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Adapting UX Strategies for B2B

In the modern digital age, user experience (UX) has proven to generate business value by producing innovative, desirable offerings in a crowded marketplace. Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) approaches have recognized the lasting impact of delivering seamless, intuitive, and tailored experiences to their customers. However, UX can generate the same amount of value for a Business-to-Business (B2B) transaction, though the approach and intricacies differ. Let’s look at a common B2B practice such as bulk ordering, and explore how we can target a new type of customer to produce a valuable, desirable solution.

UX differences from D2C → B2B

First, we need to understand the differences between B2B and D2C users to create a strong foundation for our experience. D2C consumers, for instance, may begin their journey from personal needs, emotional triggers, or even spontaneous impulses. Easy product discovery, vivid imagery and detailed product pages, and clearly written marketing and promotional content are key to winning their business. B2B purchasers, however, operate differently. Their buying choices are meticulously motivated by business requirements, looking at factors such as return on investment, operational efficiency, and the overarching long-term benefits to the company.

Another noteworthy distinction lies in order size and frequency. The B2B model often sees companies placing much larger orders on a more frequent basis than a D2C customer purchasing for an individual or family. These B2B orders can come with intricate specifications or customizations, and this complexity requires a more specialized toolset. A B2B user needs to rapidly generate and repeat these details along with an order, possibly including technical diagrams or schematics. B2B users will also require a much higher level of precision for order status and tracking than a D2C customer. This may even involve details of which warehouses nearby have the appropriate stock levels, and the ability to automatically reorder critical components.

The B2B realm also prizes ongoing relationships built on regular communication, unwavering support, and a dedication to meeting their evolving needs. To foster this relationship, you must be proactive as a business. Provide a streamlined ordering process that prioritizes an intuitive interface to handle the high level of supporting data around any given transaction. Including the ability for your customers to upload their own purchase orders can reduce errors, and allowing manual line-entry for new products in an order can greatly speed up the process compared to traditional product navigation.

Transparency is king for B2B information as well. All pricing should be provided up front, including clear structures for volume / bulk discount pricing, as well as the ability to receive instant quotes for any specialty orders. Items that come packaged in a large quantity should be clearly identified and it should be communicated how these kits are structured when ordered. Dedicated support channels, either over the phone or over chat, will greatly increase trust and satisfaction during the ordering process.

Design in Practice

Recently, TMG worked with one of our clients, a construction manufacturing company, to redesign their parts ordering experience to maximize speed and flexibility of bulk ordering with the above requirements in mind.

Our user research determined that users did not clearly prefer one single method of bulk ordering, so we chose to support three types of bulk orders:

  1. File Upload
    File upload is one of the most common forms of bulk order, though careful consideration was made to minimize the user error rate. We provided order templates for the user to download to ensure that data was correctly formatted. Because the system supported multiple file types (i.e. CSV and XLSX), one template per file type could be downloaded directly from the file upload control.This meant the user could operate in their preferred format/program without having to rely on an additional export or conversion step. If the downloadable template includes placeholder data to communicate formatting information, it is important that the upload system recognizes that data as invalid and automatically eliminates it from the order. This saves the user the step of having to delete the placeholder data in the template.
  2. Direct Line Entry
    Research revealed that a subset of users preferred to operate almost exclusively using the keyboard to enter either a memorized set of part numbers or numbers being referenced from physical paperwork at their desk. We set up direct line entry to be flexible enough to accommodate both mouse and keyboard users. As keyboard users tab their way through part number and quantity cells, rather than requiring users to manually choose to add a line to their order, the order form grows dynamically, automatically adding a line below the user’s current active cell.The system dynamically checks part numbers for validity in formatting, though avoids the more technologically expensive process of final validation for stock and obsolescence. When the form is submitted for the final validation step, the system simply ignores any trailing empty cells.
  3. Saved Carts
    Users often repeat the same order many times for standard stock orders. By allowing users to save carts with custom names into the parts portal, we supported their ability to re-order common sets of parts with ease.When users order based on a saved cart, they are given the opportunity to make changes to the order only a single time, or to propagate their changes back to the saved cart. This allows carts to easily remain up to date as parts become obsolete.
Drag & drop functionality for UX B2B strategy

Regardless of the bulk order method the user choses, they are then sent to a critical step in the order process unique to B2B: Validation. (We’ll tackle validation in an upcoming article. If you want to be alerted when it comes out, sign up for TMG Insights emails below.) Our client is currently using these B2B UX strategies to optimize the ordering experience for their customers. Instead of forcing a new, unfamiliar way of ordering onto their customer base, they’ve listened to and evaluated the common ways they operate and redesigned with them at top of mind.

Best Practices

As we have seen, B2B UX requires more than just adopting the standard D2C practices. It requires an in-depth understanding of the unique demands, motivations, and challenges of B2B purchasers. Especially in scenarios like bulk ordering, the right UX can not only facilitate smoother transactions but also foster lasting business relationships. A thoughtfully crafted B2B UX strategy can lead to increased efficiency, satisfied clients, and elevated sales. It’s an investment that yields rich dividends in the form of long-term partnerships and sustained growth.

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Jenn Daugherty
Jenn Daugherty
September 14, 20236 minute read
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