Should I choose off-the-shelf or custom CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software?

Custom CRM software and its importance to business success

I am often being asked, “What does CRM stand for” and “what is a CRM system”? Really though, a more apt question would be, “should I choose off-the-shelf or custom CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software”? I say this because CRM (also called Client Relationship Management) software has already shaped and revolutionised most core business functions for the better in recent years, likely including many of yours. However, the migration to their use is often (and ideally) so natural and organic that you probably didn’t stop to notice it happening.

…you may not even realise how many CRM systems you already use

CRM systems achieve this mostly by helping to better manage client information and sales processes. Also, they will often serve a key role in connecting disparate resources across departments and teams. For most companies, customer relationship management forms the absolute lifeblood of their business and CRM systems are the new breed of technology that your company manages that relationship through. In fact, you may not even realise how many CRM systems you already use.

What are the main types of CRM systems?

So, to reiterate, CRM is a ‘broad church’ term covering many functions and tools. It’s an acronym for either ‘Customer Relationship Management’ or ‘Client Relationship Management’. However, most CRM systems will do some version of storing, tracking and sharing your customer data. I tend to break them down into 3 types and 2 sub-types:

  1. Operational CRM systems help with sales, service and marketing. Salesforce is a good example.
  2. Analytical CRM systems are focussed on gathering valuable data, for example to increase client retention, identify valuable clients or cross sell intelligently. Klipfolio and Alkhemy are good examples.
  3. Collaborative CRM systems focus on connecting data and resources, often across departments or even countries. These make it faster or easier to work across disparate systems. If you like your cornflakes with no sugar, here’s an article about Collaborative CRM.

Custom or Bespoke CRM vs. Off-the-Shelf

Within the framework of these generic Operational CRM systems, Analytical CRM systems and Collaborative CRM systems, there are 2 sub-types I call ‘off-the-shelf’ and ‘custom or bespoke’:

  1. Generic or off-the-shelf CRM
    • If you need what generic CRM systems do out of the box, and some of them are impressive and even free at basic versions, then you may have little reason to create a bespoke or customised CRM.
    • Similarly, at the other extreme, if you are operating a technical team in-house and can afford to cover the costs (at both ends) of integrating, maximising and managing a platform then Salesforce and similar systems can be very effective at uniting disparate systems.
  2. Custom or Bespoke CRM systems
    • Will do any or all of the above.
    • However, they are built for your specific needs.
    • They can be designed from an idea and often are. For example, Elder Onboard, an aged care specific software designed for small to medium sized providers that Laneways.Agency is building, is a good example. It started with a “what if there was a system that…” conversation and is now a reality.

Slack, now worth an estimated $15+ Billion, began life as an internal tool for during the development of Glitch, a defunct online game.

Why are off-the-shelf CRM systems potentially expensive and time consuming to customise?

If you need to do things with a CRM system that it does not do as part of its ‘core mission’, then you should consider building your own CRM. For example, if you just want a sales CRM then Pipedrive is effective and cheap. However, if you want to integrate your own functionalities then a custom system, designed just for you, may be better.

Are you partnered with a Software Company who are ethical, reputable and professionals?

I say this not just because even hugely successful, ready-to-go CRM systems can be expensive and time consuming to customise. It’s also because they never (in my opinion) do what you need as effectively, once customised, as a bespoke CRM can. In fact, you usually end up with a whole new set of tools that you use for the different functions of the business, only they’re better at it than the last lot! Here’s some examples of what I mean:

