3 Key Integrations to Accelerate Your Growth

High-growth SaaS companies have one thing in common: They all automate critical business processes early on to free up resources, run faster, and scale. In this on-demand webinar, integration expert, Mark Simon, VP Strategy at Celigo, reveals the best insights from over a decade of working with customers and their business processes.

Topics discussed:

  • Typical business processes for software companies
  • 3 key integrations that should be automated
  • Integration methods and options
  • How to develop an integration strategy and roadmap

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Full Webinar Transcript
It’s a pleasure to be able to present to you on the three key integrations to accelerate your growth. I’m the VP of Strategy for Celigo, which is an iPaaS company based in the San Francisco Bay Area in the United States. Just a little bit about me, first my role in VP of Strategy is, I’ve worked with a lot of our key customers and work with our go-to-market strategy and key accounts and helped to solution architect of a lot of our solutions and for key customers on our platform. I’ve been with Celigo for the last two years. Prior to that, I spent over eight years in mid-market ERP consulting where I led a consulting practice where we implemented ERP for a wide variety of companies, but with a large focus in high growth SaaS and modern technology companies. We conducted ERP, had an integration practice, custom solutions. And we focused a lot on automation and integration for high growth companies. And that’s just kind of a little bit of the background I bring here and the perspective. All right. I’m going to go ahead and jump into things. So one of the few things we’re going to talk about here today is, I just want to take a look at business processes for software and technology companies. We’ll look at three key types of integrations that from our experience, we recommend that you look at Celigo. We’ll also look at methods of integration, different approaches you can take to integrating those, and then how to go ahead and build a roadmap and try to get through that. [inaudible] plenty of time for questions. Love these things to be more interactive. And often the best part is the Q&A session and, hopefully, talking about some of the integration problems that you’re facing in your own businesses. At Celigo, we have over 3,500 customers that use our platforms for integration. So through that experience, we see a wide variety of things. And within that, one of our main verticals that we work with then is the software, SaaS, technology company, space. And so we see a tremendous amount of kind of patterns emerging. Because we work with everything from pre-series companies all the way through publicly traded companies in this ecosystem. So we see companies through every stage of their growth, growing pains. And as anyone who’s been through that, just because you’re big doesn’t mean the growing pains are gone. So but through that, we see a lot of patterns emerging as far as what business processes companies are looking to increase efficiency. We hear a lot about these days in the last year with the pandemic about digital transformation. That was kind of a big buzzword. And a key part of digital transformation is the automation side. And with the proliferation of SaaS applications in businesses now, you can end up with very fragmented data and information and a key journey to becoming more efficient and optimizing those after you get those SaaS apps is tying them together, making sure they’re integrated, and really, the start to that integration journey is looking at the business processes that you have flowing to the organization. So if we take a look at these here– and we’ll talk about these briefly before jumping in deeper. It’s going from the left here, suspect to prospect. What we see here is, typically, some of the basic marketing integrations that we see often fairly early in a company’s expansion. Typically, maybe not the very first integrations we see going into place, but reasonably early. This is connecting your– for example, with Celigo we use HubSpot, so connecting HubSpot and Salesforce, for example. But any number of marketing applications out there that you might be connecting with your CRM to connect your leads over to your prospects. The next one in the process list is quote to cash. And for us, this is a big one. This is where we see almost all organizations, regardless of verticals, starting with their integration journey. We do a tremendous amount of work in this quote-to-cash phase because as any company starting out their journey or looking to increase efficiency, this is under the lines. Everyone wants to get the customers happy and the money in the door, essentially. So this is where we see most technology companies is being their first point of initiation for any type of integration, typically, their CRM to their ERP or accounting system. Moving in that journey, collaboration, this is often getting– you typically see this as far as getting key customer information, transactional information, into the right systems for insights in action, often some alerting based on particular triggers. This is one that can be driven by– it can start really small, one or two flows, but then can expand very broadly. Moving beyond that, the issue to resolution. So getting your support system connected into your customer 360 view. We see this one– again, it usually– it kind of key growth points in a