B2B User Experience In 2022: Robots Good, People Bad? [PODCAST]

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

Hear what  Alex Burdine, Director, Marketing Technology, and Adam Smartschan, Chief Strategy Officer, have to say about user experience in 2022:

Listen on Apple Podcasts

Alex: I’m Alex Burdine, Director of Marketing Technology at Altitude Marketing. Welcome to Marketing Trends 2022, a view from 30,000 feet.

This is a mini-series on the top marketing trends we think will define 2022. Each episode I’ll interview a different member of our team. We’ll talk about the topics facing B2B companies, as well as provide valuable insights to move your marketing efforts forward.

I’m back with Adam. We’re talking about user experience this week, which is to the layperson, maybe we are just talking about web, but you have different thoughts. You are thinking broader than that and specifically. So go into that. Tell me more.

Adam: No, absolutely. Thanks, Alex, and happy to be here in the podcast cave again. This came up this week and I won’t have too deep into the dirty details, but working with two different banks – one of them being a big national bank that you’ve heard of, the other one being a relatively small local bank. And not a big deal, you know, relatively small things, but it really got me thinking about the way we on the marketing side, we on the development side, we on the content side, engage with the folks that we’re dealing with.

So the big picture here is the big national bank offered a kind of soulless experience. I didn’t actually ever talk to a person, but I was able to get done what I needed really easy with technical tools. It was clearly a very high-end experience they had put together, they’d spent millions. I happen to know they use Salesforce and they’ve customized that to the hilt.

On the other side was the little regional bank. I did talk to some people. I didn’t want to talk to those people. I talked to those people because there was a problem because clearly they had two different systems that didn’t talk to each other because thing that happened online didn’t manifest in the other system, which resulted in a bunch of letters I got, which were not good and didn’t reflect reality. So now I’m talking to human beings.

So what does that mean in the context of marketing and user experience here? Basically, it doesn’t really matter what your budget is, and that personal touch can only be forgiven so much. We all do want that service level. We do want that person. We do want that person who cares. But we also have lived the experience now in 2022 of just wanting things to be done for us, of wanting a certain level of automation, of wanting a certain level of polish. And I don’t know any more how much I or any buyer that we deal with is willing to forgive a poor, automated experience in favor of personal service, if that makes sense.

Alex: Are robots good, people bad?

Adam: I wouldn’t go so far as to say robots good, people bad, but really smart robots taking up 90% of it. That’s kind of where we’re at now. You know, I think about, you know, again, paying a bill to large bank versus paying a bill to a regional bank. The large one, it just happens. It comes out every month. I set that up a literally years ago. I don’t have to think about it. I know for a fact it’s going to work. I have not conversed with anybody there, maybe more than twice in ten years. The other one, I literally have to pay it every month. I can’t get the automated thing set up. It just doesn’t work right. And sometimes you think it works right and then it doesn’t happen. And it’s a thing. And I know the people care. They’re wonderful folks. But what I have sitting here in the back of my head is, yeah, big, soulless robot thing. Good. When I really need someone there, I can probably get somebody, 90/10. Personal, caring, you know, apologies and a lollipop for the kids is very nice. And I certainly care about the people at the smaller firm and I’m willing to forgive some of it. But it also makes me think the next time I need a similar service for one or the other, I know exactly where I’m going. And that’s not because you don’t want the human touch, but I don’t know that we need all that much of it anymore because it’s just robots are pretty gosh darn smart.

B2B Buyers Are People

Alex: How does that apply to B2B?

Adam: So I would argue that in 2022 and beyond, the lines between the two are basically gone. There used to be, and I’m thinking back five, seven years, a hard line, and you would say this is a B2C thing and this is a B2B thing.

And what was generally the difference? B2C would be exciting and fun and personable, and there be people and puppies running in fields. And B2B would have a button that says, If you are X, click here. However, if you are pursuant to Persona Y, click here. Our unique selling propositions are as follows. These are our value propositions. Would you like to contact us? Fill out this form and maybe we’ll get in touch.

The experience wasn’t great, it was soulless, and it was frankly boring because the chapter and verse was, “well B2B is boring because that’s B2B. Network A is for B2C. You could be exciting and fun there. Network B is for B2B. You know, that’s where you wear the suit. And sometimes if you’re crazy, you can wear a tan suit on Fridays.”

I don’t think that exists anymore. No, your B2B buyer is still a human. You’re B2B buyer is, you know, doing one thing from nine to five.

