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Almost 75 percent of large companies now use online research communities to engage their customers.

Executives helming customer-focused organizations want to make data-driven decisions to steer the business, and are looking for the best tools and processes to stay on course. But a perennial question persists: to build or to buy?

The hunger for customer data that provides competitive advantage means 74 percent of large companies now have established online research communities. However, the challenge is how  to best digest the information they are harvesting to transform it into actionable insight. This requires integration with other tools such as customer relationship management (CRM) software. When faced with the crossroads of custom-building in-house research panel software or buying an end-to-end software solution, there are three things that must be critically considered.

What is the true cost?

Scraping together various solutions and building an in-house panel software typically requires upfront capital investment in terms of time and people for initial development and recruitment, testing and deployment, maintaining member engagement and health. A custom in-house panel tool becomes an ongoing expenditure. Significant time and money must be spent to creating workflows, translation and localization (for a global panel), and managing analyses that will bring clear value to your organization against all the operating costs. From there, integrating with other tools and data sources becomes of interest in your analyses.

"Scraping together various solutions and building an in-house panel software typically requires upfront capital investment..."

All the work required to design and build an in-house research panel creates opportunity costs, and diverts time and resources from other strategic initiatives that directly affect your customers and your bottom line. Building your own solution can deliver an excellent payoff in the long run if you get it right, but buying an end-to-end research software solution provides you with better customer insights today, not six months from now and ensures all the bells and whistles for a optimal customer feedback experience with your brand.

How will it affect your customers?

Any software you build or buy must be easily adopted by your employees. But just as importantly, you need to think about the community member experience. This is especially critical as you are asking your customers to share personal information with them and asking for their time.

"Buying an end-to-end software solution provides you with better customer insights today, not six months from now..."

Creating a frictionless user experience while meeting internal requirements is a delicate balancing act. If you’re building a panel or online community, you need to think about the member experience. How will you close the feedback loop and make sure customers are engaged and gaining value by participating? How will you control quality and consistency of engagements to ensure an optimal feedback experience for your customers?

A software company with a business that’s focused on creating customer engagement applications will obsess about the member experience and ensure best practices and efforts around personalization and engagement are followed, while also making sure the integration of your other tools is seamless at the back end so you can meet your customer insight objectives.

Are you building a duct tape solution?

It doesn’t make sense to solve a problem that’s already been adequately addressed end-to-end by a commercial product. Why reinvent the wheel when there are other challenges that you could be working on that directly impact your customer and bottom line.

Building your own solution piecemeal will lead to a disjointed view of the customer from siloed data sources with no centralized digital source of VIP insights that can be utilized across the organization, increasing efficiency. It will lengthen the time to get actionable insight rather than shorten it, and raise your Cost Per Insight (CPI).

Consider the bigger picture

For many technology companies with in-house development expertise and used to being scrappy, it’s tempting to build software in-house or duct tape together various tools and platforms to create an end-to-end research panel and intelligence ecosystems. It requires seriously considering your available resources, the ability to scale, your long-term strategy and the opportunity costs involved.

The enterprise guide to online communities

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