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Why do most B2B Portal initiatives fail and …a holistic program to ensure success.

B2B portals such as Customer portals, Partner/Agent/Broker portals and Financial portals are complex, and most B2B portal initiatives typically are not successful from a perspective of Customer Experience. Customer Experience includes an experience that meets users needs, is easy to use, and keeps the user informed and engaged. B2B portals have a mix of several moving parts including strategy, design, technology development and product marketing, which make it difficult to manage the whole initiative as an effective program. In this blog, I’d like to introduce you to our UX Program, which when applied, ensures that key elements of the initiative are not overlooked.

B2B portals are difficult to manage, largely due to the following reasons..

1. Quite often there is a lack of understanding of user needs: Needs are gathered using the same techniques with which websites are created, but there is a fundamental difference between websites and portals, and requirement gathering needs to be approached differently.

2. Capabilities and functionality can be quite complex: Information Management and Business Intelligence are difficult to get right, given their complexity. Back-end systems, which have a large bearing on the user experience, are typically complex.

3. Lack of communication between marketing/product development and technology teams: This is one of the key reasons of failure. Marketing/Product development define requirements and user experience, and then approach technology for implementation. Many of the capabilities are either not feasible based on the technology solution, or are difficult to implement within budget. At that time, the UX is typically just bandaged and stitched up, which ruins the experience.

4. Portals are designed like websites: Portals and websites are fundamentally different. Portals are very process driven and process design and information architecture takes precedence over design. Quite often portals are approached with the same methodology of designing a website, and the resulting user experience is typically broken

5. Lack of measurement: Most B2B portals do not measure experiences effectively. Even when they claim to, often all they are really doing is just installing someanalytics software, but then don’t even know what to do with the data to gather real insight. This is a key challenge. If you’re not able to continuously iterate and improve the experience with an effective methology, your portal experience will break down.

6. Ineffective workflows: Portal experiences typically have a large number of intelocked steps to reach a point of completion. If any step doesnt work effectively, the experience breaks.

Through our experience in creating portals since 1999, we have come up with a UX Program for B2B portals which covers all aspects of managing a program to enhance customer experience. The following illustration captures our program simplistically:

Now let’s look at some of the core elements that go into creating a successful online B2B experience.

1. Web Portal Strategy. Apply an end to end Strategy which provides a Point of Arrival for the customer experience you want to achieve with your program. Quite often, B2B portals go through radical changes of direction because the strategy is not complete or specific enough.
2. Measure user needs. Continuously identify and validate user needs. Portals can be quite complex; utilizing a visualization based approach with the help of prototypes is very helpful in capturing complex needs.
3. Workflows: Portals are workflow driven; Information Architecture and workflows matter more than design. Ensure that you create an efficient experience. Business Analysts and Information Architects in project teams need to have the skill set to do effective process design to be able to create efficient workflows. Typically, business analysts are adept at capturing requirements and use cases, but find it difficult to design efficient workflows.

4. Impactful design: Design that not only is in line with corporate branding, but enables ease of use

5. Site Structure and Content. The structure and content of the site need to be managed well. Your navigation structure and content architecture will impact user experience significantly
6. Technically feasible experiences. This is the banana skin of portal design projects. Design and UX is quite often not technically feasible. Your program needs techniques in place to ensure technical feasibility of experiences. At edynamic, we typically involve our technical resources early pn in the engagement, to assess feasibility of process flows and information architecture, and provide technology boundaries to work within. These boundaries can be a double edged sword: while they allow you to deliver feasible experiences, they can short change the experience as boundaries are not pushed
7. Customer Satisfaction measurement. All portal capabilities that are rolled out need to be measured for customer satisfaction. These are done against customer needs and the tasks users they perform on the portal. By leveraging Web Analytics software intelligently, you can track user behaviour and get metrics for capability and portal usage, critical path analysis and user profile. Other techniques like surveys, interviews and customer focus groups help to measure customer satisfaction. This process needs to be continuous.
8. Program management. B2B portal projects can be quite difficult to manage. They involve complex technology where user experience needs to be merged. There are typically a lot of moving parts. Managing the program holistically, and not in design and technology silos brings success.
9. Product marketing. Marketing the portal and its capabilities for successful adoption and usage is important. Providing demos of capabilities, quick how-to videos that help users use capabilities, and communication plans for product launches are all methods which will help you ensure that your product is adopted effectively by the user community.

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