The concept of integration is notoriously hard to explain due to its technical complexity and abstract nature. A lot of businesses considering integration necessarily rely on integration experts to inform and educate them on what it is, what they need, and how to do it.
The issue, that new customers of VL repeatedly tell us, is that they frequently received bad advice, or no advice or were sold the wrong solution; a good number of them having been ‘sold’ on an integration solution that didn’t fit their long term needs. To combat this, VL is going to review the following topics:
- The difference between integration products and integration solutions (and their providers),
- Why you should find an integration solution provider, and not an integration product pusher, and
- How to find an integration expert you trust.
Armed with the information captured in these three topics, we hope to help you and others avoid making the mistake of purchasing the wrong or incompatible integration product and solution.
No one likes walking into a store and being hounded by sales people. Even worse is being taken by the sales person: buying something, only to return to your home or office and have people ask you “what were you thinking?”
It’s not necessarily gullibility that leads you down the primrose path to buy something you didn’t intend to. Chalk a good portion of it up to trained, effective sales people. They promise you the world in their product – the problem is that it’s not always the world you want or need.
If our integration experts had a dime for every time we spoke with an interested party who has extraneous applications, programs, and integrations that were just cluttering up their business… we’d have a lot of dimes. Potential clients speak with us, and slowly come to realize that they had been sold a product, or approach, that they didn’t need. What they had thought was an integration expert providing a valuable service turned out to be a cunning salesperson who sold them snake oil.
Thus, it’s our goal to better equip you for finding the best integration solution for your business with the following discussions on how to ultimately avoid getting ‘sold’ on an integration product that you really don’t need.
The difference between integration products and integration solutions (and their providers)
In an earlier blog article we chronicled in detail the differences between integration products and integration solutions. Here, we will briefly summarize that article while adding some new contextual information.
In general terms, a product is not a solution. Think about it: a band aid (a product) will not make the gash on your leg disappear. A doctor (a solution provider) can provide you with a mutli-faceted solution that can consist of stitches, medication that fits your medical history, and professional care.
The same goes for integration. You have the integration products that are pre-packaged with limited capabilities. The ‘pro’ to integration products is that they are readily available, easy to work with, and easy to install. These products are often referred to as ‘plug-and-play’ because that’s exactly what they are: plug it in, and they’re supposed to work with little or no user expertise or knowledge.
There is a time and a place for this type of integration, and that’s usually when you’re a small start-up with limited funds and a small pool of customers who only occasionally purchase from you. (Check out this infographic for more information.) But plug-and-play products don’t last forever, and they don’t work forever either. There will come a day when your business simply outgrows the plug-and-play integration’s capacities – and then where are you left?
Well, this leaves you without an integration solution that works, and with you manually inputting data to keep your business afloat or worse yet you sit in a state of paralysis because you can’t change because you can’t find a solution.
You see, the relative availability and ease of consumption of plug-and-play integration solutions is also a ‘con’ to the ‘pro’ described above. Plenty of people simply don’t want to invest the time and money it takes to have someone design a customized integration solution that works for their business now, 2 months from now, and 10 years from now, and is scalable to whatever level of business the future brings you. Integration solutions, are a long-term implementation of a multifaceted solution that isn’t based on product x,y, or z. It’s custom designed for you.
So if you’re considering a plug-and-play product, we recommend you take a step back and ask yourself: why? Is it because it’s cheap? Or because you can buy it today and have it working without messing up your systems tomorrow?
Don’t make more work for yourself. If your business doesn’t fit the plug-and-play model that’s outlined in the first half of this infographic, don’t try to cram your business into that box: explore the option of customized integration. It never hurts to, at the very least, compare the two options.
Why you should find an integration solution provider, and not an integration product pusher
Beware the used-car salesman (source)
Not all sales people are created equal: some are just looking to meet a quota or land a sale, while others truly care about your business and the quality of service that they are providing.
Integration solution providers typically care about the long-term success of the partnership that is the business relationship. For example, VL’s had some customers since our inception in 1994, and our average customer has a 10+ year lifespan with us. Integration solution providers truly care about your business’ success, growth, and goals over the long term. They plant the seeds to help your company grow. This is usually first reflected in a longer no-pressure consultation period where the integration solution provider is happy to sit with your business over sometimes a period of months to ensure the solution is mapped out down to the letter and will be right for your business for years to come. See if you can find an integration product-pushing sales person who’s willing to do that for you. They’ll sit down with you, sure. They’ll email and call you after that first meeting. But I bet they’ll drop off your radar sooner than later if there’s no sign of you forking over cash for their product anytime soon.
That being said, here are some warning signs that you’re working with an integration product pusher:
- They’re your best friend – until they get the sale. Then you get passed off to some faceless account person, if you get passed off to anyone at all.
- They have a high client/product turn-over. Ask them what their average turn-over is: if it’s anything less than 1-3 years, you should take note.
- They are persistent to the point of annoying. They call and email incessantly after your first meeting to ‘check in on you, see how you are doing’. You can feel the pressure.
- Ask if you can speak to some of their past and current clients. Watch their face, and pair it against the answer they give. If there’s a note of evasion, take it as a red flag.
- They can’t remember particulars about you, your business, or the problem you’re hoping to solve – you’re just a face in the crowd.
How to Find an Integration Expert You Can Trust
The ultimate goal in your search for an integration expert you can trust should be to first invest your time in searching and researching the best solution for you. VL encourages you to talk to as many integration experts as you need to, to get a good grasp on what’s out there for your business. You can pick the brains of peers, partners, referrals, or integration thought leadership hubs online. Be self-reflexive: evaluate where your business is and what you need. And don’t let prices make up the entirety of your decision: integration is an investment in your business, and quality work doesn’t come free or cheap.
Once you feel ready, start talking to integration solution providers. Come prepared with ‘the hard questions’ – questions that will give you a better sense of who the potential partner is, what they stand for, and if they will work as a potentially long-term partner.
Here are some suggestions for hard questions to ask potential partners:
- How can your company help improve the health and performance of my business through integration?
- Do you know my vertical?
- Is your solution on-size-fits-all, or is it a customized solution to my business’ needs?
- Do you push a single solution/single silo approach?
- Does it only do EDI or can it do other things?
- What case studies/testimonials do you have that illustrates the success of your partnership with existing clients?
Also ensure that the potential integration partner is a good fit with your business, including corporate culture and personalities. It’s important that you can get along with your partner if they’re going to be around for the next 10+ years.
To ultimately avoid getting ‘sold’ on an integration product that’s not right for your business, trust your gut. If the product seems too good to be true and the sales person is pressuring you into making a decision, take a step back, go home, and do your research. Don’t let anyone talk you into an integration solution that you are unsure about or that you know very little about – especially if it’s the first solution you’ve reached out to in your journey to being fully integrated and smart-busy.
If you haven’t already, VL recommends you try us on for size by booking a pressure-free phone consultation with us. We’ll explore your business’ needs and goals together. At the very least, you might learn something new!