To Build or Buy? Customer Reference Management Software

It’s a cyclical question in our domain. Does it make more sense to buy “off-the-shelf” customer reference management software to run your customer reference/advocate program, or to build it? It’s pretty attractive to think about the license fees that can be avoided if the internal IT group can develop a tool. So why not go down that path? 3 simple reasons:

1) Lack of Domain Expertise

There aren’t too many developers in a typical IT group who know much about customer advocate management systems. What company, besides a specialist, has this core competency? We’re still expanding and evolving our knowledge base as client needs morph even after nearly 15 years in the space. The process of specing out an application and translating that to a user-friendly, robust tool is not trivial. Thus the reason we hear about companies still working on a solution IT promised 12, 18, 24 months after embarking on the journey. Meanwhile, the program limps along running on spreadsheets.

2) Limited Perspective

The feature set and processes designed into an off-the-shelf solution is the result of hundreds if not thousands of data inputs from a variety of clients. Designing an application for one company’s needs often leads to quirky results. The design might accommodate particular people and their idiosyncrasies or company dysfunctions, which lead no where good when environments and people change. We’ve heard, “I don’t know why we built it this way. It was way before my time” more than a few times. If you don’t have any basis for comparison to what has worked best for other programs it’s hard to recognize that there’s a better way.

3) Insufficient Maintenance Support

With the right executive support it’s possible to get the resources and budget for an initial customer reference management software build. The plan is often to build in phases with the first phase being the “bare bones” tool to be enhanced over time. Sounds good. Get something into the hands of program managers and users as soon as possible. Here’s what usually happens. IT gets pulled into a high priority project after phase I. Afterward, they’re pulled into another high priority project, and so on. Then a key developer of phase I leaves the company and knowledge of the application follows. The program still needs enhancements to get the application truly usable for the long-term. But now IT resources are too busy and hard to come by. The project is in a holding pattern…forever.

Can you blame IT? They did make a commitment to build and continue enhancing the application. But is that the best use of their time? Was customer reference management software ever a company competency or priority? It isn’t 99% of the time. So the natural pull of competing priorities does its thing and the program is stranded.

When we replace a home-grown solution, regardless of what platform it’s on, we find the following:

  • The original sponsors of the solution are gone
  • The application has not been enhanced in months or years
  • No one is using it and therefore reference practices are back to tribal knowledge—the dark ages
  • The program manager/team is relying solely on spreadsheets
  • No one wants to build a homegrown solution again

At the end of the day there is a price for this cost-saving fantasy. It’s the time spent by IT resources on an application with no real future. Its lost benefits from a truly effective application that helps sales and marketing find advocates in a few clicks and complete processes efficiently so that deals can close and marketing events include compelling advocates. Opportunities to influence buyers, analysts and the press are lost forever. Was it all worth the cost savings in terms of licenses?

Learn more about our purpose-built application, ReferenceEdge, and save your company from the highly foreseeable outcome.

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