I walked into a 50,000-person company not too long ago, to talk to them about some software for a business process transformation. When I started talking about usability and end users, as I always do, their feedback–straight up–was, “We don’t care about the end user. They do not get a vote in the process.”

Most companies aren’t that blatant about it, but that’s really where their heads are. Sadly, this is true of buyers and vendors alike.

For almost any type of software you can think of, end users make up ninety-nine percent of the user base. Yet most vendors architect enterprise applications for the 1 percent of people in the company who are trained specialists, not the other ninety-nine percent who will have to transact in the system. End users are the 99-percenters of the B2B world. And everybody is OK with this?

I think it’s dead wrong. The end user is the key to success in all your IT and business transformation objectives.In my experience, businesses consistently underestimate the negative financial impact of the end user not being engaged.

This is how most of my sales calls start:

One of the first questions I ask is, “What are you trying to accomplish? What are your success criteria?”

The prospective buyer will say something like, “ My executives need visibility, and I need to be able to enforce and analyze compliance, see how much we’re buying and what we’re paying.”

I say, “Okay, can you do that today?”

“No, that’s why we’re talking to you.”

“Why can’t you do that today?”

“Because the data’s bad.”

“You know why the data’s bad?”


“Because ninety-nine percent of your organization isn’t using the system you have in place. If you look at your success criteria and you work backwards to where the process begins, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it begins with an end user out in the field, and the end user isn’t using the system.”

Perhaps 99% is an exaggeration, but in most situations I see, probably only twenty percent of the user population actively uses any application, costing companies untold amounts of money.

Feature-function is never the problem. Most of the large companies I talk to have already bought all of the feature-function that my space, spend management, has to offer. I suspect they’ve done the same with their other software as well. The problem is that they don’t own the hearts and minds of the end user.

Empowering the end user would be a change of religion for most companies. But they have to do it. I don’t know any other way to put it. Salesforce is not successful if salespeople don’t want to use it. Procurement is not successful if people do not want to buy through the system. HR systems are a little different; end users only interact with them a few times a year for for reviews, but imagine being a 10,000-person company where nobody can figure out how to put their review into the system.

There are only two reasons people are going to follow your process and use your system. Either they are forced to, or there’s benefit in doing so.

In the B2C online world companies have gotten this right. I go to Amazon, I find what I need and in a couple of clicks it’s on its way. It’s easy and delightful. I don’t have to call Amazon and say, “Can someone help me get this?” They’ve gotten it right because they can’t force you to use their system, and they can see a direct correlation between delivering an outstanding experience to the end user and bottom line revenue.

In the B2B world, that connection is less clear and direct, but it’s there. But forcing people is not the answer. The answer is to look at the end user as a key value driver, not as a tactical extension of the system. People want to do the right thing. They are not trying to break the rules but they will take the path of least resistance, because their time is valuable. Vendors need to build systems that make doing the right thing easier and more delightful than any other alternative.

Software buyers need to start taking end users more seriously. Yes, you always have to align the end user to executive success criteria, but if you can’t get the user to engage, those success criteria or those goals are not going to be accomplished to the degree that you want.

Imagine having this conversation with your executive sponsor after a less then successful rollout:

Executive: We implemented this system months ago. Where is the value we were promised?

Software Buyer: We’re having a hard time with adoption. People are not using the system.

Executive: Weren’t users part of the evaluation process?

Software Buyer: [silence and embarrassment]

Many months and dollars later, you’ll be talking to me, or someone like me, wondering if maybe it’s finally time to change your religion.