Before You Join: Understanding the World of B2B User Research

Shya Castillo is a Senior UX Researcher at Culture Amp, an employee experience platform. Shya has a background in Public Health and research and has always been interested in exploring and understanding how and why people interact with technology. 

My first UX Research job was working on CRM-type software. I went into the job knowing absolutely nothing about sales, CRMs, or product development, so it was a very steep learning curve. The things I found that helped the most were:

  1. Ask questions. 🤔

    I met with people who were very familiar with the product and asked them any and all questions I could think of. And then when I inevitably had more questions, I reached out to them again.

  2. Meet with members of the sales and marketing teams. 🤝

    Learn how they talk about and demo the product. They are often experts in the product and are skilled at breaking it down into consumable and discrete parts that make it seem far less overwhelming than it may be.

  3. Review existing research and customer feedback. 🔍

    Understanding how people are using the product and the challenges they face is one of the most important things you can do. Additionally, completing tasks that your users are often doing or attempting helps you to use and understand the product first-hand — learning by doing, as they say. 😉
    If recorded research sessions exist, reviewing those will show:

                - motivations for why a product is used,

                - how users interact with the product,

                - questions users will ask, and

                - tasks users complete with ease vs. those that require more effort.

          These learnings will be valuable for you to understand both your users and the product.

Within your first 3-6 months as a User Researcher in B2B…

You’ll spend a lot of time:

  • Onboarding
  • Getting caught up to speed on what teams are working on
  • Meeting with stakeholders
  • Building relationships
  • Developing a strong understanding of your company’s mission and values

It’s important to note as you begin your B2B journey that there’s an added complexity of understanding the ins and outs of your product, the ways in which the product is used, and how it might vary by industry/segment/user type, etc.

Make sure to take time to understand a buyer’s motivations and what value props excite them. Then learn how these motivations either align or differ from the various end-users of your product. But remember, while a buyer may also be a user, they may not use the product as frequently or in the same ways as other employees or users in their org.

It’s also helpful to understand the product roadmap, specifically features that are being developed in order to retain customers vs. attract new customers.

An ideal beginner B2B UXR toolkit 🧰

If I were to build a tool kit for user researchers starting a role in a B2B org, it would include:

What is important to understand about B2B users?

One of the most challenging aspects of understanding B2B users is that individuals in an organization that uses your company’s product may use the product differently depending on their role.

You have to become very familiar with the different ways in which your product is used and the pain points that are experienced by all user types. Similarly, there are external factors that also influence use and it’s important to understand what factors are within “control” of the product and which are not.

For example, an organization may have Culture Amp’s 1-on-1 meeting tool, but the HR team may not have had the time to do a proper roll-out of the tool, which results in low utilisation. There are certainly opportunities for Culture Amp to consider regarding facilitating a seamless roll-out and creating a product that doesn’t need a lot of guidance, but at the end of the day, if managers and internal leaders aren’t using the tool and suggesting its use, utilisation may not take off in the way we’d like.

🔑  Key thing to understand 🔑

In B2B, buyers do not equal users. Buyers may use the product but there is more than a 1:1 relationship between those two entities.

Learning by listening👂

As I mentioned above, learning by doing is a powerful way to gain knowledge and confidence. But another great way to learn — and a great starting point for those new to B2B or hoping to join a B2B org is to listen. Seek out people in B2B orgs — designers, UXRs, PMs, etc. — and ask questions. Here are a few to start with:

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