term contract.

Business users are people too!

We think it’s crazy to assume that business users today are chained to a desk accessing those B2B websites on a desktop PC. They’re just as likely to be standing in the queue at Costa accessing that same website on their smartphone. The stats are behind us here. There really is no distinction between consumer and business users when it comes to online behaviour. 40% of smartphone and tablet owners search for B2B products on those devices. And as 82% of smartphone users buy products using their phones, it’s a sure bet that many of those are business users. People will browse products and services on mobile whether you want them to or not, and that means your B2B platform needs to follow the same mobile-friendly design principles as any consumer platform. And there are other common B2B errors we see cropping up all the time, like not giving contact information on websites (85% of consumer users want contact information, but so do 64% of business users). Long contact forms are another B2B howler – users hate them, and 69% are put off by them altogether. Yet B2B sites cling to them, despite the fact that the longer the form, the lower the conversion rate. Expedia made a cool $12m by removing an optional “company” field from an online form. Treat businesses more like customers, and they’ll act more like customers when they buy from you.

So if B2B UX doesn’t exist, what should we do instead?

The alternative is simple – H2H UX design. Human-to-human means treating all visitors to your website or service as users. This means not lumping them into B2B and B2C categories. It means recognising that business customers are people too. They're consumers as much as the rest of us. They're used to great UX design in their daily lives and expect it in their business lives.

Four quick steps towards better H2H UX design

  1. Stop taking your business customers for granted. Track customer satisfaction like consumer-facing companies do, using methodologies such as Net Promoter Score.
  2. Ask your B2B customers about their experience of consumer-facing services. Listen to what they love – this is your benchmark for UX design.
  3. Whatever your B2B customers are doing with you online, simplify the underlying processes as much as possible through good service design.
  4. Start usability testing with a mix of users who’ve interacted with your services before. Choose fresh users from outside your specific niche. Get insight on what’s transparent and what’s frustrating. Use this as a basis for your design.

Want to start treating your B2B customers like humans? Get in touch for advice about usability testing, understanding your customers and more.