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We wanted to share this recent FullStory blog post with our audience (edited from original post).

“I’m getting goosebumps talking about this,” says Julian Gaviria, smiling as we chat over Zoom. “This is one of those stories that I’m probably going to be telling for the rest of my life. Because it actually made a difference.

Gaviria is the head of user experience and part of the product strategy team at Thomas, a B2B marketplace connecting industrial buyers with industrial suppliers. Several weeks ago, as demand for so many products was dropping off a cliff, while demand for critical healthcare products was skyrocketing, he realized that Thomas was perfectly positioned to help.

Spotting an opportunity and making moves, quickly

“One of my coworkers on the agency side of our business told me that a client was having to shut down their manufacturing facility entirely. I put two and two together and knew that this was going to happen to a ton of facilities that were seeing a major decline in demand for what they make,” explains Gaviria.

Fortunately, Gaviria and his team had already been conceptualizing an SOS system that would help direct buyers to critical suppliers in a disaster moment, exactly like the COVID-19 crisis. 

Gaviria knew that the company would have to release this system as quickly as possible to actually make an impact on suppliers and buyers in need. Speed was critical. 

Ready, set, go: From idea to realized experience in one week

Gaviria gathered key stakeholders from product, engineering, and marketing services to brainstorm ideas. They needed to identify the companies that were still operating–that were already manufacturing critical products or that were able to switch gears to start manufacturing critical products—and make them highly visible to buyers.

In less than a week Gaviria had a product definition, which detailed their plan to add badges to company profiles to indicate that a supplier is “actively providing products, materials, or services specific to the mass shortage of critical supplies”.

The product strategy team approved the plan and the engineering team worked through the weekend to ship it. “By the following Monday, we had badges live on the site for any type of industrial manufacturer that was able to provide products, materials, or services specific to the COVID-19 crisis or was able to pivot their business to help out with the crisis,” says Gaviria.

And the system is working. “We began to get emails almost daily from manufacturers that were likely going to shut down but because of the visibility they gained on our platform, they were able to stay open and provide critical supplies.

A couple of weeks later, two U.S. Senators sent an email to the United States manufacturing caucus, recommending Thomas as a top resource because of this system. “That was very very exciting to see,” says Gaviria.

The digital of it all: How did Thomas make this system work?

While Gaviria was able to connect the right teams and people to move this effort forward, his team needed to make sure the actual execution was flawless. Stakes were high and the company was moving quickly. They needed to be confident that the digital experience would be functional and seamless. That it would actually help people find what they were looking for. serves the two different sides of the industrial audience: buyers looking for suppliers and suppliers looking to be discovered by buyers. With the COVID-19 resource hub for manufacturers and the new badges, there was now a category-specific to COVID-19 suppliers. 

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To ensure these experiences were as optimized as possible, from messaging to placement to imagery, the UX team was A/B testing constantly using Optimizely and FullStory.

“Optimizely allowed us to implement and iterate on elements at a very rapid pace. Through A/B testing, we could pin down the specific language and design treatments our users were reacting to, ultimately decreasing the amount of time it took buyers to find suppliers of critical PPE,” says Gaviria. “We would not have been able to go as fast as we did without Optimizely.”

“FullStory is deeply ingrained into our optimization process,” says Gaviria. “It’s integrated with Optimizely, which allows us to see both the respective A/B test and variation that a user is bucketed into along with a link to a replay of the user’s session.”

“With every test we ran, we would jump into FullStory to watch how users engaged with each variation. Being able to launch a test and immediately see how it’s working—whether users are behaving as we predicted—has helped us move extremely quickly. Within those two weeks, we probably ran more tests than we have in the past three months.”

“Personally, I would just watch general sessions in FullStory to see how the whole thing was working. The things we’re able to catch and fix–the bugs, the confusion, the friction–I know this experience we’ve built wouldn’t exist today without FullStory,” he explains.

Pivoting in crisis.

The team at Thomas were able to pivot quickly to meet their user’s needs right now. There are now over 1,700 suppliers producing critical supplies—such as N95 masks, ventilators, and more—listed on Thomasnet. 

Manufacturers that would’ve had to close have been able to keep their doors open. Healthcare facilities in dire need are getting supplies they wouldn’t have had access to. All because the team at Thomas got close to their users, they saw a pressing need, they moved with urgency, and they committed to optimizing the experience.

Can your company help provide critical supplies during COVID-19? Let Thomas know.

Are you a buyer looking for products, materials, or other manufacturing services specific to the current shortage of critical supplies? View a list of 1,700+ suppliers here.