Designing a Likeable Guided Selling Experience—More than Just Facets


“If we want users to like our software, we should design it to behave like a likeable person: respectful, generous and helpful.” 

– Alan Cooper, software designer, programmer, and creator of Visual Basic 

When you’re designing something as intricate as a guided selling experience for complex products, your first thought is probably to use facets. In fact, if you’re a true believer in good metadata, it’s probably your go-to.  

Facets are a system through which customers can create their own customized path through a complex purchasing process, particularly for engineered products that can include a lot of options. Think of the process of configuring options when buying a new computer: you start with choosing between laptop or desktop, then you choose the processing and memory options, peripherals, and so on. Each choice you make carries you down a specific stream and presents the available choices for the next step. 

Facets help a customer narrow down those options and provide lots of opportunities to find exactly what you’re looking for in a sea of products and possible solutions. Facets are great—they solve so many problems for so many needs.

While facets are often a part of digital commerce solutions, there are other ways to grow a customer’s experience from simply functional to likeable and personable—solutions that are better than merely funneling people to a page and having them click through layers of filters. 

The key to a successful guided selling experience is one that replicates the human contact that usually is a part of an offline purchasing experience. The more personable you can be in the design, the better. But how do we move the online experience into a more personable space? How do we help a customer when they may not have a clear sense of what they’re looking for or how it might all work together? 

First, observe 

Before we design for a digital purchasing process, we need to learn and think about how that experience happens in the real world. It’s hard to stress the importance of research to a project like this cannot be emphasized enough. In a guided selling experience, you’re trying to mimic what this customer sees and does in the real world, to the best of your ability. How can you do that if you don’t observe in some way what that experience actually is? 

In a perfect world, you would start with observation and work through various research activities, but timelines don’t always allow for that. So how do you still build an understanding and design the best experience you can, even if time is short? It’s possible to gain good insights into customers and their habits from even the simplest research activities. You could: 

  •  Be a fly on the wall, observing a customer and salesperson in real life during one of these transactions 
  • Document the typical sales process and its timelines, then create a process flow diagram that applies to your digital experience 
  • Talk to some salespeople as well—they can be an invaluable resource for understanding the in-person sales experience 
  • Review customer support or sales calls to get a feel for questions, flows, and language 
  • Get direction by interviewing a few customers and asking them about the offline experience 
  • Run a quick survey with a group of customers to gather information about satisfaction in the current process 
  • Find people in your network who can answer a few questions for you, even if they aren’t directly related to the customer 

Pay special attention to the flow of conversation, the questions asked, and the milestones in the journey when product information changes hands or products are selected. These are the most vital aspects that you are looking to imitate in your guided selling experience. 

Then mimic the real world virtually 

Once you know more about how customers proceed through a complex product purchase, the question is what level of guided selling will mimic the interactions sufficiently to guide the customer to a successful sale. 

How much of a helping hand do these customers need? Do they need general guidance to understand product categories, or is a fully guided experience—where the system automatically narrows the choices for them—what they need? Either option can improve the purchasing experience and the ability of customers to find the information they need. The big question though should be: “How do our customers buy our products in-person and what guided selling approach will mimic the real-world sales interaction in the most useful way?” For example: 

  • Does your customer typically flip through a catalog, looking for details? Do they regularly call their salesperson to ask general questions about new products and how they work with older products?
    • If this is the case, a general navigation guide with clear, easy to understand parameters could be your best option. This sort of experience leads customers to a better understanding of options they may be unfamiliar with, or to a broader understanding of the product catalog as a whole. 
    • If your sales teams regularly field requests for a certain set of features, use curated content lists to meet these asks, or use customized categories on your home page. 
    • Consider using categories that may not align to how you group products in a catalog but that do align to a customer’s role or a type of project. Thinking about how your customers look for and use products can help you come up with some different options. 
  • Does your customer ask a lot of questions, unsure about which part is the right one? Or do they need assurance that the parts they are buying will all work together?
    • If so, a product finding wizard may be the right fit for you. You can design the interface to mimic the usual interactions your customers have with salespeople, using questions written in their own language to guide them to a selection of products. 
    • The research you’ve done earlier should give you enough direction to design each stage through suggested pathways and elimination of products as the logic plays out. A product wizard becomes a likable interface by emulating those in-person interactions. Don’t forget to include a wrap-up and ongoing reassurance in your experience’s language. 
    • Consider how salespeople help customers select their preferred products in-store. Work to understand the pathways through the selling process, dependencies, upselling, and then build your experience to feel the same way. 

Ultimately, it’s the feeling 

No matter which version of a guided selling experience you choose (you may end up with more than one), the most important thing is making the customer feel good about their choices. Customers won’t always remember the nuts and bolts of each purchase process, but they will remember how a process made them feel. 

Remember, the most important part of the face-to-face interactions you are looking to emulate: be likeable, be respectful, be personable—even when you can’t be in-person. Guided selling must provide that same type of interaction, but on the customer’s own terms. If you can do that, you’ll leave the customer with an experience that keeps them coming back again and again.