Everywhere you look, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are changing the way they use technology to run their businesses. Expensive, bloated software is quickly becoming a thing of the past as SMBs make the switch to cloud computing. For developers, the exploding demand for innovative business tools spells out one thing in giant, flashing neon lights: opportunity.
 
Even today, the cloud has no shortage of apps to tackle standard business-critical operations like payroll, marketing and inventory. However, the market is wide open for fresh, innovative takes on traditional business computing. Consider a company like Box and how it has transformed the humble office suite: What was previously a basic hub for documents and spreadsheets is now a sophisticated, secure platform for productivity and collaboration.
 
Who wouldn’t want to launch the next revolutionary app, particularly one that appeals to eager, cloud-hungry customers like SMBs? But, as numerous examples have shown, creating a great app is only half the battle. It’s marketing and distributing those products that can mean the difference between failure and success.
 
For many developers busy writing killer code, figuring out how to maximize the reach of their applications isn’t just a mystery; it’s something for which there simply isn’t enough time in the day. If this is all sounding a little too familiar, don’t despair: It’s not a lost cause. Here are three quick, easy ways to get your app seen, make it sticky, and start bringing in revenue.
 
Find great distribution
When SMBs decide to jump into the cloud, their first step is always tracking down the right apps. This alone can be a daunting task, big enough to send them running back to their hard drives. There are dozens of apps on the market for any given purpose. They’re listed and sold through several different channels. And to top it all off, the lack of trustworthy ratings turns deciding which to buy into a chore.

Fortunately, app stores are here to save business owners from these headaches. Just like they’ve been doing for years with music and mobile apps, users are flocking to cloud-based marketplaces to search for software, read reviews, make purchases, and manage their products.

These app stores represent a huge opportunity for developers. For starters, listing your product in a cloud marketplace means you can do a small amount of work and get a ton of exposure in return. Usually, app stores are aggressively marketed by the companies that own them (remember Apple’s almost ubiquitous “There’s an app for that” commercials?), so developers benefit from the droves of customers coming by to look for their next app.

App stores aren’t just an elegant way to showcase your product; some make it easier for customers to use your product too, with features like single sign-on and unified billing. By distributing through an app store, you’re essentially taking advantage of a powerful marketing platform with a huge audience, and it costs you nothing but a little integration time. What’s not to love?
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Make APIs work for you
One of the quickest ways to add value to your app is to integrate with other products. By teaming up with a brand SMBs know and trust, your app will benefit from a healthy dose of credibility, not to mention exposure to even more potential users.

Think about how your product could work with another tool your target audience needs or is already using. Are you selling a technical support app? Consider exploring integrations with popular CRM tools so customers can get a big-picture overview of their customer interactions. Maybe your app is a project-management tool that could get a huge boost from integrating with Google Drive, enabling users to link their documents to projects and tasks.

It’s a well-known fact that SMBs love the power and convenience of products that work together, but don’t integrate just for integration’s sake. If you’re having a hard time coming up with a use case for linking your payroll app to Facebook, it might be time to go back to the drawing board. Be sure the time and resources you invest in each partnership is worth it, and that it will be beneficial for your brand as well as your users.
 
Keep SMBs engaged
Users these days are no strangers to the elements of social media, and developers would be wise to take advantage of a trend that looks like it’s here to stay. You don’t necessarily need to put “likes” and “shares” throughout your app, but a little social capability goes a long way and lets you interact with your users on their level.
 
For example, giving your users a button to reach out on Twitter for technical problems makes them feel like they’re part of an active conversation. Contests and promotions, like rewarding users for inviting coworkers to the app, or encouraging participation on social media to win tickets to an event, are a great way to increase virality and evangelism. Giveaways are another increasingly common strategy: Companies like New Relic, for example, have created an almost cult-like demand for their branded t-shirts.
 
You can also consider the benefits of building social components into your product, like Salesforce.com did with Chatter. By weaving collaborative features into the thread of your product, you’re giving users a reason to come back again and, even better, invite their colleagues to your app.
 
Although developers may wish the old “If you build it, they will come” adage applied to the software industry, these days that’s simply not the case. Fortunately, this space is also full of relatively easy ways to accomplish these things. By distributing through app stores, using third-party APIs and enabling social capabilities, talented developers stand a good chance of capturing their fair share of the SMB market.

Matt Kane does developer relations at AppDirect, a cloud service marketplace and management platform.

About Matt Kane