Best of breed vs. all-in-one: 50 shades of grey

Published on 11-07-2019 by Gerben Busch
best-of-breed vs. all-in-one is 50 shades of grey

In her post called “Best-of-Breed or All-in-One marketing software, which serves you better?”. Holistic Email Marketing’s Kath Pay is making some interesting statements.

She addresses a topic that’s keeping the minds busy these days. I fully agree with her where she says the technology of choice must follow the marketing strategy. Starting from an ICT angle is reverse engineering, often ending up in user dissatisfaction and in the end divestments or write-offs. But the scope must also go beyond the selection of the best-fit ESP platform a.k.a. email tool. As nobody needs the top-of-the-league email tool when you take the average email marketing maturity into perspective.

Good reasons to move away from ESP pure players

I’ve seen quite some solutions over time. With the uprise/emergence of the all-in-ones, ESP pure players tried to catch up to have their share of the marketing automation pie. But a lot of them were either too late, or facing huge investments. They are now confronted with a market that is increasingly making a choice for



marketing automation solutions. And for the right reasons. If customer experience and brand engagement is your game – and it is or must be nowadays – there are strong arguments in favor of swapping ESP pure players for solutions enabling you to go omnichannel.

Best-of-breed vs. all-in-one is not a matter of black or white

The answer to the “to choose for best-of-breed or all-in-one” question is: make the business case. After shortlisting of potential vendor candidates ask what comes as out of the box functionality and ask for a demonstration. In addition, ask for site visits at some of their existing clients. That will certainly help you paint the picture.

But it is not necessarily as black and white as Kath says. To start with: what is the definition of all-in-one? Do we refer to a platform that integrates all customer-facing business functions? Or is it a platform that covers the marketing function and related channels? In both scenarios you don’t need to worry too much. It’ all about the business case. Where the two scenarios ma differ in outcome. Just keep in mind that when making your choice you need to look beyond the day of tomorrow, include your strategy to realize your ambition.

Testing the temperature

When you take a hot bath you don’t jump in just like that. You will carefully put in your toes first before you slide in. And that’s what is possible when choosing martech. Replace your ESP point solution with a platform that offers the functionality to facilitate omnichannel campaigns. Start working with it, build your


journeys and reap results. And if it doesn’t meet your needs, just pull out and replace it by an alternative solution. If it does, you may scale up over time, creating that truly integrated all-in-one platform. So, the initial choice for all-in-one is actually still best-of-breed. Quite comforting if you’d ask me.

Eggs in the same basket

 An often heard argument against all-in-one is vendor lock-in. Too many eggs in one basket. The question is: is that right? What about the numerous companies that did the math, made the jump with a thriving business as a result? On top of that, a real vendor lock-in happens on a data-level, not so much on a functional level. Again, do the math, call for out-of-the-box demos and request some site visits. Sleep it over and make a calculated decision.

The presumed complexity and rigidity of all-in-one

Is the implementation of all-in-one more complex as opposed to best-of-breed? More complex in IT involvement, time and connecting the dots? Not necessarily. All-in-one is never a big-bang implementation. Starting with an MVP you work your way down  your implementation roadmap to the desired end-state. Creating transparency down the implementation timeline as to when to buy or activate the relevant licenses as well as to when you require IT involvement enabling them



to include your projects in their IT calendar. Solutions that come with a big array of functionality are usually usually have a steeper learning curve than those that don’t. Are they, consequently, more complex and rigid? I mean, creating more sophisticated, personalized emailings, for example, require scripting. Whether you work all-in-one or best-of-breed. The root cause for perceived complexity is end-user enablement. Train them to get the most out of the platform. That is where trusted marketing and implementation partner can add value. To show them how to do it, then work side by side while building up the center of expertise and knowledge among end-users in the client’s organization.

With regards to such things as lack of flexibility in dashboarding and reporting to manage your operations, that really depends on how you access the data. From a data warehouse? Or do you have to pull the data from individual data sources, to create and prepare a dataset for dashboarding That can be equally rigid and labour-intensive in a best-of-breed environment.   

Lower vendor satisfaction among all-in-one users

Holistic Email Marketing’s vendor satisfaction survey reveals lower satisfaction levels among all-in-one users versus best-of-breed ESPs. Lower in terms of unhappiness about the costs, complexity, customer service and the percentage of available features used. Even though I must be careful making statements without knowing the research criteria I can say end-user enablement is the magic word. If dedicated partners would have supported them in building the knowledge and capabilities I bet the outcome would have been a whole lot different. Including the business case.

So, is all-in-one the best choice after all?

Not by definition. But it all-in-ones are worth investigating. As we all know they are the result of acquisitions over the past years. Which means they are not yet fully integrated, although some vendors, such as Salesforce, already made tremendous progress. Where you can also cater for specific customizations offered by


partners via the AppExchange. And specialized support either through vendor support or  specialized business and implementation partners. Yes, they usually are more costly than best of breed solutions. Although there is no such thing as a MSRP. But don’t see it as an out-of-pocket expense, but as an investment in stronger ROI and happy people buying your products and services for some time to come. Neglect the vendors praying for their own parish, making the alternative scenario look bad. Do the math.