Integrations are becoming a larger part of every SaaS buyer’s decision making process when evaluating solutions. As such, in order to stay competitive, it is now more important than ever for your B2B SaaS company to integrate your product with popular 3rd party apps that your customers and prospects use.
However, when it comes to building out these integrations, product and engineering teams often find it difficult to identify the best approach or solution to take. While building a Zapier connector can be an attractive solution to leave the door open for your users to build integration workflows themselves, there is no dispute that the better and more premium user experience would be to provide integrations that are fully embedded in your app, where you get to define the integration experience and workflows that your customers can activate in a single click
In this article, we will lay out the tradeoffs of providing integrations to your customers through a Zapier connector, versus embedding the integrations directly in your app (either through building in-house or leveraging an embedded iPaaS). This will include considerations around engineering and operational costs, the end-user experience, monetization, and feature flexibility, so you can make an informed decision for your B2B SaaS company.
Let’s start with the basics. If you already know what Zapier is, feel free to jump below by clicking here.
What is Zapier?
Zapier is an iPaaS (integration platform as a service), that targets the end-users of SaaS applications and enables them to build very basic low-code automation workflows (known as ‘Zaps’) between the various applications that they use. This has served as a great temporary solution over the past few years for semi-technical end-users, as many of the applications in their tech stack existed in siloes. Prior to these iPaaS tools coming to market, there was no easy way to get data from one app to another other than manual CSV exports and imports. From a feature perspective however, Zapier is limited to single directional transfers of data between platforms, such as sending lead information from one app to another. This can quickly become extremely difficult for end-users to manage especially when they require more complex integration workflows or bi-directional transfers of data, and can also limit what’s possible with an integration.
Enabling Zapier integrations for your SaaS app
While Zapier is primarily targeted towards the end-users of SaaS apps, their platform allows SaaS companies like yours to list your app as an endpoint, through building a Zapier connector with their development platform. This takes around 2 months to build out and can act as a good temporary solution, as it leaves the door open for some of your customers to set up basic integration functionality with Zapier’s integration library, while they wait for you to deliver the integration natively.
One additional reason this has been a favorable option for developers is because with Zapier, your team wouldn’t need to worry about handling authentication for your customers. Since your customers will be authenticating their 3rd party app’s credentials within Zapier’s platform, token management and refreshes are also handled by Zapier.
Ultimately however, while their library is quite extensive, with a few thousand connectors, the user experience, feature limitations, and profitability drawbacks cannot be ignored.
Subpar end user experience
Your users would have to leave your app, create a Zapier account, and learn how to build Zap workflows themselves. This becomes increasingly frustrating for your customers as they are highly likely to misconfigure workflows, run into issues while testing, and find issues while maintaining the integrations indefinitely. This creates multiple points of friction between your user and their ability to enjoy the benefits of the integration, leading to the frustration being attributed back to your product.
Additionally, Zapier is ‘forward looking’, so your users would not be able to integrate data retroactively between 2 apps. This means that until a new record is created in the 3rd party app, your app will not have any integrated data.
From a feature perspective, Zapier integrations come with limitations around functionality depending on the scope of every apps’ Zapier connectors. Even if you build in more endpoints for your app, it doesn’t allow your users to access all API endpoints on other connectors (nor would they be able to).
Additionally, Zapier focuses on providing users the ability to map fields, but doesn’t support deeper integration workflows that involve a lot more complexity but yield exponentially more benefits.
Alternatively, if you do not build a Zapier connector for your app, you can still help each individual customer set up their desired workflows through Zapier by targeting your app’s API endpoints with webhooks, but this would not allow your app to trigger any workflows.
Challenges selling to mid-market/enterprise
On top of that, for most B2B SaaS companies, the majority of customers are either not aware of Zapier or are not technical enough to set up and maintain the workflows themselves. This becomes especially prevalent when it comes to selling to mid-market/enterprise companies, where it is unrealistic to expect the sales or accounting teams to set up Zapier workflows for their CRM/accounting software respectively.
