Understanding User-Types in B2B Service Design


This article explores different user-types in B2B Service Design. It will give you an overview of who you are designing your B2B service for, how user-types are interrelated and what role emotional and social jobs play in the B2B context.

In a consecutive article, I will introduce you to a B2B Persona-Framework you can use to gain a vivid impression of those user-types and how to find the right way to prototype for those personas. Let’s start!

The B2B Ocean and the Consumer Shore

Before diving into user-types, let’s take a look at B2B-Services in a broader context and how they interplay with B2C.

B2B services are services dedicated to help other companies and its employees do a better job. There is a complex network relationship between B2B Services but ultimately they are headed towards the consumer shore, with the last business in line offering B2C.

 Value Streams in B2B and B2C

Value Streams in B2B and B2C

So while value is created through the interplay of the B2B Network and washed downstream towards the consumer shore, some of that value is captured back from consumers in the form of cash and washed back upstream into the B2B Network. Double-sided business models instead aim for surrogate valuables from consumers, especially personal data. This data is again used in the B2B context for new monetizable offerings to consumers.

It is an interesting thought experiment which of the green dots above your business represents. Highly specialized B2B Service companies might want to look beyond the next green dot and analyze it’s customer’s customers. Finding out their needs enables them to improve their offering and create more value to its next-in-line customers. If you look sideways you might find other business customers with similar needs than your existing ones that you could potentially address.

User-Types to Design a B2B Service for

B2B services have some similarities and some fundamental differences to their B2C counterparts. A similarity is the jobs your service needs to fulfill:

  • You have to find a way to make users opt in to your service
  • You have to keep users engaged in using your service continuously and
  • You have to make it easy to fulfill other tasks, that make your service worth the while, for example administration.
 One User in B2C (blue), Serveral User-Types in B2B Services (green)

One User in B2C (blue), Serveral User-Types in B2B Services (green)

In designing B2C services these jobs are typically targeted towards one single user who is your customer at the same time. B2B services inherently have a higher complexity in that you are dealing with more than one user-type to target. A typical pattern is the devision between the person who makes the investment decision and the end users of your service. And since there are usually multiple end users to deal with, you will often find an administrator that takes care of user accounts, keeps track of the usage of the service, synthesizes the outcome of usage, onboards new employees to the system, and so forth. The service you are designing might touch even more user-types than those three, but here I will stick to them for simplicity.

Take Slack as an example: At Service Innovation Labs new employees are onboarded to Slack on their first day. We have a “Slackinator” role in our organizational structure that implements new extensions, programs the Slackbot, identifies unused channels to archive, and teaches users about new features and best practices to use Slack. The investment decision on the other hand is made by the finance role that demands evidence of the usefulness of Slack in order to make an upgrade decision and maintain a paid plan.

It is easy to overlook other user-types in touch with your service apart from the end user. After all, they are the ones you mostly had in mind when you identified the problem to solve. However, exceptional services are designed around all the important user-types they touch. They acknowledge that all of them — the users, the deciders and the administrators — have different jobs to accomplish with plenty of pain points to overcome. Make sure you identify the most important user groups with their jobs, pains and gains and design your service accordingly.

B2B is not only about Functional Jobs

More often than not, a B2B service’s value proposition is designed around cost savings, efficiency gains and productivity. They provide a way to fulfill a task better, quicker, cheaper or more effective then was previously possible by its users. This may culminate in a make-or-buy decision for the customer, for example when the implementation of a third party API at a monthly rate is cheaper compared to the costs of developing an maintaining the same feature with your own staff. This is a typical example of a functional job to fulfill.

 Functional, Emotional & Social/Career Jobs in B2B Services

Functional, Emotional & Social/Career Jobs in B2B Services

Bear in mind though, that you are dealing with humans who inherently have emotional and social jobs, needs and problems, with social jobs often amounting to career advancing jobs in the B2B context.

Designing your B2B service with these jobs in mind may very well set you apart from other services competing to create the same functional value for your users-types. Had Slack only been designed around a functional value proposition of spreading information quickly within teams of an organization it may well have looked like a bonified e-mail client. Instead Slack is playful, customizable and extremely fun to use, catering to both, the emotional and social aspects of its end users’ jobs (my favorite: their /shrug shortcut ¯\_(ツ)_/¯).

On the other hand, in a B2B context your users are more likely to be accustomed to a certain workflow. If your service is disrupting that workflow it will be likely met with skepticism and disapproval. This resilience to change is a natural emotional response you should consider if you want to avoid poor adoption among your targeted users. So be sure you either study and respect your users workflows or — if the workflow disruption is a desired outcome of your service — make it explicit, highlight the gains of the changes and make the transition as smooth as possible. Twist, a competitor to Slack, does exactly that, highlighting that constant notifications keep you from focussing on your actual job. With their solution, they are aiming at a change in your workflow to make you even more productive.

Here are some other exemplary social and emotional jobs we found in the B2B context:

  • a team leader wants to shine with a highly productive team (career)
  • an employee is afraid to fail at a task he has never done before (emotional, career)
  • a founder of a growing startup wants to avoid losing touch with her employees and wants to appear approachable, generous and likable (social)
  • an intern needs to gain some confidence before his first presentation in front of the whole team (emotional)
  • a web designer wants to use the latest design tools, so she feels up to date when she talks with her college friends (social)
  • a decider wants ease of mind when making an investment decision (emotional).

Interrelations between User-Types

The user-types you are designing for are socially interrelated through their organizational structure. The relationship will vary strongly depending on the type, size, growth rate, culture and many more aspects of the company you are designing for.


 Interrelations between User-Types

Interrelations between User-Types

Those relationships are thus hard to nail, but if you do, you may find great leverage for adoption, conversion and retention of your service. The focal point of investigating the relationships between your user-types is identifying the “Champion”  - a person at your target company that acts as an inside sales person on your behalf.

For example, if you get one end user to use your service at work for free, you may gain a huge proponent inside his organization. He may show it to other potential end users and push his team lead — the decider — to upgrade to the paid plan, so work is more easily shared among the team (if you run on a freemium business model).

Similarly, investment decisions for more utilitarian services may be driven by an administrator, who is frustrated with the poor performance of an analysis function or end user onboarding process.

Your User-Types have different Timeframes

When thinking about the touchpoints with your different user-types, you should consider different timeframes they have with your service. If the timeframes vary a lot among your user-types it makes sense to make separate user journeys for each of them. This helps you focus on the job, the individual user-type has to perform at a specific point in time.

The investment decision may be a one-off event in case of a purchase or a yearly or monthly reoccurring event in case of subscription services.

The administrator may use your service only, when new employees are on-boarded or leaving employees are off-boarded, or they may do monthly maintenance or data extraction.

If you achieve good traction, your end-users will hopefully use your service every day, several times a day or even continuously during the day, like our time tracking tool Harvest.

 User-Types and their Timeframes

User-Types and their Timeframes


This article was exploring user-types based on practical experiences gained in B2B Service Design. It briefly looked at the value streams of a B2B network and explored the different user-types that make B2B services inherently more complex then B2C. Furthermore, it touched the user-types’ functional, emotional, social and career jobs, the intertwined relationships between them and the different timeframes you should consider in designing your service.

My next article is building on these insights about user-types and explores how to craft vivid personas for them. Make sure to follow SI Labs on Facebook and Twitter and read our blog in order to do not miss the next or any further great articles!