Bespoke vs Off-the-shelf CRM Solutions

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In this blog we explore the differences, benefits and drawbacks of bespoke vs off-the-shelf Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Solutions. Choosing the right CRM solution for your organisation is a big decision not only in terms of cost, but functionality, adaptability, usability and business fit are also hugely important for a successful CRM implementation.

Off-the-shelf CRM solutions

On the face of it, an off-the-shelf CRM solution might be seen as the better option for many businesses. Indeed, for many micro businesses, low-cost or even free CRM solutions are readily available online and offer basic CRM capability for businesses that require a simple contact management tool. For larger, more complex businesses however, an off-the-shelf package may be much more of a challenge. With an off-the-shelf CRM solution, you’re purchasing a system that is used by thousands of other businesses so inevitably compromises have to be made. Unfortunately, when the system and your business processes don’t align, it’s the organisations’ processes that have to bend to make the system work. This can have serious implications, as processes can be what makes an organisation unique and if you’re adapting your processes for any reason, other than it being the best way to propel your business forwards, then unfortunately it may not be helping you.

Advantages of Off-the-shelf CRM Solutions

  • Typically, lower upfront costs

Many of the less complex, off-the-shelf, CRM solutions charge a simple monthly charge per user with no upfront costs. Most CRM solutions do require deeper levels of functionality, larger numbers of users, some configuration, if not integration, and certainly transforming and improving processes and workflows, training of users and administrators to name a few.

Instead of zeroing in on the upfront price, organisations should focus on total cost of ownership (TCO) over the time of the CRM. You can’t set a realistic budget otherwise.

For example, when you dig into just some of the hidden costs within some well-known CRM packages, you find more expenses than you originally expected:

  • After reaching the plan’s storage limit, extra space will be charged at a higher monthly rate.
  • If you want telephone support, be prepared to purchase a premium support plan, which can on average cost an additional 20% of your license list price.
  • Full mobile functionality could also be an upgrade for users and costs an extra monthly charge.
  • Want to access the CRM offline? Another monthly charge.

The hidden costs of CRMs can add up to a significant monthly charge.

  • Quicker installation

CRM setup and installation can take anywhere from one week if you are a small start-up business to one year if you are a hugely complex organisation. CRM setup time depends on how much data you need to migrate from your existing CRM or legacy systems, how big your teams are, who needs access to the CRM, and how complicated your processes and workflows are.

A CRM implementation typically has 6 steps:

  1. Understand what you need from a CRM.
  2. Cleanse data that is going to be migrated.
  3. Migrate your data and check all has been migrated correctly.
  4. Set up automations, integrations and workflows.
  5. Train your teams.
  6. In-life changes.

How long each step takes depends on a variety of factors, including:

  • Having the right implementation partner in place.
  • Having a good internal project team and executive sponsorship.
  • How organised and clean your current data is.
  • Organisation size, complexity and number of CRM users.
  • The number of contacts and their history you need to transfer.
  • The number of integrations you need to build.
  • Data governance maturity.
  • Widely available training

Most off-the-shelf CRM solutions have huge amounts of training material readily available online either on YouTube and public knowledge bases or sitting behind a customer login for customers that have purchased plans including training. What the training won’t cover is how your organisation will be using the system unless you have paid to have this produced for you or you have produced it internally.

  • Ideal for micro and small businesses

Micro and small businesses are much more suited to off-the-shelf CRM solutions for a number of reasons:

  • Their business has no or few employees that need access to a fully functional CRM solution and can tailor their processes to suit the CRM’s workflows and features.
  • Most off-the-shelf CRM solutions have APIs that can easily hook into other online applications such as Mailchimp, WordPress, Wix and so on.
  • Legacy data tends to be contact and company details rather than complex data sitting across multiple databases.


Disadvantages of Off-the-shelf CRM Solutions

  • CRM Solution doesn’t work like your organisation does

No off-the-shelf solution will perfectly match the way your organisation works. At best, it can only come close. This means that your stakeholders and users are going to have to shape their business processes around the way that the software operates.

A risky aspect of off-the-shelf solutions is the temptation to underinvest in requirements gathering and business analysis because you figure that the “off-the-shelf” software you just paid for will cover their needs. This creates resentment among your stakeholders and users who feel they are not being heard.

  • Low levels of support

Most off-the-shelf CRM solutions offer basic levels of support through access to knowledge base articles, functionality specific tutorials and help pages. Some will offer chat bot and limited email support. For customers that want to pay extra for telephone support they can access this either via a premium rate telephone number or via an incremental monthly per user charge. For larger CRM deployments the customer is often expected to train up administrators, ‘super users’ and 1st line IT support to answer general queries and report any issues to then follow up with the CRM supplier.

