I’m writing this article because of my experiences with dealing with many clients who deal with or require CRM systems to run their businesses (actually a custom CRM Software). And, in short, what I noticed is this: they typically wanted a normal, decent-enough car for transport purpose, but what they got was a Supercar. Surely, the Supercar surpasses the normal-car in many specs but is that what they wanted, is the main question. (That’s me trying an analogy)
If you ever have to deal with CRM (customer relationship management) systems, you would most probably have heard of Salesforce, SAP, Oracle and other such enterprise CRM systems. But such systems typically face 2 major problems: implementation issues and inflated costs (over long run).
As I said, if what I want is just a normal car to get me from point A to B, do I really need or pay for a Supercar? In other words, if let’s say my needs are as simple as keeping simple track of my customers and tagging them, do I really need Salesforce?
Custom CRM Software
What’s the reality?
Let me tell you what the reality on the ground is: the vast majority of businesses out there are not using sophisticated software from Salesforce, Oracle, or Microsoft. They are not using a custom CRM system either. What they’re using are pretty much a backdated system, which involves emails, contact managers, spreadsheets and yes, pen and paper too.
As a small business owner, you’re always looking for innovative ways to improve your business processes and its workflow to boost productivity and save money. One consideration would have been to get an off-the-shelf software for your CRM needs. But is that the best way to go, or is a custom-CRM what you’re looking for actually? I hope I can make your decision clearer by this article.
What is CRM?
What is a CRM and why do I need one? If you have customers then you already “do” CRM. CRM in its most basic form is “customer relationship management” and simply describes the processes a service-provider follows when dealing with customers. But, of course, CRM is not just about “dealing with customers” – it means maintaining and growing healthy relationships that lead to happy customers, nurturing relationships – and ultimately, more sales.
Most of the time, when we talk about CRM, we mean “CRM systems” – software that facilitates CRM, helping us fulfill our business obligations (like supplying products or services), manage leads, and deal with our own suppliers. Most companies find that it’s not enough to simply maintain a series of spreadsheet and an address book – what they need is an integrated solution, one that allows them to keep tabs on every area of business all within the same interface. At its best, this makes things simpler and more efficient – but if CRM is going to work for you, it’s essential that you start with the right system from the outset.
So, ready-made software or custom-build?
If what you need is what many others need, chances are there is a ready-made software for it already. Need examples? Think: Word Processing or Emails or Image Viewers. Since so many organisations (and even individuals) need them, these demands are already met with a very good supply to choose from. So, if you need a software with which to type a document, it doesn’t make sense to ask a developer to develop a word processing software. You’re better off investing in Microsoft Word or the myriad of similar tools out there in the market. And if your CRM needs are very “normal”, what would make sense would be the acquisition of a CRM (customer relationship management) solution. This is also a solution that many organisations require and therefore you should expect to find a lot of ready made solutions available as open-source, subscription based and off-the-shelf products.
However, on the other end, what would you do if you need a solution for a very specific task that you do uniquely in your particular organisation. Example: We all know that once a sale is done, we send invoice to the customer. Straightforward, right? What if your need is such that, when the customer buys your carpet (which is the product you’re selling), you want to alert a carpet consultant to meet up with the customer to get certain specs so that the carpet can be customized for that customer, then a stock CRM software is not something that can satisfy your needs.
Let me give another example from a real discussion with another client. He’s in the laundry business. When an order comes in (either from the app or website), the delivery guy is immediately alerted (so that he can go and collect the laundry items). After that, the workflow goes through a series of stages like payment, cleaning stages, packing stage, and then re-delivery back to customer. The client wants a system that tracks all these, with further unique features in each step. There’s no way a ready-made software, even from a big company is going to satisfy such unique needs.
So, in such cases, a custom CRM application is most surely the only way forward.
Why not Ready-Made Software
First, the analogy
I’ve been giving this analogy for the longest time ever, to all clients who asked about ready-made software. Software is just like a shirt. You can go to retail shop and pick one off the rack (most probably it’s just $19,90, or cheaper during a sale). Usually you’ll find that the shirt is all okay, except for 1 or 2 flaws, for example the sleeve is a bit tight. Or the length is too long. Otherwise, it’s perfect. So, you would either live with it OR you would give the shirt to a tailor and asked him to alter just that part and pay him accordingly. Ok, so everybody’s happy. That’s the end of the story for the shirt.
But for a software, it’s rarely just one feature that is lacking. Going by the analogy, say the tailor have to adjust the bust size, length and sleeve size. Then, for the tailor fees payable, you’re better off going to the tailor in the first place, and asking him to tailor-make a shirt to your exact size. And, that’s where I’m coming to: custom-made shirts (or rather custom-developed software).
