What is the difference between portfolio vs platform vs ecosystem vs suite?
Today, portfolio, platform, ecosystem and suite are used interchangeably depending on the use case or scenario. Every technology company wants to be a platform today that encompasses multiple products/services/offerings.
- Portfolio is a collection of products, industries, solutions, and services that focus on the buyer persona needs within a target segment.
- Platform is a group of products/services that builds the foundation or acts as the technology backbone and have synergies for customers to leverage capabilities across the platform.
- Ecosystem is much broader and includes the business and every other entity that has a role in the customers’ industry landscape.
- Suite is a package of entities that meet a specific use case. eg: sales cloud
These terms are used so interchangeably these days—some may argue it’s not even worth separating them out. However, the challenges for each are slightly different and a nuanced approach can change the type of impact PMM and your company can have. Here’s how I think about these:
Suite, portfolio: These are companies that offer a set of products that help solve problems in related areas, but aren’t necessarily interoperable or meant to be used together. Examples include the now-defunct iLife (i.e. GarageBand and iMovie both help you do creative things, but you aren’t meant to specifically use them together) or even Microsoft Office. The big product marketing challenges are that users for a single product may not need the functionality offered by other products in the suite, so cross-sell or company-wide licensing is a big focus.
Platform: A set of products that are interoperable and which build on top of a shared, interconnected layer. These products are typically composable and share at least a common database. Examples include Atlassian (i.e. JIRA and Confluence can be used separately, but work better together and can share data), AWS, or Stripe. The big product marketing challenge is getting customers to buy into the promise of what the unified system can offer over piecing together a solution.
- Ecosystem: An open platform or API is extensible by third parties and an ecosystem is the collection of tools, plugins, and products that work with the platform. Examples include Salesforce’s AppExchange or the Slack platform. Ecosystems can really help “lock in” customers since they use multiple tools that are deeply integrated with your product. The marketing challenge is attracting developers and other companies to build integrations and then driving awareness and adoption of those tools. If you want more, Ceci Stallsmith gave an eloquent talk about this challenge.
I'm big on analogies (perhaps annoyingly so), so equate it to a concert: The Portfolio or Suite is like the band. It's the grouping of the products that you sell/come to see. The Ecosystem is like TicketMaster or StubHub. It's how you gain access to see the band/use the product if you're not walking up to the theater box office to buy a ticket. The Platform is like the stage, where the band is performing, it's connected into the sound system and lighting, and because of it, all attendees are enabled to see and enjoy.
In a business setting, I do often hear the term Platform used synonymously with Suite, which technically isn't wrong--because your Suite can be the thing that allows a customer to do more things. Though that somewhat implies that you're the only one in that space. Whether or not you have direct competitors, there is always going to be some other vendor out there trying to get the same budget from your customer, so I tend to try to not use the terms "platform" and "suite" interchangeably. As customer's are getting more and more technical, I see the term Platform being used to explain something different than the Suite. The Suite is the grouping, the Platform is the connective tissue that makes it all work together, and then there is the Ecosystem which is the path you can take to tap into that Suite.
Portfolio: a set of products (which may or may not be connected) that solve a particular type of problem or serve a particular user
Platform: a foundational technology that allows you (or others) to build multiple products faster given a set of primitives.
Ecosystem: a set of companies that are connected in some way to solve a customer problem
Suite: a subset of a portfolio, where there is a set of products that have a common look and feel, some integrations, and likely are bundled together to solve a particular problem.