a person in a hard hat holding a phone

More Than Responsive

Far too often when asked about what their mobile strategy looks like, manufacturers and distributors alike will show you this:

✓ The website works on a phone

It should be noted, that this is a large change in the past two years, with only 57% of B2B companies reporting they had a mobile-enabled website in 2014, that number had jumped to 79% of B2B companies by 2016, and will only continue to increase. But with customer’s expectations evolving every day, the majority of organizations are already mobile-enabled, and external forces such as Google are rewarding mobile-friendly sites, mobile-optimized or responsive websites are table stakes to all B2B companies.

The Ever-mobile B2B Buyer

Mobile device usage across all industries and verticals is continuing to increase, for both users and time spent on smaller screens. With statistics showing over 200 million mobile devices in the hands of Americans, an average of five hours spent daily on these smaller screens, and that users check mobile devices an average of 47 times a day, there’s no indication that mobile users are separating out work and personal activity on their devices. In January of 2017, eMarketer reported that 84% of millennials (aged 18-35) considered their mobile device essential to their work, with Gen X (aged 36-51) not too far behind at 76% of respondents. These percentages are expected to grow even more in the coming years as Baby boomers (aged 52+)—of whom only 60% considered their devices essential to work—are leaving the workforce. Perhaps one of the most telling statistics of mobile adoption to digital marketers in recent times is when Google announced in 2015 that the number of mobile searches surpassed desktop searches for the first time in history, that number then jumped an additional 10% a year later, with Google seeing nearly 60% of search volume coming from mobile devices.

More specifically to the B2B buyer, a recent Google study found that 42% of researchers use a mobile device during the B2B purchasing process. But even more important, Google found that: “49% of B2B researchers who use their mobile devices for product research do so while at work. They’re comparing prices, reading about products, comparing feature sets, and contacting retailers.” They’re converting into sales as well, as Google notes: “purchase rates on mobile are up 22% in the past two years.” Interestingly, B2B isn’t too far behind B2C when it comes to digital commerce revenue from mobile channels. While there are many, many differences between the B2B & B2C commerce experience, Gartner found that mobile ecommerce generates 19.4% of the overall digital revenue, compared to the 22.6% on the B2C side. The statistics and research on mobile adoption and what that means to manufacturers and distributors is plentiful, but what all arrows point to is that at a bare minimum, all companies must have a relatively full-featured mobile web experience for their prospects and customers.

Okay, so I have a mobile website. But what about apps?

While many businesses now have a mobile-friendly web experience, more and more are additionally investing in native mobile applications for a variety of purposes. With reports that show mobile device usage time increasing year-over-year (nearly doubling from 2013 to 2016) and the percentage of that time on a mobile browser decreasing from 20% in 2013 to only 8% at the end of 2016, apps are an important topic. From an ecommerce app to a sales and service portal, many B2B companies are finding value in equipping their employees, channel partners, and customers with enriched native mobile capabilities at their fingertips.

The Good

Fortunately, there are many ways native mobile apps can add tremendous value to end-users over a traditional responsive or mobile-friendly website. One of the more obvious values of a dedicated native app for your customers is simply mind-share, or quite literally: “screen-share.” Having your logo on the home screen of a device that we know people are looking at 41+ times a day is invaluable. Additionally, Google, in 2015 rolled out “app search engine optimization” features, where apps can be served up in search results, and even “deep-linked” where if a user were if a user were to click on a result, it could open an app to the location of the relevant result.
However, the major benefits of native mobile apps to customers is the app’s ability to leverage the device-specific features. To start, OS-specific design can be incorporated into the app’s design, allowing those used to Android or iOS design features and button placements to experience consistency in usage from apps they’re already familiar with. Device-specific sensors and capabilities also enhance the mobile app experience. Push notifications— including banner-styled, pop-ups, and lock-screen notifications— can be extraordinarily helpful for B2B buyers and job sites who need to be kept up-to-date on the latest location of a shipment they are expecting.

To make ordering even quicker and more convenient on a mobile device, apps can leverage the device’s camera to act as a barcode scanner to quickly look up information and reorder items they commonly have. Some manufacturers have also leveraged cameras to allow their customers to capture asset tag information such as serial numbers to look up manuals and additional information. What if a customer needs a replacement part, but can’t find the SKU or model number? Have them snap a few pictures of the item within your app and submit to your technical sales team for assistance. Beyond visual help from the camera, microphone access on a mobile device also allows for voice-searching and other integrations. Whether the listening capability is to be used to connect with a customer service representative or even integration into artificial intelligence assistants such as Siri on iOS devices or Google’s offerings, often-times this voice recognition feature can be speedier than typing on small devices.

