These days, no tool exists in a vacuum. Integrations are critical for your customers, and you have to anticipate and plan for integrations as a central part of your platform. This means offering a robust API and relevant webhooks so your customers can handle advanced custom integrations as well.
That makes for a great sound bite, but integrations are much trickier in practice. For one, integrations create dependencies. If the application on the other end is offline, that could break your customers’ workflows. You have to design integrations to be resilient and fail as gracefully as possible.
The other challenge is that integrations change. While significant breaking changes to a partner API should be limited to major version upgrades, bug fixes and other small changes can break integrations. You have an additional burden to set up automatic monitoring of integrations so you don’t find out too late when something goes wrong.
In addition to changing the code, documentation often changes. With one or two providers, this isn’t a problem; once you integrate with dozens or hundreds of providers, you have a maintenance nightmare on your hands. When documentation links are broken, people will inevitably be unsure about whether they can trust the integration itself to function reliably.
The upside of integrations is that they’re sticky features: the more tools your software plays nicely with, the more likely it is to become a tightly coupled piece of your customers’ operations. That means they’re getting more value and they’re less likely to churn.
Integrating with the right partners can also serve as marketing, with increased exposure and awareness of your product. Not all providers make good partners, though. While some applications maintain directories of integrations, some tools will do little to raise awareness of your product. Or worse, they may do a poor job of supporting the integration. As a result, you need to be incredibly selective about the tools you integrate with.
There are simply too many tools to offer direct integrations with everything, but services like Zapier can help mitigate that. You can integrate this way to buy time, but recognize it’s not as good as direct integrations. Asking customers to pay for an additional product in order to connect tools rarely goes over well. It can work in a pinch or if they’re already using that provider, but it will never be as good as direct integration.
Another must these days is building a robust API that enables others to integrate and create things without needing a formal process. One of the biggest mistakes I made with Sifter was not prioritizing the API. Sifter’s primary audience was developers, and many of them were happy to write code to enable and enhance their desired workflow. Unfortunately, it took too long, and the API was never as robust as it should have been.
Of course, with an API, you’ll also have to maintain your own documentation. That’s easier said than done, and you’re probably acutely aware of APIs you’ve used in the past that had terrible documentation. It might have been difficult to find what you were looking for. Maybe the examples weren’t sound. Or, even worse, maybe they were regularly wrong or inaccurate. When you set out to build an API, I strongly advise starting with the documentation. Design the API from the user experience in. Write the documentation based on what customers want, and then build the API to support that experience.
Over time, you’ll receive requests for integrations with popular related tools. Like most features, customer requests should drive the majority of your decision-making, but you should carefully consider other factors as well. Are they a good reliable partner with a rich and reliable API? Will they help promote your product and the integration, or will it be a one-sided partnership? If the customer demand is high enough, that will likely exceed other considerations, but other factors could help break ties and prioritize competing integrations.
Start with your own robust API and webhooks. Then add a few direct integrations to key applications that your customers use, and finally, integrate with platforms like Zapier. Don’t go overboard trying to cover everything on day one, but do your best to play nicely with the other tools your customers use. Don’t count on integrations being a key marketing platform, but don’t dismiss the potential benefits of integrating with tools that can help with marketing.