technology company’s journey. Well in the way, then we see the subscription billing processes to get automated– getting automated. So if you’re using– very often use a subscription solution that’s external to your accounting or ERP, getting those integrated invoicing systems. This one’s a key one for growth generally as your subscriptions start to scale out. Or often, the inflection point there is transfer from sort of an initial subscription solution to something a little more robust that will scale out as a company grows. Then we look at the procure to pay, hire to retire, and then the last one is operational to analytics. That’s one where we see tremendous growth right now and an amazing amount of interest in better analytics. And we’re seeing this continue to move downstream in company size and revenue, where they’re investing. We see smaller and smaller companies investing in data scientists, to be honest. Earlier and earlier in their growth, they get key insights. And that’s one this is one that it’s never too early to think about. How am I going to– all these systems, how am I going to report on this data? When do I need a comprehensive view of that? So let’s kind of move on. So I mentioned there automating quote to cash as being one of the big areas, the first point that we start. And again, this is where we’re typically seeing this is getting– for technology companies, getting the CRM connected with the ERP system. We’re kind of giving an example of what we’re doing at Celigo. As a 40 million dollar revenue company, this is what we’re looking at doing and how we’ve evolved right now and one of the very first integrations Celigo did was Salesforce to Oracle NetSuite and as a company, we actually have a very specialized evolved product that actually has predefined mappings and transformations here that sits on top of our iPaaS because we see so much integration here. But regardless of what technique you use, looking at this, looking at these quote to cash processes is really what we’d recommend most companies start looking at on their integration journey and it’s one that you’ll find you come back to very repeatedly. So you may start out with something fairly basic, simply just getting your, say, quotes from your CRM in as sales orders into your ERP or accounting system. But then along with that, the account or customer information. But quickly, the needs there grow– need for more bi-directional information to go back upstream. And then that certainly starts to expand. At this point in the journey, we often see customers integrating in perhaps a software licensing solution at this stage. That all depends because individual implementations vary so much. What type of licensing strategy, how your product or technology service may be the licensing your users and what system is actually acting as the entitlement master? But this is often a very early integration as something that comes sort of maybe along with that in the same phase of work as the first CRM to accounting or ERP. And by getting these in sync, you really start to fulfill basic customer expectations right now. Everyone wants to sign, submit an order, and get their product or service as quickly as possible. So this, again, is where we really see most companies starting and what we hire highly recommend looking at. And it gets your cash flow order pipeline moving and is a great place to start with your integration journey. And this also gets your sales team more efficient, your operations team more efficient early on. Typically when you’re looking at growth and again, that’s why we can see this being revisited, expanding more and more and you can end up with very complex integrations here as the number of SaaS apps in your organization continues and you bring more information up into the CRM next one is getting– typically we see the next step is getting visibility into the customer 360. So that holy grail, so to speak, of a holistic view of a customer. This can be one that you start seeing inefficiencies around. The modern SaaS applications are so amazing for solving problems, you start to have departments adopting them, before you know it, you’ve got this proliferation of them. It’s great. But customer data then becomes fragmented. It’s you’ve got a support solution in one location. You have your CRM. You have now accounting and finance have data about the customer. Marketing has some data. Your product has usage data. That starts to become very, very challenging to get a centralized view on what’s happening in the customer. So taking a look at that, deciding what the core information around a customer that you want to consolidate on and share amongst those applications really starts to– but building in some integration there, that starts to bring a great deal more efficiency. You get users out of the app skipping, so to speak, switching from one– a very common one is support system, over to having to then log into a finance system to figure out what, okay, what the billing status on somebody is, an entitlement system. It starts skipping around, trying to get to decide where you’re going to consolidate this is a really key part of the journey of getting the product usage data consolidated, subscription data support tickets. So moving into another one that we see very, very common and recommend that customers take a look at is automation of the cash management side of things. So this one we tend to see coming a little bit later. And this is most often owned and implemented, driven by the needs of the