Why building a custom CRM is almost always a bad idea

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Contributor, Sell to Win

If your company has a unique sales process or sells a variety of products and services, it can be tempting to build a CRM from scratch.

Theoretically, a custom CRM would include all the features your organization needs, none that you don’t, and would be tailored to your specific business in everything from the in-product terminology to workflows reflecting how your team sells.

However, the benefits end there, especially if you’re a small to medium-sized business with a limited budget or resources.

In this article, we’ll dig into the nitty-gritty surrounding homegrown CRMs, including:

  • What Is a Custom CRM?
  • 6 Drawbacks of Building Your Own CRM
  • Custom vs Off-the-Shelf: Which CRM is Better?

By the end, you’ll know whether or not a custom CRM is the right choice for your business, and if not, which software options might be a better fit for your needs.

What Is a Custom CRM?

There are countless ways that a CRM can make your business more successful, from tracking potential customers through your pipeline and ensuring they receive timely attention, to measuring the effectiveness of your sales activities, to optimizing your marketing efforts by showing you which lead sources are generating the most revenue.

Obviously, not every business is the same, and custom CRMs (also known as homegrown CRMs) are sometimes built to address these differences.

A custom CRM is a CRM platform built from the ground up by in-house software delelopers or a contracted development team. The final product is built to the precise specifications of the company, increasing the efficiency of its users by not requiring them to navigate around extraneous features or spend time customizing an off-the-shelf system to fit the way they work.

Custom CRMs can be particularly attractive when a company’s sales model is complex, or doesn’t neatly fit a typical B2B sales model. For example, if you sell physical goods and subscription services, or you have B2B and B2C sales teams working in tandem, it can be hard to find an off-the-shelf CRM solution that works well for you out of the box.

Related: Working with multiple pipelines in Nutshell Pro

Fans of personalized software that speaks the language of your industry may feel drawn towards the DIY route, but bear in mind there are significant drawbacks that could cost your business time, money, and customers.

6 Drawbacks of Building Your Own CRM 

A homegrown CRM creates several challenges that an off-the-shelf system doesn’t. Take these factors into account before you make the investment in building a custom CRM:

1. Creation costs

The first reason is the most obvious one: An off-the-shelf CRM solution is much less expensive. Building a CRM package from scratch could cost a ridiculous amount of money to develop either in-house or to farm out to a development company.

Most quality software developers work for a minimum of $100 per hour, and a CRM is not a simple project; it’s a fairly complex software build requiring a very large investment. One IT website suggests an initial cost of $50,000 for a fully functional CRM, and that doesn’t include extended support and bug fixes after the initial launch.

Is getting every little custom feature into your CRM really worth all of that money? In almost all situations, the answer is no. There are endless off-the-shelf CRMs available today that are either purpose-built for your specific industry or flexible enough to customize on your own. Most modern CRMs are hosted and by the provider and can be accessed for as little as $10/month per user. 

2. Training costs

Most off-the-shelf systems include a mountain of free training material, like videos, tutorials, and articles. Frequently asked questions and common troubleshooting problems are often documented in a large knowledge base. Some CRM brands even offer user onboarding and training as part of your package, so that your team can start to get value out of the software right away.

This isn’t the case with a custom solution. Chances are, the developers won’t create a library of videos or tutorials for your team to reference. You’ll either need to create them yourself or pay the developers extra to create training materials for you. And if your team has questions on how to use the software along the way, don’t expect the developers to be on call to answer questions whenever they’re needed. (See point #5.)

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3. Software updates

Software updates are a part of life. If you want your systems to keep working smoothly, you have to update them occasionally to fix bugs or improve the usability of certain features. But when you have a software development firm create a CRM package for you, they won’t offer updates for free, if at all.

Most developers will fix bugs free of charge for a limited time, but it’s just not feasible for a developer to keep updating the software for free indefinitely. As your needs and client base grow, you’ll want a CRM environment that grows with you. Any off-the-shelf CRM solution will have a team of developers working in the background to roll out updates on a daily basis—a service that’s included with the subscription price.

Customized CRM packages require hosting and support personnel to maintain the software perpetually. These costs alone would make most business owners shudder. 

4. Inconsistent UI 

There’s something to be said about having a CRM that is familiar and intuitive to your employees. However, the user interface (UI) and capabilities of a custom-built CRM can vary greatly from other leading CRM offerings

Are your contacts and leads where they should be? Is it easy to log and record a call? How about setting appointments and reminders for nurturing current clients? These should be in consistent, easy-to-find locations.

Quality off-the-shelf CRM packages are built around a history of trial and error, user studies, and feedback. The consistency of aesthetics and usability is a big part of what you’re paying for. With an in-house custom solution, you have to endure your own trial and error. Some software developers may simply base your customized CRM on an already successful application on the market, so why not drop the developer entirely and opt for a pre-existing product?

5. Tech support

Another important aspect of CRMs to consider is live support availability. Most CRM companies provide numerous tiers of tech support, giving business owners many types of assistance to meet the needs of their customers, whether that’s phone support, live chat support, or email support.

With a custom CRM, you’ll need to pay extra if you want your team to be supported perpetually. Bug reports will have to be investigated in-house. Hosting the CRM will cost extra and add its own set of support variables.

A software engineer named Saif Bukhari recently posted regarding the troubles associated with in-house CRMs: “The maintenance on the software [cost] a lot. Adding custom workflows was a pain as coding was involved. A third-party developer had to literally work in our office for menial tasks. There was regular downtime for its upkeep.” 

Pre-existing CRMs take these burdens off of the business owner and allow management to remain focused on their own products or services instead of worrying about supporting an entire application and hosting.

6. Reinventing the wheel

David Hecht, software developer from CloudAmp, put it concisely: “It makes sense to build a custom CRM if you are starting a CRM company. Otherwise you should focus engineering efforts on your own products.” 

Businesses who use a pre-existing CRM can take advantage of that company’s research and development, engineering expertise, and trial and error. Plus, most off-the-shelf CRMs today offer many add-ons that allow you to create a customized feel, all with an intuitive UI. In short, there are pre-existing software options that allow you to feel like your company has a custom solution without actually having to build one. 

Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf: Which CRM is Better?

At the end of the day, any application, whether built in-house or premade, requires resources for support both locally and on the server-side. A custom CRM, however, requires considerably more investment than an off-the-shelf solution. 

“The time and resources it takes to build, maintain, and improve a CRM system are considerable,” says Nutshell Head of Growth Mike Carroll. “It would be very rare for a business’s needs to be so unique that the opportunity cost of leveraging internal resources to build something it takes whole companies to do otherwise would outweigh the efficiency of simply purchasing an existing platform.”

Custom building a CRM requires not only a large cash payout to build, but it also requires an ongoing financial and personnel cost for bug fixes, support, and training. If your business needs can be met with a pre-existing package, most IT professionals would recommend going with that option.

With the availability of today’s flexible CRM software solutions, there’s no need to endure the resource constraints and headaches of a custom application. Many off-the-shelf CRMs offer free trials so you can try out a handful of top-rated solutions and get a feel for which tool is the best for you. Get started now and try Nutshell free for 14 days

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