Inversation by SAP | A Product Design Case Study with 3 Key Lessons

Not the traditional case study, well sort of…

Before diving deep into this project, here’s a preface of sorts. In this post, I’m accomplishing two things, sharing my design process, then my reflection with 3 key lessons. For any designer early in their career reading this, I hope this knowledge gives you the foresight to do your best work on any project. Lesson 2 is my fav 🤓. Let’s get started~

Project Overview

Inversation was an internal venture at SAP building a sales automation tool to replace manual work. Sale processes can be ruthlessly repetitive, where Sales Representatives figure out if a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL) can be converted to a Sales Qualified Lead (SQL).

The conversion of MQL to SQL was the first area of focus since it’s where sales teams spend the most time and remains their biggest pain point.

A common sales cycle process (terms for each step may differ)

From MVP (Minimum Viable Product) to Scaling up (having more customers)

Sales Reps and Account Executives are the ones responsible for organizing leads and outreach. So how would we enable these functions to do their work more effectively and set up their automated emails?

The team built the initial version of the product as a view only web app, with a dashboard where customers see their campaign’s performance. When adding a new customer, the Inversation team would gather all requirements and configure everything in the backend. Then, as responses or non-responses would occur, the customer can individually open conversations to see the dialog with their Leads and their status.

Inversation Dashboard: Shows Leads Engaged, Hot Leads, Responses

My role

Being the sole designer on the venture, I worked with the entire team to setup the Project Creation process for Inversation. This involved an end to end design process from research to design to handoff. I collaborated with the whole team to align on what features and functionality were in scope for our release. During the implementation phase, I worked with the front end devs to see how they progressed on the UI side.

Milestones

  • Doing a feature competitive analysis
  • Conduct research (One generative, one contextual inquiry)
  • Align on the scope of work and features
  • Create user flows and sketching
  • Design product screens with a clickable prototype
  • Work with development to handoff designs
*Sneak Peek: The new projects screen where all the user’s campaigns live.

Results

This functionality allows an Account Executive or Sales Rep to:

  • Create a new Project
  • Select the type of Outcome they wanted
  • Add Leads and Map the Data
  • Edit and send an Engagement Email
  • Start a Dialog between Inversation and the Lead (already built)
  • Have a place to where it shows Progress for an individual Project

Competitive analysis

The Inversation team gave me a list of a few competitors, two of which had were direct, Conversica and Exceed.ai. A few others that served as inspiration for editing email content included Intercom, Mailchimp, and Hubspot. Below we have a few screens from Conversica and Intercom that I used as inspiration for what Inversation needed.

Conversica: Data mapping their lead info

Feature 1: Data Mapping

Here, Conversica shows a common pattern of adding a list of leads from a spreadsheet or .csv file, then mapping the columns to the proper label. In this case, the lead’s name and email. This way, they can have their emails use the lead’s name for more personalization.

Conversica: Indicating the “Lead Health” by showing valid and invalid leads

Feature 2: Lead Health

After uploading your leads Conversica shows you the number of valid and invalid leads. There can be various reasons for invalid leads, inactive email, duplicates, or even a qualification like personal emails. On the right, they show how to set up your conversations for automated emails.

Both show how you can add smart content from your mapped excel file. Left: Conversica / Right: Intercom

Feature 3: Labeling

To make use of the data mapping we wanted our users to be able to at minimum greet their leads by their first name. In the examples above Conversica and Intercom respectively both handle labeling differently when customizing their messages.

Feature 4: Customized cadence of messages

Cadence is everything, the way a sales rep can sequence their outreach can make the difference to hearing a response. Another variable is lead industry, depending on who they’re reaching out to, they cater their messaging.

Feature 5: Creating a sender

A signature is an important aspect of any email so the person on the other end understands who you are, so it’s vital to have this be customizable. The variables at play here: Name, Title, Company, Contact Information. For Inversation, we were already doing this, creating a digital assistant to be the point of contact in a separate inbox from the sales rep or account executive. The difference was, Inversation needed a place for the user to customize it as shown above.

User research

This consisted of four steps and two rounds:

  • Finding Sales Reps/Account Executives and Sales Managers
  • Creating a research plan and script
  • Conducting interviews with the participants
  • Gathering and synthesizing outcomes from the research

Research Outcomes

Two research sessions were completed for this project, one generative and one contextual inquiry. The generative research goal was to understand how Sales Reps and Account Execs organize information and work on their leads. The second involved contextual inquiry of a prototype with 5 participants.

1st Session: Generative Research

Involved 3 main sections:
1. Describe their sales process cycle
2. How they follow up with leads
3. How they organize lead information

Commonalities between all participants in their sales cycle process
Shows the cadence of their outreach

Cadence and Sequencing

The insight here was seeing that there was a pattern in outreach cadence and industry. Depending on who they’re selling to, they will either email or call at different rates.

A different take on the “card sorting” methodology. I gathered how the participants organizing and rank lead information. *info used in excel is placeholder

2nd Session: Contextual Inquiry

Here I setup a simple two page prototype where they signed up with Inversation for the first time and get them going creating an email to send out to their leads.

