The Difference Between a Tool and a Solution

— July 31, 2019

In the tech space, we often catch ourselves using the words “tool” and “solution” interchangeably. But there is a massive difference between the two, with vastly different business impacts. This is why many tech companies have started calling their offering “software as a service” rather than just “software.”

In today’s post, we break down and define exactly where those discrepancies occur by highlighting the pros and cons of tools compared to solutions and vice versa.

The Definition of a Tool

Simply put, a tool does one specific task really well no matter who is using it. They’re usually part of a larger system or set of tools that help a particular part of the business operate properly.

PROS

  • They’re specialized. Tools often solve one small thing really well. They’re specialized and have honed in on one particular niche. A tool might be good for you if you know the exact problem you’re having and what you need to fix it quickly.
  • They’re fast and easy to implement. Whether their a quick self-service install or automated registration, tools often require minimal effort to get them up and running. This saves time and labor.
  • They’re typically less expensive. Since they’re fast and easy, they’re typically easier on the wallet.

CONS

  • They can’t be easily customized to your business needs. Since tools are really good at one particular thing, they are typically narrow and difficult to customize for different situations. Tools tend to be a “one size fits all” and it’s up to you to figure out how to mold your business processes around it.
  • They don’t come with support. Tools also typically don’t come with any support or customer service. Yes, with a plug-and-play tool, setup is fairly quick and easy. But if you run into a bug or have questions about the tool later down the road, you most likely won’t have support readily available. You also don’t have any guidance from experts on best practices or other tips to tailor it to your needs.

The Definition of a Solution

Solutions are often the application or implementation of a set of tools to solve a larger business problem.

In the SaaS space, a great example of a solution isApptentive. We don’t just help with ratings and reviews; we help companies harness customer feedback in meaningful and impactful ways across channels.

PROS

  • Solutions don’t just solve one problem; they introduce new business processes to fundamentally change the way you operate. Solutions completely revolutionize pieces of your business by introducing new processes. Since they’re often broader and more comprehensive, they can impact many critical areas of business. Solutions have the potential to fundamentally change the way you run a particular process.
  • You typically gain access to customer support. Since solutions are a larger investment and far more sophisticated than a tool, dedicated support makes a lot of sense both for the customer and the support team. You get advice on best practices, help with integrations, and much more hand-holding. In the long run, although this takes more time and resources upfront, it sets your business up for long-term success. The success of the solution doesn’t fall entirely on the employee managing it—the burden is shared with the solution’s support team. It’s similar to the Chinese proverb, “You can give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.”

CONS

  • They’re more expensive. Since they involve more resources both to set up and continue running smoothly, solutions can be more costly than tools.
  • Solutions can also take a lot longer to implement. Since they require more effort, money, and people, they subsequently require more time.

How to Know if you Need a Tool or a Solution

If a tool is a screwdriver, a solution is a team of carpenters using the screwdriver and other tools to build a home.

Most SaaS solutions started as a tool but became a solution over time. As companies gain more knowledge and expertise in their field, their product offering evolves, as well. Most likely, this involves a larger range of support and a broader set of features that work together to help solve a targeted problem.

For example, if you’ve been tasked with improving app store ratings or gather more reviews, you might be tempted to find a tool that helps with this; there are many, many options available. But we know ratings and reviews are just one small piece of a much broader puzzle. Ratings and reviews are customer feedback, and most companies—enterprises especially—need a larger, more fundamental change to the way they work and approach feedback as a whole. They don’t just have a ratings and reviews problem. The bigger issue is that they don’t speak to their customers at the right place or right time, and they’re not asking for feedback in the correct way. In this situation, investing in a tool is a band-aid rather than a stitch. To solve the larger problem, a full-scale solution will get you there quicker and more efficiently than investing in one or multiple different tools.

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