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For the last few years we have seen an explosion in consumer web apps. We have seen LinkedIn valued at more than $4bn following its IPO and others like Groupon looking to follow suit.

Without a doubt web apps that target the public are all the rage, but they are not the end of the story. There is also hidden potential in business to business web apps.

The hidden potential of business web applications

The irony of all the excitement surrounding consumer web apps is that few are yet profitable. This is in stark contrast to their business cousins that produce real, tangible return on investment.

The return on investment from business to business web apps fall into three categories:

  • Increases in revenue.
  • Cost savings.
  • Improved customer satisfaction.

Let's quickly look at each in turn.

Increase your revenue.

Whether your business sells products or services to other organisations a web app has the potential to increase the level of revenue you can generate. This typically falls into two areas.

Web application as a sales tool.

Web apps can attract new customers. A well designed, easy to use web app can be a real selling point that distinguishes you from your competition. It demonstrates that you are 'on the ball' and that you have thought about how to make the process of working with your customers easier for all parties. 

Web application as sales multiplier.

A well designed system can actually encourage existing clients to increase the amount they spend with your company. By removing the friction involved in the sales process, customers tend to spend more on average and with greater frequency.

One example of the increased revenue that can be generated from business web apps is an application we built at [Headscape](http://headscape.co.uk) for a food wholesaler who sold to health authorities.

The application provided detailed nutritional information to these clients that helped them to plan their orders. The easy to use interface and powerful database of information has become an effective sales tool which attracts new customers. However, it also encouraged clients to order more frequently because the system was so easy to use.

Of course, business web apps are not just about generating new revenue. They are also a massive cost saving tool.

Make cost savings.

Most business to business web applications provide significant cost savings that quickly generate a return on investment. These savings are typically made in time that come from handling repeated tasks with more efficiency.

Take for example an app I was involved in developing to handle communication with franchisees. Typically this process involved duplicate data entry and a lot of human intervention. Following the implementation of this new application, franchisees were able to order supplies directly from the central office in a completely effortless manner.

When users are required to work with a system on a daily basis (or even more often in some cases) the smallest 'annoyance' in the system can quickly lead to many additional man hours of work across the organisation. This leads to massive inefficiency when taken cumulatively. 

However, there is also a relatively hidden benefit that comes from investing in high quality business web applications; customer satisfaction.

Retain customers.

Well designed, web applications can be a powerful tool in retaining customers and increasing their satisfaction.

We have developed many business to business web applications in the past and one of the common threads across these experiences is the dissatisfaction with what currently existed and the excitement when you roll out the improved system.

The most satisfying situation is when the users of these systems comment on how it would be hard to move to another supplier because they would miss the app they have come to work with so comfortably.

Of course, this only works if the system is a pleasure to use.

It has to be a pleasure to use.

Many organisations already have business to business web applications they have been running for some time. You maybe one and maybe questioning the returns I have been claiming. After all, that has not been your experience. These web applications have not generated the return on investment I have talked about.

A failure to generate a return for a business web application inevitabiy comes down to one of two things:

  • It scratches an itch nobody has.
  • It is badly implemented.

More often than not both of these problems can be attributed to over zealous IT departments. 

Most IT departments are not in regular contact with your clients. They are isolated, working away behind the scenes. This makes it hard for them to develop effective web apps.

They simply do not understand the problems of your clients and even when they do, they are not best placed to design applications that need a solid understanding of human/computer interaction and usability.

The need to invest in your web applications.

This is not the fault of the IT team. Often these systems are 'cobbled' together on a very limited budget, which is in itself ironic. Companies are more than happy to spend considerable amounts on their 'sales' website but very little on the client once the lead has been won. 

An effective web application needs to be as carefully designed as your website and undergo rigorous usability testing to ensure it is the right solution to the right problem.

An effective web application can generate as much if not more income than your website through repeat business, customer retention and cost savings.

It is time we invest the same in our web applications as we do in the website that wins our clients. 

Paul Boag

Published 27 June, 2011 by Paul Boag

Digital Strategist Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or his personal blog Boagworld.

28 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

Nick Masters

Nick Masters, Head of Online at Practicology

Paul - agree with your sentiments, however its worth noting that currently user appetite seems to be running ahead of delivery. Our PwC app has been far more successful than originally imagined with minimal push behind it. Our audience are used to apps in all other aspects of their lives - why not at work.

over 5 years ago

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Stu Collett

Really nice article, Paul. We wholeheartedly agree that web app/software companies need to invest into their actual products as much as they do into their marketing efforts. It's all well and good having a great sales pitch, but if you give your users a poor product experience you'll be overtaken eventually.

over 5 years ago

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