When you read an article titled, “Mobile-App Use Increased 115% in 2013” (Mashable), it’s hard not to feel like you should stop everything and build a mobile app for your business. And maybe you should. What you shouldn’t do is invest the resources to build an app just for the sake of saying you have an app. A mobile app is an opportunity to engage with your customers (or potential customers) or otherwise add value to your business. A mobile app is not just your website on a smartphone or tablet.
As for what a mobile app should do for your business, there are endless resources to dive into on this topic, but at the heart of it, the app needs to either add value for your customers or add efficiencies to your internal processes.
External apps that are built for your customers can range from content aggregators to fully interactive programs that provide customized information and results for its users. For instance, many companies in different industries offer ROI calculators or other methods of assisting customers with calculating costs and other key performance indicators for the business. The app could also become an additional profit center if you are providing a unique service through the app and charging for its use. Or you could look into creating an app that serves no purpose other than fun. Of course, this would have an added benefit of keeping you top of mind when your customers need something.
If you’re looking at an internal app, you are most likely trying to answer a productivity challenge to build efficiency into your business. Sometimes these get overlooked because of the desire to have something cool that is customer-facing, but apps that improve how your business runs can be the most impactful in the long run.
We as an industry might even consider pooling resources to provide some consumer- facing apps to help keep the industry growing and entice the tech savvy generations to keep gardening.
Where To Start?
Before you jump head first into development, put ample time into brainstorming with your team and testing out some concepts with end users to be sure you’re on the right track.
You’ll want to consider who will be using the app, where they will be using it and what your end goals are in providing them with the app.
• What is your app trying to accomplish? What is its purpose?
• Who will be the primary user of the app?
• What environment will the app be used in?
• How will you measure success of the app?
Here are a few examples of potential apps.
Example #1: Supplier Selling To Professional Greenhouse Growers
Purpose: Reduce the time it takes to diagnose culture issues and begin treatment for your customers so they have more success in the greenhouse.
User: Employees of the greenhouse
Environment: The greenhouse (Why does this matter? It’s often hot and humid in a greenhouse and more importantly, there is a cement floor. Make sure you purchase protective covers for your tablets to prevent damage.)
App Idea: Take a picture of the ailing plant and the app will run through an extensive culture database and diagnose the problem while instantly providing tips to fix the problem.
Successful Outcome: Fewer claims because you are able to assist with culture issues on the spot, as if you were right there in the greenhouse with them.
Example #2: Professional Greenhouse Selling To Retail Outlets
Purpose: Increase sell-through of product. When our retailers experience success with a product, we all win.
User: B2B customers
Environment: Office/retail environment
App Idea: Provide an app for retail garden centers that schedules their purchases for them. It could have all of your products and, depending on the retail location, weather and the retailers’ preferences, tell them when certain products should be on the shelves to make sure no one is selling pansies when it is time for lobelia.
Successful Outcome: Increased sales as a result of customer satisfaction because they are purchasing the right products at the right time.
Example #3: Retail Outlet Selling To Consumers
Purpose: Take the guesswork out of gardening maintenance for our customers. Make it easier for “non-plant” people to be successful in the garden.
User: Home gardeners
Environment: At home
App Idea: Provide an app to gardening customers where they can input all of the plants that they have in their garden to create a customized gardening and care schedule. Give watering guidelines, make sure the plant is getting enough sun/shade and even send push notifications when it’s time to prune plants back or cover them for inclement weather.
Successful Outcome: Repeat customers. Happy customers come back again and again.
The sky is truly the limit for mobile apps that can help drive loyalty and engagement with your company. HubSpot acknowledges that B2C apps can have more appeal but wrote a nice article on “10 Innovative Ideas for B2B Mobile Apps.” Although the article was written a while ago, I think it still holds some good nuggets to help get your brainstorm going.
Devices, hardware, operating systems, development tools, technologies, frameworks — there are a lot of technical things to consider when you are ready to dive in.
I recommend Inspiring Apps: A Business Perspective on Building Mobile Apps (a free book available on iTunes by the company InspiringApps in Boulder) as a quick read that will give you great insight into all of the different options you will want to explore before you begin. It gives a nice rundown on financials and other aspects to consider while in the planning phases of mobile app creation, as well. (Full disclosure: I was a co-author of the book while employed at Inspiring Apps.)
One of the most important technical decisions you will make in the very beginning of the process is native or cross-platform. In other words, do you want an app that is specifically designed and developed to work solely on the Apple iPhone or do you need something that works seamlessly regardless of what type of smartphone or tablet it is being accessed from? If you are working on an internal app and you know for a fact that all of your employees use Android devices, then it is beneficial to take advantage of additional features when you develop for a specific device.
However, if your audience is a wider group, you may not want to alienate anyone by assuming they use one device or another. This is an important consideration to keep in mind from the get-go, and one that will save you money and get your app to market in a timely manner if you spend some time on it on the front end.
As with any development project, there is no black and white answer to this question because it is entirely dependent on how involved your application is. For instance, a content app will be much less expensive than a fully interactive app that provides customized information and results to its users.
The online news site, Mashable, suggests that the bare minimum cost to develop an app will be $10,000 and it will go up from there.
As with any investment of time, money and other resources, you have to make sure that the payoff will be there for your business. Will the app build brand awareness? Will it shorten the time to complete a particular task and save money and cut out frustration for your employees? Will it bring in additional revenue? These are all incredibly important things to review and feel pretty confident about before you embark into the world of mobile apps.