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Former Member


Some of you might have noticed that the SAP HANA Marketplace has undergone a transformation in recent times, and having been instrumental in bringing about that metamorphosis, I thought that it might be useful to share some anecdotes about the process followed and the trials and tribulations encountered along the way.

What the Marketplace looks like now:

What it looked like in July 2013:

The HANA Marketplace was in need of an overhaul for various reasons, low engagement and conversion levels being the main grouses. Given that I headed UX at (one of India’s largest e-commerce companies) prior to joining SAP, I was assigned to lead the effort of conceptualising a new avatar (this did NOT preempt the blue palette that the site sports now!) for the Marketplace. My fellow conspirators were Feifei Wang (UX Designer), Franklin Herbas (Product Management), Vivek Bhanuprakash (Development Architect), and Ramshankar Venkatasubramanian (Development Manager). We also collaborated with colleagues from the SAP Store team and Hybris, who eventually took our design recommendations to fruition.

Before going any further, this piece should (notwithstanding my unrefined blogging skills) pique the curiosity of folks who are interested in online retail in general, and B2B e-commerce in particular. It should also be of some interest to the design fraternity within and outside SAP, as I’ve diligently adhered to the design thinking / user-centred design process as much as possible during the course of this project. Some of the ideas concerning the bundling and packaging of SAP products and services (covered in Part Three) might be relevant to SAP Sales and Account Executives.

This blog post is broken down into four parts to facilitate easier ingestion and prevent information anxiety:

Part One: Introducing Tina Ross talks about building empathy and understanding the users of the Marketplace;

Part Two: Changing the Game addresses the definition of the problem statement and requirements, and the initial ideation that took place thereafter;

Part Three: Framing the Wires continues with more anecdotes from the ideation phase, and then delves deeper into the translation of those ideas to designs;

Part Four: Painting the Future presents the final designs delivered at the end of this project iteration, and discusses potential next steps.

So who is Tina Ross, anyway?

Designing a product experience without understanding your users is like preparing a gourmet meal while knowing absolutely nothing about whom you’ve invited over. Food allergies aside, the absence of this vital information is likely to hamper your creativity and imagination, compelling you to dish out something mundane and “regular” as a safe bet. Therefore, with the caveat that there are always exceptions, I submit that not knowing your users limits your potential to innovate. And you can quote me.

A fundamental tenet of design thinking is that not only is it important to empathise with your users, but also to understand their intent. A persona is a tried and tested way of encapsulating all that you know about your users, but design theory fine print warns that it is to be used with caution. Being fictitious, a persona can very easily average out several nuances that define living, breathing people. Many consumer product companies don’t invest in creating flesh and blood personas from user research. Instead, they create highly data-driven ones, arrived at by clustering customers' behavioural and transactional data. In the enterprise world, the dearth of meaningful customer and usage metrics makes this difficult, and designers need to depend on user research and subject matter experts to craft accurate personas.

In my experience, personas definitely help in creating a shared understanding of users across stakeholders and organisational silos, and impress upon all concerned that “this is whom we are designing for”. If they are based on actual findings from scientifically conducted user research, they serve as a communication vehicle for hitherto undocumented user needs, workarounds, or pet peeves. All of this leads to more informed design thinking.


Before this becomes an insufferable treatise on personas, let’s get back to the Marketplace.

The first design iteration was to focus on redesigning the product-buying experience on the Marketplace, and therefore our persona hypothesis was based on the B2B buyer (there were negligible B2C transactions). With the help of Account Executives, we reached out to folks who discharged this role at a few SAP customer companies in order to understand their goals, needs, and pain points first-hand. We conducted interviews with them, asking them to take us through their most recent buying experiences, the information that they needed, the difficulties that they faced, how they arrived at a consensus, and whom they collaborated with. (If you are planning your own user research, and would like to have a look at our interview question guide, do feel free to contact me.) We also spoke with purchasing folks from within SAP, since they matched our hypothesis too, and their responses corroborated what the other users had said previously.

The interviews were enlightening and validated several of our assumptions, and gave us an idea of the mental model of the B2B buyer. Trying out a product prior to purchase was of paramount importance to her. Another key revelation was that the person evaluating a product in an enterprise is not usually the one who ultimately buys it. In fact, the B2B buying process is essentially a flow involving several roles; from initiators, to influencers, to deciders, and finally purchasers, all of whom are personas we needed to consider. We obviously could not design a single solution for all, and decided to prioritise our personas based on the extent to which they would use the Marketplace.

Here are the personas we identified, withthe B2B purchase flow alongside:

In any case, as mentioned earlier, we were only addressing the “buying experience” on the Marketplace in this first iteration – the “selling experience” would be covered in the next. Based on both primary (interviews with buyers, both internal and external) and secondary research (there is considerable material available on the Internet regarding the buying process in enterprise) Tina Ross was born.

Note: there was no special reason for her name, although this can often be an interesting problem for designers. One of the most memorable (and funny) names I have chosen for a persona has been “B. I. Joe”. No coincidence that this was for a Business Intelligence product!

We then crafted scenarios that depicted various entry points for Tina to reach the Marketplace. She could do this by directly keying in the URL in her browser’s address bar, from a search result, an advertisement, or more interestingly, through an in-app notification if she is already an SAP solution user, and finally, she could reach the Marketplace from the vibrant SAP Community Network (SCN).

Here are some examples:

And that concludes Part One. Hope you found the insights above interesting. I would love to hear back from you, so do feel free append your feedback and comments below.

Coming up in Part Two: Changing the Game – how we defined our problem statement, and came up with a list of game-changers for the new Marketplace!

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