Lost upsell opportunities
As for the segment of your customers who are willing and able to use Zapier, they’re forced to pay out of pocket for Zapier. This ultimately leads to 2 outcomes:
- Your customer may not be willing/able to pay for Zapier
- They pay for Zapier, which means your company is leaving money on the table
Despite these drawbacks however, the benefits of providing access to their connector library makes Zapier worth considering for the long tail of integrations that perhaps only 1 or 2 of your small customers need.
Benefits of Embedded integrations
In contrast, embedded integrations would live within your app’s interface, and would require no additional lift on your customers’ end to activate, as you will have configured the integration workflows for them.
This creates a significantly more streamlined experience for your users. All they would need to do is login through OAuth to authenticate access to their other apps, map their custom fields if needed, and the workflows would go live without any extra steps. This inherently unlocks additional value for both you and your customers on multiple fronts.
From an onboarding and adoption perspective, enabling your users to activate integrations within your app in one click will drive them to the ‘Aha’ moment significantly quicker by ingesting data from their existing tools (such as CRM, marketing automation, and accounting data), and allow them to visualize how your product fits with their existing workflows right away.
Every additional step your prospects and customers need to take to get up and running serves as an additional layer of friction that makes it less likely for them to adopt your product. Whether it’s having to clean and import/export CSVs of data to or from your app, or setting up their own account and integration workflows through Zapier, you want to minimize the time they need to spend outside of your app to get to their desired outcomes.
Customer success resource savings
When it comes to your own operations, centralizing the management of every deployment of an integration workflow will save your customer success team hours of troubleshooting. Instead of having to tackle each Zapier implementation’s issue for individual customers on a per use-case basis, which can often be due to user error, embedding integrations allows a single patch to fix any issues for all of your users at once.
Finally, providing embedded integrations leaves you the opportunity to monetize your integrations. For example, you may include certain integrations only in the higher tiers of your product, or offer it as an add-on to your customers’ existing plans. Given that customers would otherwise be paying Zapier to build out and manage the integrations themselves, this is commonly an easy upsell for SaaS companies.
Despite the obvious benefits of embedding integrations natively in your app, in recent years, many companies have still opted to build Zapier connectors as a way to address the swarm of integration requests from their prospects and customers, simply because they couldn’t afford to allocate 6-8 weeks of engineering per integration. Frankly, if embedded integration platforms like Paragon didn’t exist in the market, this was a logical decision. However, this brings us to our final point - the onset of embedded integration platforms.
Best of Both: Embedded Integration Platforms
Embedded integration platforms, also known as Embedded iPaaS, provide product and development teams the building blocks required to ship embedded integrations significantly faster, through providing:
For a deep dive on Embedded iPaaS solutions, you can read our article here.
Unfortunately, not all embedded integration platforms offer the same feature flexibility and integration experience, which has led to some skepticism to the category in general.
For example, many provide pre-built connectors that simplify the basic workflow actions, but prevent developers from building deeper integration functionalities due to limitations. This can quickly become frustrating and counterproductive as development teams will be forced to build certain features and workflows actions outside of the integration platform to work around the limitations.
Additionally, certain internal automation platforms have tried to capitalize on the embedded iPaaS space by wrapping their existing product up and selling it as an embedded integration platform. As these types of platforms were intended for internal automation and not built from the ground up for an embedded use case, they come with limitations around:
How does Paragon stack up?
Our embedded integration platform and SDK provides the time savings and scalability benefits of building a Zapier connector for your customer, without any of the drawbacks and limitations that we had outlined earlier. Essentially, Paragon enables engineering teams to ship fully embedded and white-labeled integrations in less than a day.
This is game changing, as it typically takes companies anywhere from 4-6 weeks of engineering resources to build a simple integration workflow with a 3rd party SaaS app. By offloading authentication and providing pre-built connectors and an out-of-the-box end user UI, your team can focus purely on building the integration workflows with our highly extensible workflow builder. If you'd like to see it in action, book a quick demo with us here!
A side-by-side comparison
To make things easier, here’s a side by side comparison of the different options you have for delivering native SaaS integrations for your customers.
If you're interested in chatting through your integration strategy, or want to learn more about our platform, feel free to set up some time with us here!
¹ Chief Marketing Technologist Blog by Scott Brinker. https://chiefmartec.com/2020/05/proof-platform-saas-apps-median-15-integrations/ Accessed: 2021