As mobile technology transforms the workplace, business-to-business marketers are making huge shifts in their strategies by forming new partnerships, changing marketing messaging and restructuring marketing organizations to reach mobile workers.
The market for mobile business services is skyrocketing. According to Forrester Research, revenue generated from mobile services sold to businesses will leap from $11.4 billion this year to $32.4 billion in 2018. This includes mobile-engagement services (such as analytics, experience design and back-end upgrades), mobile-device management and mobile-app-development services.
Meanwhile, mobile vendors report that an increasing percentage of their revenue is coming from businesses. AT&T last month created an organization to focus on business customers led by Ralph de la Vega, CEO of mobile and business solutions, saying b-to-b now makes up half of all revenue from wireless.
Much of this growth is being driven by the burgeoning use of mobile as a primary business platform. According to a study released last month from Forbes Insight and Google, 40% of U.S. executives said they now use a mobile device as their primary business platform. That's expected to increase to 51% in three years.
To reach this exploding market, b-to-b marketers are making big changes.
In July, IBM and Apple -- former rivals in the PC market -- formed a partnership to jointly develop more than 100 mobile business apps. Under the partnership, IBM will provide expertise in enterprise computing, analytics and industry knowledge while Apple will supply design and technical skills.
"The capabilities being developed are completely new, and will create a truly mobile workforce that has the unprecedented power of data and analytics in the palm of their hands," said Kristen Lauria, VP-marketing for IBM Mobile Enterprise, the IBM division responsible for developing mobile software, services and device management for enterprise customers.
IBM and Apple declined to provide more details about the types of apps that will be developed or how they will market them.
While mobile usage is surging, marketing spending hasn't followed. "Not every marketer has a dedicated budget for mobile," said Julie Ask, VP-principal analyst at Forrester. "The inhibitors [among b-to-b marketers] to spending more tend to be lack of ROI, lack of expertise and lack of bandwidth."
Restructuring for mobile
SAP is applying mobile to everything from product development to audience segmentation.
"With anything we develop these days, we have to assume that someone will be accessing it via a mobile device," said David Ludlow, group VP-line of business solutions at SAP, which develops enterprise software for industries ranging from aerospace to health care.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Mr. Ludlow said, SAP marketed to "power users" -- people in back-office type jobs who were keying in data and working with software in functions such as finance and human resources.
Now, SAP apps are being used by more "casual" users, such as employees requesting vacation time on mobile devices, and they expect the apps to be consumer-grade and easy to use. SAP previously had a separate mobile division -- the result of its acquisition of Sybase in 2010 -- which created mobile apps. Then, about two years ago, SAP integrated mobile development into its entire product-development organization.
"Today mobile development is 100% integrated into the application-development teams," Mr. Ludlow said. "You really can't separate it any more. From the expectation of the end user, nearly everything you can do from a browser perspective you should be able to do on a tablet."
Mobile blurs the line between b-to-b and b-to-c
Mr. Ludlow said this shift in targeting different audiences as a result of mobile adoption has also influenced SAP's overall marketing messages. "We are marketing to individuals instead of companies -- ultimately it's people who use the applications and who get value from the apps," he said.
Last year, SAP shifted its campaign messaging from "Businesses Run SAP" to "Life Runs SAP," to reflect its focus on marketing to people.
Other marketers and agency execs say mobile technology is blurring the lines between b-to-b and b-to-c marketing. "Mobile has been a driver in breaking down the walls between b-to-b and b-to-c. Now, we talk to people -- we don't talk to companies. This is a huge shift in the b-to-b approach," said Christoph Becker, CEO and chief creative officer at b-to-b agency Gyro, New York.
"The shift started when people started becoming mobile and changed how they started operating in work -- people shifted from a physical place to a state of mind," he said.
The human factor
For its client Cars.com, an independent research site for car shoppers, Gyro helped the company develop marketing programs for its dealer audience to use in reaching car buyers doing research on mobile devices.
Cars.com has done a range of mobile-marketing activities to help dealers, such as creating a responsive-design website, using email blasts formatted for mobile devices and running mobile-focused social campaigns. It has also used text messages and push alerts for mobile audiences.
"We view mobile as something that integrates horizontally across our entire product organization, not limited to a single team or unit," said Linda Bartman, CMO of Cars.com. "Every product team is a mobile product team."