User Experience (UX) for the Non-UX Marketer
In my last Great B2B Marketing post, I made a bold claim. What’s worse, my own community was the target.
While sharing ways to move from cyclical to strategic website planning, I argued that “…failing to make user experience a top priority plagues many marketing organizations and warrants its own blog post.”
The gloves were off.
I prepared for the blowback before writing this follow-up. After all, digital marketers live and die by their sites.
But where I expected pushback, I received agreement. People I’ve never met contacted me with the same message: We marketers aren’t cutting it when it comes to UX.
Why UX Often Lands on the Cutting Room Floor
This shortcoming may seem a little surprising. After all, marketers preach listening to the customer every day.
Insights are captured in voice of customer studies, journey maps, and personas, just to name a few. They’re mainstays in deck after deck. Sadly, that customer input routinely gets lost along the way.
This neglect of the customer and UX manifests for one simple reason. Marketers build websites based off their goals rather than users’ goals.
Marketers’ reactions usually boil down to:
- “It’s nice to say we should put the customer voice front and center. But my company relies on lead gen.”
- “Users have no idea about half the products we offer and how they could revolutionize their business. If Henry Ford asked people what they wanted, he would have just built faster horses.”
Both assume UX is impossible, or the enemy of marketing. I disagree.
Focusing on users’ needs keeps customers happy while still converting prospects. What could be more aligned with marketing?
Giving your users an experience that puts their needs and wants first is the most valuable thing you can do. That’s so obvious it self-evident. Yet it’s lost in so many web projects.
Take the classic tension over the company website. Customers typically visit the site to access their accounts, find product info, and learn best practices. Marketers, on the other hand, want to show the benefits, highlight new products, and make it easy to buy.
They forget that prospects usually want what customers want. A valuable site reassures them that once they’ve signed on the dotted line, they’re not left to fend for themselves.
Done well, providing a top-notch user experience will pay marketing dividends in lead gen, conversion, and customer retention.
Why Embracing a UX Marketing Mindset Matters
Full disclosure: I wasn’t an overnight convert to the UX approach.
It sounded simplistic and restrictive. I assumed I couldn’t promote new features and products—as if that violated sacred UX principles.
Then I took a step back. I considered my own user expectations with brands. That’s when the switch flipped.
With few exceptions, users rarely visit the home page to fill out a lead form or learn about the latest product. If they did, our jobs would be much easier. (And it would validate the naysayer’s first point in the previous section.)
But how do you consider the business’s needs along with users’ expectations? Truthfully, it’s a balancing act.
The pressure for promotion first and user needs second is undeniable. Before acting on that impulse, pause to consider the implication.
If users can’t easily accomplish their primary task, they won’t take kindly to the marketing message that blocks their path.
Does that mean the hero area of your home page can’t include an offer with a call to action? Of course not. It does mean offers, product news, and the like must live in harmony with what users want.
And they must exist at the right stage and in the right place. A user unfamiliar with your brand probably isn’t ready for a “Buy Now!” offer on first contact.
Don’t guess. Research your users to know what’s worth doing.
The First Step: Listen to Your Users Anywhere and Any Way You Can
Market research once cost big bucks. Focus groups, multiple rounds of travel, in-depth research, and direct mail surveys add up quickly.
If you can afford these methods, by all means pull the trigger. You’ll gain incredible insight. Fortunately, more affordable and accessible options are now available.
Try the following methods with your customers and prospects you recently lost or closed. You may even convert or upsell one in the process.
Actually Talk to Your Users
It’s so simple…and so overlooked.
Invite users to your office, visit them, or find an off-site space for interviews. (Local libraries and community centers offer meeting rooms of all sizes for free.) The nuance you’ll pick up from the body language and visual cues justifies the cost.
If you can’t make in-person interviews work, use video conferencing. Phone calls are your last resort, but they’re by no means a deal-breaker. Any user input trumps zero user input.
The Interaction Design Foundation created a simple guide to conducting user interviews I recommend if you’re new to the practice. It advises focusing on three areas:
- familiarity with your prepared questions so you’re just glancing at the script
- a friendly and calm demeanor
- a willingness to hear unpleasant truths
You may struggle with the last point if you inadvertently played a hand in a user’s complaint. Ask an impartial colleague to handle the interviews if you fear you’ll take criticisms personally.
The objective is to discover overall pain points. That means not limiting questions to your site, product, or service.
You may find their biggest challenge isn’t solved by your offerings. The user interviews intended to help improve one feature may lead to refining your entire product roadmap.
Listen to the Conversations Happening Without You
Some user interview participants will sugarcoat their answers because you’re a company representative. When good manners stifle honest feedback, turn to the Internet to unearth hidden truths.
Social listening isn’t limited to your customer service colleagues. Seek your customers where they spend time online. These channels offer incredible—and incredibly frank—user insights.
Your social media channels and support forums are great sources for product and website issues. But go a step further. Search the relevant hashtags and topics that matter to your users across social media platforms.
