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Mobile technology and the web both serve as critical transformative agents in the business world. Smartphones and tablets keep employees tethered to corporate technical assets through the cloud, allowing them to stay productive no matter their location. Additionally, the venerable web browser now provides an effective platform for powerful web applications with user interfaces rivaling the desktop. This situation results in an acute need for well-crafted mobile and web apps serving the B2B marketplace.
The requirements for B2B apps differ somewhat when compared to consumer app development.
The functionality of these apps tends to be more complex, which makes sense, as many of them include robust use cases with the goal of solving critical business problems. At the same time, these apps still need to provide intuitive user interfaces and a measure of sizzle. The somewhat captive market of a B2B app need not depend on a hot UI to generate users and revenue, but those features help with the overall usability and user experience.
So let’s take a closer look at the process for designing and building a B2B app for the web or mobile device. We use a few examples of the business apps we crafted for our client partners as part of our analysis.
As with consumer app development, exploring the designs of popular B2B apps offers some insights into what features help drive revenue. However, you ultimately want to build something serving the needs of your client partner. Of course, an intuitive user interface remains critical, but you also need to consider the information architecture for the app is likely more complex compared to a typical consumer app.
A close relationship with your client and a deep understanding of their business remain critical components of an iterative design process. After all, you want to build something making it easier for your client’s customers to solve pressing business problems. This typically doesn’t require the full market analysis typical of a consumer app, but some awareness of the client community helps ensure a successful project.
Additionally, an iterative effort thorough the entire analysis and requirements process fosters the necessary interaction that results in a great app. Using a methodology like Lean Startup and its minimum viable product concept also helps as screens get built and code is written. Strong project management becomes a necessary component of this effort ensuring something gets built that truly meets the need of the business and their clients.
Also, make an effort to determine any modern features to include as part of the B2B app design. Real-time data analytics powered by machine learning provides one example of a feature attractive to business users. Of course, this adds a measure of complexity to the project, but it might end up being necessary depending on its requirements.
For example, DataFlik served as a unique project for us. It involved developing and training a machine learning model to help our client provide their customers with a list of motivated real estate sellers, improving revenue and profitability. The web app features a list stacking and predictive modeling approach resulting in a significant benefit for DataFlik’s customer base of real estate businesses.
In addition to our machine learning development, we also architected a cloud-based platform with computing horsepower to perform this AI-powered predictive analytics. At the same time, the web app accesses this model from a desktop browser as well as on browsers on the iOS and Android platforms. Ensuring an interactive website functions on the limited-screen real estate of a smartphone requires a deft touch.
Most development shops likely depend on their client for insights on the market research for a B2B app. This is highly different compared to consumer apps, as the potential target market for those remains much larger. B2B apps typically have a niche user base, typically including both existing and potential new customers for the client’s products and/or services.
When working with the client on determining the requirements for their app, having a few customer personas helps when defining the feature set and user interface approach. This plays a key role in determining the app’s information architecture and its overall level of complexity. Expect the client to want a balance between the intuitiveness of the interface and the necessary complexity to support the app’s must-have functionality.
Having someone from the client and the customer base serves as super-users also helps the software development process throughout the project. They offer insights into how the app’s interface design works on different kinds of smartphones, tablets, and browsers. This provides critical feedback on any bugs or performance issues, especially when following an iterative software development methodology, like Agile or Lean Startup.
Leverage this resource to prevent any unfortunate surprises when the app finally goes live!
As highlighted above, using an iterative software development methodology, such as Lean Startup, provides significant benefits for any B2B app project. It keeps the client and other business stakeholders in the loop throughout the effort, ensuring any issues get discovered as quickly as possible. Note that it becomes more expensive to fix bugs and any other issues later in the project’s timeline.
Lean Startup also includes the concept of a minimum viable product (MVP) as mentioned earlier. The MVP effectively serves as the prototype for the app, with the development team adding functionality in an incremental fashion. The client stakeholders and the testing team vet the performance and stability of the app for each stage, offering critical feedback to ensure nothing gets missed before it becomes too expensive to fix.
Crafting an MVP using Lean Startup or another similar methodology relies on tight iterations known as Build-Measure-Learn cycles. This approach combines analyzing and measuring the app testing results out of QA. Any lessons learned ultimately inform the requirements for the new feature development and bug fixes to be included in the next cycle. This process typically repeats itself until the app is successfully finished.
