I recently read some research via Digital Clarity Group (DCG) indicating that 70% of brands currently take a heterogeneous approach to creating digital experiences, meaning they combine best-of-breed components to build and continuously extend functionality to drive better user engagement. And this number is only expected to rise - to more than 80% within the next year.
The research clearly highlights skepticism among global brands that a single vendor could develop a fully-functional end-to-end digital experience. There is also a concern that parts of a single-vendor suite will lack the functionality of disruptive and emerging technologies, leaving them with fewer options to deliver these next-generation digital experiences.
So what’s the future for single suite solutions? And why is this so important in the context of companies looking to master digital Partner Relationship Management (PRM)?
Let’s break this down…
The Rise of Best-of-Breed SaaS Applications
Take a look at this graphic from ChiefMartec.com. I saw the first version of this in 2011 and was stunned at how many different marketing technologies there were to choose from. Seven years later the image is now so big you can’t read it on any screen regardless of resolution! And this is just marketing technology.
There are now FREE SaaS applications in the world that have better functionality, security and usability than platforms that used to cost tens of thousands of dollars a few years back. There are hundreds of applications and service offerings in almost every tiny category, supported by teams of passionate designers and developers who are deeply focused on making their app the best it can be for their area of specialty.
So this begs the question: Can a single vendor really be the master of all these disciplines, with the best technology, focus and service offering in every area? And are you comfortable trusting them to deliver on that promise you heard in the sales cycle?
Can a single vendor really be the master of all these disciplines with the best technology, focus and service offering in every category?
The Rise of Salesforce
Regardless of what we disruptive vendors like to say, Salesforce have absolutely killed it when it comes to creating an industry standard - not just for CRM but for business operations and data management in general. The graphic below (courtesy of IDC) shows how big this opportunity has become - purely from a services perspective. We are on track to see a $40 BN+ services market for on the Salesforce platform by 2020.
But yet even this juggernaut is not capable of delivering a ready-made, single-suite solution for digital experience. Companies of all shapes and sizes have invested blood sweat and tears trying to build connected digital experiences on Salesforce, yet have largely ended up with either vastly expensive, point-in-time, custom UX and apps they are forced to manage and maintain or an overly simplified core offering with other vendors running separately to fill the (often many) gaps.
Custom development demand around the Salesforce platform is growing as a result of this dysfunction and the days of Salesforce positioning itself as an out of the box offering are clearly over. Simply put, there should not be a $40 BN services opportunity for a true SaaS solution.
Simply put, there should not be a $40 BN services market for a true SaaS solution.
I work with companies everyday who have made huge investments in customizing Salesforce and have a frightening number of dependencies on the platform from an operational and business process perspective. The backlog of salesforce system change requests at these companies is equally frightening. The smart companies are realizing how to adjust to this, while not exacerbating the problem by building multiple custom apps, user experiences and complex bespoke integrations. (Later on, I’ll touch on how Webinfinity is helping them do this.)
The Rise of iPaaS
Another acronym(!) - this one is for Integration Platform as a Service. Salesforce know the importance of this capability, as demonstrated by their recent $6BN+ acquisition of Mulesoft. They are now working out how to weave all the clouds together with platform integration a key component.
iPaaS platforms allow companies to easily connect multiple systems and data sources (via APIs) without the usual nightmare of building out and maintaining custom integrations. The need for the technology (the category is growing rapidly) is driven by the critical need for organizations to ensure that their growing stacks of cloud applications (both cloud and on-premise) can work in unison at the data and workflow level. This is the new API economy and a critical ingredient for all future B2B user engagement and digital success.
This is the new API economy and a critical ingredient for all future B2B user engagement and digital success.
Yet many companies struggle to leverage the value of iPaaS in the context of digital experience and user engagement.
If you look at the Digital Experience challenge through the filter of iPaaS, what is clear is the future is not looking bright for the single vendor platform approach.
The End of Technology for Technology's Sake
One thing I’m very pleased to report is that it seems that very few organizations now purchase tech based purely on the features and functions without some kind of business case or understanding of how they will get a return on their investment. This was often not the case in the recent past!
