B2B mobile apps – relevant for future customer interaction?

Mobile apps in industrial B2B settings
In a more recent study, Schlegel und Partner discussed possibilities and limits of using mobile apps for supplier-customer interaction in industrial B2B settings. Some advocates suggested that there are potentially thousands of reasons to utilize this channel, from attracting new customers to making existing products more attractive. However, when looking for actual use cases in an industrial context, there are good reasons to keep a more sober, realistic attitude towards opportunities and expectations.
Many of us can hardly imagine daily private life without our smartphones anymore. Looking at the short history of mobile apps however, a strong increase in usage started just about ten years ago. By then, sales rose constantly at high pace and reached a new height during the Covid-19 pandemic with an estimated increase of 40%. In commercial and industrial settings, the development of these channels seems to be pushed further by the observed post-pandemic tendency towards omni-channel sales, and the digitally native, mobile addicted generations becoming the next customer contacts.

In B2B, the development of mobile apps is clearly delayed: they are still in an early stage of development and are rarely offered as a means of supplier-customer interaction. Usually, mobile apps are built from scratch since ready-made solutions and modules from B2C would not fit the specific requirements and business conditions in B2B. Often, provided tools are extensions of already existing customer web portal and ecommerce platforms, or enhancements of technical products and monitoring systems.

Of course, mobile apps are in competition with many other channels usually open to the customer. In general, digital sales and interaction is on the rise in B2B as well, and many companies are active or have it on their strategy’s agenda. Thus, there are digital channels designed for stationary devices like web portals and platforms, or APIs, which might be suited much better to the workplace environment of many customer contacts.

Furthermore, conventional channels like email and phone are still most common in B2B. Contacts often prefer personal and direct interaction, e.g. to elaborate on problems and discuss questions, as a convenient and accustomed means of communication. Several players observe an onset of online fatigue or even annoyance after being digitally constrained by the pandemic, also seen in the immediate re-bounce to in-person meetings after the lifting of restrictions.

The question of B2B mobile app relevance is one of customer-centricity and adopting the perspective of immediate contact persons in a relevant business context. It must be based on their actual needs and pain points, and on suitable workplace conditions for using digital tools. I.e., one needs to find a suitable use case, looking at potential target groups in purchasing, R&D, production or maintenance. Among others:
  • Does my target group work in environments that require mobile availability of functionalities?
  • Do they actually need the functionality at the time they are on their way?
  • Is the respective working environment suited for the use of mobile devices?
  • How are conditions like heat, noise, soil, safety requirements or the non-permission of the use of electronic devices?
Only if the app provides a real benefit and added value in this context, it will have the chance to be used. Even then, a lot of promotion and incentivizing is required to raise awareness and interest. There are only few examples of truly successful B2B apps, while the majority of aspirants have to cope with very sluggish start-up phases and slow adoption.

In two positive examples, mobile apps were directly linked to suitable hardware applications, thereby setting the foundation for regular use and need for usability in a mobile context away from the desk. One app complements agricultural machinery with functionality for steering, configuration and analysis operating conditions. The second app is linked to process material for industrial machinery, indicating operational readiness, current condition and need for maintenance and replacement. While both examples are not intended for customer communication in the first place, they both offer options for interaction and further services, thus enhancing customer experience.

Digitalization will have a huge share in shaping the future of B2B customer interaction and workplace conditions. The role of mobile apps will depend on finding sensible and suitable use cases in industrial settings.

Interested in further information?
Please do not hesitate to contact:
Dr. Helmut Weldle
phone 0049 (0)6201 / 99 15 52

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