Even prior to the pandemic, the past two decades have seen widespread digital transformation. Businesses have chosen to either build or adopt digital solutions for many core business functions. Sales, marketing, supply chains and customer relationships can all be managed digitally and companies can empower their employees to troubleshoot and resolve challenges in real time.
About the author
Jodi Alperstein is VP and general manager of Segment Core.
For those companies who lacked the capabilities to build their own solutions, off-the-shelf SaaS platforms gave them the option to embrace this digital business. But fundamentally, these solutions had finite capabilities, and through the pandemic, businesses discovered their limits.
Today’s digital landscape is more competitive than ever, and powerful technical foundations are essential for lasting success. If businesses want to stand out from the crowd, they can no longer opt for the same off-the-shelf solutions as everyone else.
Instead, those who invest in their technical teams, empowering developers to build bigger and better custom solutions, will undoubtedly come out on top.
Rise of off-the-shelf SaaS
In the early days, companies needed to hire in-house developers in order to build their own bespoke solutions. Due to the scarcity of skilled engineers, this was predominantly limited to large enterprises who had the resources to hire their own developers. At the other end of the market, new startups launched with a digital first approach meaning mid-sized traditional companies found themselves squeezed from both sides.
The off-the-shelf SaaS subscription model promised to solve this challenge: offering an opportunity for established companies to quickly and easily develop digital capabilities without the need to hire expert developers and engineers – who are in short supply and come at a premium. These platforms can integrate with a company’s emails and call systems, with employees manually inputting data from customer interactions and then using outputs to coordinate sales and marketing campaigns. In effect, an existing employee could be up-skilled and become more productive simply through the training and application of these solutions.
This trend led to an explosion of martech solutions that focus on unique use cases. By the beginning of 2020, there were over 8,000 marketing tools available. As a result, the simplicity and ease promised by the off-the-shelf approach has quickly transformed into a chaos of interconnected tools.
With so many possible solutions and no clear process for collecting and utilizing data, companies often find themselves confused, and lacking a central point of truth.
In the urgency to adopt these new technologies, many businesses failed to step back and establish an essential foundation for success – that is, a solid, central data hub onto which they could integrate these solutions. Instead, over time they knitted together a patchwork of products that failed to really speak to each other, causing blind spots to valuable customer insights.
The result? Limited capability, and a whole lot of internal headaches across the business.
The limits of one-size-fits-all
The challenge comes when businesses run into the limits of these SaaS solutions. What companies saved in build and maintenance effort, they began to lose in differentiation and flexibility. By their nature, off-the-shelf solutions make it harder to create digital products and experiences that are unique from the competition.
As the number of customer touch points continues to increase at pace, businesses find themselves adopting more solutions to manage these channels, resulting in a complicated web of incompatible tools. But for the most part, off-the-shelf solutions lack the flexibility to interact and integrate with existing tools and processes, meaning data is often left siloed between departments and teams, resulting in lost insights or confused customer experiences.
It’s no secret that marketing won’t work without good, clean data, and investments in technology platforms that are powered by sub-par customer data will deliver sub-par results. For this reason, companies that want to be truly customer-centric must invest in their foundations, and build a customer data stack that is unique and tailored to their business and customer needs, and ultimately enables the creation of truly bespoke customer experiences.
Build beyond SaaS
No single tool can solve the needs of all businesses. There must be an element of flexibility, and that comes from building a differentiated product in-house. However, the majority of companies do not have an infinite army of engineers or resources to build this infrastructure.
If a company starts with a customer data platform (CDP) it can centralize, clean and unify data from all of your different touchpoints resulting in a 360-degree view of your customer interactions. CDPs provide a single source of truth that can fuel everything from advanced analytics and behavioral modelling to customer-centric marketing and product development.
When armed with real-time data in a central hub that can be accessed by anyone across your organization, it allows you to channel efforts towards the tools and services that deliver results. This avoids silos, and ensures every team gets the same picture of how customers are using your product, services or website.
By using a CDP to collect and unify customer data, in-house developers are able to build on top of a strong data infrastructure from day one. Equipped with data they can trust, businesses have the freedom to develop new features and deliver world-class experiences that put customers first.