Dealing with SaaS Sprawl in CRO

SaaS Sprawl - a term we're seeing more of recently - is the consequence of a boom in technology, with countless companies providing tech you can rent/lease instead of building for yourself.

We see this with the rise of ‘aaS’ (as a Service) services - SaaS (Software), PaaS (Platform), IaaS (Infrastructure), DaaS (Desktop), AaaS (API), BaaS (Blockchain), etc. - the list goes on

The principle behind SaaS sprawl is that companies sporadically find ‘the best tool for the job’, but this quickly becomes dozens if not hundreds of tools.

For example, large enterprises (2000+ employees) are reported by Okta to have an inventory of 175 SaaS apps, on average. Techcrunch notes that these include “productivity tools, business applications, data services, collaboration tools, security services, AI/ML modelling platforms, etc." - and as we know, CRO-related tools are plentiful too.

Here, I analyse both the benefits of SaaS Sprawl and the negatives, as well as evaluating how we're dealing with this personally at Webtrends Optimize.

The benefits

1. The market is clearly buzzing

Not only are tech companies plentiful, but funding is also growing yearly.

Global Venture Dollar Volume through H1 chart

H1 of 2021 shows an all-time high of a whopping $288b, which is great news for companies looking for a springboard to grow. Naturally, a lot of this money ends up in sales and marketing as VCs look at how to get a good return, and this means each of these companies are better known, and more utilised than ever.

2. Best of breed

Going back 15 years - if you wanted some tech, it was quite normal to be tied into a given vendor, and you take what you're given whether you like it or not.

While we still see this happen - in CRO most commonly with companies like Google, Adobe, etc. - it's absolutely not necessary anymore.

For Webtrends Optimize, companies quite like the idea that they can build a ‘best of breed’ stack with their best combination of experimentation, personalisation, heatmaps, CRM, email marketing, etc. - all from vendors they want for a given job.

And, as users realise a lack of investment/growth in products that big ‘marketing cloud’ companies don't really care about, the desire to move becomes even stronger.

3. Less vendor lock-in

If you have a single vendor for everything you do, the likelihood of you moving is close to zero - and they know it. That's why we hear horror stories of bills going up, and no companies having real motivation to look elsewhere.

A rough calculation says "it'd costs us X tens-thousands to look elsewhere, implement new tools and train up staff. Or we just pay the increased fee and save on the effort".

And whilst this is a rather terrible situation to be in, we see companies do it year after year with a fairly short-sighted view of what they can do to get through ‘right now’.

In comparison, multiple vendors make swapping out pieces of your stack that aren't pushing their weight rather easy. It keeps vendors honest and is great for competition.

There's nothing more powerful as a bargaining chip than being able to say "we could easily leave you tomorrow if we wanted to".

The downsides

Looking specifically at CRO there's a few real challenges to SaaS sprawl.

1. Managing relationships

Imagine being the poor person in procurement that had to manage 175 relationships with SaaS vendors. Making sure you renew on time, pay everyone, and don't get hit with the pesky auto-renewal. It's a real challenge - one that we see trip companies up all the time.

2. Performance

Imagine having 10 tools on your website, each needing jQuery (just as an example).

They don't know if anyone will have it, and so they do the safe thing and have it in their tag. The only real problem being that everyone else does too. Suddenly, you have 10 lots of jQuery on your site where you only needed 1, and website performance goes downhill.

While jQuery isn't always the thing that overlaps - you might find people patching over the need to use promises other shims for other ES6 features, having their own helper methods for writing cookies/to localstorage, etc.

You also have 10 calls to services, where you could have 1. Each call goes somewhere new, and it's a new connection to broker. These things all take time, and all slow a page down. Tracking user behaviour is no different - sending things to 10 places instead of 1 is painful, and the reason why tools like Segment do so well.

If you had a single vendor for these things, you'd inevitably save on network bandwidth, and website performance would improve - the less on a website the better is a broadly wise direction to aim for.

How we help, at Webtrends Optimize

We look at the ease of building technology as a huge benefit, and the strength of solutions engineering as one of our unique selling points.

Where users would historically take us just for Experimentation and a bit of onsite Personalisation, we now also do Social Proofing, Product Recommendations, more Personalisation, no code marketing Widgets and much more.

Broadly, if there's an experience to be served on the website, we're well equipped to be able to do it, and this means:

  • One tag
  • One set of libraries (at most - we avoid them!)
  • One set of user behaviour tracking
  • One shared pool of reporting
  • One relationship to work with

We don't overstep though - we'll leave CRMs to salesforce and Heatmaps to the big dogs in that area, etc. But for things that have an obvious impact on performance, we're there and more than capable.

Your SaaS Sprawl is therefore contained somewhat - you don't need Taggstar, Yeildify, Nosto, or countless others.

Just one of these tools costs 3x what we do, so you'll expect to save a pretty penny too.

So: Take a second and look at how broad your SaaS sprawl is - and if you need help reigning it all in, give us a shout or feel free to just ping me directly on