A crucial role for UX leaders is to sell our business partners and senior leaders on the value of user experience. We also need to sell our employees on a vision that excites them and makes them truly believe they are changing the world for the better. I find a strong positive correlation between UX leaders’ seniority and their ability to sell executives on the value of user experience, as well as to sell their employees on a compelling vision. Senior UX leaders create a virtuous cycle that ensures their teams get the support and encouragement they need and makes their employees feel deeply empowered.
Let’s be clear about what selling means. It certainly does not mean making anything up or stating untruths. The best salespeople follow the consultative sales model—that is, they learn about the needs of their customers, then present offers that solve their customers’ real problems. Sounds a little like user-centered design, doesn’t it?
What I wonder is why UX leaders don’t just as naturally follow a consultative sales model with their business partners within their organizations? Why don’t UX professionals work to understand their partners’ perspectives and needs, then offer solutions to their problems, as well as for users’ problems?
As a UX leader, I tend to look at the key disciplines on a product team as our customers as well. They are consumers of our UX practices and, hopefully, good partners. Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think User Experience should be a service organization. Rather, when User Experience has an equal voice in the decision-making process, companies usually make better products. But when our business partners have not personally experienced or perceived the value of user experience, what can we do to help them understand the value we can deliver? Should they somehow just know what we know? Of course not! No more than we could expect engineers to blindly understand users’ needs, then design and build products that delight users.
Taking the sales metaphor a step further: When salespeople want you to buy their products, do you buy them sight unseen? For the most part, you do not. You’d want to see a product and maybe test drive it. It’s the same with our business partners. They need to see the results User Experience can produce. Talking theoretically about what we can do or have done in the past might work for a short time, but our partners need to see what we can do in practice. We need to wow them and make them realize User Experience really is indispensable.
So, how do we wow our business partners? In a previous column on UXmatters, “Is Your Design Thinking Showing?” I pointed out that UX professionals offer a unique value proposition and that we should demonstrate our value as often as possible. We have a unique ability to help people visualize the intangible—to turn vague concepts into exciting solutions that make them exclaim, Yes, that’s it! Producing generic ROI (return on investment) arguments seldom excites business leaders the way tangible prototypes can. Stated simply, we need to capture and fulfill our business partners’ imaginations by creating prototypes that clearly delight users and inspire our partners to follow our vision.
As UX leaders, we also need to sell our employees on our vision. Our teams of individual contributors want to know we have a vision for the future that would give them the opportunity to design portfolio-worthy products and services. Of course, all of us get paid for our work. Unfortunately—or maybe fortunately—salary alone does not incent people to do their best work. Our employees want to know that their efforts matter—and that we respect them for their skills and great work. So, just as we need to understand the needs of our organizations and our business partners, we need to align our UX teams around an inspiring vision.
Let’s look at an example: At Yahoo!, we had a new advertising product coming out in six months and needed to get our customers’ support for this product. Our UX organization dedicated several resources to generating an end-to-end prototype, which demonstrated how the product supported users’ full set of use cases through an interactive user interface that seemed like a real product. The UX team showed the buyers—that is, the decision makers—at our customer companies that they understood users’ needs and helped these buyers understand the progress our team at Yahoo! had made. This prototype was a resounding success. It excited customers—and that excited our senior leaders. In fact, it created such a buzz, both within our organization and with our partners in Product Management and Engineering, that it improved our credibility. After a few months though, the buzz subsided, and we had to identify and align around the next exciting opportunity.