Over the last decade or so, Software as a Service (SaaS) products for businesses have taken on an increasingly important role in addressing the complex problems of our social-ecological-technological system. However, when our learnings about users’ problems, needs, and expectations are scattered across different disciplines and phases of product development, it can be difficult for UX research to have maximal impact.
Why Do SaaS Products for Businesses Struggle to Find Success?
Often, organizations develop SaaS products for businesses under tight timelines. Growing market competition and the rise of new technology startups squeeze development timelines at the cost of UX research and design, negatively impacting the quality of their user experience. In such situations, UX research is often cut short or eliminated altogether, with the result that teams develop new products based on inadequate or erroneous problem definitions. Let’s try to understand this problem better by exploring a couple of different use cases.
Use Case 1: Generative UX Research During Problem Definition
When a company is developing B2B (business-to-business) software, Product Management is at the forefront of the development process, deciding what to offer to customers. They base their decisions on buyer personas rather than on conducting research with actual users to understand their high-level goals.
At this phase of product development, if the business problem were not well defined on the basis of users’ problems, needs, and recommendations, the product team would develop the hypothesis for its offering on the basis of only a partial assumption. Therefore, although the product would offer some value to buyer personas, there is a strong possibility that it would struggle to satisfy the needs of actual users. The following questions arise:
Who is the actual user of the B2B SaaS application? The buyer or the person who uses the product to perform their work?
Is there a clear problem definition? If so, for whom, the buyer or the user?
Has the team conducted UX research during product definition to validate the offering’s hypothesis and the desired experience outcomes and verify its probable business impact?
Product Management must define the business problem considering actual users along with buyer personas and validate the offering’s hypothesis and the usefulness of the product and its features to users.
Use Case 2: Summative Usability Testing During a Beta Release
The following challenges are quite common in the B2B SaaS domain:
difficulty in reaching B2B users — It is common for product-development teams to have limited access to B2B customers for various reasons—such as schedule conflicts, confidentiality, or compliance. Product Management focuses on buyer personas to meet their high-level goals, resulting in a UX gap during product development, This, in turn, negatively impacts Beta releases.
limited subject-matter expertise—When a team gains only limited knowledge from subject-matter experts (SMEs) , this leads to a lack of essential clarity on a range of technical use cases. The result would be a user-experience gap that would negatively impact any Beta release.
Because the Product Management and Development teams would perceive users’ problems only in bits and pieces, this would exacerbate the product’s user-experience gap. This would reduce the product’s usability and, thus, the success of the Beta release. If the Beta release did not meet users’ expectations, this could drive them away and cause them to adopt other products on the market. Why would buyers invest in a product that cannot help them achieve their goals?
Despite these challenges, a thoughtful UX research report could enable the team to address any issues with the product’s user experience and, thus, help build users’ confidence in the product.
How a UX Research Report Can Make a Difference
B2B UX researchers cannot afford to lose any opportunities to engage with actual users. Conducting UX research presents a golden opportunity to fill the UX gap. Whatever learnings the product team elicits during UX research should be structured in a way that both informs the product-development team and let them measure their development efforts against their product-development goals. This approach is applicable to both of the use cases I described earlier. Let’s explore an example that shows how structuring your research reports can make a difference.
A. Inform the team how well the product aligns with users’ problems, needs, and expectations.
Share responsibility for UX validation among management, designers, and developers. Assess the user experience against the offering’s hypothesis and the resulting product and features. Consider how well your research goals have enabled you to answer your questions about the product’s usefulness and usability. Understanding what questions you’ve answered and which remain unanswered would let you provide a timely update about the success of your usability testing and its impact on the Beta release. Your UX research report should inform the product team about how well the product is aligned to address users’ problems, needs, and expectations.
B. Assess what the team has learned from your findings and insights.
In a B2B UX research report, reporting your findings and insights is not enough to enable you to fill the UX gap. It is very important that you contextualize these findings and insights sufficiently by communicating users’ problems, needs, and expectations. In addition, your report should measure risks to the success of the product.
B.1 Contextualize your findings with users’ needs.
There are a few ways to build empathy between key stakeholders and your actual users through your UX research report, which can help you to fill the UX gap. For example, your report should include the following:
painpoints—Capture the difficulties that users’ report or that you’ve observed during your face-to-face UX research sessions—in essence, what users say and what they do.
recommendations—Capture what users need or expect.
verbatims—Capture the voice of the user through participants’ actual statements during research sessions.
whys—Highlight the key reasons behind users’ painpoints, so key stakeholders can better understand users’ needs.
learnings—Report contextual learnings about your users.
B.2 Measure risks to the product.
Inform the Product Management and Development teams about any risks to the product’s success.
impacts on your offering’s hypothesis and the product or features—Report which aspects of the hypothesis, product, or features have failed to address the actual users’ problems.
risks—Convey what risks to the product exist because of the impacts on your hypothesis, product, or features.
When key stakeholders perceive users’ painpoints, needs, and expectations differently, the task of building a user-centered product whose design is informed by UX research becomes more challenging. Understanding users and their needs through your findings and insights from UX research could make all the difference. By sharing your learnings in a UX research report, you can greatly increase the impact of your research.
Ravinder is an award-winning industrial designer, UX researcher, and budding UX writer, with eight years of experience in the automobile and enterprise, business-to-business (B2B), software-as-a service (SaaS) industries and more than a year in academic research methods. He is currently working for Honeywell as a UX researcher. His goal is to make the planet a better place for all living beings and natural environments. He believes in a deeper level of empathy, which he calls inner intellectual thinking, and silence, which lets him connect with users and uncover their painpoints, needs, and expectations through unbiased observation. Ravinder holds a Master of Art in Industrial and Product Design from Savannah College of Art and Design. Read More