It typically goes something like this: You start with a website builder like WordPress or SquareSpace.
Then, you’ll realize you need to start sending emails, so you go and get an email service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact.
Next you’ll need to sell your product, so you pick up a shopping cart like WooCommerce or Shopify.
And on and on it goes.
By doing this, you’ve inadvertently chosen to run your business using single-point tools wired together with integrations (aka a tech stack), rather than a complete business platform.
Sooner or later, you get frustrated with all these singularly focused software tools that don’t work together.
So many logins, so many integration issues, so many monthly bills, and so many challenges with actually getting your marketing to work.
You begin to consider tossing it all and moving to a more robust platform. So you start asking around in your communities about possible options. It’s right around here that you discover that many entrepreneurs have strong opinions on the subject.
The entrepreneurial world can be neatly divided between those who extoll the virtues of using an all-in-one platform and those who insist on the superiority of their tech stack of single-point tools.
Obviously, at Ontraport, we come down pretty clearly on the side of all-in-one platforms.
It turns out that pretty much all larger businesses have also discovered the many benefits of keeping their data and tools under one roof, but many entrepreneurs remain steadfast in their belief that single-point tools are the future for small business technology.
The argument presented by the single-point tool crowd seems like a reasonable one. They’ll argue:
- Single-point tools are cheaper.
- Since single-point tools don’t have as many features as an all-in-one platform, they’re simpler to understand, set up and use.
- Single-point tools must be the answer since there are so many of them. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to make an all-in-one system.
- Because single-point tool providers can be laser-focused on just one thing, they can do that thing better and with more bells and whistles.
There are several problems with these arguments, though, so let’s take them one-by-one:
1. Tech stacks cost you time and money.
If single-point tools have one thing going for them, it’s got to be the price. $9 a month just can’t be beat, am I right?
It’s reasonable and responsible to be cost-conscious as an entrepreneur. And it’s true that most serious all-in-one platforms have a starting cost that’s more than that of a typical single-point solution.
But it’s also important to consider the whole picture, because sometimes you really do get what you pay for.
Those little price tags add right up.
It gets expensive when you’ve got five or seven different apps hitting up your credit card each month (which is going to happen).
Add in overages and upgrades, and you’re probably right in the ballpark of what a solid all-in-one platform solution is going to run you, if not much more.
But the real cost to your business isn’t the monthly fee. It’s two other things that entrepreneurs too often undervalue: your time and your speed.
Your time is the most important asset you have in your business, and using it to muck around with APIs and integrations and trying four different apps until you find the one that sort of works with the other apps you’ve got is not effective.
If you’ve been through the single-point tool nightmare already, you know this from first-hand experience.
The other cost is speed.
As a business owner, you need to be able to move from idea to implementation quickly.
If you can’t, then great business and marketing ideas end up in the “to do someday” pile (aka the trash can).
For example, let’s say you want to send a promotion to the segment of your list who have visited your pricing page in the last 30 days but haven’t bought your product and aren’t already talking to your sales team.
If your pricing page visit data is in one system, and your email marketing is in another and your sales team uses a third system… well, you may not be able to pull this off at all.
On the other hand, if you’ve got all that data in one system, that project will take you about one minute.
The value of having that kind of power and ability to move quickly is hard to overestimate. There’s no question it’s more than the cost of any of the tools you might be thinking of putting to work in your business.
2. Single-point tools aren’t easier to use.
To our mind, the idea that single-point solutions are easier to use is a bit silly.
Which is easier to use: your phone camera or your Nikon DSLR? The phone camera, of course, which is built into your pocket-platform.
“Easy to use” is a function of design, not a function of feature-richness (or lack thereof).
There are single-point tools that are mind-numbingly obtuse just as there are solid, all-in-one platforms that are straightforward. And, of course, the opposite is true as well.
