Don't Settle for a Point Product—Invest in a Platform
There are hundreds of new sales tools in the market, and more than $1.2 billion has been invested in sales acceleration technologies. These products support a range of sales functions, from sales team structuring to building a pipeline to setting up a territory plan to improving prospect engagement.
In choosing tools, businesses have many questions to consider. What tools fill the greatest need within their organization? What tools work best to accelerate the sales process? What tools deliver the fastest ROI?
And then there's another consideration: Has a sales tool been architected as a platform, able to support multiple capabilities, such as content tracking and reporting group email or templates, or was it designed as a point product to focus on one primary task, like tracking email?
Organizations may initially require a product that delivers one specific capability, but as they grow and their needs change, they will find themselves wanting more. Simply buying point products will limit your growth, and you'll need those products to work with other products—making for a potential integration nightmare. Because a point product is designed for a specific task, it has a limited set of options and may not be capable of handling the full range of your requirements. Organizations looking for new sales tools to add to their infrastructure must understand the following four key advantages of the platform.
A platform is a piece of infrastructure that can be quickly and cost-effectively expanded with more components. With core software components, like storage and databases, search engines and security, sales platforms let vendors or third parties easily add new functionality with minimal cost and effort. An architectural diagram can tell you whether a product you’re considering is a platform. If you can’t locate a solution's architectural diagram, ask relevant questions, such as what the core components are and how they will be used to support new features.
With an architecture designed to support more features, a platform can add greater value by giving organizations a relatively simple way to add future capabilities as their needs grow.
2. Ease of Integration
Because platforms are more sophisticated, they can connect with more products. A sales platform, for instance, can let you connect more easily to related products such as CRMs, marketing automation software, and cloud storage services
Tighter integration lets organizations combine related features and reduce the steps for different processes, increasing efficiencies. Most tools generate their own data and benefit from some level of integration. As a rule of thumb, the more direct integration a sales tool has with other products that you can see, the more likely it's a platform.
Imagine a high-end coffee maker that lets you effortlessly prepare espresso, cappuccino, or lattes, with control panels to automatically schedule your favorite drink when you wake up in the morning. With three milk and two coffee options, and the ability to brew tea or make hot chocolate, that is a customizable platform.
Sales platforms can support customization for a broad range of users and use cases. Sales tool vendors can customize platforms for a specific need, and organizations can also buy a platform and do their own customizations—at the admin or user level. A user might choose what notifications they want or don't want, customize the look and feel of the user interface (or change it completely), or increase functionality.
You can't do any of this type of customization with a point product that is built for a specific use case.
4. Consolidated Management and Reporting
Because platforms deliver consolidated management and reporting, they can significantly reduce administration requirements. With a consolidated platform, you can add a user to one system and control their permissions from there.
With a single, unified platform, data from various features ends up in one database, making it easier to build a report—without having to pull data sets from different tools and then consolidate it all in a separate database. With a platform, all the data on all the features are automatically 100 percent consolidated. This is much less labor-intensive, and more cost-effective.
It can be costly and inefficient to buy different products for each sales team. A point product may appear less costly at first glance, but integration and expansion expenses could double your initial cost. While there can be times when point products offer best-of-breed functionality, the inefficiencies are typically much greater.
Many sales tools also exist in the middle ground. In evaluating sales tools, look at where they fall in the continuum. How many of the above criteria are offered, and which ones? Above all, does the platform deliver simplified management, increased efficiencies, and lower cost of operations? If so, consider investing in such a solution, to give your organization the support it needs now and in the future.
Fritz Mueller is vice president, product management, and cofounder of LiveHive Inc., where he leads product development and product design. Mueller is an expert in product management for SaaS and enterprise software. For more than 20 years, he has managed the design of software and services with user satisfaction as a top priority.