Best Practices for Designing and Customizing B2B UIs and UXs

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User experiences are just as important to B2B customers as they are in retail marketing. The reasons for this evolving trend can be attributed to the growing use of mobile phones to access the Internet and increased online ordering by people of every age and demographic group. B2B decision-makers use their phones to buy retail products like other groups, so they’ve come to expect the same high-quality user features on business websites that they find in their B2C shopping experiences. User experience or UX or can be defined as everything that websites try to accomplish to encourage greater interactions between customers and business brands at various touch points along their browsing and buying journeys. B2B Companies can customize those journeys with special website designs, varying levels of functionality, interactive characteristics, architectural details for navigating through websites, high-resolution images, videos, apps and other features. Together, these personalized and targeted efforts comprise the User Interface or UI. The best practices for designing UIs and UXs depend on a company's products, demographic profiles of its customers and other people who actually use the site such as third-party vendors, resellers, distributors, purchasing managers, consumers, bloggers, social media members, etc.

Each website user might be a customer, company decision-maker, investor, employee, purchasing manager or even a company executive who’s screening companies for a potential business partnership. It's critical to segment users to the best of a company's ability and to provide the features that educated guesses predict that visitor wants but with easy ways to correct any mistaken impressions quickly. People come to B2B websites for different reasons. An engineer might be looking for a part that's compatible with a certain brand of restaurant coolers while an executive or purchasing manager might be looking for bulk prices on dozens of products for a chain of retail stores.

 

The B2B Difference

B2B websites must satisfy greater demands than consumer-targeting websites for many reasons. Buyers use websites to connect with third-parties like shippers, vendors and distributors to research products, check availability and schedule deliveries of bulk orders. B2B customers also want access to details of their accounts, abilities to customize orders, access to valuable support materials and technical specifications and third-party contacts that help them choose and market the products that they buy. Buyers are also retail customers, so they can't help but be influenced by easy-to-use design features like those that they enjoy when shopping for personal goods and services. What this means for B2B websites is that their UI and UX designs must be highly functional and as well-designed and personalized as those of B2C sites. That could mean providing a very different interface and experience for a children's clothing manufacturer than for a supplier of fitness equipment that interfaces with hospitals, clinics or physicians for biometric monitoring.

Delivering a personalized and satisfying user experience to each customer is the major benefit of customizing a B2B eCommerce platform. Intuitive websites answer customer's questions before they even formulate them. Everything that each visitor sees and does on the site should reinforce the user experience with the right language, ideas, graphics, navigation architecture, automation features and responsive screen displays for ease of use. The first steps of customizing interfaces and experiences to match multiple customer profiles and enable collaborations from staff, vendors, shippers and other site stakeholders involve researching customers and users, setting business goals, determining how websites are used and creating the best possible experience for each user profile. B2B organizations customize their sites in up to seven languages and provide easier navigation, enhanced search features and personalized displays to satisfy customer demand. Statistics show that 76 percent of B2B buyers want enhanced ways to search for products and that 75 percent of them are influenced by social media and their personalized approach to marketing.[1] An astonishing 91 percent of users want automation features.


Statistical Support for B2B Design Strategies for UI and UX Features

One of the key marketing trends that affects B2B companies is that designs are becoming more personalized and adapted to individual users. That means customers see different screens when they log-in to websites or applications, and company stakeholders get very different sets of features and custom dashboards to manage administrative functions and collaborations. This highly personalized approach is essential because statistics suggest that 89 percent of businesses will compete primarily on providing better customer experiences over the next few years and that by 2020, customers will manage about 85 percent of business transactions without help from staff.[2] More than 90 percent of buyer decision makers feel that good user experiences are critical to the decision process, and 92 percent of B2B companies that support developing designs for better user experiences also support providing multiple contact channels on their websites. In 2015, 78 percent of organizations are trying to distinguish their businesses from competitors by customizing user experiences.

1. User Interface Development Best Practices

The user interface is the engine that provides custom user experiences for each customer, and B2B companies can design radically different interfaces for segmented customers, stakeholders, third-party contacts, distributors and other business stakeholders. The interface is one area where developers can exercise their creativity and design skills to provide an experience that mirrors what B2C customers enjoy on user-friendly retail sites. However, best practices for B2B developers designing interfaces involve using heuristic information about customers that they gain through segmentation, buyer behavior, website analytics, trial-and-error, demographics and interface testing on multiple device models.


Usability Customizations Based on Heuristics

Empowering comprehensive research and getting approvals from multiple decision-makers and buying committees are the most important factors in designing user interfaces for B2B websites according to a comprehensive analysis that included website testing, focus groups and field studies.[3] Key findings also supported customizing interfaces based on the following heuristic information:

  • Matching Customer Profiles
    Intuitive interfaces speak the user's language by using phrases and concepts that they understand. If targeting a sophisticated business buyer, don't speak as if trying to convince a trendsetting Fashionista. Information should be presented logically.
  • Easy Control
    Users are unpredictable despite careful analyses. If a customer wants to navigate to another area, make it easy to do so. Make it easy to leave any given section if users navigate to them by mistake.
  • Maintain Standard Word Usage
    Don't confuse users by using the same words for different things, confusing phrase variations, industry jargon or complex acronyms without explaining what things mean in the content's context.
  • Proactive Error Prevention
    Address potential navigation errors proactively and include confirmation options to limit user mistakes.
  • Code for Automatic Recognition
    Customers who supply information or research products in one area of the website should not continually need to re-enter the same information. The interface should recognize what customers are investigating throughout their website journeys.
  • Limit Unrelated Dialogs and Links
    Seeing too many unrelated options and dialogs frustrates customers and waters down the impact of relevant suggestions and information.

