Historically, there has been a distinction between business-to-consumer (B2C) software and business-to-business (B2B) software, but in recent years, the line between the two has fast been fading, if not disappearing completely. Enterprise employees have grown accustomed to the easy-to-use apps they enjoy before, after — even during — their workdays, such as Gmail, Spotify and Snapchat.
At the start of the year, I predicted that 2019 would be a big year for the consumerization of enterprise software and the emergence of what I call B2BC (business-to-business-consumer) software. The premise? That what B2B vendors have long referred to as end users are, in fact, consumers in a business setting. I find that, particularly with generational changes in the workforce happening right now, those consumers are expecting the same intuitive experience and ability to learn new software by tapping, dragging and playing around that they do from their mobile phone apps, with no training, owner’s manual or coding required. For evidence of this trend in action, you need only look at now-popular business software like Slack, Trello, Unbounce and others.
Traditional enterprise vendors who ignore this trend and don’t prioritize employee-driven design in their business software decisions, do so at their peril because:
• The workforce of today is a generation apart from only a decade ago, with more consumer, mobile and app-based software experience.
• Consumerized enterprise software means less training, a rapid learning curve and maximum adoption.
• Word of mouth is key, as increasingly mobile employees move from company to company recommending the software they know and trust to get the job done.
• B2BC software, designed with the end user in mind, will naturally scale across the enterprise to other departments if they offer proven value and quick wins, both a function of a great user experience.
The latter point I often refer to as the usability value chain, as from my experience, there is a direct relationship between software usability and the success of the software. For example, the more users adopt budgeting and forecasting software (the example I can relay most directly) both within and beyond the finance department, the more finance will be able to deliver accurate and trusted forecasts. The more accurate those forecasts, the more management and other departments will recognize the value of the finance function and the software it uses. The more wins finance chalks up with accurate forecasts, the more likely other departments will adopt the software for sales, HR and revenue forecasting, just to name a few.
In an increasingly noisy enterprise software marketplace, delivering a consumer-grade user experience will undoubtedly set some providers apart from the crowd. In my experience, B2B consumers are far less willing to “just deal” with outdated or overly complex tools at work. If employees don’t like using a certain tool, adoption rates will be low, business consumers will find workarounds to avoid it, and the software may well be phased out without ever realizing its value.
The past decade has seen the lines quickly blur between B2B and B2C software, almost to the point of irrelevance. The apps employees are using in their personal lives are infiltrating the workplace, and with that comes a shift in expectations. It’s imperative that software provides both the required functionality, as well as a consumerized experience for adoption — the two defining elements of B2BC software.
Ultimately, enterprise software end users should be seen as the business consumers they are. Vendors who ignore this reality could lose out on user adoption, company-wide recognition, executive buy-in and, possibly, their own longevity.