Looking for the Best CRM for Your Custom Fabrication Company?

Here are 4 questions for sales leaders to consider

Photo via Chandler Inc, a custom fabrication company

At Highland, we’ve seen a consistent increase in inquiries relative to CRM implementations for custom fabrication companies.

Custom fab is a unique facet of the manufacturing industry with its own unique CRM requirements. When discussing manufacturing, most people are familiar with discrete manufacturing — with set BOM’s, a defined assembly process, available models/SKU’s — and process manufacturing, with batches, formulas, and lot control. In the custom fabrication sector, manufacturing involves specific designs and prototypes tailored to unique customer requirements.

When a sales leader is evaluating CRM platforms, it is always important to focus on the process and requirements from the “outside-in,” considering the overall sales engagement from the perspective of the end customer. This will help them better comprehend how they can best engage with their customers, and how that translates to the ways they can maximize their CRM platform. When adhering to this approach, the differences between custom fabrication and other types of manufacturing become apparent.

Photo via Chandler Inc, a custom fabrication company

1. First things first: what is a CRM?

And what does a Customer Relationship Management tool do?

Most people equate Customer Relationship Management (CRM) with sales process automation. While a CRM platform will help you streamline your sales process and provide a single source of truth when it comes to managing your pipeline, custom fabrication companies need a CRM that is dynamic and configurable to their particular processes. These needs usually expand beyond managing a sales pipeline and include engaging aspects of sales with design operations.

Infographic from theCX Buyer’s Guide | Image via SugarCRM

Patty Leeper, Senior CRM Specialist at Highland, understands that building a well-functioning CRM requires engaging with all departments, allowing implementation teams to see the complete picture of an organization.

By breaking down silos between departments, we can get a global view of the business and solve problems more strategically.

— Patty Leeper, Senior CRM Specialist

Read Patty’s post about how a successful CRM implementation can make big changes across an organization:

2. Do you have a documented process for guiding projects through a sales and design cycle?

And are there opportunities for technology to streamline that process further?

In custom fab manufacturing organizations, sales and operations are inextricably intertwined. You can’t provide an estimate without the participation of your extended team. You need your design team and your estimators — potentially even production — to be engaged at the onset.

Prior to selecting a CRM platform or implementation partner, you will benefit from asking yourself and your team: what is our current process for taking an engagement from sales to design to fabrication? How do we currently utilize technology to streamline our process? While it’s likely that not all steps will be facilitated in the CRM platform, it can be leveraged as a centralized communication and process management tool. This is where a custom fab CRM can transcend the sales process: you’re not just automating your sales process — you’re introducing fluidity into your internal and external processes, making each customer engagement more timely and meaningful.

Here’s an example of a custom fabrication design request and the consequent workflow Highland delivered:

An example of a CRM workflow for a custom fabrication client | Provided by Elizabeth Mankowski

3. How do you make certain that you fully understand clients’ needs?

What information can you gather during the sales process to help your team efficiently design a custom product?

When looking at discrete manufacturing, things are fairly straightforward: you provide a product catalog > the customer selects from the product catalog > pricing is determined from the product catalog > your costs are already calculated, and you understand your anticipated margin.

With custom fab, the process is inherently more complex. A customer may present a divergent idea that may or may not resemble a previous project.

An effective CRM platform for a custom fabrication company must be flexible to account for a varying degree of detail. You are not able to rely on a product catalog as you could with discrete or process manufacturing. Your CRM may need to capture details such as:

  • What is the envisioned style, size, color, and material of the item(s) being requested?
  • Are there initial specs and/or illustrations of the requested item(s)?
  • Is this a temporary or permanent item(s)?
  • Single or multi units? Are there electronics involved?
  • Where will the item(s) need to be shipped?

By capturing all of these details in one place, your team can work faster and more effectively.

4. How will you manage forecasting and revenue recognition?

All organizations must manage forecasting and revenue recognition as efficiently as possible.

Regardless of your manufacturing process, you need a solution that manages data and provides KPI visualization. You must be able to track the state of each revenue generation opportunity, including the potential timing for booking and actual revenue recognition.

As an example, product roll-outs may happen gradually. You might start by providing a prototype or a particular quantity for a test market in a region. Subsequently, the client may elect to scale the product for a nationwide and possibly global roll-out.

These scenarios involve multiple buckets of pipeline, booked business and actual revenue — properly managing these elements can make a world of difference in revenue projections and reporting. It can be tricky to track what might occur and when during roll-outs. As such, you need a CRM that can forecast varying amounts of revenue that will be recognized over time. Being able to capture forecasted, booked, and actual revenue provides you with better company performance predictability.

One of the basic functional jobs of a CRM is to help you track your pipeline reporting | Image from SugarCRM


Custom fabrication companies need a CRM that is flexible, configurable, and can act as a central data source.

A unique value that CRM can bring to a custom fabrication company is its ability to streamline your engagement with your customers. Your sales and operations team are reliant on each other, and your CRM should allow these groups to collaborate more effectively, resulting in reduced project costs and a greater customer experience.

Interested in learning more about Highland’s approach to CRM? Email John Chlopek, Principal of Highland’s CRM Practice.