User Research

What is user research?

User research is an umbrella term that can refer to a wide array of discovery and validation methods. Product teams leverage user research continuously to identify, design, and implement product improvements, validate new solutions, and make iterative design and experience improvements to their products. Specific tactics can involve anything from usability testing to customer interviews, but the common ground across all these systems is that they are all a means to gain valuable insight into your users. 

User research can help product teams better understand their users and target customers in a number of ways such as:

  • Digging into the why behind their behaviors and interactions within your product
  • Gaining a deeper understanding of their pain points and desired solutions to them
  • Unpacking where friction points may exist within your product and identifying how to solve for them

Why is user research important for B2B SaaS?

User research can help you stay in tune with your customers’ needs throughout your product lifecycle. Consistent validation through this research can help product teams not only keep a pulse on customer needs but also ensure their solutions will truly solve the customer problems they are intended to solve. At its highest level, these customer research efforts help answer some important questions about both potential users (prospects) and existing ones.

  • How is our target audience currently solving the problem we want to resolve? And how well are those solutions performing?
  • What is the outcome prospects expect when they first set out to try our product?
  • What are the jobs our users leverage our product to do? How well are we solving for the jobs to be done?
  • How is our user base leveraging our product? (Is it how we intend them to, OR is it completely different than expected?)
  • What do our users wish they could do with our product? What is preventing them from doing that?

Research helps us understand that we are not our users while helping defeat cognitive biases. Availability bias, for example, is a dangerous phenomenon for product managers; it involves coming to conclusions and making decisions based on immediately available information. Basing your product decisions on your own opinion or data that is easily accessible rather than concrete, well-researched information is a slippery slope, and user research can help with that.

User research methods and tools

There are numerous user research methods out there, and each method has unique value drivers that reveal unmet needs and opportunities for product improvements. Before you determine which user research method to use, you must articulate exactly what it is that you’re trying to learn.

Breaking user research into qualitative and quantitative methods is a great jumping-off point to help better determine which techniques fit your business use case.

  • Qualitative user research methods are exploratory by nature and try to aim to grasp a thorough understanding of end users’ behaviors and day-to-day activities. For example, customer interviews and focus groups or in-app feedback both allow you to draw out collective challenges and better determine what features are important to your users.
  • Quantitative user research methods seek out concrete numbers for statistical analysis to better understand user behavior at scale. A/B testing or most forms of assessment research are great ways to attain quantitative data.

More specific user research methods include:

Surveys and micro surveys

A well-constructed user survey is a scalable way to collect customer feedback. They allow product teams to sample a broad audience at low cost, but yield high returns and actionable insights (a user research team’s dream!) The benefits of conducting surveys are boundless, but to name a few:

  • Reach. In terms of user research, surveys are a relatively low effort, high yielding tactic. Surveys are specifically designed to reach and report on broad audiences’ characteristics and opinions. 
  • Cost. Once a survey has been produced, it can be reused with multiple target audience segmentations over and over again. Allowing your team to aggregate results with an extremely low incremental cost.
  • Flexibility. Email, through a SaaS tool, mobile, or face-to-face — there are endless distribution tactics when administering surveys so get creative and find out what works best for your audience.  

A/B Testing

An A/B test intends to compare and contrast the performance of two variants against one another, the end goal being to identify the best-performing option. A/B tests are a valuable tool in the product management arsenal because they produce immediate results that are simple to analyze and deliver concrete results through engagement.

Heatmaps and screen recordings

By following along your users’ journey in your product you discover their workflows, navigation patterns, and ultimately how they interact with key features in your product. This method helps you answer some crucial user research questions so you can better understand user behaviors.

  • What do your users actually want from your product?
  • What features or workflows do they find cumbersome?
  • What functionalities and features do they truly care about?

When should you conduct user research?

User research is useful throughout the product development cycle. Whether you’re deciding what to build next, validating a customer challenge or potential solution, or when determining if a design is intuitive or not — all these points (and more) are excellent opportunities to validate with user research.

User research questions

When it comes to qualitative user research, asking open-ended questions is critical. It allows you to dig deeper into the challenges, workflows, and opportunities within your product or service all while building a healthy relationship with your users.

Each step of the user research journey requires a diverse set of questions. Ranging from feature-specific questions when you’re trying to discover a users’ intent and sentiment on specific functionality all the way down to product reaction questions when the prospect has become a user. Here are some examples of questions to help keep the conversation going, several provided by the research of Sarah Doody.

Feature specific questions

By further inquiring further about specific features and challenges you’ll inevitably discover more about your users’ wants and needs and discover even more about the problems your business is trying to solve.

  • What problems does this feature help alleviate?
  • How satisfied are you with this feature?
  • How important is this feature to you? 
  • What is your main goal when using this product/feature? And to take it a step further, what challenges are you trying to solve?

Product opportunities questions

User research can help identify opportunities to improve upon current features and it can help determine what challenges are worth solving next (and thus, what features to build next).

  • What do you wish you could do/accomplish with our product that you are currently unable to?
  • If you could change anything about our product currently, what would it be?
  • Why do you think someone would use this feature/product?
  • What are the barriers to entry for this product/service?

Product reaction questions

Checking in with users after they’ve been using your product is a crucial component of building a long-lasting customer relationship. 

  • What is most appealing about this product/service?
  • How could we improve upon this product/service?
  • Does our product/service help you meet your goals?

User research is crucial at almost every point of the product development lifecycle. As a product manager, the better you understand your end users the better you’ll serve them, and ultimately, the better your product will be. There are a plethora of tools, tactics, and methods to help you along the way, so start learning from your users today and kickstart your user research process.