A Practical Guide to B2B Field Research

A Practical Guide to B2B Field Research: Strategies for customer interviewing

In part one of our ongoing series on our user research efforts at Celonis, we discussed the new opportunities and complications that arose from our transition to a cloud-based selection of products. This opened up a vast array of new user roles that we found necessary to understand. But how did we get from this realization to visiting customers in their offices and discussing their roles, activities, and working habits in person? Our second blog post will explore how we introduced other departments to our research activities, used our new-found alliances within Customer Success to access customers, and how we started to formulate our first approach to our interview process, translating our team’s objectives into method.


Evangelizing UX Internally

Earlier this year, our researchers traveled to Celonis' Manhattan headquarters to get to know our American colleagues better and to demonstrate our work in user research. While we showed them how we conduct user tests, we simultaneously generated an interest in our newly-established persona project. Many of the technical colleagues we collaborated with had a limited understanding of user research and user experience design as a discipline in general. Through activities like eyetracking studies, sharing previews of new tools, and testing experimental click dummies that feature our concepts and designs, we generated not only an interest in what we do, but also a solid understanding of a few of our most crucial tools and our mindset. Along the way, we built an alliance with our regional Customer Success team, which provided us with some key customers to contact.

With our first real list of customers to reach out to, our initial challenge as researchers was to decide what we would ask them and how we would manage a conversation with our limited understanding of who they were and what they were doing with our software. 

  • What questions did we really want answered about usage? 

  • What would be the right amount of time to speak with them? 

  • How would we introduce ourselves and the intentions we had as user researchers?

A Success Story

One realization we came to early on was that we should aim to keep our conversations informal and relaxed to make our customers feel comfortable sharing their experiences and attitudes with us. We also knew that we would want to keep the discussion of software bugs or problems with functionality to a minimum. These points are valid, but we have a dedicated service desk to address them. 

We wanted to understand what users want to do with Celonis rather than to collect a list of their issues and missing functionality to resolve. This is a common aspect of UX field research. In fact, the enterprise software company Intuit credits their early success to a user research strategy developed alongside its first successful software, Quicken, which was designed to help consumers balance their checkbooks digitally at home. Initial surveying of their user-base revealed that, unexpectedly, people were using Quicken mostly at their offices, which prompted management to ask why this was the case. Through their "Follow-me-Home" approach of on-site observation, which involved researchers following customers back to their offices to witness their first interaction with the software, it became clear that the unexpected issues and complaints their users originally reported finally made sense within the context of its usage. What was their shocking discovery? The creators of Quicken had unknowingly developed a revolutionary new tool to handle accounting for small businesses. With their clever research tactic, Quicken evolved to incorporate even more powerful functionality and its strategic trajectory changed.

While we cannot follow customers home from a store to observe their behavior like the researchers at Quicken did back in the 1980’s, we are able to speak with novice users and those that work to get Celonis adopted within their organizations. Fortunately, our first interviews proposed were to be done with Celonis champions, which we characterize as individuals who are particularly invested in our software’s success and who are making Celonis successful within their organizations. We took into consideration the fact that our champions would be the most willing to take time out of their busy schedules to meet with us. And, for our first interviews, it would be the most conducive environment for us to refine our research methodologies to be expanded to other customer types.

Our first step was to understand from our customer success managers what we might expect from these individuals we would speak with, and we supplemented their perspective with any public information we could uncover pre-interview. For example, we spent time understanding our customer’s background through LinkedIn, where we found better insights into their education and their history with the company they work for. This was incredibly inspiring and uncovered obvious questions we could ask to better understand how Celonis compliments their role’s responsibilities and vision.  Our next step was to compile a series of standard research questions. 

One of our favorite interview questions  is, "How would you describe your unofficial job title?" We typically ask our customer after we have gone over their official duties.Their unofficial job titles usually reveal a more realistic picture of their day-to-day duties and how they interact with Celonis. 

Core of Interview Questions + Summary

At its core, our interview questionnaire serves as a flexible guide that incorporates the points above:

  • To provide an informal, comfortable environment to share impressions

  • To Build relationships with our customers as points of reference

  • To understand how customers really use Celonis

In our next blog post, we will introduce the structure and application of our questionnaire, along with how it has changed over the course of time, especially after we gained experience speaking with customers iteratively. Beyond this, we will explore how we review raw interview data and construct personas for reference and sharing company-wide.

Audrey O'Keefe --author image
Audrey O'Keefe
Product Manager

Her technical background in 3D modeling serves as the basis for her experience in user research and product management. She strives to create powerful products and services by working closely with engineering, design, stakeholders and actual consumers to define the most effective route to the most impactful result.

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