Any more of the world that we live in, it’s kind of like they’re doing one thing from like eight to eight-forty-five, and then the other thing from eight-forty-six until nine-oh-three, and then the kids are on the bus and then they’re working from nine-oh-four until like four-oh-four until they get off the bus.

And now all of a sudden they’re like, you know, running with the kids at home and also taking a meeting at seven. The lines are so blurred that the B2B experience needs to blend with the B2C experience because the B2B buyer is still a person, but the person is still a buyer. I don’t know that the two are possible to pull apart anymore.

Alex: And that’s how we end up with Matthew McConaughey and Salesforce ads at the Super Bowl.

Adam:  That is exactly how we end up with that. Yeah.

Alex: All right. So let’s talk about small budgets. How can the small companies or folks with smaller budgets, how can they offer up a UX experience that they can expect, or should expect?

Adam: Totally. And you’re hitting on a really important thing here, which is again back to the bank example, which is B2C, but I would argue it doesn’t really matter anymore. The traditional way was to basically ask a buyer or ask a user to forgive you for a small budget.We know we’re not the big bank, we’re the little guys. We all know what we’re getting at here. You need something we’re giving you that they can’t give you. The fact is, big budgets can give you a lot of that stuff, that level of service, that satisfaction that you know, frankly, you used to only be able to get from talking to a human being. So, the small budget needs to up their game, needs to offer at least a simulacrum of that automated experience. Fortunately, technology and the democratization of technology has helped here, right.

There are no code, low code, we talked about this last week, these types of tools that let you spin up anything from really deep web experiences to really engaging forms to automated chat bots that five, six, seven years ago would have cost thousands of dollars to do. Now they cost hundreds of dollars to do. What would have taken months to build and hard code, now take days or weeks to build and no code. So bringing that to bear and ultimately more than anything, putting yourself in the shoes of that buyer and thinking about what they want, not just what’s easy to build or what’s simple to build. Taking these tools and knowing that, you know, if the budget for Project X is $10,000, what can we do today in 2022 with $10,000 versus what could we do in 2018 with $10,000? Those answers aren’t the same, and being wholly unwilling in a perfect world to accept anything other than, this is an experience that will make the buyer smile, because we know again and I feel a little bad about it, but am I truly willing to forgive a kind of crappy experience, even though the people were nice? Part of me does, and part of me says, No, I’d rather sleep.

Alex: Yeah, the part of you that’s not a psychopath has empathy for other human beings. [Laughs]

Adam: Empathetic side. Good. Yeah, yeah. Do you like Huey Lewis in the news?

Alex: Uh, sure. Yeah. I mean, who doesn’t love Back to the Future?

Adam: Well, I have a raincoat for you. We’ll talk about that later. OK?

Buyer Personas & the B2B User Experience

Alex: Well, as we’re transitioning, let’s talk about personas, buyer personas and how that fits into the user experience.

Adam:  Oh, absolutely. The most important persona for a marketer is yourself. You, as the marketer. The second most important persona is anybody but yourself and the ability to remove yourself from the equation. You inevitably bring priors. You inevitably bring bias to the table. That dictates ultimately what you’re capable of and the core pads you’re going to go down. So you look at, say, a B2C agency versus a B2B agency. While there is a lot of overlap, the priors and the biases and the skill sets are different.

Now, one of the core skillsets there to that second persona of Not You, Literally Not Yourself, in that B2B agency, that’s where the magic really happens, right? Because you’re able to say, What does this user want? Who are they? What are they looking for? And they have a really nuanced view of that. Not just that they’re B2B, they care exclusively about dollars.Here’s an ROI calculator. You will save $11. Ours is $11 better, then they’re pleased by it now.

What do they actually want? What’s the emotional driver? What is the true problem they’re trying to solve? And not just what’s the true problem they’re trying to solve, but what would that mean to them?

So we had an example just yesterday, a meeting we were sitting in. A fantastic client and they offer a tool that at the end of the day, turns a 30 minute process into a 30 second process, right? The most important unit of time there isn’t 30 minutes or 30 seconds. It’s 29 minutes and 30 seconds because the person who’s saving that 29 minutes and 30 seconds, or the company whose people are saving that 29 minutes and 30 seconds don’t really care about that 30 seconds. It’s getting it done, right, and you’ve automated a process. You’ve done something fantastic. What is the person with that time saving is going to do? Are they going to go play with their kids? Are they going to go do something else or are they going to explore a passion? They’ve now learned to paint, fantastic.

What is the company going to do with that time? Well, I can now potentially hire fewer head counts here and more head counts here. I can reinvest my resources. I can look to grow the business in different ways.

