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We had a great first day at OpenView’s User Experience workshop, which featured incredible insight from Kyrie Robinson, a User Experience Partner with the Silicon Valley Product Group. On that note, I thought I’d explain why we felt user experience was an important topic for our portfolio companies to understand and what led to OpenView creating this workshop. For the last several decades, B2B software vendors have been happily shielded from having to design products that delighted their users. As you might expect, that environment invariably led to products with correspondingly horrible user experiences. Early on, that wasn’t a major problem. When we all started our professional careers, the software we used was primarily designed for the semi- to fully-technical user, who tended to be a knowledge worker with a college degree. We were willing to tinker with the software to figure out how to use it, and that was typically after our IT group spent months and thousands (if not millions) of dollars implementing and customizing the software to suit our business need.

Then came the browser, SaaS, and Agile development.

Today, SaaS companies can deliver software without months of deployment and customization. That solved one problem, but it didn’t do much to address the problem of usage complexity. In fact, by delivering software as a service, software developers were able to create more features. Agile development made matters worse by accelerating that development velocity, leaving users saddled with bloated, heavily featured SaaS products that attempt to cater to every conceivable user persona. As a result, the shield that B2B software vendors have been using to hide the horrible user experience and design of their products is quickly dissipating.

Why? Because of two fundamental changes:

1. The iPhone and iPad revolution

Steve Jobs made us all realize that our business is no longer about technology. It’s all about user experience. Jobs gave the world a computer that delivers a delightful user experience that doesn’t require a manual or extreme customization. Moreover, he built an ecosystem around that computer that required software developers to deliver products that simply worked, and worked simply. Jobs also planted the desktop browser seed of death. Developers now have to design their products to work within the confines of the smartphone/tablet interface. That in turn is forcing software designers to strip away the majority of their product features and deliver only the bare — and most critical — essentials.

2. The graduation of the Facebook generation

With more and more and more college graduates growing into business software buyers and users, B2B software companies are dealing with a generation that wants the same computing user experience that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Skype give them on their iPhones and iPads. Put simply, they don’t possess the attention span required to figure out how to use outdated B2B software. So, what does that all mean for the B2B software industry? It means B2B software vendors need to start adopting a B2C approach to product design.

Here are six steps to get you started:

1. Read these three books: Mary Cagan’s Inspired, Steve Krug’s Rocket Surgery Made Easy, and Eric Ries’s Lean Startup. 2. Hire a product leader to build a product management function: Keep in mind that there is typically a big cultural shift when you take this step. First, a founding CTO may take issue with having to let go of product decisions to the product leader. Second, you might also struggle with development engineers who have to surrender product and design decisions to the product management team. 3. Give the product leader a budget to hire a User Experience team (UX): As CEO, start articulating why user experience is going to be the crux of future product development. Your support is paramount, so you need to believe in the decision. 4. Figure out your market segmentation strategy: One of the biggest drivers of over-featured products is poor market and user segmentation. Product designers must narrow their target market in order to design the specific features that users actually need and want. 5. Bring the voice of the user into the design process: Expose your management team to the voice of the user so that it can develop empathy and familiarity with them. One warning:  Don’t confuse the buyer with the user! 6. Simplify, simplify, simplify: Give your design and development teams the liberty to prune legacy features from the product and allow them to make bold strokes.

Got it? Good. Now, let go of the past and begin embracing the user!

Want to learn more about user experience? Check out this roundtable series with Kyrie Robinson, Chris Kaufman, Andrew Maier, and Susan Weinschenk  from OpenViewLabs.

Firas Raouf is a founding member of OpenView Venture Partners. He is a mentor to OpenView’s Portfolio, an
engaged board member, and plays an active role in investments. Connect with him on Twitter @fraouf.

  • Bachir Kassir

    Great Article. The WebJaguar platform which offers complete B2B eCommerce, CRM, and business automation tools offers great and intuitive user experience and flexibility in UI design, giving B2B companies great tools. This is not only deployed in weeks but is very easy to use and manage. We are always open to learn more on how to improve the B2B user experience and this article has some good references. 

    • Firas Raouf

      Great to hear Bachir… Have you figure out your customer segmentation strategy?  A key ingredient that allows your product managers to hone in on more specific user persona needs, which tend to vary from segment to segment. 

  • Timothy Bernard Jones

    Agreed, Firas. With Buzzient, we’re seeing the need to combine the Web 2.0/Social User experience with the traditional top-down/left-right enterprise app. I forsee a brand new generation of new apps emerging that will have the best of both worlds.



  • Sven-Erik Hennum-Johnsen

    Could  not agree more, I´ve worked with and or used SuperOffice CRM for a long time, they talked about GUI and HUI since 20 years back!

    • Firas Raouf

      There’s so many example, I wouldn’t even know where to start!