finance and accounting teams. But this is getting some of your key integrations in place to automate the cash management side of the business. So getting your billing automated as much as possible. And again, these things are best kind of taken as an iterative journey, getting started, whether you’re doing invoices and terms or you’re doing maybe entirely upfront payment or some combination thereof, you’ll really want to look at how to make that more efficient. We often see that that credit card payment side coming down to reconciliation, for example, it can be with a large– especially when you have high volume, maybe a lower dollar amount of transactions, that burden for reconciliation through multiple payment platforms can be very, very big, especially with the proliferation of payment methods and especially with regionalized and country-specific payment methods. As you start to have some global reach with your product, this can become a big burden. This diagram here shows some of the apps that we’re using at Celigo. But again, any of these can be– any of those individual logos can be swapped out with what you may be using and experiencing is your end as a customer. So if we look at a couple of these, we didn’t do all of these at once. For example, at Celigo, and we don’t see most of our customers doing these at once. But they go through this process, and we’ll talk about that in a couple of slides later, about how to decide, look at this, and how to go through the little bit of the process and making decisions on where to start. But these are often keyed sometimes by very important kind of milestones in a technology company and in a SaaS company’s lifecycle. But often of funding rounds, we see can trigger a look at efficiency in a way, bringing, for example, a CFO on board, you can get a lot more and elevate visibility into some of the key financial metrics. And we see this. So it’s good to realize that this is often– if you’re not there yet, this is coming, and this is good to get these in your integration roadmap. So integration sounds good. Great. Where do you start and how do you go about doing it? So I want to take everybody through some of the options that are out there because this is still a little bit of we see huge variance on how our customers and prospects go about doing this right now. And where everything was done a number of years ago is what we call API-based custom coding. So that’s having developers, they sit down, they look at the apps and they write code every time they do an integration. And there is a shocking number of organizations that are very large ones to small ones that this is kind of the standard for them. Well, you can sometimes throw something together and get it working. You don’t need any additional software to make this happen. It definitely doesn’t scale. And it starts to become very inefficient. Technical resources are expensive and good ones are hard to come by, no matter whether using an onshore or offshore model. And it becomes brittle and hard to maintain. So we quickly see companies looking at an alternative to this. One of those is point-to-point solutions or consulting ware, often these are really narrow, focused solutions for a very precise problem. They’re often a black box, so they have a fixed set of functionality and they work until they don’t anymore. If your needs don’t fit that, you’re out of luck because you often can’t customize them at all. An example of this would– a lot of the integrations that come with built into certain SaaS products take this approach? And it’s and it’s perfectly acceptable as part of your strategy to leverage these type of point-to-point solutions where they fit. A good example of where I see companies using these and successfully for a while is within what I call the sales ecosystem, the sales applications that surround CRM. So the add-on solutions are part of the modern sales software stack. Now, you don’t use your CRM, you use your CRM plus four or five, six, seven, sometimes many more applications. Those companies to play in the game, you have to be integrated into the most common CRM or often one or several. And those solutions can work great and they can work great for a while, but once your business needs starts to get more advanced and evolved, we see companies very often outgrowing those at a certain point and needing to get more customized. And they also want more centralized visibility into what’s happening with their data in their integrations. So we go from those point-to-point solutions and there’s kind of a point-to-point solutions overlap with what we call vendor-built. And so we’ve got those point-to-point. Then you get into more of these vendor built that I mentioned as well. And again, these lend a very siloed data processes. And then the last option for integration is what we call integration platform as a service, and that’s using a centralized platform specifically to integrate all the applications in your business and using a centralized approach for that. Now, that doesn’t mean you have to go with centralized I.T. management of this, but you can often go with a hybrid approach. But just simply having a common integration platform will often actually democratize the integration effort in an organization because the a platform will give some guardrails and actually allow departments to do more and bring integration beyond just from a developer to more of a business analyst or business user, able to get in there, manage, and build their own integrations. Let’s