  • Little or no ability to influence roadmap

Unless your organisation has thousands of users and is a multinational customer for an off-the-shelf CRM, you are unlikely to be able to influence the CRM provider’s roadmap unless many other customers have lobbied for the same functionality. Off-the-shelf CRM providers do significant market research on what their market needs are and often have development roadmaps stretching 18 months into the future which they are unlikely to deviate from.

  • Feature overload

Off-the-shelf CRM solutions are often packed with features and functionality that have been developed over many years, and like applications such as Microsoft Office, you may only need to use a small fraction of them within your organisation. You’ll obviously still be paying for them unless your CRM provider sells their CRM in a modular way allowing customer to purchase only modules that they wish to use.

  • Often require third party support

Even global off-the-shelf CRM suppliers use accredited IT partners to help configure and implement CRM solutions. You should definitely consider this as an option and factor into your business case and planning if you are intending to deploy a CRM across a larger organisation unless you have significant in-house expertise.

  • Lack of integration with other key systems

There are some off-the-shelf CRM solutions that offer integration capabilities, often for other off-the-shelf products, but many still offer no such integration and none of them have a way to interface with your enterprise’s native data sources. For that to work, you need yet another custom engineering effort, often in the form of middleware built to tie your new off-the-shelf product to your existing data stores.

There are a number of off-the-shelf integration platforms that can help you tie all of your packages together but require high amounts of implementation time and consulting. At some point, it becomes easier to just build a more focused custom application in the first place.


Bespoke CRM Solutions

A bespoke or customised CRM solution allows more complex organisations the opportunity to tailor a CRM around their processes, products and services, and more importantly integrate with legacy systems to provide users with a single version of the truth – a true 360 degree view of their customers.

Advantages of Bespoke CRM Solutions

  • CRM solution that is tailored to your organisation

Every organisation, even those in the same marketplace, operates differently with different processes, workflows and legacy systems. Having a CRM solution that is tailored to your organisation or how you want your organisation to operate in the future can be a significant advantage.

  • Ability to alter and add functionality as your organisation changes

No organisation stands still. Markets change, technologies change, customer needs change and ways of working change. Having the ability to add custom CRM features and functionality over time to help your organisation adjust to the change can help ease the pain of change for your teams and save significant investments in bolt-on software.

  • High levels of support and training

With a CRM supplier such as ViewPointCRM from StyleTech Solutions you get high levels of support and user training as standard as part of your contract, with guaranteed levels of response times and regular updates and training on new features and functionality that is being released.

  • Legacy system integration

Legacy system integration is the process of connecting legacy software with your CRM solution. When it’s implemented correctly, the integrated applications complement each other in a way that works for your organisation, bringing a number of key benefits. For example:

  • Reduced manual work – Re-keying the same data again inevitably hinders your performance and comes with the risk of human error. When all your critical systems are synchronised, you only need to enter the data once, making it quicker and more accurate.
  • Improved decision-making – Integration of legacy systems with modern solutions allows you to unlock the invaluable data you’ve been collecting elsewhere, identify patterns in it, and use this knowledge to improve your strategic and tactical decisions.
  • Reduced employee training – Replacing or replicating legacy systems with new software means that you’ll need to train your staff to use it, which can be challenging and daunting, especially if you used the system for your core processes. When you connect a legacy system with modern software, the process is (in most cases) about bridging together tools your employees know well.
  • Application integration

Integration with other core online services such as an organisation’s website, eCommerce applications and other online tools such email marketing or social media networks can take your CRM to the next level, allowing your teams to see exactly how your customers are interacting with you throughout their customer journey with you, helping you improve their experience and keeping your teams informed.

Disadvantages of Bespoke CRM Solutions

  • Higher upfront costs

There a number of factors influencing the upfront cost of implementing a bespoke or tailored CRM solution.

  • Number of bespoke processes and workflows required
  • Amount and cleanliness of data that needs to be migrated or synchronised
  • Number of legacy systems to be integrated or synchronised
  • Any custom functionality that is not core to the CRM solution as standard

You also need to consider the resources required internally to drive through the implementation. You may wish to read our blog ‘The A to Z of CRM Implementation – Letters K and P’ to find out more.

  • Longer implementation times

Whilst custom functionality can take some time to develop, customisation and configuration of core modules of a tailor-made CRM solution is generally much quicker. The key work is ensuring that all the data to be migrated is clean, in the correct formats, fit for the purposes that it will be used for and that interfaces with key systems are working as they should be. Ensuring that every aspect of the solution is tested, first by your implementation partner and then by users within your organisation before go-live is a crucial step. Fixing any bugs prior to full implementation to the wider organisation is an important step before end users start using the system.

In this blog post we’ve highlighted some of the key considerations for decision makers when choosing a CRM solution for their organisation and whether a bespoke or off-the-shelf CRM solution would be a best fit. If you would like to discuss your business challenges and how ViewPointCRM can help your organisation, please get in touch with our expert team today or book a demo.