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The Value of Open APIs

Carlos Monney | January 26, 2022 

What’s an Open API?

One of the things that makes Salesforce so powerful is its ability to tie together such a wide range of other apps and services. It pulls together customer and company data that would otherwise be locked away in various departments—Sales, Marketing, Customer Service, IT, etc.—and enables companies to use that data to provide better experiences for their customers. The Salesforce ecosystem connects, for example, insights about customers’ purchasing behaviors, customer support questions, website or app activity, and social media engagement, and it surfaces those insights across the organization through the various Salesforce platforms.  

What makes all of those connections possible? APIs—specifically, open APIs.  

What’s an API? 

API stands for “Application Program Interface,” and it allows different apps and platforms to send data back and forth between each other. For instance, if you open any app on your phone, the app pings a server somewhere to gather information then returns that information back to your phone, where you see it neatly and visually displayed. APIs work behind the scenes to make that exchange of information from the server to your phone possible. 

We’ll abandon the technical speak for a moment and break things down using a very rough analogy: Let’s say you decide to hire a personal shopper who builds your wardrobe for you each season. He takes your measurements, style preferences, favorite colors, preferred brands, and budget. Then he goes out to various stores, buys outfits that fit your needs and preferences and brings them back to you.

In this example, the personal shopper is like the API. He takes your wardrobe requests, tells the stores what you’re looking for, collects those items, and then brings them back to you. The personal shopper is the critical link between you and the store, saving you the time and effort of doing the task of shopping yourself.

Online services work in a similar way. Let’s say you purchase a membership with a personalized virtual shopping service—we’ll call it “Clothes4You.” You log into your account, provide information about your measurements, style, color selections, favorite brands, budget, and other criteria. But this time, a real person doesn’t hop in his car, drive to the mall, and go from store to store with shopping list in-hand. Instead, the Clothes4You platform “calls” all of the different stores they’re connected to, checks the stores’ inventories to see if anything meets your wardrobe criteria, and sends those results back to you to review and purchase.

Open v. Closed APIs

If a platform or service has an open API, that means it’s freely available to the public—any developer can easily access it to connect their app to the platform or service. Closed APIs limit developer access to only the platform or service that created it. Some platforms take a more hybrid approach, requiring third-party developers to go through some sort of vetting or application process before providing API access, making their API open to some but not others. 

Open APIs are particularly useful for companies—like Salesforce—that want other platforms to be able to connect or integrate with them quickly and seamlessly. This enables third-party developers from companies like DocuSign, PayPal, Mailchimp, and others found in the Salesforce AppExchange to build applications that send data back and forth with Salesforce. 

Open APIs also let in-house developers build customized solutions specifically for their companies using Salesforce data. For example, let’s say a company uses a custom-built customer service platform. Salesforce’s open API would enable that company’s developers to build tools that make it possible for their customer service platform to “talk” to Salesforce’s products and exchange data. 

What can I do with Salesforce APIs?

Salesforce has a range of different APIs that can be used to build custom mobile and commerce apps, manage social media data, automate personalized marketing content, and much, much more. 

That’s a lot of power! And your options are virtually limitless. But with all that power and all those options comes quite a bit of complexity. Where do you start? Which API should you use? How do you build an API strategy that scales? 

Let ListEngage partner with you as your guide. We’re Salesforce experts and no stranger to working with Salesforce APIs. We can save you valuable time, resources, and frustration by recommending development approaches, providing valuable insights around tradeoffs, and helping you avoid common pitfalls. We can even augment your development team to tackle some of the heavy technical lifting. Contact us today for a free consultation to learn more. 

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Carlos Monney | Technical Lead

Carlos Monney is a creative technologist and Technical Lead at ListEngage, with over 20 years of software and web engineering experience. Over the last decade he has focused on the digital marketing realm, and has created solutions for a myriad of clients from a multitude of different industries.