How to Become a CRM Developer (The Highest-Paying Comp Sci Job You've Never Heard Of)
March 11, 2021
Not all programmers are generalists. Some developers specialize in programming for specific systems, and they get paid handsomely to do it. Becoming a CRM developer means going all in on customer relationship management—and most likely, all-fin on one CRM platform.
CRM developers are programmers who specialize in systems that collect user, consumer, and subscriber data. They aren't directly responsible for using those systems to improve customer satisfaction or boost sales (although they have a hand in both). Rather, their job is to improve the tools sales reps, customer service reps, account managers, and marketers use in their efforts to keep customers happy and coming back for more.
Every company keeps records of customer behavior. The data collected might pertain to:
- Email opens
- Coupon use
- Newsletter click-throughs
- Activations and authorizations
- Store visits
- Cart abandonment
- Other customer behaviors
Customer relationship management systems give businesses a way to track information about these behaviors (like dates sales were made, items purchased, etc.) to make it easier to market to specific categories of customers. Some CRMs are relatively limited in terms of what and how much they can do. Still, the big enterprise platforms like SAP CRM, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Salesforce are highly customizable, scalable, and extensible thanks in part to innovations in cloud technologies and Big Data.
When you become a CRM developer, your job will be domain-specific (i.e., you'll work primarily with SAP or Salesforce or another system) but you'll need to be a generalist, too, because a large part of your job will involve getting different systems to communicate effectively to meet business objectives. In this article about how to become a CRM developer, we'll cover:
- What is a CRM?
- What is a CRM developer?
- Kinds of CRM developer careers
- Educational commitment to become a CRM developer
- Certifications for CRM developers
- Further accreditation or education for a CRM developer
- CRM developer salaries
- Is this the right career for me?
What is a CRM?
Customer relationship management systems (CRM) are digital platforms that let companies monitor and manage relationships with both customers and people who express interest in a product or service. CRMs also facilitate communication with those groups.
A CRM makes it easier for a company to identify, and communicate with, specific types of customers. Consider this simple example; A company gives customers the choice of subscribing to monthly delivery of a product or purchasing the product on an as-needed basis. With a CRM, the company can quickly generate a list of customers who once subscribed but switched to buying as needed. Sales representatives can then reach out only to those customers to find out why they're no longer subscribers. Also, analysts can scan the customer data for useful insights regarding why they switched and what might convince them to switch back.
The simplest CRMs are centralized systems in which a company can organize and access information about each customer or lead—basically little more than a database. However, many CRM systems are much more complicated and customizable. They can meet almost any business challenge. However, it takes programming skills and a deep understanding of the platform to set up the integrations and code the plugins that make that happen. That's what CRM developers do.
What is a CRM developer?
The title 'CRM developer' causes some confusion because there are software developers who build custom CRMs for clients from scratch. Some people also confuse CRM developers with CRM administrators, who are responsible for managing a company's customer relationship management system. But CRM developers—sometimes called CRM technical developers—are actually programmers who specialize in coding enhancements for one or more customer relationship management platforms. Regardless of what system they specialize in, these programmers are responsible for extending the capabilities of those systems with custom plugins, integrations, and modules to meet a company's business goals.
To put it more simply, when a business needs to do anything with a CRM that can't be accomplished with the system's out-of-the-box features, it's the CRM developer's job to figure out how to make it happen. They might code up a database connector for Salesforce if the company needs the CRM to be able to communicate with a Postgress or Oracle database. An independent CRM developer might also identify a general business need and develop solutions that can be sold to many companies.
On any given day, a CRM developer might:
- Meet with stakeholders or clients
- Configure and implement CRM functional and application modules
- Identify CRM capability gaps and find ways to bridge them
- Meet with sales or marketing teams to discuss their needs
- Implement custom business logic in the company CRM
- Migrate other applications to the CRM
- Support and maintain the CRM
- Create custom workflows
- Develop real-time dashboards for stakeholders
- Build and maintain integrations to third-party applications
- Fully test all coded solutions
- Investigate and remediate defects in the code
- Migrate CRM customizations between versions
- Document all technical work
- Create CRM training materials for end-users related to customizations
Kinds of CRM developer careers
CRM developers either work for companies that:
- Use a CRM system internally
- Deliver enterprise solutions that include CRM development on a contract basis to outside clients
In the first role, they typically work with one platform and are responsible for customizing that CRM to meet the needs of the business on an ongoing basis. In the second role, they may work with one platform or many platforms; they may travel to client businesses to set up customizations, or they may consult remotely.