look at building an integration roadmap for your business. How do you go about doing this? And we really recommend a roadmap. And before you embark on an integration journey, look at where you want to be and where you want your data to be flowing and what order you’re going to tackle some of this automation over the next 12 to 18 months. And it really helps provide some clarity. But all of this starts by sitting down, listing out all of your applications, your key applications where your data resides, and then mapping out the business processes. This is something you can do, get the right people involved in, and I guess, pre-pandemic, we think of getting everybody in a conference room and doing some mapping on the whiteboard. But there’s a lot of ways to do this virtually right now. And just starting there is getting that down and being able to see visually where the data is flowing through your processes is really key. And then take those. And you often know right away what’s slow, what’s resource intensive, what isn’t working well. Then you start identifying those, essentially those known pain points. Then look at what where is the absolutely critical data that you don’t have any room for error with? It must be absolutely accurate and timely. Financial information, for example. A lot of the data that may be customer facing. So identify that, flag those. In that process, you’ll often have known challenges with that already. And then the final step here is look at some of these processes you’ve identified for integration and automation and start doing some rough ROI calculations on that. Start asking how much time is somebody spending on that. And especially as you’re scaling, you start looking, well, okay, if we’re going to be growing 50% or 100% in a year, you can get behind the curve and be solving problems with adding more bodies instead of often a much more efficient approach by identifying the efficiencies of getting some integration in place ahead of time. But it takes putting this roadmap and planning into place to make sure you’re on the right side of that and not behind the curve, so to speak. And with that, that’s kind of a relatively quick walk through through some of the processes, what we see being in the integration ecosystem. And I’d love to open it up for comments at this point and questions. So I see a question here. Process for startups versus integrations of existing– yeah, so the question here is main differences in these processes for startups versus integrations of existing setups. That’s a good question. So the approach really isn’t too much different. What we find is that nowadays we see integration happening earlier and earlier in a company’s lifespan, and we see some highly efficient companies across verticals building out integration and getting systems in place before they have any revenue at all before they even launch a product and they’re going at a mindset to be extremely efficient and avoid manual processes at all costs, so. We’ve seen that work very, very well and very successfully for companies to be very, very efficient in that regard. What that does do, though, is you’re often implementing integration and automation before you’ve actually put those business processes into play. And just having a processor out in the wild gives you a lot of– gives it some road miles, so to speak. And so either approach can be good. But if you’re a more– if you’re a company and your processes– you have processes that are unique to your business, that are– they’re providing clear business advantages for you, those are often changing and evolving and being tweaked. And so you really want to make sure that you’re picking solutions that are very flexible so that you can– and that’s where an iPaaS comes in, for example. And it is head and shoulders far, far above some of the other options because you have the flexibility and you can go and iterate. And so, yeah, there’s– that’s kind of a key difference between the approaches. But just as long as you make sure you’ve got flexibility in your solutions, either approach is going to have a good outcome wherever you start the journey, so to speak. Let’s see. Oh, questions. Does Celigo focus on automation of data pipes in SAS businesses? Yes, however that’s exactly what we focus on, is moving that data between your applications. We’re typically working with a lot of SaaS products. Like I said, that’s what we see everyone moving to now. But it might be legacy applications. You might have some custom applications that you built in your business. And it’s moving that data between those, is what our focus is. What volume of customer interaction would an iPaaS become an effective solution? I think that question’s pretty well-aligned with that earlier one. You can get in there and start integrating and using an iPaaS at the very beginning. One of the things that we’ve tried to do at Celigo is we’re going to help bring down the price point on this and also bring– make this more approachable. It previously, in any type of middleware, especially if we go back, gosh, 10 years or something, was just– really, you had to bite off a very big project. We see customer’s prospects just starting at automating a single flow. And we think about flows as– the terminology we use is a– but it’s just one data record moving from one point to another. We offer a free edition of our product fully-featured, but it allows someone to implement one production flow for free. Anybody, too. And we see a lot of people using that as kind of