When I mention to someone that I conduct UX research for an enterprise software company, there are always a lot of questions about what that means.
In my early days learning about the field, I associated UX with products that I use everyday—like ecommerce, social media, and apps. Little did I know that the world of UX encompasses different product categories, of which everyday consumer products are just a subset!
In this article, I discuss some aspects of being a UXR in a SaaS (software as a service) and enterprise software company, highlighting some of the unique challenges.
A SaaS company builds and sells software, continues to iterate on it, and provides technical support to business clients on the software. Especially when it comes to enterprise-level SaaS organizations, conducting research in this space is unique in several ways.
1. Onboarding and learning about the product
When I start work in a new space, I always think about how I would explain the product to someone who has no experience with it. It’s easier to explain a consumer product company to others since it may already be common knowledge. They don’t need to learn any new information to make sense of the product.
When I mention SaaS, the ensuing discussion is longer and requires several more layers of explanations before the other person completely understands this product space. Learning about SaaS involved a steeper learning curve in terms of understanding jargon, the functionality of the product and the business dimensions of the product space.
To orient myself, I used a combination of different techniques including:
Search company archives to scour and find any information relevant to my product space.
- Product documentation to better understand the product and its features
- Previous research led by design, product, research, and other relevant teams
Approach cross-functional collaborators to understand their role and involvement with the product—and also provide an “elevator pitch” style summary of the product space.
These questions helped me onboard onto my product:
- Could you explain the product and its key functions to me?
- Is there a demo I can access to view it from the users’ lens?
- Is there a product roadmap I can take a look at to understand priorities?
- Are there any jargon/product-specific lingo I should be aware of?
Understand more about the target user(s).
- Who are our target personas?
- How do we go about recruiting our target personas?
- Do we have any screening material/criteria that has been tested and was successful in recruiting our target users?
Reviews/customer log data
Understand what users are saying about the product.
- Search Reddit threads about the product, online reviews, and social media posts
- Contact customer service and sales reps for the product within the company to understand common pain points
2. Work with industry-specific users
Understanding the specific roles around different users within the SaaS space will help you provide the best UXR services possible.
In an enterprise software world, the end user refers to the person who uses the front-end software interface. They may not necessarily be the person making the buying decisions.
Here’s an example to illustrate this: At your workplace, you’re often assigned a set of tools like Microsoft Teams and Outlook to manage work. The decision to implement these tools is made by the customer (the one who makes the purchase decisions). However, the tools are ultimately used by the employees in a company.
The end user is able to answer questions related to usability, ways of working in their org, and provide feedback on the front-end experience of your product.
These are implementation partners who help configure the software for the entire business. They are responsible for deploying the software to all employees, and configuring and customizing it to the needs of individual teams and the org.
Platform administrators also triage any issues that users might encounter while using the software. Their role is to ensure the smooth implementation of the software.
The platform administrators might help uncover issues related to backend configuration, customizations and personalization, platform implementation issues and integrations with existing tools.
This group is responsible for assessing business priorities and making decisions related to purchasing the product. They sit higher up in the company and communicate tooling and software purchase decisions to others in the org.
Buyers and customers may or may not directly use the product, but closely monitor any business decisions around purchasing the product and any add-ons. They likely interface the most with the marketing/sales/outbound product teams at the software company.
This group of users can help answer questions about purchase decisions, additional business software needs, business directives, and strategic vision related to tooling for a company.
While not unique to the enterprise software space, companies often build tools for their own employees. Researchers assigned to conduct research for internal tools often don’t interface with external users.
The groups of users they focus on are employees of the same company that they are a part of. The internal user is able to answer questions about workplace enhancements, optimization of work experience, and pain points with the current set of tools that they are using.
3. Be aware of recruiting challenges
A SaaS company can have a variety of different users with different recruitment requirements. Having worked across consumer and enterprise products, recruiting users in the enterprise space comprises several additional steps.
Users and customers
Since users for an enterprise product are other businesses, each business account is managed by a solution consultant(s) and sales executives.
Prior to engaging a customer for research, we seek approval from these teams associated with the individual customer accounts.
Reaching the end user
Most often, when recruiting enterprise customers through our own channels, we reach out to a point of contact within the company. However, additional snowball recruiting techniques might be required to reach the intended target user for a study.
For example, if an HR coordinator is your target persona for a study involving enterprise software, the first point-of-contact in your company would likely be the buyer or administrator. You would then ask them to put you in touch with someone who fits the target persona for your study.
Future user/persona based recruitment
This is similar to recruiting users in a consumer products space where you could recruit from popular panels like user interviews, but may also require additional approvals interacting with customers who don’t have access to the SaaS product.
For example, if you conduct a usability test with intended users for an enterprise software product that has not yet been launched, there might be some additional steps required in order for these users to gain access to a demo or prototype.
4. Double check non-compete agreements
Competitive analysis is commonly used to benchmark and compare experiences across similar products. With consumer products, a lot of the experiences are publicly accessible without a subscription, which makes it easy to conduct this analysis.
However, most products in a SaaS company are pay-for-use and therefore not publicly available to interact with. Such products most likely require a paid subscription in addition to creating an account.
Even with these limitations, it is possible to conduct competitive analysis for a SaaS company product by accessing publicly available information about the competitors’ products. Some common ways to access this are:
- YouTube demos that describe releases and features of competitor products
- Images or videos from knowledge base articles online
- Third-party articles (Gartner reports) that describe a product’s features
- Competitor websites that provide product/feature description
Although the nuts and bolts of the research process might look identical across product spaces, this article highlights some unique aspects of working within the enterprise software space.
If you’re starting work in this space, invest time learning the language of the enterprise product, experience the product as a user, and understand the problem that the product is trying to solve for users. Approaching projects from this mindset will make all the difference.
Preeti is a UX Researcher with a passion for understanding human behavior. She made the jump to UX after graduating with a PhD in Social Sciences. She is most excited about trends in design-research methods and specializes in mixed-methods research.
As a UX researcher, she is enthusiastic about advocating for the voice of the user throughout the design lifecycle. She also has a deep-seated passion for incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion at all stages of the design process.