(108) Why must product managers rethink their product offerings in the fast changing world of automation/no-code platforms?

The last few weeks have been ground-shifting for me in terms of how I imagine building and offering products to potential customers.

One of my favourite quotes comes from Justin Kan, who says:

While I don’t entirely buy this argument, I understand what Justin was trying to impress upon here.

While focusing on building great products is imperative, without preparing the right distribution and sales channels, even the best products cannot grow in adoption. Hence, the second time founders with the benefit of experience pay a lot more attention towards building the right distribution. Fair point there.

A similar analogy can be drawn towards pushing seemingly great products to your customers without understanding their internal systems. Without understanding this, it might still result in poor adoption.

Enterprises are suffering from SaaS bloat

The average enterprise is using hundreds Cloud applications and similarly, the average employee uses dozens of SaaS applications. As software stacks grow, business processes end up spanning multiple applications, and the need to orchestrate activities and data flows across them increases.

For example, here’s a quick look at the growth of sales and marketing software over the past few years:

Growing tech stacks do not always lead to growing efficiencies. And a lot of time is invested across departments on manual tasks rather than on higher-value work.

Offering point-products without integrations with customers’s internal organization are a failing proposition

SaaS bloat is a reality and if you are pushing yet another point-product into your potential customer’s growing mix of products, it is only going to add friction towards its adoption.

The ROI on SaaS purchases for companies is realized only if the products are able to synchronize across their existing products. Without it, organizational SaaS debt accumulates leading to cancellations and churn.

However, the challenge is how many integrations can you possibly offer for your product. More SaaS applications are typically built around a specific workflow, and as a result, they codify aspects of the process in how they operate. While a particular software product may work well for a specific process, it might not necessarily work well for all teams and organizations.

The growing prominence of General Automation Platforms (GAP)

The growth and increasing specialization of software tools means that for most organizations, even narrow workflows can end up spanning a fairly significant set of applications. Integrations can address specific hand-off points within a workflow, but the overall orchestration between systems remains largely manual.

As organizations automate more of their workflows, relying on separate development teams to build and maintain them becomes increasingly impractical. Hence, software platforms like Zapier or Tray.io likely play an important role in scaling automation programs.

These general platforms emphasize the word “automation” because GAPs are not focused on merely the challenges of integrating. In fact, the standardization of APIs has made the integration part of automation much more easier than before. While integration is an essential first step, a significant portion of the value of GAPs comes from automation capabilities.

New software tools are created daily. These new tools indicate the growth of niche tools, uniquely designed to tackle one specific aspect of their work.

With the current trajectory, your user base will continue to find new and innovative tools to adopt and will expect your tool to work with them. This is a challenge for your product team, who are busy enough developing your tool, not to mention the requests for integrations with the latest and greatest tools.

GAP makes your tool future-proof: one simple integration now allows your tool to connect with the most popular apps. Your product team can rest easy knowing that future must-have integrations will be covered as well.

GAP integrations like Zapier and Tray.io allows you to:

  • Close more customers — say “yes” to the long-tail of customers that need “X integration” before they can buy. Your potential users (and current ones) often conduct web searches such as “Does X tool integrate with X?”. GAP gives your integration a series of dedicated landing pages, so your integration shows up in search results.
  • Retain more customers — customers that are using your API become sticky, and churn less.
  • Be discovered by millions of customers — get found in GAP’s app directory, emails, and inside other software tools.

So, how should product builders change tack?

Broaden the limited view of what your product is meant to be. A product is more than a point solution. If your product offers key value but cannot exist in the internal systems of your potential customers, it is of little consequence.

Building your products around your customers processes instead of asking your customers to customize their processes around your tools. A product loses its utility if you only focus on its capabilities and not on your customers’ process needs.

Hence, expand your value with well thought out API-first strategy. A great product with bad API strategy loses out to a not-so-great product with a great API strategy. Availability of good APIs are a top requirement driving software purchase decisions.

APIs are enablers of a more complete, flexible enterprise resourcing architecture that allows data to move freely in any direction. General Automation Platforms help realize this potential without creating additional complexity for users and department heads. For all of these reasons and more, General Automation Platforms have risen to prominence in the past few years.

I covered some of these concepts in little more detail in this conversation with Vijay Bhaskar Rao, Lead PM, Integrations & API platform, SignEasy.

Building nextgen real estate platform at PriceHubble & podcaster at productlessons.com. I blog about products, business around products, and growth strategies.