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Buy, Build or Customize Your CRM?

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Customers today expect businesses to respond to their needs immediately, and be highly engaged with them across a variety of sales and communication channels. In order to meet these challenges, and the opportunities that surround them, businesses are increasingly implementing CRM solutions. As they do this, many are faced with a common dilemma: should they buy, build or customize their CRM?

This question has become even more relevant in recent years. With the rise of the cloud, and a flood of new SaaS products, mixed with maturing open-source offerings, businesses no longer have to settle on a small handful of large software companies to provide them a solution. Instead, CRM software can cater to many different types of businesses. Whether a company should purchase one of these products or build a custom CRM system themselves requires a careful evaluation of their specific needs.

Buying a CRM

There are many CRMs currently developed with certain industries in mind, such as finance, health care, or construction. These “vertical” CRMs come pre-built with processes and features that traditional, more general CRMs don’t match out-of-the-box. For example, a transportation-focused CRM, could include lane search capabilities that let companies locate the most desirable routes.

Vertical CRMs are great for businesses with highly specific, industry-based needs. Additionally, vertical CRM vendors will already speak the “language” of the industry, making their set-up even easier for businesses unfamiliar with them.

However, the specificity that these products provide often comes at a price. Not only can they many times be very expensive, but their functionality can sometimes be so specialized that other features may fall short. Additionally, because they do not command the market share of larger CRMs, they can often fail to offer a continuous level of innovation.  Most of these solutions are also proprietary or SaaS-based, which can make it difficult and expensive to customize beyond their out-of-the-box capabilities.  When looking at these products a careful view of overall project requirements against the full feature set is critical.

Building a CRM

For those businesses with significant time and resources, building a CRM that is customized to their specific business can be an option. For little or no cost, open-source development tools and frameworks abound. This makes creating a one-of-a-kind CRM easier than it’s ever been, but is the right approach?

If your business is not served by a vertical CRM, yet has a business model that is too specialized for anything more generic, this option could at first be appealing. For example, many hospitality businesses build their own services since, according to Brian Crockett, an associate partner at Accenture, “leading software providers are just beginning to develop [vertical applications]” specific to them. While this decision requires significant investment, it gives them exactly what they want, nothing more, nothing less.

In reality, this investment might be too much for most. Building a CRM system from the ground up means finding and nurturing the right talent, then paying for the time it takes them to produce a system that works. Compounding this is also the effort that will have to go into maintaining the system once it is up, as well as making sure it adapts as the company grows. For organizations willing to invest this heavily in their CRM, having the right system for their business could be worth it. Companies inclined to this option should also consider the third option, customizing a CRM.

Customizing a CRM

A third option worth consideration, particularly those looking to build from the ground up, is purchasing a general, or “horizontal,” CRM, then customizing it further to fit their needs. Horizontal CRM products come with the widest feature sets and can be applied to virtually any type of business. Businesses can easily create specific workflows, produce specialized reports or segment customers into specific groups without having any knowledge of coding or IT infrastructure.  This model allows businesses to take 80% of the features they need from an existing CRM product and customize the last 20% of the features to get the exact product they want.  They can build on a maintained CRM platform that will upgrade and change with the needs of the market.

Key traits to look for in a horizontal CRM platform are the flexibility to extend the product in a way that matches your business process.  It is also important to assure that integrating the CRM into your existing systems is possible and won’t cost more than building a CRM from scratch.  Our experience with customers is that most who consider building a CRM from scratch, find better value from customizing an off-the-shelf horizontal CRM.

While horizontal CRM products may be the most broadly applicable solution for businesses, it can become more costly as scope expands and additional customization is required. For this reason, it is important for businesses to closely assess what needs they want their CRM system to address, and tackle the highest priority opportunities for business improvement in the first phase of the project.  From there, additional functionality can be added in subsequent phases.

With the ever-expanding set of choices, it can be daunting choosing which CRM route—whether buying, building or customizing—is best for your business. Contact Oro to set up a free demo where we assess your needs, and see if we’re right for you.

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