The Shortcut of Internal Tools

You’ve just finished the onboarding for a new tool, and now the fun part: getting your team to use it. As you pitch it, the team is rushed with excitement- and dread- about this snazzy new service; one that could be both a possible game changer, and yet another thing to learn. 

For every tool, there are your core users- folks who will be in the tool day to day. They’re easy to find since they were probably leading the charge in the first place. Then there’s your secondary users- colleagues who need to do one or two things but will realistically only sign in a couple of times a month, if at all. The core users are the ones that get the ball rolling since, after all, if there aren't clear people to spam with questions on Slack, the tool won’t do much good. But it's the second group- folks on other teams (and let's be real, they probably just skimmed your kickoff email) that make or break success long term.

Put yourself in their shoes: it’s hard to find time to learn a new tool when it’s only going to come up a few times a month. Think about a content editor who needs to make branded links for new posts: t's not really core to their work, and even if the platform you're using is quicker than TikTok, setting time aside still gets in the way of that afternoon kombucha run. This is where a side route, or an internal tools, can come in.

Internal tools are homegrown sites designed to give a slimmed-down version of various tools, and have one place that any member of your team can access. Instead of training folks on all the “it depends” cases of a new tool, you point them to one page that has all they need. Big businesses have been using them for years by way of internal invoicing systems, custom CMS's, and others. They have a bad rap for being clunky and outdated (rightfully so- off the shelf is almost always easier these days), but modern versions can be huge in getting over that 50ft training wall. Example use cases could be:

  • A page that lets your team create custom branded links without logging into your social suite (and using a pricey user seat to do so)
  • A page that shows all upcoming/drafted articles for your website for your growth team without them needing to log into your CMS

Notice that these are all relatively simple actions, ie things that your team would normally need to log into and learn how to access. In other words, it cuts down the training dramatically. This isn't meant to be for more passive things like getting reports and seeing metrics- I recommend a dedicated dashboarding tool for that.

The downside is that this route can have a lift to get it up and running- this is custom work, after all. For my clients, I note a couple of things to think about before you get started:

  • API Requirements: API stands for accessible public interface, and is basically the behind-the-scenes magic of how modern tech stacks work. It's the way for your business to interact with any service, and many tools that you login to are just a pretty way for you to interact with their API. It's the key piece in setting up an internal tool though, and the availability will depend on the service. 
    • As a rule of thumb, more dedicated tools (ie companies that only do one thing like email or user onboarding) will generally have solid APIs since their business model thrives when they fit in a larger stack. All In one solutions typically don't have as robust as an API, but results may vary.
  • Internal Resources: Setting up an internal tool needs someone technical, which more often than not a person outside of Marketing. If you're new to API's, colleagues in IT are usually a good place to start. To give them a technical starting point, you're looking to access a platform's API via in internally hosted client-side GUI.
    • A good starting point is to browse Admin Templates on Envato for inspiration; all of these are customizable and you could even send your devs one to use as a template
  • Custom or Off the Shelf: Depending on your company's staffing, a dev will be able to build out something for you, or your team may want to explore a SaaS solution like Retool. The latter still needs someone technical to set up the integrations, but cuts out the headaches (hosting, security, maintenance) of hosting it internally. The space is evolving, and is straightforward enough that more technical marketers on your team may be able to get you up and running.

Once setup, you're only limited by your imagination- and the relevant platform's API.

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