How to Build a Custom SaaS CRM System For Your Business

Rating — 5.0·20 min·October 3, 2023
How to Build a Custom SaaS CRM System For Your Business
How to Build a Custom SaaS CRM System For Your Business
There are numerous off-the-shelf SaaS CRM solutions available in the market. However, the question arises whether they can meet the unique needs of every business, or if opting for a custom solution is the better approach. In this article, we will explain the process of building a custom SaaS CRM and outline the key advantages of such a solution.
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Key takeaways
  • The most popular CRM systems offer a wide range of features, but they are limited in terms of customization and personalization when it comes to meeting industry-specific business needs. Therefore, you have a chance to succeed by entering the CRM market with your own custom solution.
  • We recommend starting CRM development with a minimum viable product (MVP) to minimize risks and provide maximum value to your target audience. Developing an MVP for a SaaS CRM encompasses a discovery phase, design elaboration, development and testing, and further maintenance.
  • You can build a custom SaaS CRM system for your own business needs (and then sell it to other businesses with similar requirements on a subscription basis), or you can build a CRM system for an external market.


In the dynamically changing business landscape, the ability to effectively manage relationships with customers is key to success. However, doing that manually requires an enormous amount of time and resources. That’s why customer relationship management systems (CRMs) reign supreme when it comes to business–customer interactions.

Since CRM systems have been widely adopted as a unified solution for customer management, their popularity across business segments continues to steadily grow. Grand View Research predicts that the growing needs for hyper-personalization, automation, and improved customer satisfaction will cause the global CRM market’s annual growth rate to increase by 13.9% from 2023 to 2030. Since demand for CRMs is growing, new products that can solve specific business problems have a great chance of gaining market share.

A CRM can come in two forms: a standardized solution for customer management or a custom solution made to meet specific requirements. In the second case, we mean a custom CRM that provides the highest possible level of personalization and customization. This involves flexibility to tailor every aspect of the customer management process to unique workflows and specific requirements.

If you want to build a custom SaaS CRM for your own business needs or are considering building one as a startup idea, this article will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to create a CRM that brings true value to its users. We explain how to build a CRM system from scratch, why it’s worth building a custom SaaS CRM, the key functionality and benefits of such a system, and what stages custom SaaS CRM product development encompasses.

Introduction to CRM software

When deciding what your perfect custom CRM should be like, you need to consider a lot of things before proceeding to the actual custom CRM development process:

What are types of CRMs and their features?

How can CRMs be useful for different industries?

How can users benefit from a custom solution?

Why is it worth building a SaaS CRM?

Before entering the CRM market, you need to be aware of its specifics.

Below, we cover aspects you need to take into account when planning to build your own CRM.

All you need to know about a SaaS CRM before building one

A customer relationship management (CRM) system is designed to automate customer interactions, build seamless sales processes, optimize marketing tasks, and improve customer service in general. In simple terms, a CRM is your digital assistant with flawless memory that helps you track all interactions, information, and activities related to customers.

As of June 2022, three SaaS CRM platforms dominated the market: Qualtrics ($800 million in annual revenue), Zoho ($500 million), and Freshworks ($338 million).

2023 b2b saas crm leaders

Why do users need a CRM system?

A CRM system is a must if you want to serve your customers the best way possible. Here are the top reasons why businesses need a CRM:

  1. It provides insights into customers’ behavior (buying patterns, preferences, and so on). This gives you the opportunity to provide a better experience to customers by anticipating their real needs.
  2. A CRM is a unified system for managing customer interactions. Basically, this means that all workers in your organization will have centralized access to customer-related information.
  3. Thanks to customer data provided by a CRM, businesses can better target their marketing efforts, creating more effective, targeted, and personalized marketing campaigns, in turn resulting in higher response rates.
  4. A CRM is an effective lead management tool. It can help you capture, track, and nurture leads, ensuring that the most promising opportunities aren’t missed.
  5. Automation of repetitive tasks (entering data, updating customer information, etc.) frees employees’ time for more meaningful tasks.

why do users need a crm

In general, CRM systems play a significant role in helping businesses build and maintain strong relationships with customers, improve operational efficiency, and drive growth.