a starter point to try it out/ build something. And I think once you see– we often see organizations, they build a little scale on this. They automate one thing. Everyone sees the success on that, and it just starts to build from there. And I don’t think you’re ever too early to start on that. You just go through the mapping process. You look at your ROI and pick the things where it makes sense to to put some of that effort in, but the earlier you build that competency in your organization, the more efficiency you’ll just naturally have in a company and it’ll really set you up for faster growth. I don’t see any more questions. If anyone is willing to share any of the integration problems they’re facing. The start-up stage, you have a lot to do as a business, obviously, but as you start to get– as soon as you get some product out there, you want to be thinking about– you’re going to have operational activities in parallel with getting that and getting your product out there. And it’s worth thinking about when to bring in automation to, like I mentioned earlier, to stay ahead of that curve and you can build highly efficient businesses with automation at their core with the modern tools that are out there and the great applications. And so, it’s never too early to plan around that and have that in the back of your mind. So, Cara, you asked a great question actually, would the development team usually be the key players in working with an iPaaS and developing an integration roadmap? So traditionally, that’s where we see a lot of this work occurring was within an IT team and using actual developers. There are a lot more options now with modern iPaaS solutions, modern integration solutions. Celigo was the first, what we call iPaaS 2.0. So bringing a modern UI to play and targeting not just developers, but we’ve really strived to make the application accessible to what I call a technical-friendly business analyst. And so by that, what I mean is someone that can write some basic Excel formulas. That’s the level of technical aptitude that would enable someone to learn the Celigo platform and build out integration flows that are custom. Now, we also have solutions that we call integration applications that sit on top. And so for a SaaS company, the classic one is a Salesforce to NetSuite integration application that already has prewired workflows and has those flows wired, has the fields already mapped, and then that can be customized during implementation. Those are very, you don’t even need much– that much technical aptitude to implement. Those are much easier to implement because a lot of the decisions have already been made based on common patterns we see. So the short answer is– that was the long answer, but the short answer is no. you definitely don’t need to have a development team. Where we see a lot of companies being successful is when they do have internal resources, the pairing of, say, a technical resource with a business analyst is very, very powerful. You can have one developer supporting three or four business analysts because there are– we still have the power to apply code. And that becomes valuable because there are more complex things that coding is the best approach for. So the marrying of those two. But it shifts from a resourcing standpoint, it shifts that away from the technical resources and more to the business analysts that really know those processes and are embedded in those. And we find that brings quite a bit of efficiency to the build-out. SaaS company should basically translate any business setup into a tech replica. Yes, I agree. One hundred percent. You really should be looking at– the tech should be working for the business, though, I will say from being involved in hundreds of ERP implementation projects, that when you’re developing your business processes, you do want to look at best practices and try to stay within those unless there’s a competitive advantage from having a customer’s business process. So, when there is, then you should and then you should have– your technology should bend to your process. But it will save you a lot of time and money to use standardized default processes where available and it will make things a lot more efficient. And so, the combination of staying within the lanes until there’s a clear advantage. And so, customize where needed, but not everywhere, unless there’s good reason to. And with that, I think we’re at a time here. So I really appreciate everyone for joining and feel free to send me a message or connect. Happy to answer any other questions or do a deeper dive into things or just chat about problems we’re facing. It’s fun to hear what other growing SaaS companies are doing and what they’re facing.

About the speakers

Mark Simon

Mark comes to Celigo having spent the last 21 years in technology. He started his career as a software developer in 1997, building e-commerce applications and custom integrations for several years. He then co-founded and led technology and operations as CTO for Evo, a successful e-commerce company that grew from $0 to $13M in revenue in three years. He then moved on to start a career in consulting with Explore Consulting, an award-winning Solution Provider and VAR. Mark has worked with clients across several industries including multiple software clients and publicly traded companies pre and post IPO. His efforts for software clients included designing and developing automated processes for sales order processing, subscription management, and provisioning among others.