When Your Best-in-Breed Tool Suddenly Wants to Do it All

When it comes to enterprise software, there are two camps—a variety of best-in-breed tools or an all-in-one suite. But what should you do if your best-in-breed vendor changes things up on you?

There’s been something of a long-standing debate in the tech sphere when it comes to tools: Best-in-breed or all-in-one?

Each has their benefits and downsides: You’re likely to get the best possible feature set with a best-in-breed app, but you are likely to look longer and possibly pay more for the privilege. Then, of course, there are all those vendor relationships to manage.

But the recent split of a business partnership involving two common tools—one that associations might heavily use, one less so—has me thinking: What happens when a best-in-breed tool suddenly tries to do more than you originally signed up for? And how should you react?

Earlier this year, the email-marketing tool MailChimp publicly broke ranks with a longtime partner, Shopify. The two tools were something of a match made in heaven: MailChimp was an effective tool for distribution of emails and newsletters, while Shopify allowed for the creation of an effective e-commerce storefront. Together, these two tools were a perfect example of best-in-breed products working together effectively. And when they broke apart, it was messy. One side blamed the other, and vice versa.

But some interesting things have happened at both companies. In the days before the integration between the two companies broke down, MailChimp acquired one of Shopify’s competitors, LemonStand, and put the firm’s former employees to work on adding e-commerce functionality within MailChimp. And both companies have increasingly gone the all-in-one route: MailChimp has expanded into a full-fledged marketing platform in the past year (including the ability to use it for posting to social media), while Shopify last week made it possible to manage email campaigns from its platform.

From a business perspective, it makes sense to expand horizontally when you’ve maximized your vertical reach in a single market.

(There are examples of this happening the other way, by the way: Back in 2014, the tech firm 37signals decided to drop all of its other tools except the project-management one that its users gravitated toward most, and it changed its corporate name to that tool: Basecamp.)

But for longtime customers, it creates a natural tension. After all, you didn’t sign up for all this extra stuff—you wanted the best-of-breed thing. So where does this leave you? A few thoughts:

Consider your legacy tool. Is there anything with the prior tool that makes it worth keeping around—say, the existence of important data or custom integrations that you had to build with other existing tools like your association management system (AMS)? And would these features be hard to build elsewhere or live without? If so, you may want to slow your roll and think through the process a little more, because you might be dealing with more complicated questions than it appears on the surface.

Consider the interface. One of the main reasons people like using Microsoft Office or Adobe’s Creative Cloud over anything else is because of the user experience of the full suite, with strong integrations across the suite. Is the interface of this all-in-one tool strong enough to bring forth productivity benefits? If not, take a step back.

Consider the integration benefits. Look hard enough online, and you’ll find someone bullish on the idea of an all-in-one suite. In an Inc. article from last year, John Hall, the cofounder and president of the tech tool Calendar, noted that all-in-one integrations had major perks. “Because managing all of the various tech you use day in and day out is no small challenge, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that more customers appear to be gravitating toward convenience,” he noted. If you’re feeling a bit overloaded by managing lots of little parts, you might be ready for a monolith in your life.

Consider the potential for cost savings. Using one tool under the same umbrella as another might make using a given product more cost-efficient, but it’s not as simple as looking at the listed price. There are other considerations at play: How long will it take to train people on a new tool? Will there be cost savings from having fewer vendors to manage? And are we talking a few hundred dollars in cost savings, or tens of thousands of dollars? These factors have the potential to change the conversation in some important ways, and create way more variables than a simple list price.

Consider the transition. A vendor’s promise is about more than the tool that they’re offering. Will they have your back if you make a big leap? Is there a personal relationship at play that could affect how this transition goes? And if a roadblock surfaces, does it seem like you’ll have some help getting past it?

All of this is to say that the existence of a new tool in a platform you already use, on its own, should not be enough to get you to switch. There are so many factors with big tools that you want to move carefully when making a decision.

The all-in-one integration may seem nice, even if you didn’t ask for it, but so many other factors exist that you need to tread carefully.

(Alexmia/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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