Embracing a Human Approach to B2B Product Design

Illustration of common B2B website components on a blue background.

How Did We Get Here?

If you look back in history, it really wasn’t until recently that a chasm developed between business to business and business to consumer marketing and advertising. Some savvy commercial material manufacturers in the 1920s and 30s (like the American Rolling Mill Company who made refined iron products or Hyatt Roller Bearings, later acquired by General Motors) realized that even though they made products that weren’t sold to typical consumers, advertising to them directly built increased awareness for their products. They designed and ran the same print ads in trade and commercial magazines, appealing equally to manufacturers who used their material and consumers who purchased the end-product.

Print ad from Hyatt Roller Bearings featuring an old fashioned car traveling around the globe.
A print ad from Hyatt Roller Bearings that ran in a long-forgotten commercial magazine.

Why is This a Problem?

The first purely non-academic websites came online in 1992. They were a mix of corporate sites, weird experiments, some early domain squatters who realized the value of virtual real estate and one brave e-commerce site (Book Stacks Unlimited, later acquired by Barnes & Noble). Amazon and eBay both launched in 1995, forever changing the way we buy things and setting the standards for all digital commerce experiences.

A diagram depicting the concept of liquid expectations. A small blue circle labelled Direct Competitors, a lighter blue circle labelled Experiential, a lightest blue circle labelled Perceptual.
Visualization adapted from the original Fjord white paper.

So, What Do We Do About It?

A lot of the work we’ve done and continue to do at Mediacurrent is considered B2B product development, but we don’t have different approaches to defining, designing and developing something that’s intended for professional audiences versus something intended for all types of users.

Understand the Audience

To build something useful, you have to know who’s going to use it and how they’ll use it. We start all of our projects by looking at our client’s current or intended audience, talking to them, observing their behavior patterns on current websites and getting a better understanding of the features, functionality and overall product experience that would be most beneficial to them.

Look for Inspiration Outside the Industry

When we audit a brand’s landscape, we don’t look exclusively at the competition. If everyone only looked to their peer organizations, nothing interesting or novel would happen. We instead focus on the problems we’re trying to solve for the audience we’re trying to serve.

Design for People, Not Technology

Most of our clients come to us with a list of products their website needs to integrate with to support their business. Whether it’s a CRM, an inventory management system, a marketing automation tool — we can pretty much integrate with anything (even some archaic things, but that’s for another article). All of these tools are built to receive data and share data in specific ways and often those ways are not very intuitive or human.

Think Like Dieter Rams and Make Less, But Better

Designing and building a digital product means you’ll have to make some hard decisions about what to include and what not to include. A lot of B2B sites launch with everything and a catalog of every kitchen sink manufactured between 1982 and today. A lot of B2C sites launch with one killer feature that changes the way users engage with that company. We help our clients figure out the right kind of in-between.

Author

Elliott Mower is the Creative Strategy Director at Mediacurrent. He’s still a little bitter about not winning the D.A.R.E essay contest in the fifth grade.

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