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Building a CRM? Read these 5 critical considerations first

Here's what to think about as you decide whether to buy or build a CRM solution.

By Lauren Funk

Published April 16, 2019
Last updated September 2, 2020

CRM building considerations

Despite 50% growth for SaaS CRMs like Sell, companies often still grapple with the idea of building versus buying their CRM solutions. After all, when a company has very specific needs and a talented staff, it’s entirely possible to build a unique program in-house. Some companies believe a custom-built CRM will better suit their business, protect their data, and be more cost effective.

The question is, do the pros of building your own CRM outweigh the cons? In our experience, most of the time that answer is no.

Building a CRM vs. Buying: What are your requirements?

The main benefit of a CRM is twofold: simplify your day-to-day workflows and processes, and provide valuable insights into your customer data so you can improve sales. To achieve these benefits, you have two options: build your own CRM or buy one from an established provider.

Before you decide to build or buy, identify your specific company needs by asking the following questions:

  • What do you want to achieve with your CRM?
  • Do you have a small or large team?
  • What are you currently using to manage your customer data?
  • How many existing business systems would you need to integrate?
  • How quickly do you need to implement a CRM?

The answers to these questions will give you a better understanding of the type of tool your team actually needs to be successful. Just remember that a CRM is too important to your business to risk making a bad decision.

If you’re on the fence about whether to buy or build a CRM solution, consider these five facts first.

Internally owned features are expensive

Although it will depend on your requirements and scope of the project, CRM development typically ranges from several thousand to over $50,000. And that's just the initial figure. Sure, you won't have to pay CRM provider licensing fees up front, but consider the long-term costs of a CRM built in-house:

  • Maintenance. Problems that could be an easy fix with a commercial CRM can turn into major ordeals for homegrown solutions. Things like changes to browsers or operating systems can put a massive strain on time and resources. Plus, how much will you have to pay your engineers to maintain it?
  • Updates. As your company grows and changes, will your in-house CRM be able to keep up? Updates to the system can stall sales and growth, costing you time and money.
  • Time to market. Building your own CRM will take time and hurt your sales team productivity (and revenue!) in the meantime. Implementing a CRM that already exists means your team can jump right into maximizing its abilities.
  • Training. Depending on how complicated your internal CRM is, you might have to spend extra to hire a third party to train employees on how to use your CRM and encourage user adoption.

True, there are some undeniable benefits to building your own CRM, like getting only the features you want and need for your business. But at what price? While you do have to consider hidden CRM costs such as implementation and training fees, a commercial CRM gives you the opportunity to start immediately and gain valuable data insights right out of the gate.

Customization is an option either way

According to an Accenture study, 56% of sales reps said that their CRM isn’t customized to meet their needs. Some businesses decide to fix the problem by building a CRM from scratch. They argue, “Our business is unique, so our CRM should be, too.” But a “store-bought” CRM can also be customized.

Choose the right provider and you open up a number of customizable options. Modern CRM software offers a full set of integrations with other business tools for email, invoicing, human resources, social media and more.

For example, Zendesk Sell allows you to go past default settings. Among other customization options, you can customize your sales stages, as well as add custom fields for Leads, Contacts and Deals (depending on your business needs).

CRM custom fields

Many CRM companies also provide access to professional services teams that work directly with your business to build features and functionality around your unique sales processes — you then receive a personalized CRM without the costs of an in-house CRM.

Watch out for bugs and errors

In-house programmers and coders building your CRM will make mistakes. After all, they're only human! Unfortunately, you won't know about the mistakes until they start to have very real consequences while you're using the tool. Maybe your system stalls every time a rep inputs a new contact. Or maybe essential customer data is erased after a system update.

Or imagine you had to pull an engineer off a project right before a product launch because half the data in your CRM disappeared overnight thanks to an overlooked glitch. You've not only lost productivity, but also money that could have been spent on improving your actual product or service.

Avoid the frustration and hassle with CRM vendors that conduct extensive testing so the final product you receive works perfectly. A tried and tested CRM helps eliminate worry that data is being deleted or reps are having difficulty even using the solution. And not only is a commercial CRM more secure, but you also have a support team that will deal with any issues. You'll save money and the peace of mind is priceless.

Building a mobile CRM requires expertise

Innoppl Technologies found that 65% of sales reps who have access to a mobile CRM achieve their sales quotas. Make sure your CRM is useful to sales reps working in the field. They shouldn't have to peer at tiny numbers and type in a smartphone browser (a hotbed for mistakes). Instead, your CRM will need a native mobile app. But creating an app to go along with your CRM will require nearly twice as much time, money, and effort.

It also takes a lot of technical expertise to develop code for native apps on any device that your sales reps might use in the field. Plus, trying to get it through the approval process to get listed in the App Store and Google Play can be tricky. There are a variety of requirements, guidelines, and rules to follow. And if your app has performance issues or doesn't meet design requirements, it could be rejected.

A CRM provider helps you avoid all of the in-house native mobile app red tape. Choose a top CRM provider that offers native mobile CRM versions in addition to the desktop solution for free. Look for a CRM that offers native apps for iOS, Android and Windows phones, as well as a silky Web experience so your field sales team can be more productive.

No matter what platform you’re on, you and your entire team should be able to access the same information, anytime, anywhere.

Scalability is more difficult

Don't think about the current state of your business only. What about the future? Unlike a commercial CRM that can expand with your company, an in-house CRM is challenging to scale as your company grows. You should carefully consider possible problems as you onboard new customers and users. Will your in-house CRM be able to handle an influx of deals, contacts, and leads?

Building out your in-house CRM carries all the same issues that it did when you first built it. Old bugs and problems will continue to rear their heads, costing time and productivity. As your company expands, they'll only become messier and harder to fix. And consider the cost to make repairs — you’ll have to give extra work to your development team, taking them away from your company’s product (when the same tasks could easily be handled by a dedicated CRM provider).

Buying a CRM puts an independent, separate support team at your disposal. The best CRM providers will also be with you long term — important since you don't want the hassle of switching solutions in a year or two. Avoid growing pains by looking for tools that will accommodate whatever scale you’re at, today and tomorrow.

Understand the risks of an in-house CRM

In the end, just because you can design, build, and manage a CRM, it doesn’t mean that you should. Monetary costs for features and customization, risk of bugs, mobility problems, and scalability issues are all areas to consider when deciding to build or buy.

It’s important to select the option that’s best for your company. Either way, for your CRM program to be successful, you have to start with a long-term vision and think about what you ultimately want to achieve with your CRM.

If your team only needs a simple tool for managing a small number of customer contacts, building a CRM might be the way to go. If you plan to expand and use your CRM for insights and reporting, it would be better to choose a CRM provider.

This post originally ran on the Base blog. Please visit www.zendesk.com/sell if you’d like to learn more about Zendesk Sell.