CRM use cases in different industries

A CRM is an essential tool for businesses in almost any industry. Let’s take a look at some examples:

In the retail industry, a CRM system is used for customer segmentation and targeting, personalized marketing, loyalty program management, inventory management, and sales performance tracking. A CRM can also help drive sales and increase customer loyalty.

In the healthcare sector, a CRM system assists in efficiently managing patient interactions and medical records. It enables healthcare workers to keep track of medical histories and treatment plans, ensuring a more personalized approach to patients.

In the e-commerce industry, a CRM system allows retailers to gather insights about customers such as buying history, preferences, and browsing behavior. This data empowers e-commerce businesses to optimize their websites, offer personalized product recommendations, and deliver high-level customer support.

In the real estate industry, a CRM system is used for organizing and managing data about leads and customers. Agents can easily track communication with potential buyers, schedule property showings, and tailor their services to match the needs of each individual customer, resulting in improved customer satisfaction and higher closing rates.

CRM for your internal business needs vs SaaS CRM for external customers

Before building a CRM, you will obviously need to decide who will be using it. There are two options to consider:

CRM for internal needs

If you can't find a perfect CRM that's available commercially, building your own custom cloud-hosted CRM is probably the best way out.

In this case, you will need to analyze your team’s needs and define what features need to be included in your custom solution to support your internal workflows, processes, and requirements. This will probably include some basic features that any CRM should possess along with particular functionality that off-the-shelf CRMs can’t provide, such as integrations with existing custom solutions and niche-specific features.

Building a custom CRM for your business doesn’t necessarily mean you have to continually invest in it exclusively for your needs. You can test this solution in your internal environment and then monetize it, selling it to other businesses with similar needs on a subscription basis. This is what Anthony Smith, the founder and CEO of Insightly CRM, did:

My interest in CRM started while I was working for another company I founded. There, we worked with Google Apps, and could not find a CRM tool that had great integration with Gmail, Google Calendar and the Google Apps platform. We tried a few tools but nothing ever stuck, so after I sold that business, I embarked on a mission to solve the problem with a fully-integrated and scalable CRM platform – and thus, Insightly was born.



Of course, now there are plenty of CRMs that integrate with services like Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Apps. However, at the time Insightly was launched, Anthony Smith couldn’t find an existing CRM tool that met a specific set of needs. Thus, he decided to build his own. Now, Insightly is a startup with $14 million in annual revenue.

CRM for external customers

Today’s market offers a lot of feature-rich, versatile CRMs. However, if you think they can cater to the needs of existing businesses, you are mistaken.

A study conducted by Nimble CRM (a social sales and marketing CRM for small businesses) revealed that the majority of companies use only 10% of the features in their CRM products while paying for the entire bundle of services. Considering that modern off-the-shelf solutions are quite costly (58% of sales and marketing leaders believe their current CRM is wasting money), especially for small businesses that work in specific niches, the need for CRMs that can satisfy their requirements seems obvious.

Apart from such giants as Qualtrics, Zoho, and Freshworks, there are plenty of niche-specific CRMs that remain successful and in demand. Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • Veeva, a CRM designed specifically for the life sciences and pharmaceutical industries, offers industry-specific features such as integrations with healthcare data sources, support for field teams working on consumer and animal health, and compliance with the Prescription Drug Marketing Act (PDMA). In 2023, Veeva is considered one of the top picks for investors in its industry.
  • Bullhorn is a CRM for the staffing and recruitment industry that provides tools for applicant tracking, candidate management, and client relationship management. It is tailored to the unique workflows and needs of staffing agencies. Back in 1999, Bullhorn was launched as a platform for freelancers, and it came a long way in 20 years before becoming a platform with nearly 10,000 customers around the globe.
  • Propertybase, a CRM designed specifically for real estate brokers and agents, offers features geared towards the real estate market such as property listings, lead management, and marketing automation. Propertybase has active users in more than 60 countries.

