Whereas IT managers may once have been the target market for enterprise software, today firms are better off designing apps to appeal directly to staff, the London Web Summit heard today.

This approach relies on the so-called “Dropbox effect”, where staff start using apps they have discovered themselves rather than been handed down to them by corporate IT. The software then permeates throughout the business via word of mouth, until it is favoured by a critical mass and the IT department has to consider officially incorporating it into the business’ IT estate.

”When I think about how to sell to enterprise I think about how to engage with the grass roots, how I can build a tool that people like using,” said Andy McLoughlin, co-founder of cloud-based collaboration and content management software maker Huddle.

”People now expect enterprise software, or the software they’re using everyday at work to be as sexy and easy to use as the tools they use in their social lives.”

A big part of that “sexiness” is how simple a product is to use, the panel agreed, which means that today that UI and user experience is far more important for enterprise software than it once was.

“Now it’s not about how do I make a product that I can sell to IT, where user interface is the last thing they’re interested in after features, security. It’s how do I make my product sexy for the consumer,” said Phillipe Botteri, of venture capital firm Accel Patners.

”One quote from our head of US was that, ‘generally the bar for enterprise software user experience is so bloody low that we can immediately put ourselves right at the front of this category just by doing the simple things right’,” said Huddle’s McLoughlin.

Panelists were keen to stress that winning over staff is only the way into a business. Vendors need the management and security features that enterprise expects if they don’t want to find themselves on a CIO’s blacklist.

”The worse thing you can do is spread across 30 per cent of the company and think you’re on the home straight and the CIO nixes you because he’s not happy with your enterprise credentials,” said McCoughlin.

“Security is a given. IT buyers don’t buy security, they buy something that solves their problem, but by God it has to be secure because if it’s not they’re not going to buy it.”