Author: Alan Brown
In businesses like ours that provide white-label software solutions to other businesses, that are designed to service the needs of their customers, it’s essential that we operate like a business-to-business and a business-to-consumer organisation at the same time. Here’s my guide to how to survive the complex world of B2B2C.
Intelligent Environments provide a digital platform to banks and financial services companies. Our products are part solution, part framework – designed for consumers but shaped and branded into something unique for each and every organisation we work with.
Getting it right means we have to operate like a business-to-business and a business-to-consumer organisation at one and the same time.
Business-to-Business-to-Consumer operations are not only a mouthful to say, but also a big a challenge to run, so here’s my guide to surviving the complex world of B2B2C.
1. Understand your own bias: you are not your customers
When it comes to usability it’s a truism that the people who produce a product are often the people least qualified to evaluate it.
During product development your team and the client’s team will also evolve their own culture and language, and the latest version of your product will be underpinned by assumptions you make along the long road of product development.
In a B2B2C relationship there is a difficult balancing act to accommodate the influence of another organisation on the product as well, before it’s even got to the end-user.
The fact is there is no substitute for real users.
Putting your product into the hands of end users as early and as often as possible is the only way to understand what end users think and how they’ll react to your product.
Getting access to end users can be a challenge at the best of times but in a B2B2C operation there’s an entire organisation (often a large one in our case) sat between the team that develops the core functionality and the end users who will make use of it.
That’s why we like to show our customers the user research that we’ve done and why, wherever possible, we invite them to conduct user research with us.
A view of Interact for the fictional YourBank on our User Testing environment.
2. Work together to represent consumers who aren’t there
A software product will only be successful if consumers like it and want to use it.
In B2B2C, buyers and consumers are distinct entities. Consumers have less leverage – even more so if the solution purchased by the buyer is given to consumers for free. The buyer brings their own business requirements, and most of the leverage, to the table.
Of course buyers act as a proxy on users’ behalf most of the time, but every so often the needs of the buyer and consumer are at odds.
That tension can surface around data capture, for example. Data capture and keeping users’ contact information up to date is an essential business hygiene task for banks and financial institutions but it’s a chore for end users.
All things being equal, banks would prefer that users check their contact information every time they use a product but consumers’ ideal frequency is closer to never.
In that situation, if priorities are at odds, it’s important for the vendor to step in and use their experience of delivering digital consumer solutions to represent the consumer.
Everyone has a stake in producing a successful product and making sure that all interests are represented is much more important than who represents them.
3. Narrow the gap between vendor, buyer and consumer
The product backlog needs to be carefully managed and prioritised in a B2B2C environment to ensure that features are delivered that will please both the buyer and the consumer.
In our agile development environment, this is where the Product Owner needs to take into account desires of a diverse group including sales, marketing, users and buyers to ensure that precious development effort is focussed on the most important areas for all three parties.
This challenge is compounded in a white label situation, where clients expect a singular focus from suppliers but product teams will naturally be concerned to make solutions that are generic and applicable to a number of clients.
At Intelligent Environments we carefully manage our product backlog to ensure we meet the needs of our customers and their customers
When our product development team are done developing the underlying functionality of the product they don’t hand it directly to our clients, they hand it to a dedicated client delivery team.
The client delivery teams are groups of Intelligent Environments developers, testers and managers focussed 100% on the needs of one client alone. They are the client’s own ‘home’ team inside IE.
This delivery team work as one to deliver a solution that’s bootstrapped by the work of the product team but unique to that customer. This also allows a smooth upgrade path, giving our customers the opportunity to quickly benefit from product enhancements and feature releases.