Sometimes, ready-made products make sense. If you really like the software AS IT IS, and you’re happy with it, and don’t foresee any future changes to it in a specific direction, then, yes, ready-made software IS the way to go. But, if your needs are unique, so much so that that it’s even 5-10% off from what the ready-made software can offer, then custom-developed software is the only one that will make sense, especially in the long-run.
It’s too good! (Read it as : Bloatware)
That’s not exactly a positive thing. Most of the major CRM providers offer packages that are simply too complicated to use. When what you want is just 10 units of rice, these ready-made hampers give you the whole supermarket of groceries, that it takes a high learning curve just to find where the rice is. And usually, you can’t just take the rice and boil it, because it’s usually intermingled with the vegetables. I’m getting carried away with analogies, but what I mean is: sometimes the admin just wants tag a customer as a high-potential lead. Simple feature, you say. But, I’ve seen a powerful CRM system not being able to do just that. So, what happens is that the Customer ends up with a Supercar which can do so many things, but cannot reverse! But, it can shoot bubbles and record videos and play DVDs and save the world, all of which are not exactly in my driving-agenda anyway.
They even have a term for such software: bloatware. Bloatwares with excess features tend to serve as a quick justification for the prohibitive cost of CRM suites. Because they have been designed to appeal to the widest possible audience, many software suites include features that don’t cater to your individual business (or even your specific industry). Providers attempt to cast the widest net possible, and in so doing, they fail to remain focused on any core or target audience.
So, a ready-made solution, in terms of features, don’t fit the customers to a tee, in their exact needs.
Okay, typically, they don’t charge too high, compared to custom-developing your own custom CRM system. So, this point might actually seem a goal in their favor. But wait, they charge per user, and they charge per month. And some charge for the tech support as well. But, is paying a low price per month really worth it than paying a high price one-time? Let me rephrase: would you prefer a $100 custom-made shirt or a ready-made shirt for which you have to pay $10 per month?
Such a costing model is good for the provider, but is it good for your company? What if you require having many accounts – will it be worth the cost? While the CRM will be regularly accessed by your sales personnel, other departments might have just an occasional need. Keep in mind that various access restrictions and usage limitations for cutting the costs might negatively affect productivity.
Make sure you don’t pay for the features you don’t need. You get a readymade CRM – you get a set of features to configure, and you pay for the full package. However, only about 10% of them can be actually relevant for you. Perhaps you need a CRM for sales only – for generation of leads and contact management – and you needn’t any marketing automation, event management, and social media tools which go alongside. All these extras mean complexities for you. Not that custom development is all that smooth and quick, but it might require a lesser effort to build your own than to maintain the bloatware. The balance between these two ways can be found by none other than you, because it’s you who knows your business and your workflow perfectly.
Think of your staff
When considering the purchase of a pre-made solution, remember that the software should work well with your business model and complement or enhance employee work flow. It should help your employees work smarter, not make them work harder. If you find that your business must make adaptations to conform to the software, it’s not the correct solution already.
Why Ready-Made Software
The only reason I can think of …
A commercial off the shelf (COTS) product has a number of benefits as well as a few major drawbacks. Its most appealing feature is price. An off the shelf product offers bootstrapped business owners and budget tight startups the advantage of a low initial investment. In fact, when compared to a custom solution, a COTS product offers substantial money savings.
In other words, if the figure of $50/mth (a typical low figure) is appealing enough, and you’ve tried the demo version and it has EVERYTHING you want, then the best decision is to go with this. In this case, going for a custom development of your own CRM doesn’t make sense. It’s like re-inventing the wheel, or rather re-developing Microsoft Excel for spreadsheet usage.
Why Custom CRM Software
Fits to a tee
Ideally speaking, your CRM system must fit to your business procedure and workflow, NOT the other way round. This is a quote from Sandra Miller, business entrepreneur in South Australia on why she chose custom CRM solution for her business: “Most CRM solutions available in the market are nothing but ‘boxed solutions’. Although they offer a wide array of features – the question was that how much of these features do my business needs? Searching for the best cloud CRM that would precisely match my intricate needs – I decided to opt for a customized version – a CRM software solution that is built just for my business.Searching through the several custom CRM solution providers, I zeroed upon one that understood my requirement and matched my budget. And finally, I got a product that in my opinion is the best cloud CRM for my business.”
Custom built CRM solution gives you exactly the features you want. No unnecessary strings attached! Unlike pre-built CRM solutions that become too complicated with multiple features, custom CRM solution is simple and easy. The CRM is entirely built on your business workflow. As a result – Less time and money invested on employee training and quick CRM deployment and configuration.
