There used to be a joke that it didn't matter how enterprise software was designed - so long as it was some shade of grey and that you didn't move the buttons around the interface after each release.

It didn't matter how enterprise software looked because there were much fewer options and the function of the product was what mattered most to the IT buyer.

Over the last decade the modern workforce has quickly moved through the "Consumerization of IT" to a world that some call the App-ification of Everything. The massive proliferation of applications in mobile app stores have created an abundance of gorgeous, engaging alternatives to the traditional enterprise tools provided to workers. Apps stores make the barriers to acquire those solutions very low, and their well-designed interfaces make them actually fun to use for often-critical tasks at work.

Modern workers now expect a higher level of design. The software still needs to suit their needs, of course. But if they don't get the level of design and the user experience they're looking for, they can always go find a consumer-grade product that they will eventually bring back to the enterprise.

It's no longer good enough to simply build a strong product. If it doesn't look and feel good, you may not gain the traction even though you've sold it to your customers.

Understand Your Customers

Let's say you've built a solid product that looks great and provides a great user experience. How are you going to get people away from the consumer-grade tool they're currently using and over to your product?

It starts with understanding who your customers are, what their problems are, and what they're looking for in their solutions. This includes being extremely detailed with mapping out their current workflows, diagramming their user journeys and developing a comprehensive, abstracted persona to define each of your target users.

It's no longer enough for enterprise product developers to simply sell to the economic buyer at their target customers. To be successful in today's climate, they need to sell directly to the end user, too. At Fuze, we talk about selling to both the CIO and the End User with equal importance since both are key in the decision to buy and then actively use our software.

Make UI and UX Top Priorities

One of my favorite managers used to say, "None of our customers get paid to use our [enterprise] software, they get paid to do their jobs as effectively as possible and then go home."

Today's workers are extremely busy. They don't have time to tool around with an app or service to figure out how it works. They need something that is intuitive and works as it's supposed to with an aesthetic appeal to keep them coming back. Product managers and designers must consider the ergonomics of their user experience equally as much as the in-app help and first-time user journey.

Remember Bing? The shade of blue Microsoft built into its search engine alone generated an additional $80 million in annual revenue.

At Fuze we have made the user interface and the overall experience a focus for our users and it has led to significantly higher user adoption and engagement. We paid attention to key user flows, like the ergonomics of muting and un-muting yourself in our mobile app while driving. We also did numerous explorations of the individual colors used in our buddy list icons, keeping in mind that every single color choice matters to the overall experience.

End users are the main thing that will increase the adoption and general worker engagement of your platform. If they're unsure how to figure out how to use what you've built, they'll quickly search for an alternative in the app store and start using it immediately.

Think Mobile

According to IDC, 72.3% of U.S. workers will be mobile by 2020. These professionals rely on mobile devices to do their work. That being the case, product designers should start thinking about mobile experiences as a primary endpoint for all of their user experiences.

The user experience of enterprise software and its focus on mobility is now equally important--if not more so--than its actual functionality. If users have a hard time navigating a user interface or if the ergonomics are not fun and engaging, they'll likely look elsewhere for a solution. Those solutions are often easy to find, easy to use, and free.

If you want to grow your business and grow your customer base, you need to keep design at the top of every aspect of your product portfolio.