Build vs. Buy: What Makes the Most Sense for SMBs?

Relevant considerations for SMBs in the Salesforce ecosystem seeking ERP functionality

At the culmination of yet another year, it is important to reflect on what has transpired within the Salesforce platform over the past decade. I say ‘past decade’ since that is less than how long I have been heavily swimming (more like deep-diving) in the Kool-Aid we all know as Salesforce: The CRM offering that started as a tool to “end software” and eventually became a platform for developing, dare I say, “enterprise” level applications.

Many articles have been written on the topic of whether a business should build or buy a software solution to meet their needs for various types of functionality. These articles/studies generally focus around TCO (total cost of ownership), features/functionality, maintainability/control, and competitive advantage amongst others. This is all helpful information,but it does not purposefully put the focus on the small to medium-sized business within the Salesforce ecosystem, and more specifically, their decision-making process around whether to build vs buy.

This post will explore the impact of what a platform brings to the table when it comes to businesses that are in the smaller to medium- sized space and are looking for solutions that help with inventory control, order management, supply chain, and financials.

3 Important Considerations for SMBs deciding to Build vs. Buy

Building custom software can be a drain on budget and time resources.

The costs that are associated with building custom software may be one of the first and most logical reasons for a business to avoid choosing this option. AppExchange packaged functionality brings a much smaller overall cost and therefore can make much more financial sense for a company with a smaller budget. If you do not have a strong enough development team with the necessary skills and domain expertise to build out this custom solution, it would be wise to pass on the opportunity until you do have such a team in place. If you cannot hold your software developers accountable for such a project, it will be tough to create a fitting solution.

Keep in mind that building proprietary software on a predefined platform takes a great deal of time to complete successfully. Businesses that do not have this time available should not immediately pursue it. If/when that time does become available, it is likely that your competitors have already gained the advantage by utilizing a solution from the AppExchange that they customized to fit their needs while you waited to have time.

There may already be an AppExchange package for what you want to build.

If you have a common business, like an equipment rental shop, there are packaged software solutions available that are already proven to be effective for your organization’s purpose. In the case of ERP on the salesforce platform, we only have a handful of solutions. Reading their customer ratings/reviews are a great way to understand the vendor’s engagement culture as well as the success of the solutions they offer. The AppExchange does a great job of categorizing the available solutions by industry and product type.

Becoming a technology vendor is not always strategic for the business.

Perhaps your business is a retail book store. In this case, building amazing technology would unlikely be a factor that sets you apart from your competition, nor would it likely be something that would help you provide a higher quality of service or product at a lower cost and make consumers want to choose your store over others.

What to expect to if you decide to build…

Software architecture/development/deployment resources.

This may sound simple, but finding resources with technical skills, domain expertise, and project management discipline is not an easy task. This will consume multiple non-technical members of the organization for a considerable amount of time depending on how complex the needed solution is.

Software quality assurance & testing.

More resources are needed that were involved in the requirements gathering phase that can effectively test and document remediation needed issues found in the initial releases of the software.

End user training.

This is something to consider regardless of whether you are building or buying. The big advantage of the “buy” side is that user training documentation and help manuals already exist for ease this process.

Ongoing hardware & functionality enhancements.

This will require a team of resources dedicated to reviewing the current feature set and managing internal end users as customers to constantly improve the solution. This aspect is already built in when it comes to a packaged solution. The license fees you pay to the vendor ensure that they will be updating their packages on a regular basis to improve features and functionality for your ongoing benefit.

Every SMB likes to think they are unique in their requirements but almost all have similar goals that they are looking to achieve. These goals align perfectly with the mindset that is used when an ISV sets out to build a managed ERP application on the AppExchange. Better visibility, ease of use, flexibility in molding the solution to best fit your needs. This helps SMBs to work smarter and not harder since nobody wants to reinvent the wheel.