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Buy or build? Bespoke Software vs off-the-shelf software.

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The intricacies of the different software options available on the market today can leave many business owners confused. Understanding the differences and benefits of bespoke software compared to an off-the-shelf solution in relation to your business is crucial.  


The difference between bespoke software vs off-the-shelf software 

To explore which solution is right for your business, an understanding of the basic differences between bespoke software and off-the-shelf software is essential 

 We have outlined the most important areas for a quick comparison 

What is bespoke software? 

  • Tailored to your business 
  • Up to a year in development 
  • Long lead times to implementation 
  • In-house training required 
  • Unique, non-transferable skill 
  • Designed by your business 
  • Unique integration with other systems that require special setup 
  • Requires significant investment in time and resources 

What is off-the-shelf software? 

  • Mass appeal 
  • Plug and play 
  • Quick setup 
  • Established resources, support and training 
  • Transferable skill for employees 
  • Try before you buy or detailed demonstrations 
  • Well established integrations for quick connection and sharing of data 
  • Tried and tested reliability  


Biggest differences between Bespoke Software and off-the-shelf software 

The driving factors for software adoption for every business will vary depending on the industry, urgency of requirement and in-house technical resources. However, the following three points are universally important when choosing software: 


1. Cost 

Yes, money. No matter how amazing software is or could be with the right team to develop it, if a business doesn’t have the financial resources to buy or complete the build then it is a non-starter. Being realistic with budgets is key to getting the system you need and can afford. 

Costs to consider with off-the-shelf software include monthly payment schedules (for SaaS products), initial setup charges, number of user licences required, additional feature costs that may or may not be needed to achieve your original goals and add on costs (if not included in your package) such as training and data analysis. 

Costs to consider with bespoke software can be wide-ranging and limitless. From the cost of dedicated technical expertise to create and integrate your current software stack, to the need for on-going updates and bug fixes, to the wider business functions of training and support processes. Every detail and interaction with the bespoke software will need to be planned, fully budgeted and supported with in-house staff with the right experience. 


2. Time 

As you would expect, off-the-shelf software can be purchased and implemented quickly. Depending on the complexity and integration of data your software requires, this could be anything from a day to a few weeks thanks to established processes and experienced external teams. The added bonus for off-the-shelf software is the time saved by not committing your existing workforce to the build and installation of software, giving them back that time to instead use the new software and work towards business goals. 

In contrast, a bespoke build software, even with a clear vision and expertise already embedded into your business and company culture, can take upwards of one year to come to fruition. For many SMEs, dedicating resources to a project on that scale isn’t realistic due to the shifting nature of their business needs.  

3. Product development and maintenance  

Unlike many of the key points to consider, the cost and time commitment required for 

support, product development and maintenance for bespoke software compared to off-the-shelf software is significant. 


Off-the-shelf subscription software, commonly SaaS cloud-based solutions, retain ownership of product development, essential maintenance, and data storage. As such, the product experience for subscribed businesses is uninterrupted and on track with the latest developments. The technical expertise sits externally to a subscriber business, but feedback loops and feature requests can still be reviewed and integrated into future software releases (if deemed suitable for a wider network of users). 

Bespoke software requires a permanent team dedicated to run, update and evolve systems, create learning materials, address support issues and maintain relevant with industry knowledge. Embedding a team into a business for this sole purpose will be costly, worse yet, expecting existing employees to add these tasks into their existing roles will endanger the success of the entire project. 

An increasing requirement for modern business software applications is to comply with global, national and regional legal requirements such as the data handling changes seen over the past few years. As a subscriber to an off-the-shelf software solution, the responsibility to comply and share best practice with users falls at the developer’s door. For bespoke software, compliance may be a much more difficult, costly venture. 

Support and training 

Creating and maintaining a suite of support and training resources for bespoke software can be an on-going, time-consuming task. The additional workload can often involve teams outside of the software project team, such as Marketing and HR, diverting efforts from valuable business generation work.  

In contrast, it is in off-the-shelf software companies’ best interests to deliver high-quality support and training materials to encourage initial user adoption and maintain high levels to retain customers. This training is always up to date too, featuring the latest version of the software. 

Reliability, Control and Flexibility 

Bespoke software delivers unparalleled control over product development and industry niche features. Whilst business-specific features can be a great way to fit software into existing processes, over customization can create a barrier to adoption for incoming employees. It can also cement a style of working that may not be agile enough to respond to sudden changes in industry working. 

Off-the-shelf software may require a change in processes, and change can be a challenge, but this does create an opportunity to streamline current ways of working. Being able to take advantage of this ‘insider knowledge’ about how similar businesses are working can improve efficiency at your business. 

A big advantage of using off-the-shelf software is reliability. An external software company, especially a well-established international company, will have uninterrupted service and support teams to maintain the smooth running of software. If a member of their team changes, the user experience will be unaffected. If a key member of a smaller internal team leaves the business it can create a large delay in product updates, at worst a loss of critical knowledge about the system. 


How sales-i measures up? 

Trusted by leading wholesale, manufacturing and distribution businesses, sales-i helps drive revenue and increase profit by identifying actionable customer sales insights. 

Unlike bespoke software, and many of our competitors, sales-i delivers a rapid ROI through a low drama, low-risk project investment with no hidden costs.  

Our setup, training and on-going support can be remotely achieved with no hardware required but your WIFI enabled mobile device. Plus, you can be assured our experts are always fine-tuning the software to help your business sell smart every day 

Where we are unique: 

insights Specific Insights 
Specialised campaigns to track and report on products and customer spend. 

alertsAutomated Alerts 
Campaign alerts directly to the people that need them. 


Account Overview 
Campaigns are flagged against related accounts for quick action. 

crmCRM Centric 
Centralised, searchable CRM system to keep your whole team up to date. 

adminReduces Admin 
Voice dictation, drop-down menus and automated reports give salespeople back the time to do what they do best: selling. 



How to make your decision 

Making your final decision won’t be simple. As with other large business investments (money and time), there will be many players around the table evaluating solutions that best suits their goals.  

One thing to avoid at all costs is the temptation to start with off-the-shelf software but enforce so many edits and changes to accommodate the opinions of the group that the software no longer has universal appeal or ends up costing more in add-ons. 

The result can be the worst of both worlds.” (source - Totally.Tech)


A half-way house software will benefit no-one and end up being a drain on resources for both the supplier and your business. 

Bespoke software may seem like strong investment in company culture and the established way of working but installing a new way of working may be the tonic your business needs to update to better compete with its peers.  

Of course, if you decided upon a bespoke software solution, you don’t have to wait over a year to get results. An off-the-shelf software product can plaan important role as caretaker of your business whilst you work to get your home-grown software fit for purpose. It would deliver most of what you need and pay for itself many times over while you work through the delivery of the bespoke piece.  

For advice from the experts on your business software requirements, contact our team today:

UK: 0345 508 7355 

US: 1-847-868-8175 

AUS: +6102-9220-5108  


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