Choosing an API Vendor: Three Critical Biz-Relationship Qualities to Consider
Technology evolves rapidly, and with it, buyer expectations. If Amazon can personalize marketing messages, communicate seamlessly across channels, and offer chatbot support 24/7, the customer is going to wonder why your business can't.
But it can, and your IT department doesn't need to build any of it from scratch. All they need are application program interfaces (APIs) that let them "plug and play" cutting-edge solutions to extend your digital capabilities. Yet, not all APIs are created equal; nor are all vendors.
Choosing the right API vendor can make or break your experience with new technology, and while product quality and cost are critically important, they aren't the only — or even the greatest — factors. Also, consider the following business-relationship traits when choosing an API vendor.
Trait One: Strong Post-Deployment Support
Business buyers have seen it happen again and again with prospective software vendors, and now with API vendors: The sales team makes a great first impression and big promises, and the technical support team ensures a smooth deployment. Then, as soon as all contractual obligations are fulfilled (and checks are signed), the vendor becomes a ghost.
As you're doing your due diligence on API vendors, you want to know this in advance: When you have a business-specific problem with an API product, how does the vendor respond?
Billing questions, concerns, and misunderstandings — three common problems with pay-as-you-go API packages — underpin this idea. When your people call the vendor's people, how willing is the rep to discuss factors driving your costs? How do they support your IT department when questions start pouring in from users? Do they make it easy to maintain their product — and if not, do they get in the way? How will they help you deliver a stellar customer experience and a satisfying employee experience?
Consider all these questions when reviewing current API developer relationships — and when bringing on new ones.
Trait Two: API Vendor Innovation
A vendor might offer the best products on the market today, but are you reasonably sure the solution will still be best-in-class next year or even next month?
Digital innovation happens seemingly overnight, and APIs quickly become outdated unless their creators stay on the cutting edge. At question is the vendor's ability to create and enhance products that make operating within the market easier. Given the prevalence of highly regarded vendors out there, inertia shouldn't be the only thing keeping a weak relationship going.
With communication APIs, advanced analytics and sophisticated insights are hallmarks of an innovative vendor. For example, most videoconferencing APIs provide some post-call data. But an innovative vendor can transform interactive video experiences into actionable data and then feed that data into your customer experience analytics to help you spot trends, improve customer engagement, and maximize ROI. Similarly, any chatbot API can answer simple questions for customers, but innovative API vendors leverage advanced artificial intelligence and system integrations so their chatbots can answer complex questions, make personalized shopping recommendations, and complete purchases.
When choosing an API vendor, look for one with a consistent track record of innovation, one that seeks out customer feedback and uses that information to release regular updates and improvements.
Trait Three: A Platform — Not A La Carte
For developers, the advantages of deploying collected APIs from the same vendor's platform are as numerous as they are obvious. The products are often interlinked, and they're guaranteed to be compatible, which makes implementation easier than deploying multiple individual parts. Support is similarly centralized, making pre- and post-deployment problem-solving less complicated and cross-dependent. Working with the same set of tools requires fewer distinct skills from the development team, keeping budgets low and deadlines reachable.
Using a trusted vendor as a one-stop shop is unquestionably easier than dealing with multiple partners, especially if they provide strong support. Looking beyond the usual bundle deals, volume discounts, and pack-in promotions B2B companies throw clients, there's the telecom-borne idea of "one back to pat" — meaning that when business questions or problems arise, your team has one call to make, one business to hold accountable for resolving any issues, and one bill to pay each month.
A good selection of interrelated products is also an implicit testament to the vendor's ability to stick around, longevity being a crucial part of any successful business relationship. A platform that contains multiple moving parts relevant to an industry also displays the practical knowledge needed to stay there. Throw in the practical or financial benefits mentioned earlier, and a vendor's platform has a lot to say about the working relationship your organization can establish with them.
According to the 2020 State of API Integration Report by Cloud Elements, 83% of IT experts consider API integration a critical component of their business strategy. The majority of respondents say APIs have already helped their businesses increase productivity (59%), innovation (51%), and revenue (43%).
If you're among the forward-thinkers shopping for an API vendor, you want the best products at the best price. Just as importantly, you want to have a cooperative relationship with the people building vital parts of your communication suite, apps, or website. Keeping an eye on the above traits now will go a long way toward avoiding heartache, misspent effort, or financial loss in the future.
How do you know if a vendor has these traits? You do some research about the company's history, longevity, and customer service record. You talk to current and past customers and get the inside scoop from them about what it's like to work with the vendor. You read online reviews, or best of all, you ask business leaders you trust who they trust.