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A Practical Guide to B2B Field Research: Part 1

By Alexander Schenker
5 min read

New Product, new research approach?

With Celonis’ launch of the Intelligent Business Cloud in October of last year, we introduced a number of new capabilities to our software and moved from a process analytics-focused software towards a holistic business transformation solution. The biggest architectural change that we faced was the move from an on-premise software to a cloud platform.

To our company, the decision to make this transition was of high strategic value as it enabled a drastically decreased time-to-value, i.e. the time it takes our customers to find first insights with our software. From the perspective of a user experience designer and researcher, not only did this mean major changes came about architecturally and product-wise, but along with this came other exciting opportunities and challenges:

  • For years we had no real-time insights on key performance indicators (KPIs) like adoption, retention, number of users, session duration, logins, etc. The data was locked in on-premise environments that belonged to our customers. With the Cloud, this is no longer the case as we can employ user analytics to understand our customers’ journeys better.
  • From a business perspective, our new products (like the Action Engine) were the next logical step towards operationalizing business transformation. We developed these features in close collaboration with pilot customers to ensure we are solving the right problems for them. However, these new product offerings also presented Celonis with many additional user types that we had only basic knowledge of.

So, we decided that in order to design the undefined user experience of our customers and drive the adoption of our newly introduced products, we needed to establish a user research approach that allows us to delineate both the expectations our customers have of our software and how they currently interact with it.

Our approach to user experience

When we talk about designing a user experience, we first need to define what this entails for us in the context of an enterprise software. There is no single true definition of what good user experience is, so we decided to define it for ourselves:

We want Celonis to be a software that supports you to be successful, that helps you getting the job done, that makes you feel good and competent by achieving things you could not achieve without Celonis. We want a high degree of usability, a low barrier to learn, use and master our software.

When conducting targeted research, this definition turned out to be highly valuable to formulate appropriate research questions: What does success mean to our customers? What are the jobs they are trying to get done? What aspects of their work do they like, and what do they dislike? What knowledge do they have? etc.

But maybe more important than the question of how we would conduct user research and methods we would use to talk to our customers was deciding what research deliverables should be. The most sophisticated research is virtually worth nothing if the results are not accessible to those who would benefit from it.

Personas are widely recognized as powerful tools used to communicate research findings. Promoted by industry leaders like Norman Nielsen Group or Alan Cooper, they have become a standard tool in many designers’ toolkits. Personas typically represent user archetypes, showcase their behavior patterns, their tasks, pains, as well as gains. In his book About Face, Alan Cooper proclaims that the power of personas lies in their specificity, and that incorporating many real interview partners into one persona would be flawed.

As we later started interviewing our users, however, we quickly discovered just how diverse our customer types really were. People from countless industries, backgrounds and cultures are using our software, which means that designing for specific individuals would do a disservice to the diverse majority of our user group.

It is important to understand that we do not provide a solution to any specific problem or business process. Celonis is a versatile platform that allows you to analyze any event log-based data for any use case. This creates an infinite amount of potential use cases, but also an infinite amount of potential users.

Contrary to Alan Cooper, usability.gov describes effective personas as those that:

  • Represent a major user group for your website
  • Express and focus on the major needs and expectations of the most important user groups
  • Give a clear picture of the user’s expectations and how they’re likely to use the site
  • Aid in uncovering universal features and functionality
  • Describe real people with backgrounds, goals, and values
  • Instead of specific individuals, these personas represent major user groups, typically grouped by common goals and activities. They are focusing on commonalities, instead of highlighting specific attributes.

As previously mentioned, we now benefit from the ability to employ user analytics to not only uncover what people are telling us they do, but to supplement this information with actual user behavior. Therefore, our methodology includes a data-driven approach to combine specific personas together with generalized personas to achieve our goal of communicating our research findings throughout our company.

tl;dr

We have just introduced you to how we tackled the challenge of understanding new users after our transition to a new series of products and how we established a way to communicate the findings with other stakeholders.

We interview users to create specific personas that communicate their individual challenges and use a more generic, data-driven approach to represent archetypical users for everyone in our organization. In the next part of this series we will elaborate on how we approached our customers by forming meaningful alliances within our organization.

Stay tuned for:
Part 2: How finding internal allies enables the conduct of field research. (coming soon)
Part 3: In the field: How do you actually talk to customers and how do you collect the data to make sense of it? (coming soon)

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