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Custom CRM Software Guide

Tailor your customer relationship management tool to your exact business needs.

A full guide to custom CRM

Customer relationship management—or CRM—is a software platform used by businesses and sales teams to manage their contacts, track sales, and gain insights on how to grow. And when it comes to finding the right CRM for your business, there are two options. Either invest in a pre-made platform or build your own.

If you’re considering investing in pre-made CRM software or building a platform from scratch, this guide will give you the pros and cons of each option. We’ll address some of the most fundamental questions about custom and customizable CRMs, and help point you in a helpful direction so you can make the best software decision for your business.

What is a custom CRM? Custom vs Customizable

Custom CRM software is a customer relationship management software platform that has been created specifically for a particular company. They’re typically built by in-house software developers or contracted experts. A customizable CRM platform, on the other hand, is a pre-made, off-the-shelf software tool that allows users to customize aspects of their software so it fits their needs.

Think of it this way: If you wanted a car designed and built just for you, you could hire designers and engineers and pay for all the materials that go into building the car from scratch. You’d get the car of your dreams, but the price tag would be a horror show. Conversely, you could opt for purchasing a pre-made vehicle, and then select certain elements to customize within the basic structure.

Neither option is better or worse on their own. But taken into context when it comes to your specific business, there will be pros and cons to each that may influence which you choose.

Who needs a custom CRM solution?

There are some companies for whom it makes sense to invest in an in-house, purpose-built CRM solution. These kinds of companies typically have complex sales models that simply don’t fit into a pre-made solution. Others, however, may have such an incredibly simple sales model that they only require a few CRM features to function smoothly. Other groups that might need a tailor-made solution have large contact bases but don’t actually deal in revenue-generating activities. Think schools, universities, and religious organizations.

Ready-made CRMs- sometimes called out-of-the-box- are designed for almost universal use. This means that while they’re generally usable by most companies, they may be difficult to implement with extremely unique sales processes. For that reason, some businesses decide to opt for custom CRM solutions. It allows them to build their platform from scratch so that it’s a perfect fit for their CRM process.

Who needs a customizable CRM solution?

A perfect fit sounds pretty good, right? But don’t forget the car analogy from earlier. Not only do custom-built cloud CRM platforms cost a lot of money up front to build, they also require special attention for maintenance and upgrades. Ready-made CRM solutions, on the other hand, are typically subscription-based. Which means that the cost of maintenance is included in the monthly or annual price tag.

Out-of-the-box CRMs still offer multitudes of customizing options so you can adjust them to fit your needs. This is especially great for small businesses who don’t have the money to pay for custom-built software and its upkeep. A pre-made small business CRM can still be customized to suit your company’s needs. Plus, it’s typically ready to be used right away. Whereas a custom-built platform can take weeks, months, or even years to build, test, and implement.

What are the benefits of custom CRM software?

If you have ready capital to invest in custom-built software, it’s best to know what you’re getting into. Below are some of the common benefits and drawbacks experienced by companies using a custom CRM system.


  • The software is designed for your unique business or organization. If your sales process is highly specialized because you’re in a unique industry, or you don’t actually handle sales at all, a custom-made platform lets you tailor every aspect of the platform to your needs. As a result, you never find yourself struggling with an interface that doesn't quite fit your process.
  • You only have the features you want. One issue some businesses have with pre-made CRM software is that sometimes they feel they’re paying for features they don’t use. All while having to pay more for features they actually need. With custom CRM development, you only build in the features you know you’re going to use.
  • There are no monthly or annual subscription costs. One of the best things about a custom-made solution is that once it’s built and tested, it’s all yours. Of course, you still have to pay an IT expert to keep the software maintained and updated. So it’s not as if you pay for it once and then never again.


  • High upfront costs. Building a CRM is not a simple process, so hiring the right software developers to do the job can be extremely expensive. Not only do you need to pay for the expertise, you’ll also need to make room in the budget for the actual infrastructure. It can cost tens, or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a custom CRM system, and initial estimates can sometimes fall short.
  • It takes time to build. If you decide to go for a custom-built platform, it’s going to be a while before you actually get to use it. In the meantime, your sales team will still be using your old system of managing contacts and tracking sales. That can be frustrating when they know that something better is in the works.
  • Maintenance and updates are your responsibility. Companies using one need to have a reliable team of IT experts close at hand in case anything goes wrong. Tech support adds to the cost of having one, and detracts from the benefit of having no monthly or annual subscription costs.
  • There are no dedicated training resources. Once your CRM system is built, it’s up to your team to learn how to use it. Because the software has been made just for you, there won’t be helpful videos, classes, or tutorials at your disposal. If you have nothing but technology wizards at your company, this might not pose much of a problem. But for many people, learning a new platform can be tricky, even if it’s one designed exclusively for them.

