mobile in B2B marketingAs an up-and-about professional, there’s likely little need to convince you that mobile is where the current wave of consumer product and behavior innovation is all headed. This should be cause for concern for sales and marketing professionals seeking to assimilate these innovations into their practice; if the past few years on the web have taught us anything, it’s that enterprise and business applications tend to lag, sometimes by several years, after consumer-centered innovations within the same medium. In this post I will try to demonstrate that although the same delayed evolutionary process is likely to recur in the B2B marketing and sales mobile apps space, there are reasons to be hopeful, especially if the right breed of entrepreneurs steps up to the plate.

The Lateral Evolution of Business Apps
Since the rise of the web, business application innovation has often manifested itself in the following sequence:

1. consumer service, feature or user experience paradigm goes mainstream.
2. business apps adopt it.

This type of business apps progress, which for classification purposes we shall call ‘Lateral Evolution’, has plenty of merits. The consumer space offers a convenient benchmark for the popularity of an app, or the usefulness of a feature. And since every business user is also a consumer, user experience paradigms that prove successful for consumers stand a good chance of becoming popular with business users.

Once you know what to look for, the lateral evolution trail is quite hard to miss. When daily deals were the hot dish of the net last year, B2B daily deal offers were bound to appear. Check-ins are en vogue? here come geo-location social-aware services for businesses. Well after Twitter became all the rage came Yammer, the business version of the popular real-time information delivery network.

The problem with lateral evolution? it’s reactive. and being reactive, it’s delayed. The enterprise collaboration space was stagnant for ages until the large social networks took hold with consumers, and business tools like SocialText entered the scene. To me, all these examples boil down to the simple fact that there are significantly more minds bent out there on inventing and revolutionizing the consumer space, than there are people working in garages and entrepreneurial hubs on solving for the enterprise. And this is where we come back to mobile.

Mobile Open Up Massive Opportunities to Innovate B2B Practices
A lot of brain power, coding mojo, and investment dollars, not to mention countless pizzas and other innovation-enhancing snacks, go into new mobile apps and services. The imagination almost reels with the options that today’s smartphones make available to the alert entrepreneur: location-awareness, still and video camera, always-on connectivity, touch interfaces, push notifications, motion-awareness. The list goes on and on.

Trust developers everywhere to take all these wonderful raw materials and use them to build stuff that revolutionizes the way we do things – all sorts of things – in our lives. From reading magazines, to playing casual games, to tracking our lifestyle habits.

Now, wouldn’t it be great if this huge wave of innovation could also lead to small (or large, why not) revolutions in the way we, B2B sales and marketing pros, execute our practice? Do we *have* to wait for the next popular consumer service before we can apply it to our work? God knows there are enough problems to solve in our practice. Almost every process and sub-process related to marketing or sales could benefit hugely from the same type of innovative focus that transforms consumer markets almost in front of our bewildered eyes. Think about such classic processes as lead generation or lead qualification, sales activity tracking and management, and so forth. Each and everyone of these can be simplified, better rationalized or merely presented in a different, more productive way (compared to the way it’s presented in the web or desktop app that normally supports it) using a smartphone platform and the right app. Consider the following example.

Managing and prioritizing the sales pipeline is a basic activity for B2B sales professionals. The majority of them are on the road for a large part of their time, and will appreciate having a productive way to view, track and act on their pipeline deals using their smartphone or tablet device. There’s plenty of room to innovate a pipeline viewing interface, in making it actionable and less of a static view, like most CRMs do it. Imagine a deals view that reacts in real-time to sales actions like calls, email or short messages to leads and clients, and provides immediate visual feedback to the sales person. Apps like this pipeline visualizer, are a good step in the right direction. I’m sure you can sense how much room there is for more like it.

I used the example above because to me it represents the ‘low hanging fruit’ of mobile innovation options for B2B sales and marketing processes: take a classic process, cut it out of the CRM or marketing automation system, create a wholly new user experience for it on a mobile device, preferably leveraging the latter’s advantages, connect it back to the relevant business system through its APIs, and then package and serve it to the business user as a useful, enterprise-aware, consumer-grade app. In the mobile enterprise app developer cook book, that’s a recipe for success.

What do you think? Are you also prowling the mobile app stores for the next original B2B app winner? Or do you think the standard course of lateral evolution is the right approach?

Author: Idan Carmeli is a B2B marketer and co-founder of appXtrm, where he focuses on creating highly useful apps for busy professionals. appXtrm’s first product is Lead Qualifier, an iPhone app that lets sales persons easily create and share lead qualification summaries. To read more from Idan, see his blog or follow @digitalidan on Twitter.

Photo from coralinetheblue