It’s amazing how much contextual inquiry can spark ideas from the correct user. A sales manager from a large company mentioned they would never upload first, but every rep from a small to medium sized company prefered uploading first. They wanted to line up their reps first and be in that context to then write the email to send out.

Here they had the choice of uploading leads or composing email
A participant drew out a typical sales cycle process

“It’s a numbers game.”

— Mentioned by every participant

Design Proposal(s)

I wanted an understanding of the end to end experience including when an email would get sent out to a user if there were a drop off point.

This included all 5 major features:

  • Cadence of messages (we covered 4 use cases)
  • Upload Leads + Data Mapping
  • Labeling First Name
  • Creating a Sender
  • Minimal lead health info (duplicates + inactive)

Nomenclature: “Campaigns” or “Conversations”?

When packaging Leads, type of qualification, emails, and statistics together, what do you name it?

There are a few approaches and here the team and I were at a point of contention between Campaigns and Conversations. We settled on the neutral name of Project to move forward.

Chris (Front End Developer) and I laying out naming options

From a UX perspective “Campaign” being common terminology was the suggestion I offered. From the Business perspective “Conversations” works since it differentiates Inversation’s terminology from other similar products. Settling on Projects wasn’t the end of the world, but having this conversation earlier on nomenclature would smoothened the process.

Sketches & Brainstorms

I’ll have to admit, I wish I sketched more and took more pictures, but I generally use sketching simply as a tool with a means to an end. I’d rather vomit my idea out as quickly as possible, then decide if it’s worth moving onto Figma to then create wireframes to high fidelity designs. Even if it’s messy and illegible, it helps organize what I’m conceptualizing.

Top Left: Some early ideas of a stepper. Bottom Center: Beginnings of the text editor.
Brainstorming around Engagement Email then the follow ups and general cadence of emails

1st, 2nd, 3rd…4th Iteration

There were more iterations here, but this made it into a presentation and end to end prototype to click through.

The Projects home page that holds leads, emails, and statuses for the Sales Rep or Account Executive.
Once the user clicks on “New Project” they first select what kind of email cadence they prefer, then upload their leads.
For more detailed view open this Figma file: https://www.figma.com/file/vzV2jo9zVTlKUT0925b42e/Inv-Projects-Documentation?node-id=2%3A0
This editor allowed the user to make changes freely using the right panel.

Final Iteration

After a session with the team, they felt going the editor route would prove too difficult. We had to rescope the project with a month left until the next board meeting. I pushed to keep the previous design because it would work best in the long run. So to stay on track we opted for a Wizard/Stepper to keep the implementation simple.

Sales rep selects how their email cadence occurs and what goal they have in mind.
Upload Leads on the left — Create Sender (now A.I. Assistant on the right)
Sales Reps type in their email and preview it
Finally they review all they input and go live with their project!

A few lessons for next time

Lesson 1: Understand how to properly scope

We had a classic issue between Discovery (figuring out what to build) vs. Delivery (then building it).

  • Importance of scoping projects and having someone be the leader of it.
  • Learning to break the overconfidence effect. Avoiding the planning fallacy.
  • During the discovery phase: You assume that the initial ideas, initiatives, or products will be wrong.
  • Having a clear product roadmap

We rescoped close to 5 times throughout this project, it was a hard target to hit and now it’s a moving target. As I’ve progressed in my career, I’ve become more and more pessimistic, for good reason. Things will almost never go to plan, but it’s vital to plan.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower

Although we needed to deliver these features, we should have scaled down the work to meet our engineers’ bandwidth.

Lesson 2: ABC (Always Be Communicating and Building Culture 😉)

There were times of frustration where I preferred not running the same ideas with the team because they denied them before, but that’s not a proper excuse. As a designer, especially remote, it’s crucial to communicate with the team and ensure we’re on the same page. It’s also conducive for good team culture to manifest. If you create an environment where people want to communicate, it’ll feed itself into a loop.

Good team culture begets good team communication.

If you know, you know…

Lesson 3: Setup principles from the start to build industry knowledge

First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge
The importance of abiding by your product’s principles and understanding why something is working vs. only reacting to the outcome.

  • Understanding the difference between learning and knowledge.
    Example: You can learn how to cut an onion, but you may not have the knowledge to know what or how to cook with it.
  • Meeting with experts as early as possible and continually collaborating with them to gather more knowledge.

The sales industry was new to the entire team, but they had learned quite a lot about sales and taught me quite a bit too. They also met with various companies to pitch Inversation, but in the end we weren’t experts.

In order to progress in a new industry it’s crucial to build up the knowledge to make the next logical step. This is obvious, but when you’re in the thick of it, you lose sight and get into a reactionary loop. When it comes down to building the right product having the proper guidance to know why one method worked over another can take a step backward or forward. Knowing the difference is being an expert.

Conclusion

This project hit the ground running with vigor, but then slowly stumbled along the way to a halt. There were many issues on the product side, but also some on the business side. SAP refocused their investments in technologies around security leaving Inversation out of priority.

Looking back on this project I found out where I needed improvement and how to apply this knowledge in the next project. If you are a designer looking for how to avoid these pitfalls on your next project, keep these 3 lessons in your toolbox. I keep them in reach at all times 😊.

designer • good dude

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