When deciding between two options — a general-purpose CRM or a niche-specific CRM catered to the needs of your business — the choice seems obvious.

You won’t have to compete with industry leaders if your product effectively addresses the needs of a certain type of business.

CRM types and features

There are several types of CRMs, but they all intersect in one way or another with the three main ones: operational, analytical, and collaborative. Here is information about these types in a table for convenient comparison.

  Operational CRM Analytical CRM Collaborative CRM
Purpose Focused on streamlining daily customer-related tasks Focused on analyzing customer data and helping to make data-driven decisions Designed to improve communication within a team to provide improved customer service
Goals Improve the efficiency of working with clients (automate sales and marketing activities, improve customer service operations) Gain insights into customers’ behavior and preferences and improve customer satisfaction Facilitate cross-department communication and sharing and enable teams to get real-time information about customers
Features Typically include tools that automate repetitive tasks, allow for tracking leads, create and track marketing campaigns, and deal with customer inquiries Usually have data analytics and reporting functionality, along with tools that help predict customer behavior Have tools for managing customer interactions across various channels, shared task management systems, and chats for simplified interactions and workflow automation tools

For sure, the features you will add to your CRM should be aligned with your project’s goals. You can focus on one group of features:

  • Automation of customer-related tasks — operational CRM
  • Customer data analysis, statistics, and insights — analytical CRM
  • Communication and data sharing within the team — collaborative CRM

Or you can build a CRM that encompasses all of these features, helping you manage various aspects of customer interactions.

On-premises CRM vs SaaS CRM

The modern concept of the CRM system started to take shape in the 1980s to 1990s. At that time, businesses started to use databases and software to store customer information, track interactions, and manage leads. Since early CRM systems appeared long before SaaS products, they were on-premises.

An on-premises CRM system is hosted on a company’s own server and needs to be installed on end users’ computers. Such tools present significant benefits such as full control over their use, access to all data without the need for an internet connection, and a high level of security.

One of the first open-source, cloud-based CRMs presented in 2004 was SugarCRM. At that time, CRMs were actively migrating to the cloud. As a result, CRM systems became equally accessible to both large enterprises and small startups.

A SaaS CRM is an on-demand customer relationship management system that is sold to users on a subscription basis. In contrast to an on-premises CRM, a SaaS CRM has the following characteristics:

  1. Traditionally, SaaS CRM products are accessed via a web browser. Some SaaS products have both mobile app and desktop versions.
  2. A SaaS CRM is hosted in the cloud, enabling remote access and collaboration among team members independent of their physical location.
  3. SaaS solutions are delivered to customers on a subscription basis. For a product owner, this gives predictable and recurring revenue. For users, it’s an accessible upfront cost that even small business owners can afford.
  4. A SaaS CRM is hosted, updated, and maintained by the provider. This means that users don’t need to update or install anything manually.

specifics of a saas crm

Today, SaaS products dominate the CRM market. All of the most popular CRMs are either completely SaaS or offer both SaaS and on-premises versions (such as SugarCRM, Zoho, and OracleCRM).

How to build a CRM system MVP

By this point, you probably have some vision of how your product should look. However, you may still be wondering how to translate that vision into reality.

The optimal way to launch the first version of your product with minimal risks and maximum value is with a minimum viable product (MVP) that will enable you to adapt and enhance your product incrementally.

The MVP concept originates from the Lean Startup methodology developed by Eric Ries. In this context, an MVP is defined as the most simplified version of a product that can be released to the market.

The MVP’s main purpose is not to launch a polished product but to learn as much as possible about your target audience and their needs, all while minimizing the resources expended during CRM development. MVP development is an iterative process: a team generates an assumption, tests it, measures its impact, and repeats.

