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What I learnt about User Research

4 years ago I left BlaBlaCar and joined Aircall to lead the product function. At this point I realized that User research is even more important, and actually way more complex, in a B2B setting (rather than in B2C). We spent a lot of time optimizing the way we did user research at Aircall. This is what I’ll cover in this post, by answering the following questions:
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Who’s in charge of user research?

A nice way to represent the product cycle is the ‘double diamond’ which includes 2 main phases:

  • Understanding the problem: going through problem discovery, then problem definition
  • Finding a solution: developing several solutions, then delivering one

User research will come into play during these two phases. My first advice would be to have the Product Manager leading the user research for the “problem” phase and the Product Designer leading it for the “solution” phase.

Regarding Product Designers, a huge misconception that I see among “Junior PMs”, is to think that the Designer is only here to make the product nice and pretty. The Designer has huge role to play in the User Research part.

When we talk about a “Designer” it can refer to different positions : UX designer, UI Designer, Product Designer, and User Researcher (see picture below). What I’ve seen is that the bigger the company, the more it tends to differentiate these roles.

What are the best User Research Methodologies ?

If you google “user research methodologies”, you’ll find an endless list of answers. There is a ton of literature on the topic, and many different ways to understand your users. Here are the main methodologies that I used in the past:

User Testing and User Interview are in my opinion the most powerful means to conduct User Research (I’ll tell you more below).

Tool : Google doc, Confluence, Notion or anything that you like to use, to document your interviews and keep track of user feedback.

Surveys. Try to make it short. After you gathered answers, segment your respondent into categories and deep dive into each category by conducting User interviews.

Tool : Typeform. I am a huge fan of Typeform. They have achieved the impossible: Making a survey pleasant to answer.

Journey mapping / Journey tracking. Take a closer look at all the steps of the user journey and try to identify where there might be blocking points, frustrations or misunderstandings. User tracking refers to a more analytical approach to identify these blocking points, using tools tracking user behaviors on your product.

Tool : Hotjar or Fullstory. These tools may sound a bit creepy as you literally watch your users use your product, but they are extremely helpful. Also, check your app speed after introducing these tools. If they’re not implemented the right way, they can lower performance.

NPS. NPS is a classic user satisfaction tool that I really like.

You ask your customer one standard question: “How likely are you to recommend this product to a friend or colleague?” .

The user gives a grade between 1 and 10.

  • 9 or 10 means your user is a promoter, this answer results in +1.
  • 7 or 8 means your user is neutral, this answer results in 0
  • 6 or less means your user is a detractor, this answer results -1.

In the end you get a number between -100 and +100. (Of course there are tools calculating that for you!). The user also gives you a qualitative answer to the question “What would you do to improve our product?”.

I like this tool because:

  • It gives you a clear number to understand whether your users are happy with your product
  • It’s also an indicator of your “free marketing”. If your NPS is < 0, it means you’ll have high churn. If you stop selling you’ll gradually lose all your userbase. If your NPS is >0 you’ll gain users without doing anything, thanks to word of mouth
  • Besides the quantitative approach it also gives you qualitative answers thanks to the second open question “What would you do to improve our product?”.

I advise to segment your NPS with the relevant segmentation for your business, for example per product, per region, per persona. This will give you valuable insights for your product roadmap.

Tool : Satismeter. Very easy to use and implement.

All these methodologies are useful both in B2B and B2C, but there are still many differences in the way you address user research in these 2 contexts.

B2B vs B2C User Research

Why is it that different to conduct user research in B2B?

First, B2B users use your product at work (obviously!). This means they might be stressed out, they probably don’t have that much time to talk to you and most of the time, they are less emotionally attached to your product than in B2C.

Second, you have less users for a B2B product.

Last but not least, in B2B the user is not always the buyer. For example at Slack, in big companies, the buyer will be the Head of IT. The users will be everyone in the company. This means that in your research you’ll have to address both personas and be clear about their differences.

All of these elements means it’s harder to access and understand your users in B2B. In the past 3 years at Aircall, we implemented many things to overcome these obstacles and make sure we were still very focused on our users. I covered that in the LPC conference last year if you want to learn more. Here are a some tips:

  • Consider creating a new role in the product squad. In addition to the usual PM, Engineers, Designer and Data Analyst, we added what we called the “Biz in squad”. The idea is to bring an Account Manager or a Sales Rep for half aday per week in the team (usually at the end and beginning of the sprint). His/her role is to facilitate access to users and to bring feedback from his team to the squad.
  • Because access to users is harder in B2B, it can be overlooked. I would recommend making it mandatory for the Product team to meet at least one user per week. I actually made it part of the quarterly assessment for the team. To make it easier, we tagged along in existing meetings: demos, QBRs, Customer Success calls. We created a Slack channel where all the Sales reps and Account Managers posted their planned meetings, so we could come as well. And we also created a small bot (the “coach”) giving us (the Product team) assignments every week: join a Sales demo, a QBR, do support for one hour, etc.
  • What’s interesting in B2B is that you have half of the company whose role is to spend their days talking to users (Account Management, Sales, Support). This means that as a PM, you’ll find a ton of valuable information, in your colleagues’ brains. In order to get this feedback from them, I encourage you to over-communicate on everything that’s happening in the Product team. For exemple, you can print your designs and put them in the kitchen, or display the Problem Definition outputs in the bathroom (I’ve found that toilets are actually a powerful way to communicate!).

How to do User Interview and User Testing

The last topic I’ll cover is this article is a focus on user interviews and user testing, which are in my opinion the most important tools for user research. For this part, Lea Iov shared her precious experience on how to conduct user interviews and user testing the right way.

In a User Interview, the goal is to ask precise questions to gather as much information on the user as possible. It happens mostly in the discovery phase.

In User Testing, the goal is to test a design, a prototype and to evaluate its usability. You are in an observational posture, while the user gives his opinions aloud. It happens mostly in the solution phase.

In both case, set your self clear goals before the meeting. Ask yourself these questions : What do I want to learn? What should I test? Are the users new to the product or are they already familiar with it?

Then during the interview your job is to facilitate communication in order to maximize the quality of the feedback you will get. You want the user to speak as much as possible. It’s not an easy skill, it takes time to be an expert in that, but here are a few tips that you can use right now:

  • Ask open questions. If the user can simply answer “yes”, then you won’t learn anything. You might as well do an online survey.
  • Ask why. Ask the user “why?” until you are satisfied with the answer you are given and until you feel you have reached the core point of what the user really thinks about your product.
  • Answer with questions. It forces the user to, himself, dig a little more into what he is trying to convey about your product.
  • Don’t be afraid of silence. I know it’s sometimes awkward but silence is normal and necessary. You want the user, to take his time, think and then give the most thoughtful answer possible.
  • Don’t sell your product. You are not a sales person and this is not the right time to sell.
  • Control your reaction to the user’s answer. The user should never feel like he is giving true or wrong answers. Your result will be biased if he/she tries to make you happy.

Also, don’t hesitate to reformulate the answers with the user to make sure you understood right. Last but not least: document as much as possible.

To conclude, there are many methodologies to conduct user research, but in any case the most important things in my opinion are:

  • to be clear about ownership in the process: who does what, at what point?
  • to prioritize the methodologies that are the most relevant for you according to the phase you’re in (problem vs solution), as well as your personas and type of product
  • even in B2B, find ways to keep a strong connection with your users!

Happy user research!

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