CRM Systems: Platform versus traditional – Today’s dilemma!

In the last six CRM system selection exercises that I have helped various clients with, three have gone traditional and three have gone platform. So the problem is – which way should you go and which solution should you choose?

We are all familiar with the ‘traditional’ CRM system suppliers in the not for profit sector, the likes of Raiser’s Edge, Care, Progress, thankQ, Integra, iMIS and many others, some of whom have been around since the late eighties/early nineties (before the term CRM even exited and we called the systems either Contact or Fundraising or Membership databases).

We also know that ‘platform” systems like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics CRM have been making inroads into the sector in the last few years.

What are the main advantages of traditional suppliers?

Quite obviously, they have much more knowledge of and experience in our sector and can get to grips very quickly with the challenges and best solutions for the situations you all face as not for profit organisations. Twenty years plus of experience counts for a lot. The implementers of platform solutions are often new to the sector and are struggling to adapt their thinking from commercial implementations to those for not for profit.

Let’s face it, we may all be ‘businesses’ in the global sense of the word but we do have many areas of functionality that are completely foreign to commercial organisations.

What the platform systems have to offer?

Nothing less than the latest web-based functionality and the flexibility to adapt their solutions to different environments and requirements. So if you think you are special and have unique requirements then they can build/configure exactly what you feel that you need. A word of warning here though; there are literally hundreds of Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics (and other platform solutions) implementers in the marketplace and many of them do not have a clue what we need in our sector.

You have to tread carefully when going down this route. You have to beware of sales tactics like the offer of free licenses  and drip-feed payments and calculate five year costs including all the required development/configuration to arrive at a workable solution. There are some charities who have spent literally millions of pounds getting their chosen platform solution to operate in a way that suits them. You must take care to choose a partner that has at least some experience of our sector, and even then you are likely to be going on a ‘voyage of discovery’ with your chosen partner.

So, is the solution to play safe and go with a traditional supplier?

Not necessarily. They may have the not for profit sector knowledge and experience but most of them are way behind the times in terms of technology and are peddling twenty year old technology dressed up with a fancy web front end, what one might call a ‘hybrid’ solution at best. These solutions are often inflexible and suffer from poor performance when put under any real operational pressure. There are exceptions to this of course as there are a few, very few, traditional suppliers who have totally re-engineered their products from the ground up as complete web-based systems (or are in the process of doing so). Mark my words, the writing is on the wall for the traditional suppliers who ignore the way systems development is going and still try to sell you traditional client-server or smart client systems.

There is a great supplier shake-out coming, but it will take time

The great web-based system revolution is not going to happen overnight and platform system implementers are not going to gain twenty years’ worth of accrued sector knowledge and experience overnight. The CRM systems market is in a huge state of flux at the moment and it will take at least five years to settle down.

So, what should you do when looking for new CRM system right now? You should consider a number of both traditional and platform solutions together and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of each. As I said at the beginning; in the last six CRM system selection exercises that I have helped various clients with, three have gone traditional and three have gone platform.  As some people say ‘you pays your money and takes your choice.

Good luck!


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