Stitch Labs recently announced the integration of its inventory management software with Xero, a cloud accounting application. The Stitch - Xero integration means that after a one-time setup, information and transactions can sync up between the two applications without needing to update the two accounts separately or re-key information manually. \u00a0Plus, customers get more granular data to understand their businesses better. In an official announcement on the Stitch Labs Blog, the company explained the simple rationale for the move. Marketing Strategist and Community Manager Camille Brenkwitz wrote: "We hope this new integration will help many of our existing customers and bring on some new ones." In other words, the message is: \u00a0integration is good for customers. Just as you are hearing a lot more these days about "cloud" software, expect to hear a lot more about product integrations. For business systems, integration of one vendor's product with another's can make it easier, cheaper and better for the end customer -- i.e., for you. This is one of several reasons the cloud is so valuable today. Cloud apps (a highfalutin\u00a0term for a software application you get access to over the Internet) can make integrations easier to accomplish. Cloud Integration: A Key Vendor Strategy to Serve Customers Product vendors have two choices when it comes to product strategy. One choice is to offer an all-in-one solution. \u00a0In other words, vendors build features into their products to serve the customer's entire process, end to end. \u00a0However, it can take years to build all those features. \u00a0In some cases, it can make the product more expensive for the customer. The other choice is to partner with other vendors already serving a function or slice of a process. \u00a0This way, customers already comfortable with using another product for a particular function don't have to switch. \u00a0They continue using the product their staff is trained to use. Stitch Labs has chosen the latter strategy. \u00a0Its integration with Xero is not its first. \u00a0 In 2012, Stitch added integration with eight other partners including Shopify, ShipStation, PayPal, Big Commerce, Amazon, Google Drive, SAIL, and Storenvy. \u00a0The company says the partnerships are part of a customer philosophy to build a set of services "automating some of your most tedious operational activities." No matter which strategy is chosen, the end goal is the same: \u00a0make it better for the customer. \u00a0A well-executed strategy that focuses on the customer avoids errors and delay that result from "gaps" in the workflow.\u00a0\u00a0Instead of requiring manual action, data can be passed along electronically from one step in the process to the next. What Small Businesses Can Learn Stitch Labs's strategy of partnerships provides a good lesson for small businesses -- in two ways. 1) Think outside the box about your own product and/or service strategy. \u00a0Ryan Lawler of\u00a0 TechCrunch observes that Stitch Labs's approach\u00a0is aimed at\u00a0solving the typical kind of problem faced by small businesses. \u00a0They have important and complex workflow issues necessary to run their businesses. Tech integration can make it easier for them. Look at how you can make things easier for your customer by integrating your product with other products that your customers use. By the way, you don't need to have a product to "integrate" with another provider. \u00a0Even if you offer a service, there may be a way to "integrate" a vendor's product into what you do. You just need to think about how to make it easier on the end customer you serve. Let me give you an example, using accountants, a quintessential service provider. These days many accountants interact with information from clients electronically, by working directly in the client's accounting system or capturing data directly from it. \u00a0Clients don't have to download spreadsheets or email information back and forth. \u00a0Instead, the accountant logs in to the client's accounting system, balances the books, \u00a0and performs other activities. In a way, the accountant has "integrated" its service with a product the client uses. It's valuable for the client, because you don't cause them unnecessary manual work. You've made the client's operations more efficient. Think about that model and how your business could offer similar benefits to your end customers. 2) Consider the vendor's integrations when choosing technology. \u00a0When you are in a position to shop for \u00a0technology to run your own business, look for applications that integrate with systems you already use and don't plan to stop using. \u00a0That should be near the top of your shopping checklist. You don't want to have to manually enter information from one system into another. Not do you want to jump through hoops such as downloading and then uploading spreadsheets. \u00a0Doing so just institutionalizes inefficiencies in your operations. If your business is like my small business, you don't have people or time to spare. \u00a0An hour saved here, two hours saved there, week after week, can really add up to higher profits.