Your Customer Reference System – Should You Build or Buy?


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Although the need for an effective customer reference database is not unique to technology firms, they often question more than organizations in other types of industries whether to buy or build a software solution. After all, they have the technical skills to build any software they want. While there are many different sides to the build versus buy equation, there are several important yet frequently overlooked elements that even technology firms should consider.

First, while budget and saving money is the main reason that most attempt to build their own customer reference application, the project scope is easily underestimated and the time and money spent is often far beyond initial expectations and allocated resources. Underestimating the necessary time can cause a major delay in benefits and return.

Second, it is often difficult for IT to appreciate all the requirements for an effective customer reference application. A commercial customer reference software vendor understands the complexity of running a customer reference program and has already invested in all important areas. The typical build versus buy equation doesn’t realize the value of this experience and incorrectly assumes that IT can build a comparable system. As a result, the internally built solution misses key features and less effectively solves the problem.

Third, a program of this scope requires ongoing IT support. If this is not ensured for the life of the customer reference program, it is likely to fail. Naturally IT has a full schedule and often needs to reprioritize projects. This can cause the needs of the customer reference program to get shuffled towards the bottom. A customer reference software vendor typically includes ongoing support as part of their service but also creates their system to be effectively managed by someone with little technical experience. Most common changes are easily made by the customer reference program manager, taxing next to nothing on IT.

Finally, user adoption is essential to program success. If a customer reference application is not easy to use then it’s unlikely to be adopted by a busy sales and marketing team. Low program adoption can potentially jeopardize the entire project, cancelling out the projected benefits and costing significant financial loss. This is an area where commercial customer reference vendors are highly competitive, working hard to meet the needs of their clients and maintain positive relationships for the life of their program.

For technology firms, or any organization, considering the build versus buy equation, it’s important to weigh the costs, completeness, usability, and maintenance considerations of their tool as compared to an out of the box solution.

Joshua Horwitz
Boulder Logic
Joshua Horwitz is president and a founder at Boulder Logic, a company specializing in customer reference management. Companies with complex products and selling cycles rely on Boulder Logic for an easy-to-deploy, highly customizable enterprise solution to accelerate sales and marketing using their existing customers. Blog:


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