Product Leaders Discuss Market and Customer Research for APIs and B2B SaaS Integrations

Elizabeth Garcia

Over at the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance, we hosted a discussion with product and product partnership leaders about best practices for market and customer research for APIs and integrations. 

Our CEO Cristina Flaschen talked with Sonja Davenport Petersen (Product Owner - Developer Experience at Xero), Vlad Kuznetsov (Principal Product Manager at LivePerson), Doug Gould (Head of Ecosystem Partnerships at LaunchDarkly), and Gayatri P. (Principal Product Manager - Ecosystem and Growth at Egnyte).

You can join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to see the full event recording, but we wanted to share some of the insights including best processes for deciding on new integrations, figuring out use cases, and defining metrics to convince stakeholders of the business value of integrations and APIs. 

Best proactive processes for understanding what new integrations or new use cases customers would derive the most value from? 

Sonja first shared the importance of first understanding one’s product, and how it is being used as a standalone product, by collaborating with research teams, product marketing, CX, and sales.

“First, understand that new opportunities can be found through your existing customers,” Sonja explained. ”Then, try to build an understanding of your customer’s ecosystem and the products they are using. From there you can start to see potential interdependencies between your product and other products they are using.” 

Along with this approach and the usual competitor research, she mentioned that companies should also look for integration partnership opportunities beyond the products that customers are using. She mentioned researching integrations from an ecosystem and network perspective, which might include partnerships with companies that have similar organizational goals or market and customer segments. 

Sonja also told the audience to not automatically count out their competitors as potential integration partners in this case, citing companies like Jira and Asana who have competing products, but have created touchpoints between their products to leverage each other in order to meet customer needs. 

“Looking for new integration opportunities can mean looking at products that are competitors at face value, but in an ecosystem world, your competitors can sometimes become a key part of your ecosystem.” - Sonja Davenport Petersen, Product Owner - Developer Experience at Xero

Vlad explained that SaaS companies often have the option to build, buy, or partner when it comes to offering new functionality to their customers. He mentioned that, in the past, he had determined that an integration partnership was the best way to go after determining there were established vendors for a specific product his company was thinking of building. 

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This would have made it difficult to force their customers to their product if they decided to build it themselves, and so, in this case, focusing on integration strategy was the best option. 

Gayatri brought up the pain point that product teams are often bombarded with integration requests, and she shared a “playbook” for prioritizing integrations she learned from her VP at Microsoft that she has continued to apply throughout her career. 

To start the framework, she shared that product and partnerships teams should identify the overall goal and stage of their company, and create a partner framework, starting with first-party applications. She defined these as the applications that are deeply ingrained in client workflows and everyday productivity.

She then advised to look at the overall company vision and identify partnerships that could fulfill gaps and move that vision forward. Keeping this in perspective, she said to look at integrations and break them up into three tiers of priority: Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3. 

Overall, the tier that each integration will fall under is based on how much they are positioned to best meet the company’s strategic priorities at the time. The amount of marketing resources, product resources, and enhancements to integrations would depend on what tier they fall into.

After this partner framework is complete, she suggested using it to communicate across other teams who are involved in partnerships, or who often bring in integration requests, about what integration requests will be the focus and why for a given quarter, year etc. 

After creating and communicating this framework, she said that she does a deeper analysis of new integrations added, using her company's north star metrics. For example, she mentioned that Egnyte is focused on adoption and retention, so she would look at monthly active users to assess end user adoption. In this case she explained the assumption is that If customers are using it, they will retain better, and that adds business value.  

From here, she explained that companies can see which integrations are important to business development and the overall company vision, and then use this to determine which integrations the company wants to enhance or what other use cases they want to invest further in. 

What concrete metrics have you all used in the past to sell leadership on a particular integration?

Doug echoed the sentiment made earlier around having a clear integration partner prioritization framework, and explained the importance of having this set before attempting to speak to upper management about the business case for an integration. 

“When it comes to building credibility, and making a case up to leadership, the foundation of using a framework to evaluate certain opportunities, that's the piece that should be drawn out first and then distributed throughout the organization,” he explained. “This is so that people understand that when you're discussing an integration opportunity, it's gone through some level of filter relevant to organizational goals prior to the discussion.”

Sonja added to Doug’s point, explaining that, as a product person, one should use that framework to make sure that they use really strong metrics that reflect value to the company.

She advised the audience to come up with metrics that have more strategic context. She gave the example of measuring the success of external APIs in order to determine the importance of their investment.

In the context of this example she mentioned that product teams can measure API adoption by measuring time to “Hello World,” however, this is a metric that doesn’t strongly demonstrate the business value of the external APIs. 

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In contrast, measuring the number of APIs that are being actively used by marketplace apps or the monthly number of developers that are using APIs to publish on an app store are metrics that are more useful when having to prove return on investment. 

Vlad mentioned that one metric he often uses to demonstrate the importance of a potential integration is the number of customers that have attempted an integration themselves, whether in some work around way or by outsourcing. 

He also added that he likes to share if customers are unhappy with a particular integration not being available or working properly. Using data that aligns to this, one can demonstrate the need for investment in either providing that integration or enhancing it. 

Gayatri explains that the kind of metrics one uses to try and persuade leadership on a new integration depends on the initiative that the integration will be meant to support. She shared some general metrics that leadership teams will find important. This included data aligned to customer requests, sales requests, churn, and NPS scores. 

She added that Egnyte has a system, using Productboard and other tools, where customers can make requests that are then attached to their roadmap. Within this portal, they also enable user-voting on requests that are made from customers. 

This becomes data that they can use to help them prioritize and sell leadership on new integrations, and provides them with visibility into not only what integrations customers are requesting, but the customers use cases that are making the requests and voting. 

When making the business case for integrations that are meant for strategic reasons, and not customer requests, she suggested using traditional product marketing metrics. 

This would include a competitive analysis, how the integration will differentiate a company’s product, what the value proposition is, and what the initial TAM would be. Overall, product and partnerships teams want to make it clear what is in it for the business and how the integration will help move the organization forward towards goals stakeholders are focused on.

Lastly, Gayatri added that she likes to include data aligned to organizational growth when making a business case for new integrations, as this is something that her company is focusing on in their pre-IPO phase. 

"To demonstrate the importance of integration partnerships, I worked with the data and analytics team to create a regression model tying the number of integrations used to the products' stickiness and decreased churn." - Gayatri Puwar, Principal Product Manager - Ecosystem and Growth at Egnyte

This visualization of data helped prove the value of the partnerships and integrations-focused teams across departments, empowering them in their work. 

Panelists also discussed specific processes they use to ensure other departments like sales, marketing, engineering and customer support, are gathering data that helps them decide what to prioritize and build. 

If you're interested in hearing the full discussion, join the SaaS Ecosystem Alliance to gain access to members only resources and a recording of this event.

You can also register for more upcoming roundtables on interdisciplinary topics relevant to those working in technology partnerships.

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