TopBuilder Extends Construction CRM into Estimating and Proposal Generation


Houston-based construction customer relationship management (CRM) vendor TopBuilder CRM is the antithesis of most CRM products.

Unlike the big names like Salesforce, it is tightly focused on construction. And unlike many other construction software products, it is a bootstrapped company, and less vulnerable to the whims of venture capital. This may make it a more appealing choice for risk-averse construction executive teams because, at the low-two-figures complement of employees supplemented by a number of contractors, TopBuilder is lean and focused on market needs rather than the next fund raise. The company has a deep and mature partner network that lowers their cost of sale, and may often ride into deals with:

On our April, 2023 debriefing call with TopBuilder President and Founder Dave Knowles, IRONRPOS learned about the genesis of this company, the current and roadmapped functionality that goes beyond cross-industry CRM by integrating with estimating and extending into proposal development.

From CRM Manager to Construction CRM Vendor

Knowles came to the CRM from a background as a roof contractor, stints at Arthur Andersen and then at Compaq and then HP where he managed the CRM application used to drive sales efforts.

“We looked at Salesforce and others, but we chose Siebel,” Knowles said. “Siebel was later purchased by Oracle. After a while I decided it was not something I wanted to continue to do, so I started consulting company for CRM. I was out there building CRM on Blackberries before there was an App store … I was already preparing for TopBuilder. We started in 2008, and are a 15-year-old company now. Having the construction and software background was a perfect start for doing this.”

This means the company has had time to build a robust product, but the founding was still recent enough for TopBuilder CRM to be on a modern architecture. The company is bootstrapped, and the TopBuilder CRM product was built from the ground up as a pure play environment.

“We are on all modern technology, and 100 percent cloud-based,” Knowles said.

The product currently goes well beyond contact management—streamlining outreach and interactions with prospects and customers, to extend into the request for proposal (RFP) and bidding process.

“We want to handle the whole preconstruction process for our customer,” Knowles said. “Quoting, bidding, bid scoring, appointment scheduling. We have been able to create some really attractive features—let’s say a commercial contractor gets bid invite from five generals for the same job, we help them manage those multiple bids under the same project.”

Using TopBuilder CRM, a contractor can give project managers, estimators and others a single view of the truth and a way to manage against mission critical milestones like job start and end dates, bid due dates and bid submitted dates.”

While this is a product company, TopBuilder has retained a consultative approach to customer success, starting before the sale, continuing through onboarding and on an ongoing basis.

“Immediately when you sign up, kickoff and intro client and success manager,” Knowles said. “To begin with, we only demo when we can do a discovery with the prospect. We just think it is very important to understand what they need as a company, learn their needs and pain points and then demo to those needs. And we do pass those insights onto training and implementation and success planning. Our customers also receive a quarterly business review to ensure they are maximizing value from the product.”

Standard TopBuilder features include:

CRM for Contractors

  • Quoting and proposals including a newer feature for Excel integration
  • Bid calendar, bid management and scoring
  • Lead and bid capture with appointment setting and Outlook/Google calendar integration
  • Email marketing and drip campaigns
  • KPI development, reporting and analytics

The product also offers specific additional features for homebuilders including:

  • CRM for New Home Sales
  • Specific tools to support the online sales counselor (OSC) position
  • Pricing tools built on model, elevation and options
  • Inventory management
  • A packaged newsletter including content
  • Traffic reporting

“Our biggest value add is a professional quoting and proposal workflow,” Knowles said. “We can really take a quote and build out a full blown proposal with cover letters, job photos, everything to produce a professional-looking document. The quote itself can be brought in from an estimating module or they can upload it themselves. Many estimators like Excel—and we can work with their existing Excel worksheets. We also streamline emailing the document to customers and electronic signatures.”

While TopBuilder is a software company focused on product, the human side of the equation factors large in what they deliver to contractors.

“We have come up with a really good process to help them develop their KPIs,” Knowles said. “What are your goals? What kind of goals do you have for sales, revenue or number of deals? We can validate goals through historical data in CRM, and pair that up with conversion rates in the funnel. If you want to close 100 $1 million deals, we work that back through the funnel, using historical conversion rates or, lacking that from their own data, industry averages. This can accurately project where they need to be and where they will end up the year in terms of sales and revenue.”

TopBuilder Tech Stack

TopBuilder relies largely on Microsoft technologies, most notably .NET and SQL and javascript in the browser-based interface. While the product is stable, TopBuilder continues to invest in keeping it current, and at the time of our briefing was migrating to latest version of .NET. The software is provisioned on Amazon Web Services.

Because CRM needs to engage with other applications including ERP, TopBuilder offers robust APIs and has standard processes for creating both standard integrations for more straightforward applications and typically custom integrations for ERP where unique configurations and customizations may confound a standard approach.

“All of our APIs are point to point between our cloud based solution and everything else we are integrating with,” Knowles said adding that even older solutions that are harder to access can be dealt with. “We sometimes have to deal with the on-premise situation, but we have an architecture that deals with that well. We do have a standard open API for accepting leads, capturing leads and routing them to the right person.”

For many integrations, TopBuilder offers prepackaged mapping documents, and integrations can be turned around by the Knowles’ team same day.

Market and Pricing

TopBuilder has found a home inside of contractors of a variety of sizes and disciplines.

“Our ideal customer profile is midsized commercial specialty contractors including even landscapers or security contractors in North America,” Knowles said. “We have grown every year, and also have a lot of GCs that see what we have and they want it. We do have homebuilder customers and have specific tools for them, but a lot of our commercial contractor customers also do residential.”

These cross-discipline CRM capabilities of the TopBuilder product help it ride into new contractor customers with ERP vendors. At the National Association of Homebuilders International Builders show, Sage for instance recently displayed TopBuilder in their booth as an extension of their own product.

Despite the disciplined focus on construction and industry-specific features, TopBuilder still sees horizontal CRM solutions like Salesforce and Hubspot in deals and are often successful against them due to their ability to meet specific needs of contractors. They will also encounter Cosential, a CRM product purchases in 2020 by Unanet. They will also see BuilderTrend in deals with general contractors

The pricing strategy is based on a simple per month per-user subscription paid annually. Knowles said contractors start to get some negotiating leeway once they get to about 25 users, but prospective customers may start to push for the deal price at 20 users.

Another driver of cost for contractors evaluating TopBuilder will be integrations, which each integration carrying an annual cost for maintenance. 

BOTTOM LINE: As a project-driven business, construction relies on a solid idea of projects in the pipeline to plan hiring, equipment purchases, indemnification and more. Many CRM products will streamline the early stages of customer acquisition, but it takes a deep understanding of how proposals turn into projects to give a leadership team a vision of where revenue will be in a year. TopBuilder seems to have a solid platform for surfacing these insights, and structured workflows that bridge the gap between quoting and projects. Their high touch approach to customer success also delivers knowledge transfer, an essential ingredient for success. With its disciplined approach to the market, bootstrapped funding and recent investments in marketing, IRONPROS will watch for this construction CRM vendor to add some new nameplates and experience measured, incremental growth.