B2B firms often develop products and services that are ultimately experienced by end users with whom the firm has no contact. It can be challenging to develop market strategy and product innovation to suit these users’ needs while achieving results for the B2B firm’s direct customers. Here are two B2B examples from my firm, Insight to Action, that show the importance of understanding these end users and their experiences.

Usability Assessments Guide Online Retailer

Driving Front-End B2B Strategic Innovation by Understanding End-User ExperiencesSome time ago, Charles Mauro of Mauro Usability Science worked with my firm to develop the strategic direction for an online B2C retailer targeting moms of kids ages 3-12. Mauro Usability Science provided the detailed usability assessment and guidance for the online retail client. This complemented the strategic brand value proposition and positioning that my team recommended. It seems evident that his work continues to be on the leading edge, most recently in integrating neuroscience testing methodologies with usability testing.

Travel Agents Inform Sales Incentive Software Development

Insight to Action recently worked on the early stages and strategic front end for a client that was developing software for sales incentive programs in the B2B space. Our approach involved in-depth, qualitative interviews with end users in a range of industries. Since this project was for the early stages of product design, there was no prototype or budget available for usability testing; the goal was to learn about desired product characteristics.

Driving Front-End B2B Strategic Innovation by Understanding End-User ExperiencesOne group of regular users of sales incentive programs we spoke with were independent travel agents. These agents work with providers across a range of specialties, including hotel chains, rental car agencies, cruise ships, tourist boards, tour operators, and even airlines. So, unlike other sales incentive end users (e.g., auto dealer sales representatives, cellular sales representatives) who work only in one industry and for one firm, the independent travel agents have a broad perspective across programs. The travel agents we spoke with were all highly experienced (i.e., more than twenty years in the business), consistent with one source that shows 84% of corporate travel agents have ten or more years of experience.

One of the interesting findings from these interviews had to do with where and how the agents work, and how this impacts their use of the sales incentive program.

For example, one agent described preferring to log onto the website for programs that offer merchandise rewards, but preferring phone lookups for a program using a debit card. She regularly uses all types of mobile devices, as she described:

“I have a laptop, tablet, Android phone, desktop and could use any of these, but I do whatever is easiest. With merchandise, I want to see the visual, whereas for debit card, phone is easier. With Fairmont, I use a desktop at the office, so I can log on to the website and sign into Fairmont rewards to go and see what they offer, the visual. Whereas with Marks Travel, I find it easier to call the automated 800#, and I don’t have to remember the password, The system even remembers your phone # when you call, just minimal info to access your account, so I can call from my cell phone. “

Others we spoke with were using a range of devices, as these quotes illustrate.

“I use the desktop because I’m here at work. I receive emails from Radisson Book to Book telling me about the bonuses. I log in to get the points. I’m working at my desktop. I don’t do everything on my cell phone. I want to keep my eyes active. I don’t want to be part of the heads down generation. Radisson has very good training- not as cumbersome as some of the other ones. With some of the others, you have to go back and forth between modules and get booted out.”

“When I first got into travel, there weren’t any of these incentive programs in the early 1990s, and then they came around, and then with mergers, may lose a program. Two that I use a lot are Carlson and Hertz. Once a month, I go into the Carlson for the puzzle. It’s fun and a great idea, you can learn, and informative. Love it, just wish it worked a little better to get the 500 points. For Carlson, I do it on my laptop, I work from home on the laptop. Will sometimes use the tablet. Hertz, I probably go into that twice a month, using the laptop (#1), tablet (#2) and iPhone (#3). I like that it has more comparison stuff in stores, and a lot more stuff and unique, and better prices.”

“I access Budget Unlimited with a GDS system, it’s a dedicated terminal. Not a normal desktop. It’s stationery. At work, at offices. Always book there. And don’t really access it mobile. This is part of my broader philosophy: keep work at work!”

Even in today’s mobile world, some of these agents who work primarily at a desk in the office or home office, are accessing with a desktop. Others are accessing with tablets, laptops and iPhones, depending on where they work. And while many of these programs offer points in exchange for participating in their training, some, like Radisson, are more user-friendly in this area than others. Beyond basic questions of how they are accessing the current programs, these end users shared valuable insights into their work philosophy that can be used for the new product.

These two examples show two different approaches to understanding end user experience in a B2B context—through usability assessments or direct qualitative research. In either situation, the first step is to identify end users with the most valuable perspectives, e.g., moms of younger children or travel agents. Understanding their user experiences led to more relevant front-end strategic innovation in a reasonable timeframe.