The Obstacles Holding Back a Mobile Revolution in B2B SaaS

Will computers in the workplace ever become obsolete? Pretty unlikely in the short term, but there is tremendous opportunity for mobile applications to improve work processes.
For consumers, mobile has become everything. The success of consumer facing companies started today depends either highly or solely on their mobile strategy, experience, and user base. And while the importance of enterprise mobility and the BYOD movement have been acknowledged, employees still have yet to consistently use mobile apps in accomplishing real work tasks. What are companies doing wrong and what do mobile-focused business-to-business SaaS companies need to do to facilitate this movement?
Here are some steps I consider to be the biggest hurdles to overcome when building a mobile B2B SaaS application.

1) Employers Don’t Like Investing in Change

Mobile-focused B2B SaaS companies still haven’t figured out the right way to go from building user interest to pushing firm subscriptions in their mobile service. One of the most painstaking hurdles in building enterprise software is convincing a firm they should incur yet another expense. While users have indeed become more empowered within an organization to choose their products and have influence over adoption, management still has the final say.
This is particularly relevant for mobile software because employers typically supply a computer only, and aren’t as concerned with workplace mobility (apart from consulting, medical, finance, and other on-call industries). If firms start becoming dependent on mobile software then they’ll likely also need to subsidize employee smartphones.
This obstacle has become less threatening now that most people in the workforce have smartphones and are bringing their own devices to the office. Slowly, decision makers have warmed to the idea of employees using smartphones to conduct work instead of as a pager. I’m confident users will continue to become more empowered and mobile enterprise platforms will face less red tape.

2) Reimagined Data Entry

The way we all currently go about inputting data, whether it’s filling out a form, building a model, creating a presentation, or anything else, often simply can’t be mimicked on a smartphone. But there are more valuable forms emerging that accomplish the same goal using different inputs. Our portfolio company FieldLens exemplifies this; i.e. sending pictures is worth a lot more than trying to write out a detailed explanation of an issue with a construction project that will get misconstrued as it’s passed up the chain of command.
I’ve spoken to many people who believe simplifying data entry will be an impossible hurdle for mobile B2B SaaS companies to overcome. I’m a bit more optimistic. I think the most successful applications don’t just attempt to simplify current forms of data entry but rather reimagine data entry in an entirely new framework, like FieldLens has achieved.

3) Dedicated Mobile Marketing and Mobile Business Strategy Teams

Building a mobile app just for the sake of having a mobile footprint will only hurt your brand. If you’re going mobile, you have to commit, and committing means acknowledging the different requirements between mobile and the web.
In short, mobile is an entirely different beast and should be treated as such. How should you approach native mobile marketing, and what should your growth look like across different stages of your company’s life cycle?
Also, how and when will you monetize? Will you charge for in-app purchases, per-user licenses, or platform licenses, and is there a conflict with the free-download model?
The answers to all those questions will likely be different when comparing mobile and web strategies. Have a dedicated mobile strategy and dedicated mobile sales & marketing teams.

4) Old Habits Die Hard

Nobody really likes change. With a mobile-focused platform, you’ll eventually get a little push back from users who just aren’t willing to give up habits they’ve spent the last ten years forming. That’s known as a negative legacy effect, which happens when perceived success with some previous technology impedes on the adoption of radical technological shifts (e.g. desktop -> smartphone).
The legacy effect in this case can also be thought of as resistance to change and the “if it ain’t broken” mindset. To overcome stubborn legacies, you’ll have to really prove that your platform makes employees’ lives better. This process begins with an emphasis on simplicity, continues with a painless onboarding process, and is driven home with some sort of quantified data on daily time saved through the mobile app. The last of the three is in its premature stages but could be the difference maker in proving ROI to management and bringing legacy users onboard. 

5) Simplicity

Try to have as few clicks as possible. These days, a startup’s success is completely dependent on the experience it offers. You want your users to feel comfortable enough to work on the go instead of waiting until they’re back at their desks.
For a product to really take over, a user should be able to complete a task at least as efficiently as she would while sitting behind a computer. Bonus points if she has fun while doing so. 

6) Onboarding

B2B SaaS applications tend to be a bit more complicated than consumer mobile apps no matter how much you focus on simplification. Think about the first time you downloaded Snapchat and tried sending a picture — easy, right? B2B SaaS apps are a different story. They tend to have far more functionality, and it’s not immediately clear how the user will save time, improve communication, or whatever else their purposes are.  
Without some form of onboarding, users won’t be able to fully take advantage of the app. And if they can’t see all the benefits, how can you expect them to invest the time in adopting a new platform?
What am I missing? What challenges do you think are holding back mobile B2B SaaS?

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