Prior to the smartphone, if you needed to solve a complex math problem, you’d use a calculator. If you wanted something to read, you’d pick up a book or newspaper. To browse the web, you needed a computer, and to get directions you had to use a map or GPS. Now you can do all of those things from a single device.
Smartphones are an example of extensible devices: their functionality can easily be extended to fulfill a wide variety of functions.
Extensible tools and devices don’t just make your personal life easier. They can also benefit your company.
If you’re a small startup, you might have a limited budget to invest in tools to build your business. Those limitations might force you to invest in tools that you’ll eventually outgrow and have to abandon. An extensible tool has a version that can fit your budget when you’re small and scale its functionality to accommodate the needs of your company as it grows.
For example, when you’re first starting off, your priorities for marketing automation might revolve around email marketing or social media management. Since those features are your top priorities, it might seem best to get a tool that serves only those functions. However, over time, your company’s needs will expand, and you might need other marketing automation features, like workflows or conversational marketing. If you use a non-extensible tool, you’ll have to either migrate to another platform or integrate new tools to your tech stack.
But, both integrations and migrations pose challenges for your company and team.
The Downside of Integrations
If you don’t want to stop using your existing tools, you can purchase additional tools to accommodate your new needs and integrate them into your tech stack.
Integrations are easier to manage day-to-day since you can continue to use the tools you’re familiar with, but maintaining data integrity across multiple tools can be challenging. Additionally, you’ll need someone with technical expertise to create and maintain that integration.
Too many integrations can result in a Frankenstein-like tech stack, and that will compound with every integration. Each new tool will need to speak to other tools in addition to your system of records. The more complex the network, the harder your integrations are to maintain and the more severe day-to-day complications can become.
The Downside of Migration
Migrations require heavier upfront investment than integrations, but once the migration is complete, it doesn’t need continued maintenance.
However, migration will require change management to encourage adoption and training on how to use the new tool. The more dependent your team is on the tools it's currently using, the more cumbersome migrating to a new tool will be.
On top of that, no tool can perfectly replace another. The overall result of the software switch might be positive, but there may be specific processes that can’t be done or can’t be done the same way.
Finally, it’s possible that the new tool you moved to was oversold and is not capable of meeting your needs.
The Benefits of Using an Extensible Tool
While your business probably can’t accomplish all of its tasks through a single platform, the more multifunctional tools you use from the beginning, the less friction you’ll face later on. An all-in-one solution that can expand with your company may offer more functionality than you need at the beginning. However, if you plan on growing, then you should choose a platform that will grow with you rather than one that only provides a short-term solution.
It’s like if you have a cracked pipe. You can cover the crack with duct tape to keep water from spurting everywhere in the short term, but eventually, the duct tape will break, the pipe will leak, the floor will be damaged and you will end up in a worse position than you were in initially. You’re better off implementing a permanent solution from the start by replacing the pipe and avoiding the negative consequences you’re bound to face otherwise.
On top of reducing your technical debt (the resources lost on a short-term, impermanent fix that could have been saved by choosing a long-term solution from the beginning), extensible tools also make it easier to train team members on your tech stack.
Instead of having to learn how to use multiple tools and remember multiple sets of processes and terminology, your employees only have to be trained on one. This reduces that amount of time needed for initial onboarding and continued training around updates.
A closed system also makes reporting more accessible. It’s easier to identify issues when all information stems from one location.That ease of understanding of what’s working and what isn’t makes it easier to get insights into your business and gain full value from the tool.
Finally, having all your tools in the same place is more convenient. You only have to open one platform or application to do your job, and you know the various tools you use will speak to each other.
Mitigating the need to migrate or integrate tools later by choosing a single platform that can execute multiple functions for you has numerous benefits, but can require concessions on individual features. Typically a platform that’s all-in-one won’t go as deep as a specialized, single-function tool. However, the functionality an extensible tool offers typically addresses the needs of a majority of use cases and the convenience added by having all your needs met through a single tool negates the lack of a few extra features.
No business can run itself entirely on a single tool, but the more opportunities you take to minimize the number of tools you use, the easier it’ll be to run your business.
Using an extensible platform from the start eliminates technical debt and reduces friction as your company grows. On top of that, a comprehensive all-in-one solution prevents you from having to rely on integrations to link together disparate pieces of your tech stack or deal with the change management risks of migrating to a new platform when your needs extend beyond what a limited tool can accomplish.
HubSpot’s been building toward becoming an extensible customer-facing business solution over the past couple years. They started as a marketing solution and have expanded into the realm of sales and services through new hubs. Then in 2018, they focused on increasing their extensibility in a different way: integrations. In addition to building out an all-on-one platform, they made it easy to extend the functionality of their tool even further with apps. For example, HubSpot users that are heavily reliant on video can integrate with Vidyard if HubSpot Video does not address their needs.
Guido is a Demand Generation Marketer for New Breed. He specializes in running in-depth demand generation programs internally while assisting account managers in running them for our clients.