Internal business apps are exploding within companies of all sizes, and can drastically help increase your sales reps’ efficiency. But before you get app-happy and launch a mobile project, figure out what it is your sales team needs and how to roll it out so that it sticks.
Why You Need an Internal App
The benefits are undeniable. Business apps for smartphones and tablets have unlimited potential to reduce process cycles from days to minutes. They can provide accurate and timely data to field reps on-the-move and focus teams on their most value-added priorities. Companies like BASF, which has its own App Store, have refocused their sales teams from follow-up to real-time customer interactions, with intuitive iPad apps that allow sales reps to quickly find and distribute product information to their prospects.
As a business leader, you can’t help but worry: if you commit the resources to building a mobile app for a large, global sales team, will your intended users come… and stay? Common wisdom says “yes,” because mobile apps are a hit with consumers—and employees are consumers who will immediately understand the value. However, most consumer apps fail, and while equipping teams with mobile apps and devices may initially be met with enthusiasm, improper design and marketing will hamper effectiveness.
What Your App Should Look Like
Borrow from the best. Apps that spread through word-of-mouth in the consumer world and are more likely to achieve ROI through rampant user adoption within an organization have the following common traits:
- Ridiculously useful. These apps repeatedly solve problems and add value for the user while minimizing distractions. It goes without saying that employees will eagerly choose to use tools that make their jobs easier.
- Designed for the intended user. The entire experience should be architected through an understanding of the intended users, with thoughtful user-centered design practices. From device selection through the design of a user interface, the app should pass the user experience quality test. Conduct surveys or polls on different behaviors to make sure you really know your audience—for example, rolling out an app with small touch targets on an iPhone probably won’t be effective with a group of employees who don’t use smartphones. And annoyances such as having separate login credentials should be eliminated—for consumer apps, this is done through Facebook or Google logins, but single sign-on will do the trick in the corporate world.
- Speedy and error-free. Users are terribly intolerant of apps that waste their time without this “showstopper” characteristic.
- Trustworthy. Hackers from the outside and prying eyes from the inside shouldn’t have access to private, personal data. Many companies fail on this point, as a recent report states that 97% of business apps are insecure.
- Constantly evolving. Feedback, both negative and positive, should be welcomed and usage patterns tracked to provide a constant stream of information that will guide improvements. In a business context, obtaining open and honest feedback may be gained through anonymous commenting or rewarding those providing feedback.
How to Make Your App Stick
I often hear things like, “Internal apps don’t need marketing—they need a mandate, right?” That’s not really true. To capitalize on the viral nature of successful consumer apps, users must have the choice—or the illusion of a choice—of whether or not to use it.
While businesses generally enjoy an advantage in that their custom apps don’t face competition from similar offerings on the app store, ensuring an app gets used enough to make it worthwhile may require borrowing some tactics from the consumer world. In his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries defines the “viral coefficient” as “how many new customers will use the product as a consequence of each new customer who signs up.” (In the business context, replace customer with employee).
Here’s the key: a business or consumer app won’t gain acceptance if it’s not designed in a way that inspires recommendation from other users.
To raise virality in a competitive environment where sales people are looking to be more productive, a social strategy that amplifies the successes accomplished by app-aided colleagues can pay off. Integration with your social intranet and/or social media sites like LinkedIn allows users to easily share messaging or the result of an action from within an app itself. While a consumer app may post about leveling-up in a game, in the business world an automated post may declare how quickly an app-aided salesperson won an important deal.
With the right design and internal marketing, a business mobile app can spread through word-of-mouth and provide competitive advantage. Check out the mobile sales apps we've built for BASF and other clients.
Want to see more examples of successful business apps? Apple’s iPad for Business provides great examples of how the right mobile devices and applications can improve the effectiveness of airline pilots, engineers, manufacturers, hospitality workers, bankers, lawyers, and even law enforcement.