Marc Boscher is the founder and CEO of Unito, a middleware letting everyone collaborate from the tool of their choice. Prior to Unito, Marc built three businesses in the medical and digital signage spaces, leading product and technology. Marc’s startup adventures started 20 years ago, and there’s no end in sight.
Unito connects collaboration tools such as Trello, Asana, Github, Wrike, among others. Just like PieSync, it works two-way, and thanks to its filtering engine, you can build custom multi-tool workflows between apps.
We asked Marc about the main challenges small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) face when it comes to implementing and integrating different cloud-based tools.
He shared with us his expertise in data synchronization and a leadership lesson for other companies building SaaS or iPaaS software.
- When it comes to synchronization, what would you say are the biggest challenges SMBs and/or your customers have to face, and what are the best resources available to face them?
Imagine you’re a customer and you’re seeking out a workflow solution. You go to Trustpilot, G2Crowd, or some other site and start combing through reviews only to realize that there are over a dozen work management tools, and a handful of integration solutions. Most don’t seem to fit your needs perfectly. What are you going to do? Try them all?
We need to address this challenge by helping our customers and their colleagues realize that they need synchronization in the first place, and that it exists as a solution. They’ll often test one or two integrations that don’t meet their needs for cross-team collaboration, and then give up the search. We need to seek them out and expose them to the benefits of two-way sync — that’s our challenge, not theirs. Blogs like the PieSync blog and the Unito blog work hard to explain two-way sync, and other resources (eBooks, webinars, demos) can also be used for this type of education.
Customers also face the challenge of trying to understand the language of two (or more) tools. Most customers are at home in one application but never master the second one. Just understanding the terminology of the other tool is a big ask, and yet often necessary to set up the integrations correctly. That’s why we built this work management tool lexicon, to show what key terms are called across applications.
If understanding the terms used in another tool is a struggle, imagine trying to understand another team’s workflow. Nevertheless, integrating multiple teams that want to collaborate is where you find the gold, the biggest ROI.
Traditionally, processes that span more than one team (and hence tool) are super clunky and manual, in good part because you can’t change it easily (need to discuss and train, or it impacts too many people). And yet this is a healthy conversation that is essential to making the most of tool synchronization. For resources, people can again find a number of eBooks, webinars and blog posts that are specific to the industries and specialties of the teams they’re trying to collaborate with, rather than their own.
With all that taken care of, you’d hope tool adoption would be the easy part. Unfortunately integration has typically been the realm of IT or dedicated integration teams (system ops, sales ops, etc). Many customers either don’t have those teams, or the teams are already backlogged for months.
Fortunately, more recent specialized integration solutions like PieSync and Unito make it easy for business users to setup integrations.
And for that, nothing beats a good old-fashioned human. Demos and training sessions are the way to go for setting up and rolling out your syncs.
- With such a broad landscape of cloud-based business applications, which ones are the “must-have” features your customers should be searching for when adopting a new software?
Let’s start with an obvious one: when picking a business application, try (as in, really test) their mobile version.
Applications today need to meet users where they are, instead of forcing the user to come to you.
Having a mobile version of the app that’s accessible and genuinely useful is a must, and has been for a while.
Just like having a mobile version of an app went from a nice-to-have to a must-have some years ago, vendors are catching up that integration is now a must-have.
Vendors who think they don't need to integrate, who don't see the cloudscape as an ecosystem, will be left in the dirt. Nobody can be the one tool for everyone. Providing opportunities for integration doesn’t shift focus away from your application; it actually makes it easier for people to continue using it, because it plays nice with every other piece of software they need.
Integration is also related to another key feature users should be looking for when shopping for software: scalability. If you choose a tool that is built very specifically for one size of company or project, you’ll be forced to find, learn and onboard a new tool as you grow. Look for software that scales with you. This of course means having different plans for small businesses versus enterprise, for example. But it also means finding a tool that makes it easy to switch between plans, add or remove seats and features, and has a library of integrations you can tap into as your needs shift.
One final must-have: a modern API. This is the first step to allowing integration, either through an off-the-shelf integration solution, or through internal development. Customers don't want their data locked in, and an API is the de-facto way to give customers access to their data.
- Due to the nature of IPaaS, tools like PieSync and Unito need to create alliances and partnerships with other business applications. How is Unito nurturing the relationship with its partners and how does it share the value of its solution for them?
A strong relationship with our partners is essential to building a seamless customer experience. We don't want the user to have to mediate between different vendors — they want solutions, not individual tools. So we work hard to build relationships with partners at every level and team, so when a customer interacts with us or the partner, we sound like a unified solution.
I think the key to nurturing our relationships with other business applications is to putting the customer front and center.
We need to show our partners how we address user needs that help them retain customers. We act as a neutral intermediary between tools that are often competitors, building links that might not otherwise exist. In doing so, we provide flexibility and functionality to users, helping our partners reduce churn and close deals where the customer requires integration.
In the spirit of putting customers first, we constantly share user testimonials and feedback about how they’re making use of our tool in combination with our partners’ tools. We create in-depth content that promotes partner tools, while also explaining how Unito adds additional benefits. We run training sessions for partner sales teams and provide them with collateral so they understand Unito, and how it can help them close deals or retain existing customers. If there are opportunities to do so, we’ll create co-marketing content for their own channels, and curate their content on our own. And we’ve recently started creating partner newsletters, to keep them informed of every new feature, piece of content or customer story that proves once again what value we provide.
On the flip side, we also strive to be receptive partners. When partners feed us leads, we prioritize them. When they come to us with questions or particular needs, we put in extra effort to address them quickly and efficiently. Anything we can do to provide additional value in the partnership, we will do.
Part of being a receptive partner means opening communication channels with multiple teams: product/platform, marketing, sales, customer success/support.
It’s not just about business dev people talking to each other, it’s about working closely at every level. We actually have Slack channels with many of our partners, talking with them at least weekly.
- As experts in cloud-based integration solutions, how do you manage customer data internally?
I'd say there are 2 big categories of customer data:
- The work data in the tools we integrate, which typically belongs to the organization;
- The personal/personally identifiable information (PII) data that typically belongs to the individual (e.g. as per GDPR).
At Unito we take the approach of NOT storing data we integrate, or as little as possible while remaining easy-to-use. We strive to be only a conduit, replicating changes to data across systems. To be clear, we don't replicate the customer's data in our own database at all. So if you remove the integration, the integrated tools continue working normally, albeit on their separate, disconnected ways.
As for PII, we keep it to a minimum, which is a user ID and email, since we need to recognize who is who in different tools to replicate their changes.
- Nowadays, there are many one-way integrations available for most cloud-based applications. However, Unito offers a two-way solution. What’s the added value of this type of sync for business managers?
One-way integrations are great for automating simple tasks. They help you avoid copy-paste, send notifications and generally spend less time jumping between tools. But two-way sync isn’t about simple tasks — it’s about your entire workflow. Rather than automating a few actions, you’re building a bridge between tools that will allow information to flow freely (or based on the restrictions you set).
One-way automation is like sending smoke signals, while two-way sync is like being in the room, having a conversation. There’s no delay and no barriers.
From changing due dates, to content review, to checking in on project developments, if you need to collaborate back and forth (i.e. make edits from both tools), you need two-way sync.
- The SaaS and iPaaS market is expected to grow exponentially over the next few years. Can you share a leadership lesson with other companies in the sector?
Just like it's really hard (read: impossible) to build work software that does everything well for everyone, it's really hard to build an integration solution that solves every integration need for everyone.
Focus on solving concrete business problems and make it really easy to do so without technical skills. Modern integration solutions are specializing. Pick your niche!