It’s understandable that some people have a bad taste in their mouths around large platforms. It wasn’t so long ago that legacy providers proudly touted and sold systems that required a parade of engineers and consultants to install, train and support. Big set-up fees and long contracts that locked clients in were the norm.
Today, those practices are archaic, and providers win based on their merits, providing value each day and standing behind their products and services. A bad user experience is a recipe for terrible online reviews and a slow business-death.
It’s simpler to learn one platform instead of 10 tools.
Whether you like it or not, learning a new piece of software takes a little time. With single-point tools, every time you add a new tool you have to start the learning process from scratch. And they all work differently.
With an all-in-one platform, there are typically some core concepts which, once learned, apply around the whole app.
For example, in Ontraport you have to learn how to create a landing page. Like all new tools, it takes a few minutes.
The advantage is that once you’ve learned how to create a landing page, you’ve ALSO learned how to create an opt-in form and an email because all three of those things are built using the same editor.
The same is true for reviewing and sorting data.
You learn how to do it once in Ontraport, and you’ve learned how to do it everywhere. A list of contacts looks and acts just like a list of landing pages, or emails, or users, or transactions, and so on.
Because of this kind of organization, the time you spend learning a new tool in Ontraport is time much better spent because you’ll use your knowledge again and again.
3. Cheap, disposable tools will always outnumber quality products.
The idea that the proliferation of single-point tools proves the validity of that model is simply wrong.
It’s just a lot easier to create a single feature than it is to create a complete, robust platform.
And because software is a hot market these days, the number of single-point tools on the market is exploding.
In fact, Silicon Valley has created a kind of business-religion around the idea of building a “MVP” – or Minimum Viable Product – to see if you can sell it to customers and then iterate from there.
It’s a low-risk process for founders and, more importantly, for the investors who back them because they can own lots of ideas cheaply, and then let their very few successes turn into big financial wins.
That model is not designed to create the best solution for customers.
Instead, it’s designed to create profitable businesses for investors.
No VC will fund a founder who says, “Hey, I need $5 mil to create a complete solution for entrepreneurs that includes w, x, y and z. I’ll be done in 4 years.”
They won’t fund it because that’s really hard to do, and it takes a lot of time and money to get to a point where you can even find out whether the market wants what you’re selling.
Instead, the VCs fund the other guy who says, “I need enough for spaghetti and rent for six months while I build the next great single-point tool.” That’s good for the founder and the investor but not good for consumers.
All-in-one is the dream.
Some proponents of single-point tools will admit that all-in-one is the dream but will then dismiss it as impossible.
They say, “It simply takes too long to build quality software these days to try and compete in five different arenas.”
But, as Nelson Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
Fortunately, there are a few companies (like Ontraport, which started over a decade ago) that have invested extraordinary amounts of time and money into creating real all-in-one marketing platforms.
Salesforce, for example, has completely taken over the enterprise market and created a $5-billion-a-year business, not by limiting their vision to one feature set, but by creating a true solution for enterprises that know they can’t run their businesses on a kludge of single-point tools.
It’s true that having more features does mean having more code to manage over time, but it’s not true that the model is less efficient than the single-point tool model.
There are several big projects that a software company has to take on in order to be a viable, scalable, long-term provider for serious entrepreneurs.
Some of those include:
- Developing infrastructure scalability and redundancy
- Monitoring and managing security
- Developing a high-quality code management and release process
- Dealing with messaging
- Handling payments
- Recruiting and training
- Building a support team
- Building a sales team
- Building a marketing team
- Learning to run an efficient organization
And on and on and on.
That’s not to mention all the traditional overhead a business has to build and maintain, such as renting office space, buying desks, managing billing and accounting, keeping HR up to snuff, buying insurance and legal services, doing your taxes, etc.
You know the drill.
All together, these things add up to a massive cost in terms of both time and money.
Unfortunately, each single-point tool provider has to deal with all that technical and business overhead individually.
Each one has to incur the costs, spend the time, learn the lessons, take the risks, and try to build a lasting business.
