Third-Party Power: The Rise of the B2B App Store

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A partnership network also allows customers to test out various solutions before making long-term investments. Apttus, for instance, provides salespeople mobile access to configure, price, and quote (CPQ) tools that are designed to help speed up processes encountered at the end of a sale, and after a sale has been completed. Apttus charges for its services, but it also allows users to try out products in advance to see whether the tools are a good fit for them. "The vast majority of our app exchanges have a trial capability," Elliott Yama, associate vice president and business leader at Apttus, says. "Trialability is particularly important [to clients], especially when they want to understand the value of the product."

Access to updates is another appeal of these environments. Since many products are offered by subscription, companies often choose to give them frequent makeovers. This can be an effective attention getter. Danny Estrada, CRM practice director at Net@Work, pointed out in a presentation on mobile at this year's CRM Evolution conference that one way to get people interested in a mobile app is to update it, as people are attracted to "new toys."

WHICH APPS ARE HOT?

Every year, Bluewolf, a global Salesforce.com consulting firm, and the MIT Sloan School of Management release their State of Salesforce annual report. The newest survey, conducted in the second and third quarters of 2015, analyzed the activity of more than 1,500 customers using the AppExchange, which boasts 2,400 apps in total.

For salespeople, popular add-ons focus on document preparation, according to Corinne Sklar, chief marketing officer at Bluewolf, a global Salesforce.com consulting firm. Often, Sklar recommends that clients add functionality in the area of contract finalization and e-signatures with applications from the likes of Docusign and eSign.

There has also been a recent surge in demand for sales intelligence and methodologies tools, Sklar says. CPQ tools, from companies such as Apttus and CallidusCloud, can provide enhancements to a CRM system to help salespeople find the information they need as they are closing deals.

Third-party vendors can also provide outside data and data cleansing tools that help companies stay up to date on their customers' contact information and other relevant details. Sklar singles out InsightSquared and Informatica as vendors that do a great job of filling data gaps and ensuring that companies work with high-quality data. This kind of information is important to marketers as they try to figure out what customers they should be messaging, how, and when. It is also invaluable to service representatives, as modern customers have high standards and expect companies to keep excellent track of their past interactions with a brand.

Sales managers have benefited from gamification and incentive management add-ons, which give them a way of monitoring team performance while keeping individual members engaged. Tools from Xactly and Badgeville enable managers to incentivize sales reps to meet their quotas. And vendors such as QStream aim to make the process of learning sales techniques more enjoyable; every day, users get short, bite-size questions sent to their phones, which they can answer in just minutes. The questions can be tailored to align with the methodologies companies wish to emphasize, and can be customized by sales managers. These tools link to a CRM system and give managers more information to work with to understand their teams, to see which areas need improvement and who is standing out.

FOCUS ON OUTCOMES

Suffice it to say that there's a lot of compelling and cutting-edge technology out there, but experts recommend that organizations figure out exactly what they need and avoid getting distracted by the bells and whistles. It's certainly true that what works for one company will not necessarily work for another.

Sklar advises companies to work on defining a solid game plan that focuses on fulfilling the desired business outcomes. "It's not about just going in and saying, 'Hey, we want to implement Salesforce.' It's about the business outcomes. Where's the focus in your organization? Is it around increasing upsell and cross sell? Is it about cost reduction? Are you trying to retain customers?"

It can be easy to lose sight of this, but just as organizations expect user-friendly experiences with technology, so do the customers doing business with them. Leslie Ament, senior vice president and principal analyst at Hypatia Research, points out that businesses need to focus on choosing technologies that will make it as easy as possible for customers to complete their intended actions.

Ament maintains that for the app store model to be successful, companies must have their customers in mind first. "Most companies tend to create processes around what's easiest for the company to do," Ament says. "When you put your processes and workflows and journeys together, think about how to reduce the friction for your customers," she recommends. "Make it easier to do business with your company."

Associate Editor Oren Smilansky can be reached at osmilansky@infotoday.com.

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