If you’re still unsure whether it’s worth investing efforts into a basic product with minimal features, let’s turn to Nimble CRM once again.

Nimble wasn’t the first CRM system developed by its founder, Jon Ferrara. When he was part of a sales team for a computer company, he founded the GoldMine CRM to replace paper-based calendar and address books that the company used for managing contacts and schedules. The initial investment for GoldMine CRM was only $3,000. Of course, such an investment is not enough to launch a full-fledged product. But it’s enough to start with small steps and grow the product gradually.

Ten years after its founding, GoldMine CRM had grown to over 350 people serving more than 1.5 million users worldwide. This is how Jon Ferrara explains the success of GoldMine:

GoldMine was a success not just because we had a unique product that served a need others didn’t, but because of our commitment to our customers.



This story proves that a product built with minimal features but that delivers true value for its customers is the right way to launch a small startup with huge potential. However, how can you deliver this value to your customers? You will need to get some insights prior to launching the CRM development process. For this, start with a discovery phase.

  1. Discovery phase

The discovery phase refers to the initial step in the software development process during which you gather information, define goals, and establish a clear understanding of the project’s scope and requirements.

Let’s look at steps of the discovery phase and what each of them can give you:

  • Defining the project’s goals and objectives

Clearly defined goals and objectives at the very beginning of the project provide a clear direction and focus for the project, helping to align resources and efforts towards achieving specific outcomes.

  • Conducting market research

Market research will help you discover the current state of your chosen industry, the true needs of your potential customers, your main competitors, their strong and weak points, and what has led them to success.

Market research will also help you figure out the true potential of your product and opportunities for growth. After conducting market research, you can form a unique selling proposition (USP) for your product and fill out a business model canvas, which contains comprehensive information about the CRM system to be built (features you want to implement, customers your product targets, etc.).

  • Prioritizing features to provide a product with true value

Ready-made CRMs are packed with features, being designed to serve various needs. However, when building a custom solution, you don’t have to provide all possible functionality straight away. Instead, you can focus your efforts on features relevant for specific business cases or a specific industry, test them among your target audience, collect feedback, and refine your product according to users’ needs. This will make your CRM system competitive in a certain niche, as it will be able to address the real needs of your target audience.

Earlier, we mentioned features that can be added to a CRM system. However, based on market research, you may consider adding other features that will bring more value to your project.

For example, you can add AI features to your CRM and make them your product’s highlight. Currently, the AI SaaS market continues to expand rapidly, so you may consider making your custom CRM AI-forward.

CRM vendors started taking advantage of AI before ChatGPT came along, and this innovative technology can be used in CRM systems in many ways. Here are some examples:

  • AI-powered algorithms for predictive analytics
  • AI-driven lead scoring
  • Personalization based on AI algorithms that analyze customer preferences, behavior, and past interactions
  • Natural language processing (NLP) that interprets natural language inputs from customers
  • Chatbots and virtual assistants for handling customer inquiries

For example, SugarCRM has an AI-based SugarPredict system that compares internal CRM data with external data sources to generate predictions. Zoho CRM offers a conversational AI assistant called Zia that helps users with various activities.

The discovery phase isn’t limited to these steps — it’s a complex process that encompasses all activities related to project planning. These may include proof of concept (to prove your project’s technical feasibility), SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), time and cost estimation, risk assessment, and numerous other activities.

At Clockwise Software, we divide deliverables (practical results) our clients get after the discovery phase into six approaches:

  • Business/product approach
  • Business analyst approach
  • UI/UX design approach
  • Technical approach
  • Delivery & test approach
  • Roadmap / quote approach

The number and types of deliverables depend on your needs and your project’s goals.

After the discovery phase, you’re ready to form an SRS (software requirements specification) document that will serve as a guide for the CRM development process. It contains the project’s goals, functional and non-functional requirements, and other essential information.