What your career looks like when you become a CRM developer will depend on what platform you work with. You can become an SAP CRM developer, a Microsoft Dynamics CRM developer, or a Salesforce developer. What all of these roles have in common is that you'll be mainly working with the application itself and the data it processes. You won't be responsible for finding the right CRM solution, tending to the underlying servers, tweaking performance, or updating the system. Your primary job will be to design, build, test, and maintain integrations and server-side extensions that make it easier to leverage customer data.
Educational commitment to become a CRM developer
Most job listings posted for CRM developers require that candidates have a bachelor's degree in computer science or equivalent technical experience. This is one of those careers in which having the right formal education is often less important than having the appropriate skill set and hands-on experience. You could conceivably take a bunch of free online programming courses along with courses specific to a platform (like the Salesforce development courses for beginners on sites like Udemy) and qualify for a CRM developer job. There are a few compelling reasons to get your degree, however.
First, a good computer science degree program will teach you not only about software design and programming but also about the underlying algorithms that make code work and the logic behind networks and systems. A BS in Computer Science is a versatile degree that provides the knowledge and skills to embark upon many different career paths. If you decide that you don't want to become a CRM application developer, the BS will help you pivot more easily.
Second, depending on which school you choose, you may be able to customize your degree in useful ways. For instance, the computer science program offered by the Department of Computer and Information Technology on Arkansas State University includes coursework related to database systems, information technology tools, and advanced data structures. At St John's University - New York, students in the bachelor's degree program in computer science have the option to take coursework in database systems.
If you want to become a CRM developer, look for BS in Computer Science programs with coursework that will give you a solid foundation in programming, database systems, information systems, and information technology.
Certifications for CRM developers
This is a role where your certifications matter. A lot. That's because getting certified in one or more CRM systems is proof that you know what you're doing.
CRM certifications are granted by the creators of the various platforms. For example, Salesforce offers a number of developer credentials, from general certifications for platform developers to specific certifications for developers focused on B2C commerce applications or marketing applications. Microsoft, on the other hand, only offers two certifications for Dynamics 365 developers:
- PowerApps + Dynamics 365 Developer Associate for developers who work on application enhancements, custom user experience, system integrations, data conversions, custom process automation, and custom visualizations.
- Dynamics 365: Finance and Operations Apps Developer Associate for developers who use standardized application coding patterns, extensible features, and external integrations to build out finance and operations functionality.
You don't have to wait until after you've earned your bachelor's degree to get certified. You can start pursuing CRM developer certifications as soon as you know what platform or platforms you want to specialize in.
Further accreditation or education for a CRM developer
You probably won't learn everything you need to know to become a CRM developer in your undergraduate years. even if you choose a focused computer science degree program. This is because each CRM platform uses different languages and technologies.
Once you have some programming experience under your belt and a good understanding of database concepts, picking up any or all of these programming languages and technologies should not pose a challenge, provided you put in the time and effort. There are a lot of resources for CRM developers out there, and many of them are free. You can learn a lot about what you'll need to know to become a CRM developer while pursuing your bachelor's degree.
CRM developer salaries
One of the best reasons to become a CRM developer instead of a generalist is that there's money in it. According to ZipRecruiter, the average Dynamics CRM salary is $102,233 per year. You'll do a little better if you specialize in Salesforce: the average salary for Salesforce developers is $114,969 (or $125,000, according to Salesforce's own numbers). CRM developers are among the highest-paid developers because (1) the job isn't easy, and (2) not all that many people want to do it.
Is becoming a CRM developer right for you?
That depends on what you want out of your career. This isn't exactly the sexiest role in the programming sphere—or the coolest. You won't, for instance, have the cachet you would if you become a video game developer. You'll probably land in a corporate world, and a lot of people in your life won't understand what it is you do for a living other than 'work with computers.' But if you're looking for good pay and job security, this is a role that should provide both. Gartner has predicted that by 2021, CRM platforms will be the largest revenue area in enterprise software. Big corporations and small businesses are investing a lot in those systems, and they're going to need professionals capable of making those systems work. You could be one of them.
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