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.
We've seen many of our customers, such as Harbour, take this step-wise approach towards building their integration strategy. Start with Zapier as a temporary measure, but build integrations natively to extract strategic value.
In this guide, 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.
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 silos.
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.
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:
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.
Native integrations remove friction, increase switching costs, and can help you capture more value.
However, despite the obvious benefits of providing native integrations to your customers, integrations are often de-prioritized and backlogged until they start directly hurting the business through churned customers or lost prospects. When considering when to prioritize shipping integrations, successful businesses often take a proactive approach before it’s too late, and in doing so need to make the decision of whether to build integrations in-house or leverage a third party embedded iPaaS solution. This guide will help you navigate this decision and identify the most efficient strategy for delivering and maintaining integrations for your customers.
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.
Embedded integration platforms, also known as Embedded iPaaS, provide product and engineering teams the building blocks required to ship native integrations significantly faster, through providing:
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:
If you want to rapidly ship native integrations without the any of the drawbacks and limitations that come with Zapier, Paragon provides you the best of both worlds.
Essentially, Paragon will enable your engineering team to ship fully native and white-labeled integrations in less than a day.
Designed by and for developers, we provide the infrastructure for your team to centralize and scale your entire integration strategy.
We place a heavy emphasis in providing your customers a truly seamless integration experience that feels native to your app.
The Connect Portal is a configurable modal that can be embedded into your application UI with a single line of code.
This provides an intuitive self-serve experience for your customers to activate, configure, and customize their integration.
While this enables you to provide user-facing settings extremely easily without any code, we are also launching a Headless version that will enable you to design your own UI that you've defined for your app. Ask us about it in our Intercom chat!
Simple yet extensible
The most unique component of any integration however, is for you to design an experience that perfectly addresses the use case your customers need the integration to cover.
Our Workflow Builder provides an intuitive interface for even non-technical team members to interact with and configure the integration, with logic operators, reusable triggers/webhooks, and workflow actions for pre-built integrations.
However, while we provide the most common 'workflow actions' for our pre-built integrations out of the box, there are no limitations with the use cases that you can build for through Paragon.
Our Connect API provides full parity with the 3rd party app's API endpoints for any actions we do not provide out-of-the-box - meaning anything is possible, as long as the 3rd party app's API allows for it.
Fully managed authentication
If your team has built integrations before, you'll know that building authentication for each integration is not only time consuming, but comes with many complications.
You don't want your customers' integration to stop working because their access tokens expire, yet this is a common bug that results from edge cases that were not accounted for.
Luckily Paragon's SDK provides fully managed auth, which means for any integration you ever want to build, even if it's a Custom Integration, Paragon handles the authentication mechanism for you.
Upon login, this snippet will serve as the single point of authentication between users of your app and any third-party integrations they’ve enabled.
Monitoring & Maintenance
If your customers use Zapier, they will be forced to debug any issues in their workflow logic or with their integration in general. That, or your customer support team will be swarmed with tickets to help them fix issues.
If you build integrations in-house, it's highly unlikely your team will build a set of monitoring and debugging tools to enable your team to easily identify any issues that may come up.
That's where Paragon's Task History reports come in handy.
It will enable your team to easily identify and diagnose any issues with your customers' integrations, which will significantly improve your incidence response time and your customers' overall experience with your app.
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.
With new SaaS companies popping up in the market almost every day, B2B software companies need to think strategically about creating a robust and scalable integration strategy in order to stay competitive.
Zapier may provide your more technical customers a good temporary solution for their integration needs, but in most cases, you need to consider embedding integrations into your app directly for a superior experience.
However, building these embedded integrations can be extremely resource intensive, which is why you need to equip your team with a solution like Paragon.
Working with an experienced integration partner will save you months of development and cumulative years of integration maintenance work - not to mention the impact it would have on your sales team if you could ship integrations on-demand.
¹ Chief Marketing Technologist Blog by Scott Brinker. https://chiefmartec.com/2020/05/proof-platform-saas-apps-median-15-integrations/ Accessed: 2021