  1. Design

The results of a survey among 1,600 sales and marketing leaders conducted by SugarCRM revealed that 76% of respondents consider a CRM being too complex, not intuitive, not user-friendly, and not customizable enough as their biggest frustration.

The results of this survey emphasize the two main principles you should stick to when elaborating the design of your CRM: simplicity and user-friendliness.

Apart from these principles, there are a few other aspects that need to be taken into account considering the specifics of SaaS CRM development:

  • The SaaS product design should be optimized for various devices with different screen resolutions. It’s important to provide convenient mobile and desktop versions of a CRM system.
  • You should consider the importance of data visualization when building a CRM system. Visualizations of statistics and other important metrics should be understandable and visually appealing.
  • Keep in mind that typical CRM users aren’t tech-savvy; they are marketers, salespeople, and customer service team members. You need to make sure that it takes minimal time for users to figure out how to work with your CRM; note that navigation should be intuitive and all buttons and icons easy to understand.

Responsibility for the design of your CRM will lie on the UI/UX designer’s shoulders. The UI/UX designer will elaborate a prototype and shape it until it is approved by all stakeholders. Then, the final version of the prototype will be handed over to frontend developers.

  1. Development and testing

To develop a SaaS CRM, you need to choose a proper technology stack:

For the front end

When it comes to frontend development for a custom SaaS CRM, there are several popular choices.

  • HTML and CSS are essential for creating the structure and styling the user interface
  • JavaScript frontend libraries and frameworks such as React, Angular, and Vue.js can be used for building an interactive user interface
  • D3.js will empower dynamic, interactive, and aesthetically pleasing visualizations

For the back end

For the back end, you are free to choose from various programming languages (Python, PHP, Ruby, Java, R, and others) as well as to combine them. However, when it comes to developing the MVP for a SaaS CRM, JavaScript seems the most beneficial.

JavaScript can be used across the technology stack, for both backend and frontend development. For an MVP, this plays a critical role in reducing CRM development time and using resources efficiently. Node.js is a go-to choice, as it supports a vast collection of libraries and frameworks and is known for its high scalability due to its event-driven, non-blocking architecture. This will allow you to scale and update your CRM without making significant changes in technologies.

Cloud provider

The right choice of cloud provider to host your SaaS CRM will directly influence your platform’s performance, security, and ability to scale. Currently, there are three popular choices that together occupy 65% of the market share: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

At Clockwise Software, we mostly choose AWS for our clients’ projects because it gives access to more than 200 services (compute, storage, database, machine learning, and others), offers vast scalability opportunities, encryption features for high-level security, and a flexible pricing model that eliminates overpaying.


Off-the-shelf CRMs are usually integrated with email services, social media analytics tools, marketing automation tools, communication platforms, etc. When building your custom SaaS CRM solution, you can use APIs to extend its functionality through integrations with third-party services that already have the necessary features and are familiar to users. You can integrate a CRM system with your other custom-built services, your internal database, your online call system, and so on.

The choice of technology stack has a big impact on the CRM development process. But the quality of the end product still depends on testing.

The testing plan is laid down at the pre-development stage of a software project. Testing plays an important role in the development process and is conducted to ensure that a software product:

  • Complies with the initial requirements
  • Meets stakeholders’ expectations
  • Doesn’t have defects and bugs in code, design, or functionality
  • Meets a certain level of quality expectations

During the development process, QA engineers and developers work together right up to the launch to ensure a product’s flawless performance as it gets into end users’ hands.

