Product Management

How do you do ‘user research’ for a B2B product?

With B2B product, the people who make the financial calls are not always the same as the users. Who do you talk to first? What questions do you ask? How do you approach 'user research' when the buyer is not the end user?

  • Author of at Lateral Leadership: A Practical Guide for Agile Product Managers.

    The biggest challenge when doing user research for a B2B product is that it's not that easy to getting access to your target user.

    Therefore, it's important to look beyond the usual outsourcing of recruiting users to an agency. Instead, I recommend looking at what you have.

    Involving your existing customers in regular qualitative discussions is almost a no-brainer.

    But, what about prospects and even churned customers? They clearly match your target group and sharing your latest prototype with them or asking about specific aspects of their work is a great conversation starter. In addition, it shows them that you truly value their opinion.

    I also recommend prioritizing qualitative over quantitative research in B2B environments, as your numbers and traffic are typically so low, that they rarely allow for significant results and interpretation.

    I'd also recommend you look at...

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  • The Team at JAM

    Buyers, typically people higher on the company’s food chain, have very different considerations than product users. To relate it to the real world think of you as a buyer and your niece as a user. She might want the next edition of Assassin’s Creed, but you aren’t sure if the level of violence is appropriate for a 5-year old.

    Researching for B2B is a question of effective communication. Your goal is to translate the improvements that the end users experience into business-wide benefits.

    Depending on the cost of the product, you might need to do separate research tailored to every buyer. The higher the transaction value, the more personal the approach needs to be.

    Understand the general problem.

    The buyer is not interested in your improved tooltip menu. They rather want to know its impact on the speed of training new employees in using the tool. Summarise the problem they are facing in one sentence.

    Address the buyer’s constraints.

    Even if your product is indeed the ideal solution for the business, the buyer operates under many constraints they can't change.

    • Time. Decision-makers are busy people (think Soylent and the 7 minute workout). They want to be able to see the product's value in less than three minutes. Illustrate your product’s benefits concisely, and in an accessible manner. Hint: Not a 5-page white paper, but one slide with color-coded graphs. Less is more.
    • Money. Value needs to be apparent. Prepare graphs showing savings you’ll provide for the business.

    Research competition.

    The buyer might already be using an alternative solution. They might also be approached by other services similar to yours. Know who your competitors and investigate their products inside out. Tip: play detective and call them up pretending to be a customer. You'll hear their pitch and see what sales methods they use.

    Be radically candid*.

    Don’t shy away of naming your direct competitors by name. Be ready to compare them with your product in reference to the buyer’s constraints and goals. Include everything, especially what they do better than you (yes, some products do things better than yours). Learn to present your USP as the most impactful one for the business.

    *Anyone gets the reference to "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott? No? Add the book to your reading list.

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