Of course, some are better at all this than others.
Platform providers already have the kinks worked out.
So, for example, in 2015 when we decided to completely revamp Ontraport’s landing page tools, we didn’t have to go create a new company… we just built a landing page tool on top of our existing platform.
In nine months (from initial scribbles on paper to done and out the door) we developed and launched an amazing and extremely competitive landing page and form builder for our clients.
We were able to do that because so much of the hard work was already done.
We already had robust and scalable infrastructure in place.
We had security worked out.
We had interface components already built, and uptime monitoring and testing suites and databases already in place.
We had a support team, a billing team, a marketing team, an accounting team. And on and on.
We’ve made a real investment in our all-in-one platform, which is why we’re able to actually support our customers and provide the features they need, whereas single-point tools are simply one and done.
4. Entrepreneurs need problems solved, not more software tools.
Finally, advocates for single-point tools claim that they’re inherently the superior option because they only need to focus on creating one tool and, therefore, their tool is better.
They also assert that the specialized features added to their tools give their users an advantage.
Our experience says otherwise.
That experience has taught us a lot, and one of those things is that most entrepreneurs didn’t get into business because they love messing around with technology all day.
While any categorization of a group as large and diverse as “entrepreneurs” will always fall short of complete accuracy, our experience is that there are two kinds of entrepreneurs:
- Tech geeks
- Everyone else
Tech geeks actually represent a very small portion of the entrepreneurial community.
To most entrepreneurs, technology is a hurdle to overcome, not a fun hobby.
The reality is that the vast majority of you got into business not because you love geeking out on landing page conversions or other web-marketing technologies, but because you love what you do, are good at it, and are out to improve the lives of your clients by making a real difference and doing great work for them.
Yes, building a business today means getting online, and getting online means learning some software. There are some basics that need to be handled, like how to get a website online, how to follow up with leads, how to deal with email marketing, and how to take orders online.
It doesn’t mean that you must become an expert-level marketing tech guru who knows and uses a bag full of the most cutting-edge technologies available.
But, that’s what many single-point tool providers want you to believe.
If you ask any of them what the secret to business success is, they’ll tell you the story of how their tool unlocks the ultimate hidden power, without which you are doomed to be beaten by their other (smarter, insider, early-adopter) clients.
Success is created, most often, not by tech-tricks but by excelling in the basics.
It may sound odd coming from the CEO of a software company, and maybe it’s risky for me to say so, but in my experience it’s true.
Here’s what really matters:
- Is your product or service the best it can be? Are you providing the most value?
- Do you have a compelling lead-conversion offer in place?
- Do you have a web page for each marketing campaign that incorporates well-known best practices for page conversion?
- Are you following up with your leads over time, automatically, to position your company as the leader, ensure you handle objections, and stay top of mind?
- If you’re taking payments online, is that process simple, streamlined, and secure?
- Are you using best practices with your email marketing to ensure high delivery rates?
- Are you split-testing your email and web-page copy to see what works best?
- Do you systematically provide an ultra-high-quality new client experience, to make sure they get the most from your product or service and to generate word-of-mouth referrals?
Too often, these simple systems are overlooked in favor of some hot marketing strategy of the day.
However, it’s my experience that ensuring you’ve got the fundamentals in place will ALWAYS make a far bigger difference to your bottom line than some new feature.
You need a strong foundation — not gimmicks.
While single-point tool providers will always continue to add on endless bells and whistles in an effort to differentiate themselves from their competitors, that doesn’t mean you need those bells and whistles to succeed.
Can those features make a difference?
Sure, they definitely sometimes can.
But the vast majority of businesses we encounter on a daily basis would do much better by ensuring their fundamentals are in place.
It’s true that once your business is doing high volume, and you’ve optimized every part of your conversion process and client experience, then little improvements at each stage of your customer lifecycle can mean big bucks, and Ontraport makes that optimization process possible.
