In the early stages of your B2B business, you can get away with managing your entire sales funnel out of your CRM.
But as your client base grows, you’ll likely begin building out a Customer Success function at your company, which brings with it a range of complex tasks related to health scoring, customer onboarding, retention, and renewal.
This is the point when many Customer Success leaders ask themselves: “Should my company buy an off-the-shelf Customer Success Platform (CSP) or develop a homegrown Customer Success management tool within our existing CRM?”
To be frank, there are very few situations where it actually makes sense to have your Salesforce or HubSpot developers create a homegrown CSP inside your CRM. Let’s talk about why some companies consider building instead of buying, and the unexpected dangers of going that route.
Why Some CS Teams Try to Build Their Own Customer Success Platforms
“Generally, the option to ‘build’ a CS solution either means building out your CRM to function as a CSP, or creating a custom dashboard in your CRM that leverages data from a central warehouse,” says Brandon Mendez, Mid-Market Account Executive at Vitally. “Many technical teams believe that if they can unify customer data in-house and then pipe that data into a BI tool or some custom reporting, then they can replicate the value of a CS tool.”
This belief is often motivated by the desire to manage pre-sales and post-sales cycles in a single platform. There are two main reasons for this:
- Cost: Enterprise CRM applications like Salesforce cost as much as $500,000 per year. As a result, B2B organizations are under pressure to maximize their investment by managing as much of the sales/post-sale relationship as possible from a single tool.
- Features: CSPs and CRM software have overlapping features such as workflow automation and customer data management. This gives the wrong impression that a CRM tool can be upscaled to match the function of a CSP.
“A lot of sales teams don't see the need to create pre-sales and post-sales opportunity structures in different tools,” says Winson Liu, Revops Leader at Vitally. “They prefer to build this out inside their CRM tool and manage everything post-sales on top of that in the same platform.”
If you already have some process for managing your CS process with a CRM tool, convincing your finance team to invest in a separate off-the-shelf CSP can also be a challenge. They'll erroneously consider it an additional expense rather than a cost-saving measure.
“Customer Success teams are drowning in committed but inefficient budgets,” Liu explains. “Most CFOs are too focused on the dollars and what's currently in the budget versus optimizing the budget to get more value. You'll find that an off-the-shelf CSP can replace something you currently spend 10-20 times more on.”
The Drawbacks of Developing Your Own CSP
Developing a CSP within your existing CRM platform might seem sensible if your business model and Customer Success structure are highly unique. But it creates significant business challenges, like:
1. High Cost of Ownership
Maintaining a homegrown CSP is expensive — very expensive. Beyond initial costs for your CRM developers’ time, you'll have to hire operations specialists to build and maintain workflows in the CSP.
“I know from past experience in CS Ops roles that it's such an insane pain to hire people and retrofit Salesforce to be the CSP,” Liu says. “Essentially, you’re building a development team to make a CSP internally. Once your company starts to scale, you’ll need to hire dedicated RevOps people to manage your in-house CSP. For organizations of 1,000 people or more, that will add at least $600,000 to your annual talent overhead costs. Between 1,000-2,000 people, it’s closer to $1 Million.”
In other words, if you purchase an off-the-shelf CSP for $50,000 a year, you’ll instantly save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. CFOs can invest that money into other aspects of the business like product development and marketing in order to grow revenue.
The bottom line is, any financial decision-maker in your organization that thinks you’ll save money by having your CRM developers “whip up a CSP real quick” is woefully misinformed.
“Companies that retrofit their CRM as a CSP are trying to re-invent the wheel in a costly, time-consuming, and ineffective manner,” Liu says.
2. Team Inefficiencies and Bottlenecks
Because of a homegrown CSP's complex infrastructure, the Customer Success team is usually unable to implement task automations and workflows themselves. They have to wait for the Operations team to build these things out, which affects their efficiency on the job.
“Let's say workflows and automations are needed for a CS process,” Liu says. “With an internally built CSP, the CS organization would need to submit a request to the CS Ops or RevOps team, who would then scope out the requirements and prioritize it against their backlog. Then when it’s finally done, it might need to be tweaked, or each CSM may want their own customization, which is impossible.”
An off-the-shelf CSP solves this problem by making workflows and automations simple enough to set up by CS leaders or admins.
“Buying a reliable CSP removes the bottleneck of needing CS Ops to do everything and prevents the inefficiency of CSMs doing manual work in the meantime,” Liu says.
See how Vitally helps CSMs streamline their day-to-day tasks.
3. Outdated Software That Doesn’t Scale With Your Business
When you buy a dedicated CSP like Vitally, your cost of ownership includes regular development of the product — our software team ships regular updates and improvements to the platform.
