The growing popularity of smartphones is adding pressure to business establishments to enter the app and social media worlds. Both app and social media outlets are each stand-alone entities, but they often overlap in their efforts to connect wholesale distributors to their customers in a meaningful manner.How to create apps to connect distributors to customers

In the 2013 McGladrey/NAW Institute Distribution Monitor Report, Internet and Web applications were reported as the top information technology (IT) new purchase or major upgrade. After that came mobility solutions including tablets, customer relationship management, and social media applications.

The study was conducted with 379 distribution respondents and it covered a wide range of topics concerning wholesale distribution.

“Since the Monitor began accumulating data in 2005, the management of thriving companies has been a topic of interest,” said Bob Jirsa, partner, assurance services and industrial products distribution for McGladrey. “Over the years, the survey results have made it clear that successful distributors are investing in their futures and are more likely than others to put a percentage of their revenue in a number of areas, including information technology.”


Building an App

App is short for application and it is a program that operates with a specific programmed function. Some apps are simple in their programming and function, while others are intricate and complex. The type of app chosen will depend on what proprietors want to accomplish with the app, as well as how much they are willing to pay. Although there may be someone in a distributor’s business who is able to program an app, in-house programming and app management can be quite the undertaking. It is suggested that those looking to create an app use an app developer.

Before going to an app developer, distributors might want to consider the following steps.

Step 1:

Decide what type of app is desired. There are different types of business apps available. Some are special calculators, some reference tools, and others are full extensions of an e-commerce platform. Distributors could potentially offer customer service benefits for contractors by employing any of these type of apps, but mapping out specifically what the app will do and how it will serve the customer is imperative to the future success of an app. There might be value in surveying customers to help with this decision.


Step 2:

Decide which platforms the app will be on. Apps run on multiple platforms specific to different company’s mobile devices. Apple’s platform is iOS. Another platform is Android. Multiple manufacturers make mobile devices for Android apps, including Google, Nokia, Samsung, etc. Companies such as Microsoft and BlackBerry have their own proprietary platforms.


A second consideration when determining a platform is determining which devices the app will be available for. Apps can be smart phone only, tablet only, or available on both. To help distributors answer some of these questions they could consider them from two angles — what is popular overall or what is popular amongst their staff and customers.

Step 3:

Consider a budget. Apps cost money. Creating an app is an expenditure. Based on its function, the app may deliver tangible, financial returns or it could deliver nonmonetary returns. When deciding what to choose, those creating an app often consider how much they want to spend and if they are looking to foster good will with an add-on service for their customers or if they are looking to make money. Preparing to spend and defining purchaser expectations could not only help distributors to communicate with the app developer, but it should also help improve the end result of their app.


Step 4:

Appoint a facilitator. There can be a lot of little details and constant questions to answer as an app is being built. Those entrenched in the process often place one person in charge of the details, once the initial app development process is underway. These appointees can be thought of as facilitators or project managers. Those using this approach often determine how much the project manager can answer without approval and then allow them to make this process as smooth as possible with the app developer. Benefits of this include less hassle for both parties which can lead to a better end product.


Once working with app developers, there will be many items to consider and questions to answer. A good developer will walk the distributor through the process and help them meet the goals set out at the beginning of the process. It is important that distributors not be afraid to ask questions until they understand what is going on with their app. Although not necessary to have an in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of the programming, it is important that the distributor has an understanding of the basic functionality. Without the willingness of the distributor to ask questions and the app developer to answer them, there is potential for end-product disappointment.


How Social Should I Be?

Along with the increase of app creation and usage by distributors has come an increase in social media participation. According to the McGladrey study, approximately 63 percent of distributors across all sectors use social media and 12 percent indicate they plan to use social media in the future. In the construction distributors sector, which includes HVAC distributors, 48 percent said they use social media.

Typically characterized as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, social media as defined by Merriam-Webster is, “forms of electronic communication (websites for social networking and micro blogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos).”

There are often investments that go along with social media accounts. Although typically these accounts are free, social media can be time consuming. Distributors looking to participate in social media should be advised that a social media account is communicating about the brand all the time, even when there are no new postings being made. Another key issue that business social media users run into is their lack of ability to measure a positive return on investment (ROI) from a social media presence. When distributors decide to participate with social media for their brand, one important consideration they could make is to decide what they want to communicate with social media and what they expect to get from that communication. Without answers to these questions, distributors may find themselves at the end of a tiresome and disappointing social media road.

The McGladrey study pointed out that social media is important because that is where the customers are.

“The 21 percent of distributors that have no plans to use this channel will ultimately be forced to adopt usage of social technologies at some point,” it predicted. “The Internet and Web 2.0 are where many customers live now. If distributors want to have a relationship with customers and sell to them, they need to be where they are.”

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