User interfaces aren't static but dynamic tools that need to change based on evolving customer profiles, marketing trends, new product lines, technology advances, changes to the SEO best practices and ranking algorithms of search engines and other criteria. B2B companies should strive to create dynamic, evolving eCommerce platforms that continually adapt, so it's perfectly acceptable to innovate in small ways, use trial-and-error methods and adapt. Every B2B operation can't compete with Amazon, Apple or billion-dollar national brands, so each company should follow its own path to growth, expansion and IT development.

2. Best Practices for Delivering Superior User Experiences

Delivering more options to user interfaces depends on back-end development, website design features, site functionality, connections with third-parties, product catalogs and internal searchability features. User experiences, often abbreviated as UX, describe everything that’s available for users on websites. Enhanced searchability is a big feature of user-friendly websites. If a B2B company sells to plumbers, electricians, contractors and other practical engineers, then product catalogs could be overwhelming. Customers might need parts that haven't been manufactured for decades, but they’re looking for workable substitutes. Designing a great user experience takes these customer problems into account and provides solutions such as product-locator wizards, custom searches by manufacturer, product type, product function, materials, specifications and other searchable characteristics.

Robust B2B eCommerce platforms solve problems for buyers by focusing on different customer profiles and providing each demographic group of customers with the tools they need to locate products, pay for them, research substitutes, consult outside industry experts, set buying limits in their organizations and accelerate committee or multiple decision-maker approvals of orders. Back-end customizations should maintain current inventories across multiple channels, provide versatile shipping options, show photos for product searches in real-time, and display snippets of information to accelerate complex searches.


Back-End UX Developments for B2B eCommerce

Back-end customizations can offer users lots of functional options such as managing the advanced-approval ordering process, researching products in-depth directly from contacts with vendors or manufacturers, getting price quotes for special orders, performing multifaceted searches, exploring shipping options and applying for flexible billing, paying and credit options.

However, the most important back-office use feature for most B2B companies is optimizing product searches. Designing a robust SKU table that includes alternate names, part numbers, manufacturer information and recommended substitutions for discontinued products can provide daily benefits to harried customers and B2B platform where expanded search functionality generates increased sales.


Front-End Design Features

User interfaces drive the process of showing the right features to customers and delivering the same convenience that B2C websites offer. If the customers have been segmented correctly, they'll see what's most important to them when they log-in on a mobile phone. The process, however, is an ongoing effort that needs to adjust based on new buying behaviors, seasonal buying habits, availability of new products and other sources of information about customers that become available through strong back-office analytics.

3. Navigation and Self-Identification Features

After B2B companies determine which features each stakeholder and customer needs for a great website experience, it's critical to integrate navigation and guidance strategies to provide users easy-to-read road signs on their journeys. The best features are useless unless people can find them, and shorter digitally-and-technologically-generated attention spans mean that people won't look for very long. For example, you might label product display pages for customers with boxes or buttons that read "Engineers," "Custom Builds," and "Manufacturers" to help people find the products they need faster. Numerous studies show that bounce rates can range from milliseconds to several seconds before digital wanderlust influences customers to go elsewhere.

Hit the highlights with lean, clean design and logical navigation instead of adding lots of confusing features, links and content. Most people are searching on their phones with small screens, and customers probably can't view much without scrolling. Appropriate graphics and illustrations are fine, but make sure that they tell the story of what's available when customers click on the link. Display pages should vary for customers based on segmentation intelligence, but that doesn't mean that designers shouldn't offer options for easy navigation to other areas of the site.

Tips from B2B eCommerce & Integrations

Creating great user experiences and custom user interfaces begin by establishing trust with your customers, staff and stakeholders to build collaborative and long-term business relationships. At B2B eCommerce & Integrations, we have the technical skills to build custom features and interfaces that deliver focused and expansive user options, but more importantly, we work with your IT teams and stakeholders in the development process. We also provide training, troubleshooting and testing so that you're never without resources for generating the best user experiences and gaining trust. We can help you work through hundreds of issues that modern eCommerce platforms generate, but we're ready to help with even the smallest issues. Call or contact us today to see how we can work with your IT staff and stakeholders to develop multifaceted search options, differentiated catalogs, custom pricing options, better customer-segmentation strategies and other features that define a user-friendly, dynamic platform for B2B eCommerce.


 

References:

[1] EmailMonday.com: The Ultimate Marketing Automation statistics overview www.emailmonday.com

[2] Ecommerceb2b.com: 30+ Customer Experience Trends and Statistics for 2015 [cont’d] ecommerceandb2b.com

[3] NNGgroup.com: B2B Usability www.nngroup.com