Should I set up my own CRM system?
The attraction of the current generation of CRM technologies is that, not only are they by and large hugely flexible, but the underlying tools that underpin that flexibility are generally pretty user friendly.
This means that in many cases you don’t need a developer to set up your CRM system. Adding and removing fields, creating new records types, workflows, reports, and dashboards are something that the average Joe can potentially do rather than needing skilled technical staff.
There are of course exceptions to this. Some requirements may still need some measure of coding to achieve, and complex data migrations, integrations, or reporting require specialist expertise.
But if you’re implementing a reasonably out of the box system you have the option to set things up yourself, rather than use an implementer. So, what are the pro’s and con’s of this approach?
Pro’s of setting up your own CRM system
Cost – It could potentially be cheaper to set up your CRM system yourself than use an implementer or contractor to do it. However, you will need to compute a number of things to work this out. How long are you going to need to spend training yourself up and then performing the work, and what’s the opportunity cost of otherwise investing that time in day to day business activities. Given that an experienced implementer is likely to perform a task in a fraction of the time you can, this may not be as compelling an argument as it might first appear. Then again if you’re a cash-strapped start up there may be no other choice.
Speed – Again, it’s not completely clear cut, but speed can also be a consideration. The whole process of finding and engaging with an implementer can sometimes prove a lengthy exercise, so just getting on with it yourself might be the quickest option to getting a system live.
You get to understand its potential – By getting hands on in the guts of a CRM system you will learn a lot about what can and can’t be done, and are much better positioned to realise a system’s full potential than when you have a more hands-off approach.
Long term management of the system – The more you can do yourself the less you are reliant on third parties. This can prove immensely valuable in terms of the long-term development of the system. There’s often a lot of friction involved in justifying additional spend after go-live, getting sign offs, and scheduling in resources, and so the more you’re able to do yourself the better you’re able to evolve the system to support you over the long term.
Con’s of setting up your own CRM system
The danger of messing things up – As an independent CRM consultant I get called in to review a lot of systems. A common problem with self-set up ones is that many haven’t always been terribly well tuned to support the processes they’re meant to support – often because of a lack of understanding of the underlying technology.
As an aside, one the most frequent manifestations I’ve encountered revolves around the use of the misleadingly titled ‘lead’ entity used by a lot of systems. In the absence of much in the way to ‘how to’ instructions from a lot of the technology vendors, they, perhaps unsurprisingly, assume that the lead entity should be used to track leads, rather than understanding its true purpose as a quarantine area for potentially dirty data.
The problem is that if you mess things up from the beginning, you can end up spending a lot of time and money on a system that doesn’t do much, and it’s often a difficult situation to resolve without starting all over again.
The art of the possible – I think the other major issue with self-set up is that it’s difficult to fully know what’s achievable. The implementation ends up generating limited value because only a fraction of the capabilities of the technology are being used. A consultant or implementer who has experience of similar projects, and a much greater understanding of the functional depth of the software can often use that knowledge to generate much more value.
Self-set up is generally only an option if the requirements are pretty straightforward. If there’s a need for code, or complex data migrations, or integrations, you’re likely to need specialist help, whether that’s a sub-contractor, freelancer, implementation partner, or recruiting an in-house developer (I discussed the pro’s and con’s of each of these in this post and this post).
Assuming it is straightforward, if you’re cash-strapped, you’re probably going to have to do it yourself. My advice in this case is really take the trouble to take a deep dive and really understand the technology, rather than quickly hack something together, as you may end up spending a lot of time and energy regretting it.
If it’s straightforward, and you have the funds, it’s probably a wise investment to get a least some help. Perhaps the best return on investment is for someone to work with you to model how the technology should be best set up to support your business processes. In other words, create the basic architecture for the system.
That will give you the confidence the shape of the system is right and you can you can build out from there yourself, or get a third party to complete it.
[I imagine at this point some readers will be saying ‘but my business is super simple, why would I need to worry about something as fancy as ‘system architecture’?’. My reply is: few are as simple as people think, and all are unique, and to note I’m consistently surprised how much modelling work is required even for supposedly straightforward businesses.]
Even If you do go with a third party, it’s generally a good idea to go through a skills transfer process with the implementer so that you have a good working knowledge of how to further develop and administer the system after you go live. This gives you the knowledge you need to drive the system forward at a time that many struggle to stay relevant.