But that doesn’t describe most entrepreneurs who need to focus on getting up and running quickly with some high-quality basics for lead capture, lead management and order processing.
All-in-one platforms are better — look at the smartphone.
The providers and promoters of single-point tools have a primary argument which is this: Because they can focus on one feature, they’ll inevitably be better at it than anyone who takes on more.
However, the world is full of extraordinary examples of the opposite being true.
The smartphone, to take the most obvious example, is not better than the best camera.
- It’s also not a better computer.
- It’s not a better messaging device.
- It’s not a better mapping device. It’s not a better gaming device.
- It’s not a better wifi hotspot. It’s not a better radio or clock or calculator.
Heck, it’s not even a better phone.
For almost everyone, the smartphone is a better choice than having the best, most cutting-edge devices in each category.
The vast majority of people don’t need a Nikon DSLR. And they don’t need a scientific calculator. What they need is to get the basics done well. And Apple and other smartphone makers have done the basics so well that they’ve transformed the world.
Today, for the first time ever, everyone you know carries a phone in their pocket at all times. Nikon could never have created a camera so great that over four billion people (more than half of the people on Earth) would buy one and walk around with it in their pockets at all times.
All-in-one platforms are the smartphones of software.
It’s virtually impossible to imagine a world where everyone signed up for an online private-messaging service, a photo sharing service, a publishing service, and a news feed, but Facebook rolled it all into one, and now billions of people are there.
It’s our strong belief that the future of small business technology will follow that pattern.
Entrepreneurs will not be required to research, select and buy a web builder and an email tool and a CRM system and a payment system and then figure out how to use each, and how to string them together and make them work right, and then spend their time logging in to these five separate systems all day long.
Instead, one platform will emerge as the leader, just as Salesforce has done in the enterprise market, and single-point tool providers will need to adjust their business models to focus on providing add-on services to clients of the platform leader.
All-in-one platforms are a true solution for the problems faced by the vast majority of entrepreneurs, instead of a short-term fix that will simply need replacing again and again over time.
You can’t ignore the advantages of an all-in-one platform:
- You only need to research, buy, install, learn and train your team on one tool.
- Having all your customer data in one system allows for a level of personalization and automation that is simply unachievable with an array of single-point tools.
- Having a complete record of all interactions with each contact and customer that touches your company gives you information and insight that’s otherwise unavailable.
- Having one team to call when you need support saves endless hours and headache.
- There are no weak links, which are rife when integrating multiple tools via APIs, in your system.
- And much more…
Does that mean single-point tools will disappear?
Just like there’s a great market for Nikon DSLRs for photography enthusiasts, there will always be tools for marketing-tech geeks. You may even have a nice DSLR gathering dust at home, like I do, because the idea of taking professional photos is compelling.
But, man… my phone is just so small, and always there, and it does a great job…
At the end of the day, technology should serve entrepreneurs and remove hassle from their lives, not add to it.
Large enterprises know that having a single database of everything you know about your customers and prospects enables you to make better decisions, create better experiences, and deliver more relevant, targeted marketing.
They’re willing to spend millions of dollars to get those abilities from companies like Salesforce, Netsuite, Oracle, and SAP.
Today, small business owners have the same capabilities as large businesses available to them at unheard of prices.
Ontraport, for example, starts at $79/month, and you can literally start from day one with a system that will power your business for years to come.
Unfortunately, too many entrepreneurs are still learning this lesson the hard way, compelled by the big promises and low prices offered by a tidal wave of coders who put together a feature and sell it as the solution.
But, just a few years ago, entrepreneurs didn’t know what an autoresponder was.
Now they do.
As a group, we learn and evolve and get better and more sophisticated over time. There’s no doubt that running your business on a complete platform is a more powerful and more efficient option, and every day more entrepreneurs are leaving behind their hacked-together systems and taking advantage of the most powerful tools available.
And they’re spreading the word: All-in-one platforms are the future.