Success with Lean Startup and other iterative software development methodologies depends on regular transparent communication between the development team and the client’s stakeholders and superusers involved in testing. The project manager or Scrum Master typically facilitates this level of communication throughout the effort.
The Workspaces project we partnered on with Dock provides a useful example of the importance of strong project communication. Dock is a platform that facilitates collaboration between two businesses. It effectively functions as a private website where businesses share content and interact in a transparent fashion. Our work on the project provides an example of our ability to enhance and partner with an existing development team, helping to improve the velocity of the project.
Workspaces also offers a helpful example of how two companies easily work together when both are well-versed with modern iterative software development methodologies. The fact the web app itself supports business collaboration provided an extra layer of synergies throughout the project.
As noted earlier, even if your B2B app is relatively complex with a detailed information architecture, its UI must be intuitive and easy for users to grasp. Of course, determining the user personas for the app at the beginning of the project might result in different layers of complexity depending on the specific user role. Whatever the case, the app’s design must hide this complexity by architecting a seamless flow through the app.
Also, keep in mind the types of devices the app plans on supporting. Notably, a tablet provides a user interface with the screen real estate supporting a functional design similar to a web application. On the other hand, smartphones suffer from limited screen size which makes complex functionality more difficult for the user.
As part of the app’s design, consider segregating functions requiring a more involved UI to a tablet-only or web-based version of the app, while basic functionality is available for all platforms. An iOS Universal app supports both within one downloadable, but Android apps require a different deployment approach from a tablet app. Once again, these questions need to be answered during the project’s requirements and design phase. Ultimately, you don’t want an app that ends up being too difficult to use on a smartphone.
As an example, we built an Android app for ChartMogul that allows business users to analyze the metrics generated by their SaaS platform. It effectively serves as a one-stop shop for business users, providing the actionable insights they need to generate new revenue from their SaaS offerings. After downloading the app, the user simply imports data in the CSV format or leverages ChartMogul’s integration support for SaaS billing platforms or their API.
Notably, this app is essentially an Android version of ChartMogul’s existing iOS app. So we leveraged the design of the original as well as analyzed other iOS apps to inform the design of the Android app. We essentially built a new version from scratch for iOS as opposed to using a cross-platform development tool. Our team also crafted a redesigned login process using a QR code instead of a long API key.
The growth of the IoT, especially in the business world, provides the means for the remote control and management of multiple hardware devices. This even includes the washing machines used in the commercial laundry sector. These kinds of B2B apps typically provide important features, ranging from AI-powered data analytics delivered over the cloud to the predictive maintenance of machinery.
We crafted a B2B app for Xeros helping their client partners in the commercial laundry space save money by reducing water usage when cleaning textiles. Part of the magic of this platform involves reusable polymer spheres known as XOrbs resulting in using significantly less water in the washing process. Our contribution to the project involved crafting the IoT platform used to manage a fleet of washing machines and track their water usage.
Xeros’s customers use the IoT platform and our app to ensure they get a return on their investment in XOrbs and the XDrum technology used in commercial laundry machines of all sizes. It provides an example of a B2B app providing a key element within an overall platform containing networked laundry equipment and the IoT.
As an example, one of our clients, OnCenter, wanted an application to facilitate a business’s goal-setting process while fostering interaction between internal teams. So we crafted a top-shelf interactive web application that helps businesses organize their overall corporate strategy in a visual, easy-to-understand manner.
Building an interactive UI that supports drag-and-drop gestures for connecting and prioritizing different goals in a seamless manner required a significant effort. Thankfully, our work made it easier for business leaders to organize priorities and get their teams interacting together in a seamless fashion.
As noted earlier, B2B apps tend to have smaller potential audiences, so the revenue models typically found in consumer apps don’t always apply. For example, having ads in a paid app might result in unhappy customers with your clients ultimately looking for a new technology partner. Additionally, these apps don’t generate enough user data for monetization purposes.
As such, many of our business client partners leverage a subscription model to generate revenue. The app simply provides access to an underlying platform where the value lurks within a machine learning model, a cloud-based IoT platform, or elsewhere. For example, ChartMogul’s mobile apps both boast freemium revenue models, as they serve to attract users to the company’s desktop subscription-based SaaS metrics product.
Our ultimate goal when vetting partnership opportunities for B2B app development involves finding something that generates at least $83 per user on a monthly basis. So attracting 1000 users generates an annual revenue of around $1 million. This level of revenue gives a startup or business partner a true chance of success without relying on additional venture capital or a long runway before exiting.