  1. They can be hard to learn, even in the basic format. Read this Quora post ‘Is it easy to learn Salesforce?’ for some opinions as an example. I think this is at least in part because they need to provide a broad range of features, many of which may be of no use to you, but which must all work together nonetheless.
  2. They are not intuitive to your unique processes in the way a custom CRM system is. For this reason they are less inherently logical to the way your staff do things.
  3. Because of reasons 1 and 2 above, and since you are moving away from their in-house support team’s core expertise, you may need to develop manuals and training materials of your own. That’s a hassle and expensive. Alternately, custom CRM systems can be process specific to the point where no one needs more than a few minutes training. For example, Elder Onboard captures information about residents, their carers and families that is very specific to aged care and the various stage of the resident relationship – from first contact onwards. It takes into account who needs to enter information and when, how that information must be entered as well as Government Audit requirements. Adapting an off the shelf CRM system to do these very unique tasks would be hard and far less user friendly. However, with a custom CRM you can create a CRM process tailored exclusively to that function for those employees carrying out that task. In fact, you can have multiple pages doing similar things, but all tailored to the users’ perspective (including the families’ access). With nothing else to crowd the consumer experience (called UI/UX) the employee, resident, family member, lawyer, banker… whoever, can enjoy a simple experience with few to no data entry mistakes.
  4. That last point about mistakes is a zinger. A great deal of staff time and energy can be lost just cleaning up mistakes & data when a system is bolted together. Apologies for the awful simile but a CRM System carrying information between sources is rather like a series of pipes carrying water. The more joins you make and the greater the variety of gauges, the more leaks you risk and the more maintenance you have to carry out. Worse, finding the problem gets harder also. I challenge you to take 2 minutes and do a cursory review of how many of your staff spend their time just re-writing, re-sending or re-entering information in some form or another. You may be shocked at the real cost. Plus, it’s often frustrating for them.
  5. You have little to no control over the cost of the CRM or factors, such as its coding language (some languages are harder and more expensive to hire for… think 3-4 times more expensive per hour). Since you don’t know what will happen to your business, flexibility is a big positive.
  6. You have little to no control over the features or costs of any other tools you want to integrate via API etc. However, if the CRM already integrates with that software, it may be fast & cheap for you to implement.
  7. You may be blocked from some integrations by the CRM for their own reasons. If you find this out once you’re already well into their system, there is little you can do.
  8. You probably do not own any of the IP that you might otherwise create if your CRM, or some aspects of it, turned out to be valuable. This added value is very common since, if you have ‘that’ problem, others is your space probably do too. For example, Slack, now worth an estimated $15+ Billion, began life as an internal tool during the development of Glitch, a defunct online game.

Is Custom CRM Software reliable?

At its very core, all CRM Software collects information and stores it in databases. When you think of Databases as similar to XL spreadsheets, it’s a pretty simple concept. Now that you have ‘XYZ’ information in the database, you can do what you want with it. Of course, for security, you need to make copies in case of emergencies, or ‘back ups’ of all your data, files, designs etc.

Historically, you had to have your own servers and a dedicated in house team to do all this. However, thanks to the advent of Application Service providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), creating and hosting your own CRM has become simpler and more affordable. For large institutions, they can manage this in house. For example, most of the banks and major institutions globally now use these services to manage most aspects of their digital presence. For smaller enterprises, it is usually better to partner with a reputable software development company.

Subject to a team or partner who is reliable, customer or bespoke CRM systems should be as reliable as any off-the-shelf system. There are 2 caveats here:

  1. Are you partnered with a Software Company who are ethical, truthful, transparent and reputable professionals?
  2. Do they communicate regularly and openly with you?

All the problems I come across are caused by bad planning, poor code or design, and other similarly fundamental mistakes. If you are experiencing these types of problems, change partners!


In summary, is custom CRM software worth it? Yes, absolutely! A custom CRM software is developed to fit your business like a glove. In addition to greater productivity and quality of life for your employees, Custom CRM often offers your business unique competitive advantages. Also, custom CRM can mean greater customer satisfaction. In fact, you can even integrate functions with them to streamline business functions. In the process, you can deepen your relationship and make competitors to your services and products far less attractive. Plus, you can generate business insights at a macro and micro level. If your aim is to grow your business beyond the norm, custom CRM is almost always more powerful and empowering than off the shelf.

If you’d like to learn more about the benefits of building a Custom CRM systems for your business, contact Jerome Rault of Laneways.Agency on (03) 7016-1301 or use the contact form below:

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Photo by Carl Heyerdahl on Unsplash

Founder of a group of companies in Software and Media. I innovate leading software solutions for diverse industries such as Aged Care and Insurance Underwriting.

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