5. Further maintenance

The launch of your MVP isn’t the end of the party. If you want your startup to live and flourish, you need to constantly work for its growth. Your development team will continue to work on your project after its launch. Here is a list of things you will have to do as part of post-launch CRM maintenance:

  1. Collect feedback. All future product updates should be aligned with your customers’ opinions and desires.
  2. Fix bugs. Bug fixing is an essential component of improving the user experience. You have to constantly monitor your software’s performance and fix bugs as soon as you find them.
  3. Follow the trends. The SaaS CRM industry doesn’t stay still. Some trends fade, other trends appear, and you have to follow them if you want to stay on par with your competitors.
  4. Protect users’ data. Security is a very important consideration when it comes to platforms like a CRM. The system must be able to effectively address any challenges posed by evolving data privacy requirements and growing cybersecurity threats.
  5. Choose a suitable monetization model. Most CRMs charge users on a monthly or yearly basis, offering three types of subscriptions: basic, standard, and premium. This allows for catering to the needs of businesses of different sizes and gives users an opportunity to scale up and down as they need.

How can you handle the CRM development process?

Just 15 to 20 years ago, software development was a difficult, resource-consuming process that required a lot of technical expertise and experience. However, there are now so many options and solutions that all you need is an idea and an initial budget.

If you already have a development team with the right expertise for building a custom SaaS CRM system, you can start your project planning right away. If you don’t, see what you can do based on your particular case:

Case #1. You don’t know where to start

If you are intending to build a CRM from scratch and have no clue where to start, you have three ways to go:

  • Turn to a discovery phase to validate your idea in business and technical terms and get a detailed estimation of the time and costs to complete your project.
  • Hire a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) as a service to get a technical specialist or a company that will assist you with all technical, team composition, and strategic questions, helping you align your business goals with available resources.
  • Choose software development consulting services provided by experts in the IT field, aimed at assisting startups and companies in various aspects of software development. The consulting team consists of all specialists involved in the development process (project manager, business analyst, UI/UX designer, frontend and backend developers, and the QA engineer) and will handle everything from idea validation to creating an SRS document.

Case #2. You need to complete your existing team

In this case, the best option is turning to IT staff augmentation services. This eliminates all HR-related hassles and allows you to extend your team with the necessary specialists effortlessly via a software development service provider.

Case #3. You aren’t considering hiring an in-house team for your project

If you’re not ready to invest time and resources in hiring a dedicated team for your CRM project, or if you don’t want to delegate the development process to your internal team, the best choice is to outsource your project to a software development company. The outsourced team will start your project from a discovery phase and will work on it for as long as you need. This option gives you access to a complex, result-oriented service. In fact, with outsourcing, you are buying a ready-made product instead of having to pay per hour for each specialist involved in your team and manage everything by yourself.

how to handle crm development

How much does it cost to build a CRM system?

It’s not possible to give a clear answer to the question How much does it cost to build a SaaS CRM system? MVP development may start from $100,000 and reach several hundred thousand dollars. We can provide you with a more accurate estimate if you share your project’s idea, goals, and specifics.

In conclusion

Building a custom SaaS CRM system for businesses seeking tailored solutions that can fulfill their customer management needs may be rewarding if you build the development process properly. Starting your project from creating a CRM from MVP can help you minimize product risks and maximize value. In this article, we highlighted steps involved in the development of a SaaS CRM system: a discovery phase, design elaboration, development and testing, and further maintenance.

If you want to increase your chances for success, consider delegating your custom CRM software development project to an IT company with broad experience in SaaS product development.


  1. Customer Relationship Management Market report – Grand View Research. The report provides information about CRM market size and market share, trends, and forecasts (2023–2030).
  2. AI-powered CRM systems in 2023: In-depth guide. Overview of AI-powered tools and features in CRM software.
  3. The 2022 CRM Impact report. Insights from 1,600 sales and marketing leaders around the world on how a CRM can transform customer churn into long-term customer retention.
  4. 2022 State of CRM report – Tinyclues. A report on CRM challenges and trends.
  5. Benefits and challenges of SaaS CRM over on-premise CRM. Compares SaaS CRMs and on-premises CRMs.
  6. State of SaaS 2022: A Meta report. Provides information on how the global SaaS market looked in 2022.
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