Why choose a pre-made CRM over custom CRM?

While having a software system built specifically for your company might sound great, the truth is that it’s not a feasible option for many. Small businesses typically don’t have the capital to invest in custom-built software or employ the IT experts needed to maintain it.

The good news is, there are many out-of-the-box customizable CRM platforms that offer affordable and user-friendly alternatives. Below are some of the benefits of using a pre-made platform as opposed to custom-made one:

  • Pre-made CRM software for salespeople are ready to use on day one, and often come with plenty of training materials.
  • All of the maintenance and upkeep costs are included in your subscription fees, so you’re not on the hook to fix issues.
  • There are no enormous up-front costs, and you always know how much you’ll be paying for it.
  • You can add features as you grow, or upgrade to a more inclusive package once it makes financial sense to do so.
  • The user interfaces are typically designed to be extremely user-friendly and intuitive, making it easy for universal use.
  • Pre-made platforms offer time-tested features like sales force automation, lead tracking, and sales pipeline software. They all allow you to boost productivity, save valuable hours, and increase sales team efficiency.
  • You can easily switch platforms if the one you’re trying isn’t right for you. Something you definitely can’t do if you’ve invested $90,000 into building a CRM.
  • Off-the-shelf CRMs are typically cloud-based, meaning your team can access their platform from anywhere there’s internet. This is especially helpful right now, when many teams are still working remotely.
  • Advanced customizable features allow users to make changes to their interface, forms, reports, pipelines, and more. Most CRM providers understand that salespeople aren’t IT experts, so they’ve designed no-code customization options that let users make adjustments easily.

Additionally, one of the biggest benefits of pre-made CRM platforms is that many providers offer free trials. This lets users test drive their platform to see if it’s a good fit or not. Obviously, you can’t do that with a custom CRM system, because once you’re using it, you’ve already paid for it.

What should the best custom CRM do?

There are dozens or even hundreds of features that you can include in your CRM. But there are some standard features that every CRM should have to streamline your sales process and help you deliver a stellar customer experience.

Every custom CRM solution should be able to:

  • Store and manage your contacts. Contact management software is where CRM began, and it’s still one of the staples of the platform. Being able to store, access, and organize your contacts may sound like a simple process that you can do with a spreadsheet. But the more contacts you have the more complicated it can be to handle that much information on your own, and things start falling through the cracks.
  • Identify, score, and assign leads. Lead management is the process of tracking your leads as they move through your pipeline. It’s a tool for getting more leads to convert into paying customers by keeping a close eye on every activity and interaction. It ensures that no one drops off because someone didn’t take action at the right time.
  • Integrate seamlessly with your email. So much sales activity is conducted over email, so being able to connect your CRM with your email is critical. With seamless integration, you can easily contact customers, collaborate with team members, and share data between departments
  • Manage your sales pipeline. Pipeline management gives you a bird’s eye view of your sales funnel. It lets you track sales activities, move leads from one stage to the next, and keep prospects from falling out of your funnel.
  • Manage and share documents. Document management is a key feature of CRM that allows users to easily upload, share, and access important documents. Without it, your team is stuck emailing back and forth with requests to share and attach files. That clutters inboxes and can waste enormous amounts of time.
  • Automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are fast becoming key tools of CRM. Automations save enormous amounts of time and effort by performing administrative tasks that typically eat up sales teams’ schedules. Things like email, scheduling, and scoring leads, etc.
  • Analyze your valuable customer data. Keeping customers happy requires understanding what they want. CRM lets you analyze all that data you have and turn it into actionable insights. Takeaways you can use to build better campaigns and services that will improve customer retention and satisfaction.

Can you build your own CRM?

You sure can. But it takes a lot of money, time, dev resources, and ongoing IT maintenance. If you have the capital to invest in a custom CRM solution, these are the following steps you’ll have to take to make your dream CRM a reality:

  • Identify specific goals you want to achieve

Naturally, one of these goals should be to get a sizable return on your investment. But besides that, you should have clear business goals laid out.

Are you looking to automate more tasks in your sales process? Shorten your sales cycle? Do you want in-depth insights into customer behavior? If something is being built specifically for you, it’s necessary to be, well, specific.

  • Decide on the type of CRM

There are three categories of CRM: collaborative, operational, and analytical. The type of CRM you decide on depends on the goals you set for yourself in the first step.

