The Salesforce AppExchange: To Build or to Buy?
In a recent post, I took some time to outline the pros and cons of building your own system, buying a smaller, more pre-made solution, or buying an enterprise tool like Salesforce. In presenting Salesforce, I briefly outlined the AppExchange, Salesforce’s marketplace for certified, prebuilt partner solutions, and the benefits it provides. In this post, I’d like to take some more time to talk about that invaluable tool and discuss the build vs buy decision.
Let’s build it!
Salesforce offers some great tools out of the box, and every release brings new and exciting features. When your team comes up with an idea that isn’t supported out of the box, it’s a great time to consider what it might take to build it. The best custom solutions rely as much as possible on declarative capabilities and the new(ish) Lightning Framework to ensure you benefit as much as possible from the annual release cycle. A good Salesforce developer knows how to selectively and mindfully leverage custom code, and when to employ extra solutions like an external PaaS (platform as a service) solution such as Heroku. With the right creativity, tools, and budget, the sky's the limit. And since most or all of the tools are already bought and paid for, very powerful solutions can be built without the need for additional licensing fees!
An old client of mine once explained the problem here, though: “We’re not a software development shop, and we have no intention of becoming one!” When you build your own custom solutions, you necessarily enter the world of software development. Your custom solutions have development lifecycles, roadmaps, bugs, technical debt, and it becomes your responsibility to manage it all. In addition, custom development takes time, both from your development resources and from the business, leading to delays and disruption. And there’s always the chance that a future Salesforce release will invalidate your work or render it obsolete.
- Infinite flexibility
- Complete control
- $0 licensing fees
- 100% internally supported
- Slow development lifecycle
- Requires significant time investment
- Can be a distraction for the business
- Might become obsolete
Custom solutions are fantastic and often a very good idea. Only build a custom solution after you’ve carefully considered the level of effort, the team in place to build and support the application, and how likely it is to be addressed by an imminent release. Also be sure to investigate the AppExchange to identify if you might be able to limit the custom development to gap fill for an existing and supported solution.
Let’s check out the AppExchange!
Launched in 2005 and serving as the inspiration for the iPhone AppStore among many others, the AppExchange was a first of its kind repository for prebuilt, vetted, and certified secure solutions to extend the capabilities of the Salesforce platform. AppExchange solutions come in many different flavors, from small point-solutions that fill very niche gaps (such as Five9 for CTI), to more robust and flexible solutions designed to meet a broad range of needs (such as Formstack for forms, electronic signature, document generation, and more), all the way to full additions to the Salesforce framework designed to address complicated, industry-specific needs (such as nCino to streamline banking on the Salesforce platform). Cost ranges from free to more expensive than Salesforce depending on the particular solution.
The biggest beauty of the AppExchange is how fast it is. Once you’re through the procurement cycle for a new solution, it only takes a few clicks and a few minutes to install most packages, and after a little configuration, it's ready to use. More complex tools can take months to get up and running, but effectively cut months to years off of development times compared to building it yourself from scratch. Thoughtful selection of flexible tools let’s them fit seamlessly into your processes, and with a little creativity, can let you string together multiple solutions alongside custom development from your team to quickly go to market with best-in-class, custom tailored applications for your team.
The biggest downfall I see with AppExchange solutions is underutilization. Most of them do cost money. So it behooves your team to get as much value out of these tools as possible. Expensive solutions solving narrow problems can be a drag on budgets and limit the ways you can grow your business. Similarly, when businesses solve problems in silos, either due to teams not communicating, or due to thinking too narrowly about specific problems rather than on the business as a whole, often multiple products will be purchased to solve problems which could have been addressed by one.
Sometimes, the AppExchange is just the wrong way to go. Primarily, it comes down to limits. Just like with those big turnkey solutions, every AppExchange solution was built for as broad an audience as possible, and some things which may be mission critical to your team are just not available. While some solutions can be extended with the support of the provider, oftentimes they either can’t be, or it will be prohibitively expensive. Additionally, sometimes being creative can be a pitfall. Just because an app can do what you want doesn’t mean that it was designed to do that.. Finally, sometimes it’s just cheaper to string together a creative, custom solution rather than paying for a big, powerful tool you only need one piece of.
- Rapid go-to-market
- Lots of bells and whistles
- Flexible solutions can be reused extensively
- Multiple tools can be used together for very custom applications with limited development
- Limitations may impede value
- Solutions not designed for your use case may not be a fit even if they’re possible
- Underutilization can lead to unnecessary duplications and costs
Never embark on a custom build without first thinking about the AppExchange. There are thousands of solutions and new ones going live every day, and they address more scenarios than you could imagine. Be mindful to select flexible AppExchange solutions, and take the time with your team, vendors, and partners to assess how your tools might be leveraged to the fullest potential. If it’s starting to feel too expensive, ask for a discount, and start thinking about building custom. If it looks like limits of the tool are going to get in your way, talk to your vendor and partners about creative workarounds before going custom.
If you’re struggling with a build vs buy decision, Lev can help. Contact us.