Beginner’s Guide to Vertically Integrated vs. Best-of-Breed Software

vertical integration zoho

In my last post, I wrote about the concept of end-to-end solutions which home run business processes from beginning to end in one, integrated application.

If you're looking make a digital transformation at your business, which means convert your analog business processes to 100% digital processes, this post will help decide what kind of software solution is right for you.

I'm not going to get into the weeds and help actual pick a certain brand of software.

But I will give the strategic knowledge you need to know what category of software you should be considering.

These days I work primarily as a digital marketing consultant.

But over the last 15 years, I've gathered business requirements and scoped enterprise CRM and ERP implementations, digital marketing software stacks and led full product lifecycle development for custom applications so I definitely have some opinions of which solutions are a good fit for which types of companies.

So let's start with a discussion of end-to-end software that support business processes from beginning to end.

Some examples of business workflows that cannot be completed in an end-to-end fashion are:

  • Requiring a customer to call or email to complete a transaction
  • Requiring a customer to print out, sign and return a document
  • Requiring a customer to print out, fill out, scan and send back a form

These are manual or analog work arounds that frustrate our ability to easily complete business transactions.

When some has to call or email to complete a transaction, we call that failing to phone or failing to email.

Today end-to-end software products solve that problem by allowing you to complete the transaction in a single workflow, which expedites the pace of commerce for the buyer and seller.

But end to end software from a single provider is still relatively a new phenomenon.

Best of Breed Applications

In the early days, the only way to get end-to-end software to run your business was to build it yourself, stitching in best-of-breed solutions from different software vendors to fill the gaps.

Over the course of time, best-of-breed vendors got really good at their niche.

One company got good at making accounting software, another at project management software and another at human resources software.

They developed their products to a stage where employees became dependent on their products to get their jobs done.

Today, most business leaders put more value on software that supports individual departments than software that improves collaboration.

Sales has their CRM. Marketing has their automation stack. Accounting has their package. And ops has theirs.

As a silo, each department works faster.

But as a company, since cross functional collaboration relies on analog work arounds, business processes are interrupted and the pace of commerce slows.

The simplest of interdepartmental tasks, like setting up a new customer in the accounting system or creating a project plan from a scope of work document are redundant, because new customers have to be manually set up in different applications, bleeding the organization of productivity.

Integrating Best of Breed Stacks

If sales executives can transfer new customer contacts directly from their CRM to your accounting package, or if operation can automatically convert a scope of work document into a manageable project plan, the result is velocity.

When you integrate best-of-breed (or point) solutions, you're mapping how data gets transferred from one system to another. Each best-of-breed or point solution in your stack has its own database, which needs to be told manually where to put or get data from other systems.

If you integrate niche, best-of-breed solutions manually, you’re on the hook for maintaining those integrations when employees come and go, when a best-of-breed provider deprecates a solution in your stack or changes their API call limits?

Is the added functionality of a best-of-breed solution really worth the cross connectivity, maintenance and integration challenges? Or is it better to have a vertically integrated stack from a single CRM/ERP provider?

Vertically Integrated Solutions

For nearly a decade, major CRM/ERP providers like Microsoft, Oracle and Salesforce have been acquiring and integrating best-of-breed providers in a race to assemble end-to-end, interoperable business software.

These guys may not always have the best niche solutions, but by focusing on integration, they enable companies to increase their velocity.

Relying on stand alone best-of-breed solutions like Quickbooks and HubSpot, which do some things really well, is becoming riskier because those providers that haven't been acquired by one of the end-to-end CRM/ERP providers and could eventually get deprecated, since they’re competing against whichever of their best-of-breed competitor’s gets acquired and integrated by the CRM/ERP.

Today's alliance partner is tomorrow's acquisition, or yesterday's deprecated, unsupported integration.

Once the CRM/ERP providers have fully integrated their best-of-breed acquisitions, will they still support the same integrations they do today?

Stacks that rely on integration platforms like Zapier and Mulesoft are even riskier because, as we already learned.

Stitched applications offer fewer options together than they do individually, and if it doesn’t integrate, these solutions impede cross functional collaboration.

Plus, maintaining all those integrations manually, as each product issues new releases, can become a gargantuan task.

Common Infrastructure

Sridhar and Eric at Zoholics.

Sridhar Vembu, CEO of Zoho, the emerging CRM/ERP leader Zoho for small and medium sized businesses is developing a Unified Virtual Database to enable tighter integration between applications and give clients an easier way to build custom applications on a common database.

One database means fewer dependencies, because information doesn’t need to be passed from one database to the next, resulting in fewer fields to be mapped and fewer processes to be maintained.

More importantly, however, if all your data is in one place, it's easier to leverage artificial intelligence to drive business velocity, and AI is set to divide the winners from the losers as we move into the future of information technology.


When all your data is in one place, it's much easier to pinpoint actionable business intellignce because meaning is found at the intersection of multiple data sets.

Technology is constantly advancing.

Staying ahead of the curve requires transformational marketing strategies, seamless customer experiences and smarter, faster, more flexible organizations.

One important key to survival in the age of disruption is ease-of-use, for the customer and the employee, because easier means faster.

Use this guide to choose the best software solution for your organization.

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