It seems every five years or so there is a buzz in the channel about a new way to engage your channel partners, communicate with them more effectively and “stay top of mind”. In the last two years, mobile apps for your channel have been the latest fad. But the reality is falling short of the promise. Downloads of vendor branded mobile apps are low and utilization is even lower. Why? And why is building a branded mobile PRM application a bad idea?
- Build it and they will come…
We can’t all be Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams. The rest of us need to test our ideas and leave some things on the cutting room floor. Of course if you asked a partner, “would you like us to make you a mobile application.”, they will say yes. If that is the depth of your market research you should be fired. Or made to watch a 24 hour Dances with Wolves marathon like I did while my wife was in labor. And I did it with no epidural! The reality is: your channel partners have more than one vendor. I know this may come as a shock but it’s true. Better questions would be:
- “Would you like to have 20 to 30 separate mobile applications on your phone, one for each of your vendors?”
- “Would you like to decentralize communications from 2 applications (email and text) into 20 to 30 different apps all with blinking number badges in the high double digits?”
- “Would you like 20 to 30 apps that have only a portion of the functionality that currently exists in mobile-friendly Partner Portals?”
If they didn’t ask for it, don’t build it.
2. What do leg warmers, mullet haircuts and OS-specific software have in common?
If you said they are all things from the late 1980’s you hope never come back in style, you are correct. Back then, there was a mad rush to convert client server software over to shiny new GUI desktop applications. It was a nightmare. Our battle tested business applications that always worked and could be updated in one place were now breaking every time Bill Gates unveiled the next version of untested, bug ridden crap. We were at the mercy of the OS. Granted, OS’s on mobile are more stable than the stuff Gates used to put out but you still need to manage to the OS release, and with mobile you need to do it for 2 major operating systems. Add to this that you have to submit your upgrade to an intermediary (AppStore, Android Store) and then wait for the user to upgrade both OS and your applications, you get a roadmap management and version control problem of epic proportions. The browser changed all of that. Over time it evolved to support nearly every feature you could create on an OS. Today, no one in their right mind would write a business application to deploy on a desktop OS. Why would you opt to maintain 3 versions (Web, Apple, Android) of the same functionality with inconsistent user experience? It makes no sense. There is certainly a place for mobile applications. Social media, entertainment or anything that can make use of GPS, accelerometers, microphones, cameras etc. But in my opinion, if it can be done in a browser, do it in a browser. Just like 10 years ago when the Web replaced desktop applications, the browser is going to win this battle again.