Users will give up on B2B software when they feel overwhelmed
Information overload can lead to stress and even stop people from taking action. That’s bad news for B2B software companies that depend on their customers to buy and use their products effectively. So how can these products avoid information overload and improve usage?
The key is in a digital product’s information architecture.
What is information architecture?
Information architecture is the hierarchy and structure of a website, software, or application’s pages and content.
The architecture sets different levels of importance and puts similar hierarchical information into logical groups. In this way, it creates the foundation of what-goes-where. From there, the information architecture informs the user where they need to navigate to find the information they are looking for. Good architecture will set users on a logical path to their desired destination, and ultimately their goals.
Why information architecture is important in B2B products
B2B software by nature must be flexible and scalable. Platforms end up becoming complex system with an ever expanding library of features. B2B software must quickly show value to customers. Many platforms try to do this is by giving users as broad overview of the product as early as possible.
Here’s the issue: for first time users, there is an overwhelming amount of information they suddenly need to learn. Even when coming from competitor software, proprietary elements become a hurdle that users must overcome in order to be effective.
Unlike a B2C product, B2B software has a different context for its users. It’s often used in the context of a job, and that typically means it must also make the user more efficient. You can read more about the difference between B2B and B2C here.
Flexibility allows users to keep their individual methods of executing tasks. However, without some limits, users may become more confused than comfortable. Dropping a user into a platform without direction sets them up for frustration and failure, especially when given a wide range of tools to choose from.
When the user has to stop and figure out what to do next, this compounds their cognitive load. Cognitive overload is when the user becomes too inundated with information, that they become frustrated and confused on their next steps. This usually leads to giving up on the platform.
Common forms of cognitive overload in B2B software
Giving the user everything they want, immediately
It’s tempting to give users everything they could need in only a few screens. The logic behind it may be to limit any pauses in trying to figure out navigation. If every kind of user that could potentially use the platform gets their starting tools, it might stand to reason that all users are being set up for success. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is that users are given a plethora of tools and no point to start from. They get overwhelmed with the choices and information to take in.
While users expect a learning curve when introduced to new software, they should not be expected to understand the product upon entry. Basic actions should be given priority in prominence and importance to give users a starting point to work from. From there, more advanced users can dig in and discover more features that others do not need or want to know.
Information architecture comes into play by making the first steps of a task more accessible. An example of this is making the first step of a key task a clear call-to-action on the landing or home page.
Multiple ways to get from point A to point B
Navigation systems such as bars, side-menus, and drawers create compact ways for users to access information or complete their next task. When users complain that they cannot find their next step, it is common for a platform to provide more than one way to get there.
However, when you combine several types of navigation with multiple ways to get from point A to point B, it creates more of a traffic jam than a solution. Using more than several ways to navigate puts a strain on a user’s cognitive load. On top of this, the load is made worse with more than one path for various tasks. The platform becomes a game of snakes and ladders.
A set of navigation systems with clear hierarchy of information gives users the subtle hints on where to go. These systems act as a guide without popups and extensive documentation. Systems that users can subconsciously follow are common systems that everyone has familiarity with.
An example: a system that users are already familiar with is “file – edit – extras – help” on the upper left-hand of the window. If a user wishes to save their work, the most common place to find that would be under “file.” Consistent navigation patterns help subconsciously guide a user to their goal, and can be more effective than creating more hard-to-understand paths.
Lack of onboarding and guidance
Even with an extensively tested platform, some groups of users can still get lost and frustrated enough to leave. Despite your best efforts, groups that you hope to bring to the platform may feel it’s not usable. Documentation is available, but users don’t find it helpful to complete their tasks. The platform may simply not match their mental model. However, this does not mean this group of users is impossible to sway.
Additional help and documentation should be accessible at any time during their journey. Icons or popups should be especially visible at key points to complete a task. More advanced users should be able to skip or ignore the extra help. The platform can widen its scope of potential users by creating clear paths for the main tasks.
A good example is when a platform gives a skippable tutorial to set you up. The guidance informs users on what kind of mental model they need to use to be successful. Meanwhile, the advanced users can skip the tutorial and get straight to more complex functions. In the event that the advanced user needs to go back and learn what was taught in the tutorial, they should have easy access to documentation.
Reduce the cognitive load
Good information architecture is crucial for B2B products. In order for users to feel comfortable and efficient, they should not feel blocked by cognitive overload. While it may be tricky to ease users into a large amount of data and complex functions, good UX can guide anyone – from the expert to the layman – to complete their tasks. Complexity and flexibility can coexist with the right guidance.