Will Clifford, Director of Product, Integrations
Delivers customer integrations 4x faster
Conserves engineering headcount by 50%
Positions company to scale integration delivery even further with group-based templates
Paves the way for faster GTM and additional cross-sells across LeafLink product lines
LeafLink is the unified B2B platform for the cannabis industry that has revolutionized the way thousands of brands, distributors, and retailers manage their operations. The company manages more than $4B in annual orders - about 40% of all US-based wholesale cannabis commerce. As the company continued to grow, it received more requests from its customers for unique integrations between the LeafLink platform and an increasing variety of different software tools.
“Previously, LeafLink relied on making a public API available to our customers. In earlier days, many of our customers used cannabis-specific tools that could integrate with us via third-parties that managed the integration building and maintenance,” says Will Clifford, LeafLink’s Director of Product, Integrations.
“As LeafLink grew and worked with more customers, we realized we had a gap with regard to integrations for non-cannabis-specific tools. We were finding that more customers were using tools such as Salesforce for their CRM, or accounting tools such as Xero or Sage Intacct,” Clifford explains. “We knew a lot of our customers were using those more-established tools, and we knew our customers needed integrations for them as well.”
The LeafLink team knew that building integrations in-house is a long and costly process. “At the time, while we had also built out an integration for the cannabis regulatory system Metrc, the one mainstream SaaS system for which we’d built an in-house integration was Quickbooks Online. Creating it was a time-consuming process and it took a lot of product and engineering support to build and maintain,” says Clifford. “But as LeafLink gains more traction, moving upmarket to work with a larger variety of partners from different industry backgrounds, we started seeing more of these more-conventional software tools in use.”
“We also started seeing more demand from both customers and sales prospects who wouldn’t always see the immediate value in using LeafLink unless they had some kind of integration from their tools already automating data flow in and out of our platform. There was also hesitance from newer and prospective customers who found themselves having to consider the potential headcount and cost they’d have to devote to maintaining the data flowing between their systems and LeafLink.”
Even longtime customers began making new integration requests. “We even saw an increase in integration requests from more-established customers who had been using LeafLink for a while, but had ramped up their own internal operations to use more-technical systems. Those customers essentially needed LeafLink to scale with them and the evolution of their tech stack. They also needed additional automated processes to manage their data.”
The LeafLink team explored a few alternatives, including tools specific to the cannabis space. In all cases, LeafLink’s integration squad found itself spending too much bandwidth on supporting and enhancing those additional integrations. “We decided to look for a more-lightweight solution to build with more of an agile development-based mentality,” Clifford explains. “iPaaS (integration platforms as a service) products came up in our search, but we wanted the flexibility to test our ability to build integrations to get buy-in, then, when we saw value, further invest in those integrations to make them more robust.”
The LeafLink team had heard positive feedback about Tray Embedded and decided to give the solution a try. The team found that the platform’s user-friendly, drag-and-drop interface made it easy to learn for product managers and data analysts - without requiring engineers to write and maintain code. “Tray Embedded offers the right balance of flexibility and usability without the reliance on software development to get up and running, or having to know how to code,” Clifford points out. “We were able to get demo versions up and running quickly, and Tray Embedded offered a lot of options. With integrations, there are always going to be multiple configurations that will require different paths, looping, and ways to flow data. We found the visual layout of Tray Embedded to be much easier to digest.”
While LeafLink’s team had found a way to immediately deliver customer integration requests faster with Tray Embedded, it decided to explore a longer-term strategy by using Tray Integration Manager, which gives users the power to build out robust integration templates for repeated use in response to popular integration requests.
“We started off with an experimental frame of mind. For example, we knew that many LeafLink customers were using popular tools such as Salesforce. So, we started by building a lightweight pilot integration for Salesforce, then we’d take it to a customer to see if it fulfilled that customer’s needs,” Clifford explains.
The Leaflink team now uses an agile-like, iterative approach to developing integration templates on Integration Manager which conserves development time and positions the company to offer even more-robust integrations for future requests. Clifford suggests, “After the pilot, we iterate on that integration across multiple customer requests until we end up with a really solid integration template that suits all of their needs. We develop our template through various configuration factors in our processes that we gather across different implementations on various customer accounts. Essentially, when we onboard a new customer who requests that particular integration, we work on a field-mapping document on the discovery call, gather the new customer’s requirements, implement them, and test the template in their LeafLink sandbox. Once the customer approves, we launch the integration in their production environment.”
Clifford adds, “once we have a solid template that we know works for a tool like Salesforce, we embed that integration into the LeafLink marketplace. At that point, we’re on the path to plug-and-play, self-serve integrations.”
With Tray Embedded and Integration Manager, the LeafLink team has dramatically accelerated its integration delivery. “Since we started, we have four more integrations now that were not built by an engineer. In fact, we’re able to build integrations without any real engineering involvement at all,” says Clifford. “We’ve been able to deploy four times as fast.”
Better still, LeafLink has been able to redeploy its valuable engineering resources on other, more-strategic projects. “Previously, we had a team of four working on integrations,” Clifford explains. “Now, with Tray Embedded and Integration Manager, we’ve been able to re-organize our integrations team to just two engineers, one backend engineer and one engineer acting as an implementation manager, and myself serving as the product manager.”
In the future, LeafLink is looking for more ways to efficiently scale the integration request processes, such as by upgrading to Tray Embedded Native. Native is designed to enable developers to embed Tray built integrations as a fully white-labeled product experience for end-users. “The value-add for the Native is pretty obvious,” Clifford points out. “It’s going to be less about customers coming to LeafLink and saying, ‘Hey I need to do this, do it for me,’ and more, ‘I’m going to click through the Configuration Wizard, take care of my own integrations, and get up and running myself.’”
The team is also excited about how being able to offer more integrations to its customers makes the LeafLink platform a far more-essential part of its customers’ tech stacks. “More than anything, Integration Manager gives us more ‘stickiness’ but also gives us more sales opportunities to cross-sell additional LeafLink products. We have our primary marketplace offering, but we also have additional offerings, such as payments options, shipping solutions, marketing services, and a suite of data and analytics products,” Clifford states. “By offering more integrations from the LeafLink platform to our customers’ other tools, LeafLink becomes a bigger part of what our customers do every day. As a result, we end up better positioned to sell them our additional products to meet any other needs they may have.”
LeafLink is just one of many customers that uses Tray Embedded to rapidly deliver customer integration requests with fewer development resources. Read more customer stories from Eventbrite, HackerOne, Typeform, Cue, and Copper.