As a CEO I run into a lot of people who ask me about my company, and of course I have a formal pitch. I run a lean startup that builds fast and scalable, custom-tailored mobile applications for the enterprise. The responses I get tell me a lot about my audience and their overall view of the value of mobile apps being deployed in the enterprise. Most importantly, however, the responses often highlight when there’s a sea change afoot in our industry.
Two recent yet wildly different responses got me thinking about the changes facing the IT industry today. “Oh, you’re B2B, I don’t need that kind of thing” and “Cool, so really any individual trying to ‘crush it’ needs these apps.” How did one person hear B2B so explicitly and one person hear essentially B2C as the message? I came upon what seems obvious now; B2B and B2C are no longer clear distinctions, especially when it comes to sales.
Historically, Business-to-Business (B2B) has meant “a transaction that occurs between two companies” or a company that serves other companies. Business-to-Consumer (B2C) as you might imagine has meant “a transaction that occurs between a company and a consumer” or a company that offers up consumer services. But what were the real differences?
B2C sales were historically of the same product for all, deals were executed faster as there were fewer cooks in the kitchen, deployments could be immediate (think: games and social networking apps), the sheer number of purchasers was larger given that the price tag was usually lower.
B2B sales on the flip side were often custom builds, slower deals to close, with many people having a vote in the final decision, lengthy deployment times (think: months or years), a much smaller lead pool and a much higher price tag.
Ask yourself if these defining characteristics hold true anymore. I did and found that they really don’t. Here’s why:
Speed is important to everyone these days
You’re seeing customer attrition from some B2B companies that can’t innovate and deploy quickly enough just as you’re seeing consumers shut or delete apps that take too long to load. Companies and people want a competitive edge now, not in six months — industries are moving fast these days!
Costs for mobile solutions are leveling out
Users can quickly deploy cost-effective products. Companies don’t need to charge a $50K set-up fee and charge a company per app downloaded (a la the old “seat” model). The administrative set- up of apps is so intuitive, especially to prosumers that set-up can be self-directed in many cases and a person can purchase their own app and bill a company back for it at say $9.99/month without raising red flags. B2B mark-ups are rarer in the mobile app market than ever before and mobile-first builds are increasingly common a la Kayak.
Departmental decision makers exist and can execute a purchase fast
With P&L responsibility comes power, and a CMO or VP of sales is quick to experiment these days just as a consumer will make a $1.99 app purchase for a popular tool without blinking. If it proves not to work, delete it and chock it up to a learning experience — see #2 regarding costs; it’s not the end of the world if one doesn’t pan out and, who knows, someday you may even see a rebate for deleted apps leading to more trials.
With mobile apps, it’s every person for himself
What I mean by this is that the B2B and B2C lead pools in many cases have become one and the same with the BYOD and CoIT trends taking hold. The job market is a competitive one and everyone’s looking for a competitive edge personally and professionally — regardless of whether it’s in the form of an app getting them to a meeting faster (Uber) or prepping them with a prospect’s job history (LinkedIn) before a meeting. If a salesperson finds an app that lets him close just one more deal than the next person (whether on his team or at another company) he wins – even if he has to pay for the app himself. A solution may benefit the enterprise’s bottom line but consumers are in the lead pool at the same time — the app’s appeal just has to transcend both.
Successful apps have a similar look and feel
People are well primed for apps in their workflows as they’re playing with a lot of them in their free time these days anyways. Whether B2B or B2C, people want intuitive, clean, fast applications. Custom applications for the enterprise are no longer synonymous with slow, months-long development cycles. Efficient customized deployments on top of strong application frameworks are great for getting consumer-inspired apps into the hands of sales people quickly. Less time-consuming custom builds also allow app developers to innovate and create new apps faster. It’s a win-win for everyone and lowers the barrier to entry for those less mobile-savvy employees.
The bottom line is that “B2B” and “B2C” are becoming dated buckets in which to define apps and, in some cases, whole companies as well. Too many tools today are simply awesome productivity apps and some companies likely never envisioned their app for real business use (I’m looking at you, TaxiMagic). As I swipe through my iPhone I can count on one hand the number of apps that are purely for personal use or strictly business. I bet if you take a look at your own devices you’ll see the same trend emerge over time. I’m hopeful that in the near future I, and others, get more open-minded responses accordingly — maybe a “How can your apps help me and my business?” — as I’m sure they can.
Chris O’Connor is co-founder and CEO at Taptera. A builder at heart, Chris enjoys creating teams, systems and companies. He is passionate about improving employees’ relationships with their software and had 15 years’ experience bringing innovative IT solutions to Fortune 500 companies. During his eight-year tenure at Genentech, Inc., Chris held various senior roles including associate director of cloud and mobile solutions and principal systems architect. For more info please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org and follow along on Twitter @Taptera.