This shift in buyer maturity has also highlighted the importance of other ‘best of breed’ partners - namely independent, unbiased specialist consultants and system integration companies who can help organizations really understand how to apply technology to the specific business needs they have (and not the other way around). Working with a trusted advisor like this is often critical in the context of digital success in the same way that finding the right architect and construction manager is vital to building a house.
Now if you’re planning to work with a single platform vendor for all the technology, here’s where the lines get blurry. Your “trusted” advisor in this scenario has a massive conflict of interest due to the fact that they are either an employee of the company selling you their vision of a single technology, or a partner whose livelihood is based on selling and implementing a specific tech platform. See the problem here?
Your “trusted” advisor has a massive conflict of interest due to the fact that they are either an employee of the company selling you their vision of a single technology, or a partner whose livelihood is based on selling and implementing a specific tech platform.
A best of breed strategy frees you from this challenge, enabling you to work with more independent advisors who really look at your business needs, then make technology decisions based on finding the best tools for the job.
So how does this relate to PRM?
With 70% of all technology revenue going through a third party of some kind, Partner Relationship Management (PRM) is of huge importance but not easy to get right.
For too long it's been regarded as the “red headed stepchild” of sales and marketing technology. The difficulty of leveraging platforms like Salesforce out of the box for channel has led to the rise (and impressive growth) of ‘single suite’ solutions.
Many companies are buying these technologies without asking themselves any of the hard questions about how well these single vendor platforms will ultimately work.
Yet many companies are buying these technologies without asking themselves any of the hard questions about how well these single vendor platforms will ultimately work - here are a few:
- “Our content is stored in multiple places (CMS, social, video, learning system, support site etc) - how can this be integrated into your single suite solution?”
- “We are using already using other apps and working with other vendors we wish to retain - how does that work in the context of your single suite solution?”
- “We have requirements for a new partner facing tool (e.g. partner scorecards or business planning) - do you provide a ‘module’ for that and if so how does it compare with dedicated industry specialists like Successful Channels?”
- “We have already created custom applications or built our own CRM functions and processes- how will these be connected to your single suite solution without interfering with our ‘single source of truth’ objective for partner data?”
- “We have very specific non-standard requirements which require custom development - how is that handled in the context of your single suite solution? Ideally, we don’t want to be forced to pay for and maintain custom applications with a specific technology vendor”
- “How will you handle seamless user experience, integration and authentication across different applications?”
- “Our data is stored is several places - how can we measure end to end partner engagement across all these tools?”
PRM (much like CRM) is a misused term which most people apply to these single suite solutions we’ve been talking about.
In reality, it needs to be about SO much more than that. There are hundreds of companies who have strong value propositions that can help you drive productive partner relationships. If you select a single suite solution you are essentially putting your entire execution strategy in the hands of one that’s a mile wide and an inch deep. Every service, SaaS feature, development innovation and consultancy you need from a single company? Not even Salesforce with all their revenues and acquisitions are close to being able to deliver on this.
So what does the future look like?
If you look at all the key trends driving the industry today it’s clear the digital user experience platforms of the future will not be single suites. The vast majority of organizations are understanding this already as confirmed by the recent research by DGC and others.
At Webinfinity we saw this shift coming more than five years ago. With over 15 years experience in the PRM space (as a single suite vendor!) we realized the old ways weren’t working. We decided to completely rebuild our approach, architecture and technology to embrace this next generation, digital best of breed opportunity.
The result of many years work is now realized in our unique ability to create a truly integrated end-to-end engagement experience that is totally personalized to the needs of each and every user.
Unlike a single suite solution, it’s built to work seamlessly with any combination of SaaS app, content source or custom application - weaving everything together in a single digital fabric that drives predictable, revenue-generating user engagement. And it’s true SaaS - no custom coding needed, everything through in-app configuration, top to bottom.
We are incredibly excited to see our vision become a reality, through working with world class companies such as NetApp, CA Technologies and Extreme Networks and through our recent recognition as Gartner Cool Vendor for 2018.