Don’t neglect finding industry forums or ones in adjacent spaces. Search for your industry and “forum” on Google as a simple starting point.
Also search for your company’s and your competitors’ leaders. You never know what product or website critiques will accompany these posts.
Yes, social media and forums swing toward the negative. But remember, it’s difficult to get the good without the bad.
Watch Them Use Your Current Site or Product
Like user interviews, observation is always best when conducted in person.
User observation isn’t intended to spur a conversation. You’re observing how they perform tasks. Take notes and record the session. Unless you’re asking participants to complete a task, or you’re answering a direct question, become a fly on the wall.
See how customers use your product in their natural habitat with the usual noise, flickering fluorescent lights, and normal interruptions. Your best guesses will never fully account for their environment.
Some users understandably can’t or won’t allow you in their workspace, and travel may not be feasible. Complement your personal observation with tools like Crazy Egg that record browser sessions and provide heat maps.
Share these visuals with colleagues to reinforce the case you’re building. Seeing what users do is always more compelling than hearing what they say.
Dig into Your Web Analytics
Google Analytics (GA) takes minutes to activate and a lifetime to master. At least that’s my take.
Once you have the fundamentals down, set up GA to show what users are searching for on your site. You may need a few months to collect enough data to analyze.
As you explore GA, keep your ambitions simple:
- Track where users enter your site and how long they stay.
- See where they spend the most time and what they abandon quickly. Are certain topics more popular than you imagined? You may find that well over half your visitors originate from organic searches and land on product pages or blog posts.
- Find out how they’re accessing your site. Which browsers do they prefer? What’s the split between desktop and mobile visitors? Many of my B2B clients see 60-80% of their traffic come from desktop, even in 2019.
NOTE: GA can become time-consuming and complicated, especially when paired with Google Tag Manager and Google Search Console. Using a digital marketing agency to set up your GA account, create goals, and write a customized tutorial may prove a sound investment.
Analyze User Feedback to Build Your UX-Friendly Site
Finally, it’s time for planning and execution. Start by consolidating your research across interviews, observations, screen recordings, and analytics into one place.
All feedback should be considered together to reduce the risk of one improvement creating a new issue.
For example, difficulty finding your company’s contact info may emerge as common feedback. Viewed in a vacuum, the “solution” might be making the sales phone number the most prominent element of the site.
With this limited intel, you don’t know which team they’re trying to contact. Customer service? Media relations? Legal? Adding an oversized sales number would make other important elements too hard to find.
Instead, meet with a small, cross-functional team to review the feedback and identify the “top tasks.” UX pioneer Gerry McGovern coined this term. It’s the “small set of tasks (usually less than 10, often less than five) that matter most to your customers.”
Put the Right People in the Right Roles
If you plan to complete the work in house, ensure your design staff includes a seasoned UX professional. Or give someone eager to grow into that role a career-changing opportunity. An outside hire or freelancer may be needed.
Either way, don’t bank on every designer following a UX philosophy. Some believe their websites are destined for an art gallery. That approach helps no one.
The instinct to form a committee for review and project guidance can be a gamble. Internal committees are largely concerned with their sales and products, not your users. Besides, you already know what your users want because you’ve asked and observed them.
Test Before, After, and Regardless of Launch
No first draft is perfect, even the one centered on what your users want.
Testing the design before development is crucial. Luckily, plenty of UX testing tools have popped up in recent years.
Optimal Workshop lets you conduct a “first-click study” of a design before a single line of code is written. A first-click study is exactly what it sounds like: You literally study a user’s first click.
First-click research shows “when users’ first click is down the right path, 87% eventually succeed. When they click down an incorrect path, only 46% eventually succeed.” How a user interacts with your site out of the gate is a make-or-break metric.
Start by giving the test participant a simple scenario. Something like: “You’re an office manager in need of appointment reminder cards. Where would you look for them?” The results will show where they clicked first, and they’ll provide more powerful visuals for your business case.
To be clear: Users don’t need to complete their top task within the first click. But that first click must point them in the right direction. This data helps disarm internal colleagues who insist their request must live above the fold.
If testing shows some of your designs didn’t pan out, revisit the user feedback with your team. Bounce your new ideas off a few cross-functional colleagues who get it.
When the feedback indicates you’re on the money, launch. Monitor and address any fixes quickly.
Start the Transformation to Becoming a UX-First Organization
If you’ve completed everything above, congratulations. Shaking up the status quo is a major accomplishment.
Before budgeting season begins, show the company what you’ve achieved by putting users first—and what’s possible with more resources.
Share the good news with executives and colleagues across departments. Host lunch and learns, post a story on the intranet or Slack, or add it to a town hall meeting.
Keep running UX projects a little bit bigger than the last one. Make the case for a UX team. And ensure your team knows this is the new way of doing business.
UX is the key to remaining relevant in B2B marketing. You can’t afford to take no for an answer.