Customized CRM or off-the-shelf solution?

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When choosing a new Customer Relationship Management system you face a major decision. You can either adapt your business processes to fit off-the-shelf software, or customize the software to fit your business processes.

There are pros and cons to each. But which is right for you?

Let’s deal with customization first. With a custom-built CRM you should end up with a system tailored to your particular requirements. That should give you a competitive advantage, particularly if you have a unique business model. When you rely on the same off-the-shelf software as a rival, outperforming them is more difficult because you aren’t maximizing either your productivity or your effectiveness.


What CRM customization offers

With a customized CRM solution you get to tie up all the loose ends - everything fits neatly and comfortably together, with every unnecessary step eradicated. There’s also no need for multiple systems that don’t connect together, or which you have to keep switching between, or which don’t do quite what you want them to.

And because a custom-built CRM is designed to fit a workflow that your team is already familiar with, training them to use it should be much easier and faster, as it won’t involve disrupting your tried and tested way of doing things.

A custom CRM tool also means that you should be better placed to respond to changes in your marketplace or competitors’ behaviour – with a CRM customization team on hand, you can quickly shift technology strategies by building a CRM that stays fit for purpose. That can mean the difference between dominating a market or being behind the curve.

So, if you think your business is going to grow fast, then customizable CRM software that adapts as you develop will make your business more easily scalable.


When custom CRM software isn’t the answer

Though CRM customization may seem like the ideal solution, there are a number of reasons why you may not want to go down this particular route.

First and most obvious, customizing a CRM is more expensive than keeping with the off-the-shelf functionality - that's true of pretty much any bespoke software development. So, particularly for a smaller, budget-conscious business, even if a customized CRM system may seem like the perfect answer, commercial reality means that it isn't a possibility, especially when set against the minimal capital outlay and upfront costs of a generic cloud-based CRM solution.

Customized CRM systems also need more long-term looking after, or the system won’t evolve as it should without intervention. If that happens, the initial benefits of customization will become less and less over time. If you aren’t careful, you can end up with an expensive legacy system that isn’t fit for purpose.

This means that the on-going costs of maintaining and supporting a one-off CRM solution are likely to be higher than they would be for a proven piece of software that's used by countless others.

Add these elements together and a custom CRM solution that seemed relatively inexpensive in the beginning can be a costly solution when looked at in the long-term.


Building a CRM that works for you

Obviously, with a custom-built CRM there is also the time lag while the development team works out how to build a custom CRM solution that will best meet your needs. Defining the specification can't be rushed. Get it wrong, and you have just bought yourself a ’solution’ that may not actually be a solution at all since it doesn’t incorporate best practice or your processes satisfactorily - the very reason to have CRM customization in the first place.

Even when you have a customized product in place, it’s often not used to its full capacity. It’s not unheard of for customizations to be invisible to those who work in a company simply because those who set them up - now long since departed - never documented the changes. Or everyone ends up using an older version because it’s too difficult or expensive to upgrade.

So set a realistic budget for the ongoing development and maintenance of your system, to make sure it remains fit for purpose. And finally, don’t cling onto a tailored solution just because it’s a big investment. If your market’s suddenly disrupted and your CRM no longer works as it should, you need to be able to walk away in a controlled fashion.


Why choose off-the-shelf CRM software?

Perhaps understandably given such potential issues, many companies and organizations decide instead to invest in a ‘pre-made’ customer relationship management system, rather than going for CRM customization.

While in many cases cost is obviously a major consideration, opting for an out-of-the-box solution also means that you can have a CRM tool in place much sooner.

And because off-the-peg solutions are tried and tested, you should get high levels of support as part of your maintenance contract, simply because any existing issues with well-established software are well known and much more easily solved.

Upgrades are simply delivered as part of a continuing subscription, giving you the functionality you need without having to call in a customization team to create it for you. That makes life much easier.

And if you have chosen a CRM system that integrates easily with other software programs, you can create a powerful 'back office machine' that streamlines and improves your business processes. So, for instance, Act! Connect allows you to integrate with literally hundreds of popular business apps, such as Outlook®, Slack, PayPal®, Wufoo™ and QuickBooks Online. It even lets you create your own custom integrations using Act!’s own API.

And of course, if you do find that an off-the-shelf solution isn’t quite what you need, you can always upgrade later.

When you install generic software in your business, there is likely to be a range of training sources cheaply and readily available to tap into. On the other hand, if a CRM tool has been created specifically to match your workflows, both existing and new staff will need bespoke – and more expensive – training on your customized software.

Of course, just as with a customizable CRM, there are drawbacks to buying off-the-shelf and indeed, if you have a unique business model, or operate in a niche industry, a generic product that doesn't meet your very specific needs isn't even an option. Another consideration is that while you call the shots with a custom-built CRM, with off-the-shelf CRM software you’re at the mercy of the vendor, who could make changes to their product that don’t suit you.


Choosing a CRM software vendor

So it makes sense to look for a vendor, as well as a product, that is in tune with your needs as a customer. Act!, for example is particularly well-suited to the needs of smaller companies. Our customers know they can rely on a product that will continue to meet their requirements because it isn't being driven by the needs of much larger users.

Of course, while a product like Act! can work for most businesses most of the time, it won't tick every box. However, in most cases the compromise isn't significant. So, if your business uses technology but isn't tech-dependent, as is the case for many smaller businesses, then building a CRM isn't likely to warrant the investment. Much better to go with off-the-shelf, available at much lower cost.

However, choosing a generic CRM system doesn't mean that you can't have a ‘custom’ CRM solution.

With over 60 available fields, Act! offers what is in effect a highly customizable CRM solution that can be closely tailored to your specifications. To use an analogy, that's rather like going into a High Street clothes shop, purchasing an-off-the-peg suit and having it altered to fit.

The ‘build versus buy’ decision is one that many companies face. And while custom software has many benefits, for most smaller companies an off-the-shelf solution that addresses most of their needs is the ideal choice, especially if the CRM tool you choose has a high capacity for tweaking.

Either way, choosing the right vendor should be top of your list if you want a CRM system that’s going to work well for you long-term. In particular, ensure that the follow-on support is there – it can be inadequate, especially if the focus of the vendor is on software development rather than providing on-going after-sales service. They also must be able and willing to provide good training, so users not only get up to speed quickly, but can go on to develop their skills, ensuring that the system is being used to the full.

With Act!, for instance, we not only offer online training libraries, but also live chats with our trained technical team, as well as the support that our Act! Certified Consultants provide as part of their consultancy role.

Whether you opt for a CRM that’s a tailored solution or a more generic CRM system, you will have a powerful business-building tool on board that will take your customer relationship management to the next level. – and that means more sales and better service delivery.

Learn more about Act!