Build vs. buy software

Helping Keiser decide whether to build or buy technology

Keiser came to us with big plans. The more than 30-year-old maker of high-end fitness equipment — think training machines for NASA and the MLB — was preparing a huge marketing push ahead of their conference season. They hired a marketing agency, Plan B, and drafted ideas including a new website and custom iPad sales tool. Plan B and Keiser came to us to make it happen.

“Table XI doesn’t talk about what’s good for Table XI. They say ‘Here’s what I’m seeing, here’s what I want to do to help your business. We can do this.’

That is something that you can’t buy.”

Brennon Bynum, Director of Marketing at Keiser

Unifying a brand and building a sales tool for Keiser

We start every engagement by trying to understand how technology can help the client’s business. To learn more about Keiser’s needs, we pulled their team and Plan B into an Inception, our two-day project kickoff meeting. That allowed us to learn really quickly what the underlying problems and opportunities were, so we could find the best solutions.


“Table XI was very interested in learning about us before even talking about the site. More about what we need, what we're looking for, where we want to go, what's the end result.
A lot of the questions Table XI asked were questions Keiser had not asked themselves.”

Brennon Bynum, Director of Marketing at Keiser


For the website, it was clear that Keiser needed an overhaul that better reflected the brand. Plan B would handle the visual design and content, and we were tasked with developing the user experience design and configuring a content management system to run the site.

The sales tool was more ambiguous. Keiser has a decentralized sales team of 30 or 40 people. They needed a way to get sales tools to all of these distributors out in the field. The idea was to create an iPad application that would house the product information in a flashy, professional-looking presentation. They also wanted some more technical features, like a three-dimensional gym builder that would allow potential customers to experiment with layouts.

There were only a few months until the conferences, and it would take most of that time for Plan B to create the content, so our biggest challenge was the timeline. We knew we’d only have a few weeks after getting the design and content requirements to get everything live.


Keiser's iPad app has increased sales with minimal development spend.

Deciding whether to build vs. buy software

Running a cost-benefit analysis on off-the-shelf vs. custom software was such an important piece of this project, we actually wrote an entire blog post about our process for deciding whether to build vs. buy software. We’re a custom development shop, so we know all about the benefits of building things from scratch. But when there’s a fairly straightforward set of features that an off-the-shelf product can handle, it can save a company tens of thousands of dollars. It’s especially great if there’s a tight timetable, which there was here, and if there are non-technical people who might want access, like Keiser’s marketing agency.

The website was pretty straightforward. Because it didn’t have any overly complex functionality, we were able to use Craft CMS for the content management system. It’s an off-the-shelf solution that’s still customizable enough for us to quickly build the templates Keiser needed. The new site was able to launch on-time and on-budget, and Keiser has already seen an increase in visitors and engagement.

With the iPad app, we started poking into the ROI on some of the features. The original plan had been to make a custom application, but iOS development can be expensive. We knew there would be revisions working across three teams, and we started to see dollar signs. That’s when our designer recommended Mag+, a tool that uses InDesign to design and build iOS applications. It couldn’t give them the gym builder functionality, but it had all of the sleek transitions and animations to make an impressive sales presentation.

Best of all, it would cut their budget by two-thirds. And because Mag+ only needs a designer to make a new InDesign file, they’d save a fortune in development costs any time they needed to make a change. It only has to help close one sale to more than pay for itself — the ROI is just tremendous.

Using an off-the-shelf solution gave us a low-cost way to test the usefulness of an iPad sales tool. The salespeople use it several times a day, and 87 percent find it helpful, according to a survey we administered. If Keiser decides to build custom functionality down the line, we have a prototype that has served really well for a long period of time.

build custom software

Off-the-shelf tools cut costs by two-thirds.

Working alongside a partner agency

The relationship with Plan B was one of the more interesting aspects of this project. We have an extremely collaborative culture, so we knew we had to find ways to work with Plan B as a team. To make sure we were collaborative from the beginning, we included Plan B in our Inception and one of our UX designers paired with them on the user research that would underpin the products. Both helped us to build trust, so we could work together to support Keiser.

We were also willing to adapt our process to work with another team. Things like prioritizing tools non-technical users could operate went a long way. One of the biggest changes was around our usual wireframing process. Plan B was used to presenting a finished storyline to clients. We worked with them to find a middle ground that would allow us to get the early feedback we needed for development while allowing them to showcase their ideas.


“The flexibility to work with us and get results, that to me is a huge benefit and a huge relief.”

Brennon Bynum, Director of Marketing at Keiser


Continuing to assess, evaluate and improve

With non-technical clients, our job is to hear what they’re asking for, put it in the context of their business, then scope out technologies that can deliver what they need. That’s a centerpiece of this project, whether it’s finding an off-the-shelf solution or cutting back on features that would be costly to build. Companies come to us with what they think they want. It's our job to suggest what they need. In Keiser’s case, we were able to dramatically reduce costs and de-risk the entire project by adapting existing tools. And we’re still helping them to figure out how to use technology to their advantage.

“Table XI will continue taking responsibility and accountability for wanting this to be the best it can be. It's fantastic.”

Brennon Bynum, Director of Marketing at Keiser

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Chicago, IL 60661


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