It’s no secret that mobile apps are all the rage. Last year, tap-happy consumers downloaded more than 30 billion of them—that’s almost 1,000 per second—and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, some experts are predicting that app downloads will reach nearly 100 billion by 2015.
The insatiable demand for apps is now moving beyond consumer mobile devices to the business cloud. More companies of all sizes are adopting cloud-based applications—from accounting and data storage, to time tracking and email—a trend that’s helping to fuel a multi-billion dollar cloud boom.
Opportunity clearly abounds, but developers still face an uphill battle when it comes to reaching the lucrative business market. Let’s face it: Many developers would rather focus on coding than worry about sales, distribution, and marketing. For some developers, these activities can feel like the equivalent of Kryptonite, sapping time and energy from development efforts.
However, the fact remains that distribution and marketing are essential ingredients for any successful app. Fortunately, there are some simple tactics that savvy business app developers can use to distribute and sell their software while still staying focused on what they do best— making great apps. Here are four strategies to keep in mind.
1.) Get Your Applications into an App Store
The apps revolution was largely sparked by consumers, so taking a page or two out of the consumer playbook is a good idea. This is particularly true when it comes to application stores. These marketplaces, like Apple’s App Store or Google Play, have proven to be wildly successful distribution points for consumer apps.
What’s the secret behind their success? App stores not only make it incredibly easy for users to find, purchase, and manage applications, but they make life easier for developers, too. Selling apps through marketplaces gives developers access to readymade channels that usually have sizable audiences who are ready to buy.
Given the success of consumer app stores, an increasing number of service providers—such as telecom and hosting companies—are setting up their own stores for business applications. In addition to increased revenue, these marketplaces can be a marketing boon by spotlighting your app on popular and featured app lists, as well as highlighting them with reviews and recommendations. Direct sales may soon be a thing of the past, so offering your apps through application stores is critical.
2.) Go with Open Platforms
App stores are good, but many have already fallen victim to the age-old plague of the technology industry—lock-in. Here, too, consumer mobile app stores are instructive: Apple iOS devices are locked to the App Store, Android-based devices are hitched to Google Play, and never the twain shall meet.
In contrast, business apps, which are often cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), offer some distinct advantages to developers. Since cloud apps aren’t bound to specific devices, developers can skip the time and expense associated with developing for multiple OSes. Not only that, but SaaS app developers should have greater freedom to distribute their apps in multiple marketplaces.
The key emphasis above is on the word “should.” Many business app marketplaces follow the lock-in model and try to tie software to their particular store. Other platforms allow developers to integrate once and syndicate apps across numerous partner marketplaces. Open distribution models and APIs are the best way to create a thriving ecosystem for business apps. After all, marketplaces should make it easier to distribute your apps, not harder.
3.) APIs Are Everywhere. Use Them
Software is everywhere these days, and no one can deny the increasing importance of APIs in making that software more accessible and functional. An increasing number of companies and applications of all kinds, from PayPal to Instagram, offer public APIs to share data and enable greater functionality for end users.
Satisfying users is always a good thing, but the benefits of APIs extend far beyond happy customers. Integrating with APIs from well-known, established partners can not only expose your application to more potential users, but also associate your brand with one that people already like and trust. The boost to your brand can be invaluable, making it well worth the time and effort that it takes to integrate.
Of course, developers—especially business application developers—should never integrate for integration’s sake. APIs enable applications to do a lot of cool and interesting things, but they may not be right for your business app. Making smart choices about APIs can make or break applications, and can be one of the fastest ways developers can achieve success.
4.) Be Viral and Stay Sticky
As anyone who finds it hard to put down a smartphone or tablet can tell you, consumer apps can be addictive. What’s behind their irresistible appeal? Beyond ease of use and nice UI, these apps have evolved to include elements that compel people to come back to them again and again, and then some more. The ability to earn rewards—such as points, coins, or badges—and the option to brag about activities and achievements with friends and family, have turned the world of consumer apps into one big game.
Business apps shouldn’t necessarily be built like Angry Birds, but including social and viral elements in business software is a great way to encourage people to use your products and turn them into repeat customers. In other words, they can make your applications “sticky.” For example, including functionality that allows users to post in-app status updates and share information with coworkers can provide the social interaction that your customers crave. Or, running a promotion that rewards current users for inviting colleagues to use your app can offer another avenue to increase your user base.
Business users can spot gimmicks from a mile away, so viral and social features should be added with care. However, if you can figure out the right mix of these elements for your particular audience, it can be a major competitive differentiator for your application.
Contributed by Daniel Saks.
Daniel Saks is the co-founder and co-CEO of AppDirect, the leading cloud service marketplace company that helps global brands launch and sell cloud applications and services.