This is typically a point against custom CRM Software. Businesses put off developing custom CRM mainly because it costs too much compared to ready-made ones. As you’d expect, you’ll pay substantially more for a custom designed solution, but you’ll most likely get more value from it. Although the upfront cost is greater with a custom solution, it could be less expensive in the long run thanks to improved efficiency and the fact that you’ll be relived of license fees, per seat fees and monthly fees that often accompany off the shelf solutions.
Escape the Draconian Pricing: Most CRM solutions are priced per user, an enterprise-era concept that many SaaS companies still cling to today. This model doesn’t match the reality, where most organizations have varying usage needs across different groups. While sales people need daily access to a CRM, other departments may only need to log in occasionally. Per-user pricing either causes you to limit the use of your data by restricting access — which affects overall efficiency and productivity — or forces you to pay an unreasonable price for those additional users.
Assuming it is properly designed, a custom solution should completely fulfill the needs of your business and even be built to support future demands. In short, a custom application is built to your exact requirements and as an added bonus employees often find custom solutions easier to adapt to. Another benefit of custom software is that it’s scalable. You can start small, and as your business grows and changes, the software can expand accordingly. No two businesses are the same, no matter even if they share the same industry or even the same name. Personally, I’ve done educational portals a lot, and none are alike to the other. In fact, no one has come to me and said: I want mine exactly like this one. So, each business has their own unique workflow. And also for future expansion plans. The only way a CRM software can follow the business through this long journey is when it adapts together with the business, in the same direction it’s going.
Integration with other Tools and Departments
Full integration means increased efficiency. Part of the difficulty associated with implementing a CRM is that not all CRM solutions can fully integrate into existing workflows, databases, and tech stacks. Instead, they function as independent applications, and you end up spending more time doing repetitive data entry and attempting to sync information across disparate platforms. A custom CRM software will manage to auto-link other software and tools which are already in your workflow, and provide a one-stop management place, which in turn mean more efficiency.
It also plays well with different departments in your company. For example, Sales can log into the system and be able to see ONLY Sales tools, while Marketing can see only their tools and so on for other respective departments. And they all use the same Software, so they all can see common tools, as necessary.
Your Exact Needs, No More, No Less
Pre-built CRM solutions are created to appeal to most businesses. They are packed with all sorts of functions and features that may not be relevant to your organization. And these extra features come at an expense in the form of complexity – and complexity is costly in both money and time. Imagine you are tasked with purchasing a CRM system for your sales department’s lead generation and contact management activities, but come back with clunky, bloated software that includes everything from corporate social media integration to complex marketing automation functionality. What’s worse, you have to properly configure and deploy the whole software package, even if the features you desire are only a fraction of the system. Ultimately, it takes more time for people to learn how the system functions and the distractions can cut into your sales team’s productivity. With a custom-built solution, you get exactly what you want without any of the unnecessary bells and whistles.
Training your team members takes less time because the CRM is designed based on the workflow that they are already familiar with. In fact, for all the CRM systems I’ve custom-developed, I’ve NEVER had to conduct any training. My clients usually don’t believe me when I say this in the first meeting. Until the day the project is completed and the staff are already at work using the system and everyone’s busy proceeding with business as usual, and no one noticed that we never had any training! In other words, custom software built for your exact needs is intuitive enough to use as it is.
When CRM Software is not just a CRM Software
Now, I come to the main and final point of this article. When a client contacts me, he might or might not mention the word “CRM”. But after listening to him tell the whole story of his requirements, it usually ends up that what he wants is not a technical definition of a CRM software. In other words, from the client’s point of view: “I don’t care if you call it CRM or monkey or donkey. I just want a system that helps me in my business to do what I’m doing better, in terms of productivity and cost”.
So, a client typically wants a little bit of what’s technically called CRM (to keep track of customers, to tag them as hot leads, to follow up with them, and maybe nothing more than that), and a little bit of what’s technically a HR software (so that his staff can apply leave online and their respective managers can approve it), and a little bit of a Document Generation Software, a little bit of an Accounting Software, and so on. (you get the idea). And he doesn’t want them as separate entities all over the place. He wants a one-stop point where he can do ALL this management without worrying about how each software is communicating with another or about extra data entries between systems.
And this type of a Custom CRM Software, where the system is an amalgamation of desired features, is what will serve the client the best, because he gets EXACTLY what he wants, in ONE location, saves TIME, COST and headache for him, and he’s happy. And yes, he’ll pay the developer accordingly if his business is helped in this way.
The author (Anees Khan, Getcha Solutions Singapore) is a developer of
custom systems that suits exact companies’ needs in terms of their
unique workflow and processes. So, the article above might be slanted along that line.
Case Study 1 : How a first aid training centre brought their training online.
Case Study 2 : How a pet-food shop runs their food production factory processes.