Collaborative CRM is the preferred choice of businesses looking to break down information silos. They do that by connecting their sales, marketing, and support sectors on a single platform. That way, everyone can see how their activities contribute to the overall objective of generating leads and increasing sales.

Operational CRM is most useful for streamlining customer journeys and automating repetitive tasks. It saves sales people enormous amounts of time that they can give back to customers.

Lastly, analytical CRM focuses on analyzing the incredible amount of customer data that businesses acquire throughout the sales process. In analyzing that data, it provides insight into customer behavior, helping businesses fine-tune their sales cycle and marketing tactics.

  • Select the features needed to achieve your goals

One of the benefits of using a custom-built software is that you’re not paying for features you don’t need- in theory. In practice, this means knowing beforehand exactly which features you need, and which you don’t.

Are you mostly interested in analytics and reporting? Contact management? File sharing? Knowing which features you actually need, and which ones you can do without, will require a good amount of research. Be ready to factor that into your process.

  • Consider the user interface and experience (UI/UX)

You get to decide what the interface will look like, but you’ll need the help of a UX expert to make it user-friendly. This is a key step in the process. Your software needs to be intuitive if your team is going to use it every day. You’ll also have to decide who in your company has access to which features.

  • Program and test

Whether you have an in-house team of software developers or you decide to hire contractors, you’ll want to test the functionality as you go. There will inevitably be bugs and defects in the coding, and testing it is the only way to find and eliminate them before launching.

  • Launch and maintain

Once the coding is done and everything’s been tested for defects, you can finally launch. As stated before, there typically aren’t any training materials for custom-built CRM. You should have a plan in place for instructing your team on how to use your new system.

You’ll also have to allocate resources to maintain the structure and security of your system. Any vulnerability could spell disaster if it’s not fixed quickly. Also, technological advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning are constantly making strides that you don’t want to miss out on. So you’ll also have to make room for researching and implementing those new discoveries so you don’t fall behind the curve.

How much does it cost to build a custom CRM system?

You’re going to find a wide range of figures. Some sites will tell you the starting cost is around $5,000, while others will say it’s more like $20,000. From there the cost can balloon to over $100,000, depending on the size and complexity of the project.

The truth is, there is no easy way to estimate exactly how much building a custom CRM solution will cost you. It all depends on the expertise you hire, the infrastructure needed, and the project timeline to launch.

How long does it take to build one?

Speaking of timeline, it should be no surprise that it’s just as wide-ranging as the cost. Building a platform can take anywhere from a week to a year depending on the complexity. Making sure that every aspect of the platform works perfectly is time-consuming. As is migrating all of your existing customer data into the new system.

On top of the time it takes to build the CRM, there’s also the time it will take to train everyone on how to use it properly. Which varies depending on the technological know-how of your team.

How to choose your technology partner to create a custom CRM?

If you build your own, you need to be wise about who you partner with. An inexperienced or disorganized developer could end up inflating estimated costs and delaying your launch.

There are plenty of software developers out there, so do an in-depth look at your options before committing to one. You may prefer an established business that does nothing but custom CRM development. Or perhaps you have a contact who’s a savvy and dependable freelancer. Whatever you choose to go with, make sure to look at their portfolios and check out their previous work.

Pay special attention to developers who have built CRM platforms for businesses similar to yours. Ask for detailed case studies to get an idea of what to expect from the process.

A roadmap for CRM customization with Zendesk Sell

As you can see, building a CRM platform from scratch is expensive and time-consuming. Some businesses exist in extremely niche markets, so it makes sense for them to design and build their own customer relationship management system. But for businesses that follow a tried-and-true sales model, pre-made CRM platforms can absolutely get the job done.

That said, off-the-shelf CRM developers have noticed that business owners like to have control over what they’re seeing. That’s why many pre-made platforms, like Zendesk Sell, offer customization options. They allow users to have more say over the look and functionality of their CRM software.

Zendesk Sell is a cloud-based simple CRM solution that doubles as a customized CRM to meet your needs. With little to no coding experience. And unlike custom-built software, it can be up and running in a day. Plus, it provides ample training and support materials, so users aren’t left on their own to figure out how it works.

Frequently asked questions on customizable CRMs

Ready to customize your CRM?

Zendesk Sell is an all-in-one customizable platform that offers a user-friendly CRM experience. It has a simple interface that’s easy to navigate from day one. As well as a host of features for customizing your pipeline and boosting productivity. And with a robust help desk and offering of training materials, your team can be fully supported as they work to customize your Zendesk usage.

If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to boost sales and streamline your workflow, test drive Zendesk Sell with its 14-day free CRM trial.

Give CRM software a try