So it’s not just about the math, it’s about the math and the emotional connection you’re making with that person. We, as the marketer, can get lazy sometimes and we can say, you know, is B2B, therefore, you know, it’s just a math problem to them. It’s not a math problem to anybody. That buyer is ultimately the most important thing. And delivering to them the experience and the evocative message that resonates with them is everything that’s really all that matters.

B2B Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

Alex: You throw around a phrase that we hear you say in the office. B2B doesn’t have to suck. What do you mean by that?

Adam: Just general casual swearing. That’s kind of my vibe. So that’s the hard fact, right? And it’s kind of the crude heart of it, but that’s the heart of it. Because again, it used to be we would say this is B2B.We all know it’s going to be a little boring, but that’s the game we’re all playing. Please forgive us.

It doesn’t and can’t be that way. You mentioned Matthew McConaughey on a Salesforce ad. OK, yeah, they’re Salesforce. And yeah, that’s a B2B ad.I don’t know that five years ago, Salesforce would have done that or someone like Salesforce would have done that. The fact of the matter is they’re understanding that probably every single Salesforce user in the United States was watching that game, and they need to create that emotional connection with Salesforce.Because what do you think of – and I’m not digging on Salesforce here, guys, you can hit me up on LinkedIn if you find me – what do you think of when you think of Salesforce, right?You think of big and soulless and boring, and there’s a lot of adjectives we throw around occasionally there dealing with it. So they’re looking to connect with that buyer, to evoke an emotion in that buyer, to say that, you know, maybe Salesforce isn’t necessarily what you think it is right now.There’s a lot of little guys out there in CRM and in service and in everything else Salesforce does, who are nipping at the heels and starting to deliver this B2C style experience in B2B. Right? Use Nimble. It’s kind of fun. Now, look nimble is kind of fun. Salesforce is recognizing that and you can see there at a macro cosmic level that they’re saying, “OK, we’ve done this hardcore B2B thing for long enough. We actually need to connect with the human beings on the other side of the screen.”

So Salesforce is a great example again, to go back to the very beginning of that massive company in delivering this highly automated experience, but still looking to make it good and make it feel good versus, you know, the little guys who were able to say, you know, I’m thinking of any number of automation platforms in CRMs that we deal with where I can literally call the guy who built the thing, right. At the end of the day, sometimes you choose Salesforce because the experience, while a little bit less personal, is still good on that B2C level. And they’re offering those hardcore B2B, you know, wins and those hard B2B value propositions that we all love because we all love marketing jargon.

So Matthew McConaughey commercial didn’t suck. B2B doesn’t have to suck. More than that, B2B doesn’t have to be boring because no one really likes boring. And ever since 2020, some things happened, we can take that offline. Ever since then, our lives are intertwined. Work and home aren’t all that different anymore. That is accelerated and driven this trend here in 2022 and beyond of the experience of the user being absolutely everything.

B2B Marketers: Put Yourself In Your Buyer’s Shoes

Alex: Where do we land this ship in regards to the average person on an everyday basis, thinking about where user experience is going in 2022.

Adam: Especially for the B2B market, right? And that’s who we’re talking to. I would urge every single one of them to stop and think, would I engage with this? Everything they do, every ad, every landing page, every form, every blog post, every tweet would. Would I do what I’m asking someone else to do here?

My hot button here is a learn more button. Would I click a learn more button? Probably not. Who’s what are you telling me with a button that says, Learn more?

Alex: I didn’t do enough on this page.

Adam: [Laughs] I didn’t think hard enough about this button. There’s nothing on the other end of this button. I know there’s supposed to be a button because I think there should be a button here and there might be another page.

Yeah, whatever screw it, it’s B2B, right? Fine. You’re going to do it anyway. You’re not. Would this drive your action? Would you be happy with this? If your answer is no, putting yourself in the mind of that buyer, you need to do something different.

And the beauty again, going back to the last week of low code, no code and a technological democratization (which is something I did just trip over. But Alex cut it out. It’s fantastic). The beauty there is that our budgets go further right and our ability to dream goes up. And our ability to create awesome stuff goes up and you have to create awesome stuff because user experience is everything. Because at the end of the day, B2B, B2C, B2B2C, B2G, B2D, I’m looking at the dog out there outside the window. Maybe he wants stuff as well. It’s about the user.

Alex: That’s a great place to land. Thanks, Adam, for being on the episode this week. And we’ll see you next time.

Adam: Thank you, Alex.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.