There’s some good news when it comes to B2B products: A study by Econsultancy, commissioned by SAP Hybris, discovered that 60 percent of B2B companies recognize that the customer experience is important. But there’s also some bad news: In that same study, only 16 percent of the respondents make a claim that they can compete with B2C organizations when it comes to delivering that great customer experience. And that means there’s still a lot of work to do to bring the B2B user experience up to the same level as that of B2C software products.

After all, people expect more from apps these days. One reason for that is the so-called “Apple-ization” of enterprise. Thanks to the rise of iDevices and their sleek hardware and intuitive interfaces, for workers, the line between their personal and business technology expectations has blurred. As Phil Simon puts it, “To succeed today, IT professionals need new technologies, information and tools, and—most important—a new mindset. If done right, Apple-ization represents a major opportunity, rather than a burden. Smart companies are becoming more user-friendly and seeing the results.”

In part, B2B UI and customer experience lags behind B2C because of mistaken assumptions, and understanding these assumptions can help point the way towards a better direction:

  • There is a pervasive, incorrect notion that B2B customers aren’t like “other customers” -- i.e., they need this product, they know what to expect -- and they aren’t expecting consumer-level product quality. Wrong.
  • Some B2B companies believe it’s more important to put their efforts into making sales or getting new customers, and that’s a mistake. As much, if not more, effort should be put into retaining the customers you already have.
  • B2B companies are largely still focused on desktop and laptop UI. While mobile and tablet UI is old news in B2C, that’s not the case in B2B -- and B2B needs to catch up. As Forbes points out, “B2B brands that prioritize the mobile channel can offer in-the-field sales opportunities and personalized customer service possibilities that are impossible to deliver without a mobile-heavy commerce strategy.” And in a recent study, Forrester found that 52 percent of B2B customers are using smartphones to research products for their businesses, which they called “ a wake-up call” to B2B companies.
  • B2B companies sometimes forget that the user is not usually the buyer. This can create a disconnect in value and usability for the end user if this isn’t accounted for, as MeasuringU.com discovered when they looked into the numbers: “When we looked at the frequency of usability problems across a number of datasets, we found that B2B applications had almost 10 times the number of usability problems that websites had and 2 times as many as consumer software. … When you have users that don't make the purchasing decision, with a slow feedback loop, customized interfaces that often go untested with scarce users, the usability suffers.” In other words, test your product on actual users, and sell it to the buyers -- don’t conflate the two.
  • Remember that you aren’t just competing with other B2B products - you’re competing with the great UI of successful consumer products. That’s what people expect now; or, as Forbes points out, “Your real competition is the customer expectation."

Furthermore, My Total Retail opines that one key for B2B brands is to “gain a deeper understanding of the ways in which B-to-C companies are leveraging technology to conduct business online, then adapt those strategies to the B-to-B environment.” In other words, stop thinking of your B2B product differently than a B2C product. Leverage all available tech to create value and usability. This includes:

  • Personalization
  • Robust search capabilities
  • Optimized browsing experience - think Amazon-level experiences.
  • Content management

And finally, it’s crucial that you maintain a company-wide focus on adoption and engagement by making it easier for users to succeed on their own ... without a human to intervene. Think of it as practicing organic customer success. Increasing engagement means being diligent about uncovering opportunities to help users make progress on their own and remove frictions and frustrations that stand in their way. (There’s actually science behind this concept -- check out the Engagement Equation to learn more.) Every team must, at some level, incorporate this adoption- and engagement-centric attitude of customer success into how they approach their relationship to both the product and the customer, whether it’s design, engineering, sales, or marketing.