Time to stop making excuses – B2B software should not be this hard to use
People sometimes ask me, "where do you think the B2B software industry is heading?". I find this question very interesting, as I often stumble into situations where I get reminded of how much the world of B2B software has changed during my 20+ years in the industry. And yet, I also often observe the opposite and get surprised at how slow things have moved.
The other day I heard about a friend who attended a mandatory training course for a new software product implemented at his workplace. Three whole days of training! This made me reflect; Why is B2B software so complicated in 2021 that people need complex training courses to use them?
The old way – "perpetual licenses"
I started as a developer in a B2B software company in 2001, and I remember the steady flow of customers trained to use our products. Our users were totally dependent on completing this training to be able to use the software.
In those days, software development was often guided by tender requirements and the sales reps' ability to describe and tick off required functionality. Responding well to complex and huge tenders was driving sales, so the number of features you could deliver into the product was more important than a happy user.
You also had the business model of selling "perpetual licenses" of the software product, where customers would buy a copy of the software and install it locally. The investment risk for the customer was high – and in addition, they would pay for the installation and configuration of the product and pay a yearly fee for support and maintenance and the right to use the product.
The business model made the B2B software industry successful despite delivering hard-to-use software!
The new way – subscriptions and user testing
B2B software products based on the old model still exist – as do tenders that influence product development. But there has been some change. More tenders now focus on describing the problems that need to be solved instead of describing required features in detail.
But more change is needed. Users today expect the same from a B2B software product as from the applications they use in their private life. The products that will survive are those built like consumer applications and using the subscription business model. If you don't deliver something intuitive and hassle-free with a subscription model, your customer will most likely churn.
To succeed in building consumer-grade simplicity, every product team must include UX designers who understand how to make things intuitive and test design repeatedly with actual users. This requires a fast feedback loop to your product team and the willingness to continuously iterate on capabilities in your product that the "old B2B approach" would consider "done" and something that is not to be touched.
So, where do I think the B2B software industry is heading? The answer can potentially annoy those who hold on to the old B2B approach. Yes, B2B software sometimes handles very complex problems and processes. But that is not an excuse for making hard-to-use software. B2C software also tackles complex problems.
My point is that the gap between the delightful user experience we see in successful consumer software and the complex and hard-to-use software in B2B has been reduced over the past 20+ years. And the pace of that reduction accelerated a lot around 2010 when everyone switched to the subscription model.
Soon, there will be close to no difference in the user experience between B2C and B2B software, and the old legacy products built with the old B2B approach will die.