One of the biggest value propositions a manufacturer or distributor can bring to their customers when promoting a new mobile app is time savings. Are customers sick of having to log-in multiple times? Speed up the process and make your accounts even more secure by allowing them to log-in via the devices built-in fingerprint scanner. Do your product detail pages have a lot of images and content on product detail pages? Apps have access to device caches and often more memory allotments that allow for better performance on devices. Perhaps your customers are in the field with spotty or no internet connection. Leverage device caching and storage opportunities to capture offline orders, or allow customers to download assets and content to their devices. Furthermore, enable your mobile app to work with other common apps customers use in their daily routines. With one click from your app, enable customers to share product data, order statuses, or content such as installation guides via their preferred email app or text messages. If your customers are frequently ordering replenishment items monthly or weekly, allow them to click to add a reminder to their calendars with the correct lead time to minimize workplace disruptions. With the features built into modern mobile devices, native mobile apps can leverage the power to make your B2B buyer’s experiences even more seamless.

Looking ahead in mobile trends, the prevalence of more powerful mobile devices and accessories has enabled augmented reality to be an option for millions of device owners. Augmented reality, or AR, in this context, is the use of an app and the mobile device’s camera and other sensors to overlay information or images over real-time video and images on the device. The potential application of augmented reality for B2B is limitless. For manufacturers, enabling your service repair personnel
to point a camera at a machine, allowing the app to be able to recognize the machine and point our specific part numbers live and in front of you can be vastly beneficial for training and hard repair jobs. While AR is relatively new and complex, this technology will continue to advance and may be commonplace in the next few years.

As you can see, the power of mobile devices and the apps on them vastly exceeds the abilities of a standard website that we’ve come to know and use daily. While there are of course costs and development efforts associated with these features, the value provided to customers and the differentiation over competitors in a tightening marketplace can provide returns well into the

The Bad

Unfortunately, since the value apps provide vastly varies depending on what their use-case is (games, social media, ecommerce, and more) there are conflicting studies on how many people use apps, how often they are downloaded, and their abandonment rate. That being said, there is a collective agreement that if an app isn’t a value-add experience for users out of the gate, that users will not come back to use the app again. One Google study showed that 25% of installed apps are never used, and furthermore, 26% of apps are abandoned after the very first use. These stats make a big splash and should serve as a cautionary tale: if you’re creating an app just to have one, with no real differentiation or value over a mobile web experience, you’ll have poor adoption and likely poor user experience.

It’s easy to see how consumers can experience “app overload” and become skeptical of the need for a single-use app from a manufacturer or distributor. With more than a quarter of a million new apps being released a year, it’s in a B2B company’s best interest to avoid getting lost in the mix. While developing value-add aspects into an app can obviously buck that trend, it still can be difficult to persuade consumers to download additional apps.

When it comes to acquiring app users from your existing customer base, as well as acquiring net-new customers, apps can sometimes be a mixed bag. Beyond the “app overload” scenario, the largest issue with customer acquisition on apps starts with the fact that apps have to be downloaded. In today’s world, users are seeking instant gratification, and if users are searching for answers, or looking for a specific product, they are likely to follow the path of least resistance and default to normal browsing behaviors. Why download an app to find out more about a specific product from a distributor when their competitor’s website has all of that information on the web without a download? On a related note, while there have been strides made by Google to provide organic search results pointing towards apps, organic and paid media are much harder to effectively leverage when a download has to occur between first-click acquisition and getting to the desired outcome.

For companies, some may find updating a website’s content easier to do than updating an app. Additional app features and changes can be a bit more cumbersome than changes on the web due to multiple operating systems and app store requirements.

Mobile operating systems are also continuing to make mobile browsers more powerful. While adoption may be a few years out since the mobile browser extension points are in the process of being standardized, many device features are beginning to be exposed to browsers. Location information and camera usage are becoming easier to trigger or use directly from a website, and push notifications, offline working, and audio is in the beginning stages of adoption and beta testing on Android devices. For the near future, however, it does appear that apps will be the easiest way to leverage these features, with the best performance and experience for end users.


As you can see, mobile experiences for customers and businesses alike have grown immensely in a very short time. No longer can a mobile website be an option, it’s now a requirement. With the varying operating systems and screen sizes, responsive design is crucial to enable your customers to use a full-featured website. But, that shouldn’t be where your company’s mobile strategy stops. Depending on how you currently (and wish to in the future) engage with your customers, mobile apps may further deepen brand loyalty and provide multiple value-add experiences for current and new customers alike. Consider your customers’ day-to-day usage and interactions with your company. If rich feature-sets such as location-specific information, barcode scanners, offline access, or just quick, snappy user experiences are helpful to your customers, a mobile app may be just what your company needs to succeed in B2B on the small screen.