With a homegrown CSP, any notable improvements to the system require even more development hours and resources that you probably didn't budget for. The alternative is being stuck with an obsolete CSP that's high maintenance and prone to broken data integrations.
You also have to keep in mind that a homegrown CSP is built to match your business’s team size, customer base, and amount of historical data at the time it was developed. But businesses change fast. Your CS team might double in a year. Or your business can go from hundreds to thousands of customers in a couple of months.
Ideally, these are good problems to have. But things can get complicated if you use a homegrown CSP that’s built into your CRM. As you add new data layers, it will reach a breaking point, and you’ll need to build a new data infrastructure from scratch or spend time migrating data and reorganizing your Customer Success process.
These costly disruptions are never an issue with off-the-shelf CSP tools, which have scalable data infrastructures that you can rely on no matter how quickly your business grows.
4. A Lack of Data-Driven Alerts and Calls-to-Action
One of the most important benefits of CSP software is the ability for CSMs to be automatically alerted when a customer becomes a churn risk or requires other critical attention. This simply isn’t possible with a Customer Success tool developed within a CRM.
“With in-house solutions, CSMs still have to proactively monitor these dashboards,” Mendez says. “There isn’t any automated push from the report to the CSM which prompts that person to act. Off-the-shelf CSP tools actually prescribe actions to your team automatically, which help you drive very specific engagements and outcomes.”
“Proactive alerting based on a dynamic target — as opposed to a static target — is so valuable in Customer Success,” Liu adds. “For example, a CSM might want to be alerted if a customer’s usage or time in the product drops below the 30-day average, or some other threshold that isn’t a set numeric value. Then, the CSM could reach out to the customer to touch base.
“Without that ability, you have two options. One, you’d have to actively watch the report in the CRM or in a BI tool, which means that CSMs will often react too late or customers will slip through the cracks; that’s especially true if your CSMs manage a high volume of customers. Or two, an alert in a BI tool would be set with a static number, which isn’t that helpful because target metrics will change or be different for each individual customer.”
What You Can Do With Vitally
As a top-rated out-of-the-box Customer Success platform, Vitally lets B2B Customer Success teams:
1. Collaborate With Customers in Real-Time
Vitally creates shared workspaces between your CSMs and their clients so they can have a more collaborative relationship. Instead of sending important updates via email or Slack, where they might get buried under heaps of messages, CSMs can communicate with customers in a central location on the platform where important context doesn’t get lost.
CSMs can also share updates and work on documents with customers. Say a customer is trying to renew their contract or collaborate with you on a quarterly business review; you can create action items in Vitally and work with the customer to complete each task, instead of messaging back and forth.
Real-time conversations let CSMs resolve customer issues quickly. This also eliminates communication bottlenecks that can slow down renewals and upsell opportunities.
2. Boost Team Productivity
Vitally drives productivity across your Customer Success team. Our data-powered Hubs replace endless meetings, Slack channels, and email sequences. Simply create a project hub, add stakeholders, and start having real-time conversations backed by customer data.
These features enhance internal collaboration as well. All you need to do is add the proper stakeholders to the project discussion, and everyone will immediately be on the same page.
3. Automate Tasks
No more spending time on tedious tasks that don’t move the needle. With Vitally, you can automate customer management tasks and free up time for what matters: delivering stellar customer experiences.
You can create tables and Kanban boards in Vitally for seamless project management. You can also use templated Docs to create and share documents with customers and other project stakeholders.
4. Make Data-Driven Decisions
Vitally empowers your team to find important data trends and act on them:
- Indicators show preemptive churn signals so you can resolve issues with clients early.
- Vitally’s Rest API lets you track which parts of your product customers use frequently.
- Data-powered dashboards let you track customer health and other important metrics — like revenue and product data — in real time.
“Our biggest problem was tracking customers, seeing if they're actively using our product, and if they are properly onboarded. We’ve reduced our churn rate because we can easily see early signs of possible churn, and we have the chance to prevent it.”
How to Choose the Best Off-the-Shelf CSP for Your Business
No out-of-the-box software tool is perfect when it comes to managing the entire customer lifecycle. (Although we believe that’ll change in the future.)
But at the moment, buying a modern CSP that can integrate well with your CRM is a much better approach than trying to build a Frankenstein-like hybrid of pre-sale and post-sale tools.
The best out-of-the-shelf CSPs:
- Grow as your business grows
- Integrate with other tools in your workflow
- Power data-driven collaboration
Vitally checks all of these boxes. Our data-powered Customer Success Platform provides everything you need to manage workflows efficiently and deliver best-in-class customer experiences.
Book a personalized demo to see our tool in action and learn how it can transform your Customer Success team.