Sold! You’ve bought into the mantra that CRMs are faster/cheaper/better than your existing purpose-built solution(s) and/or custom software.

Sold! You are sold that these enterprise platforms have the flexibility to support your needs now and into the future.

Sold! Your due diligence has proven that the security and stability behemoths like Microsoft and Salesforce can provide are vastly superior to the niche product vendors you were using in the past.

Sold! Best of all – you can take a shortcut/accelerator/template to get up and running quickly!

NO. SALE. – Whoa, whoa, whoa… back up there, boss. That template thing you were sold probably negated all the other benefits I just mentioned.

Worst of all, victims of template-itis give CRMs a bad name. (Worst for me at least … I’m in the CRM business.)

At the end of this article, you’ll find a handy checklist you can use when conducting due diligence on a CRM template.

It sounds great on paper.

It all starts innocently enough. An accomplished developer makes a bespoke solution to solve their valued client’s needs. They knock it out of the park, and then attempt to package and re-sell what they’ve created.

It SOUNDS like a great plan… but the wheels have already come off the bus. Let’s explore the top four reasons why … also, since when do wheels come off buses? Was that ever a thing? Is the NTSB looking into this?

Here are the top reasons to think twice about leveraging a template to shortcut your CRM development process.

snail slow

Reason 1: CRMs March Forward, Templates Don’t.

We recently had a client using a template for Dynamics 365. The template was developed in 2013, against Dynamics 2013. It’s 2018 … that should’ve instantly been a red flag.

As feature sets in CRMs progress, it is rare that these templates keep pace, so they don’t leverage the latest features. Leading CRMs offer feature upgrades two to four times a year… meaning this template was eight releases behind.

Some of the primary screens within the template contained over fifty checkboxes. This client wanted help consolidating all the information from this sea of checkboxes down into a single field for reporting purposes.

I asked “Why didn’t you build this using Dynamics 365’s tagging feature? (a single field in which you can choose many values)” Although relatively new, it was a bona-fide out-of-beta feature at the time this was developed.

Neither the client nor the vendor of the template even knew that this field type even existed … because at the time the template was developed … this field type didn’t exist.

Instead of using an intelligent tagging feature which would’ve greatly simplified maintenance, reporting, and the user experience, hundreds of fields were needlessly created.

Now this organization is faced with significant rework of hundreds of fields, or they have to live with an inferior user experience and a reporting mess.

Oh, that template … What a great way to reduce costs … and complexity … and time. Which was it again? Why did we pay extra for this?

This example is emblematic of many templates: they offer a best-intentioned solution… at a point in time. But time marches forward. One of the greatest features of a cloud-based solution is its continual upgrades and enhancements.

Templates constrain this advantage.

rigid pointy cactus

Reason 2: Your flexible, fully customizable enterprise platform isn’t flexible or customizable anymore.

There’s a reason CRM purveyors backed away from the word “CRM”. These platforms are now considered go-to enterprise development platforms for most organizations. You can build any software model required to support your business!

Except if you use a template … then you can’t.

Multiple organizations have engaged us to help determine what they are contractually allowed to change within the template themselves … and what they can demand to have changed by the template vendor.

It’s a minefield.

The organization is constrained with regard to what they can change and how. The flexibility to rapidly develop features that support your enterprise is one of the major strengths of the CRM … but now it is hobbled by the “time and cost saving” template.

locked door

Reason 3: Whose data is it, anyway?

Most assume that their mission critical data is stored within the underlying CRM solution (e.g. data is kept in Salesforce, Dynamics 365, etc).

With a template, that isn’t always the case. Many template providers store your data in their own proprietary cloud solutions. Granted, this can offer some benefits the base CRM can’t provide (additional performance, compliance, capabilities) but it also provides them with leverage in case you want to leave.

When your data isn’t held in the native CRM platform, it can be harder for developers to cleanse, modify, and integrate with the data.

On several occasions, we have been asked to weigh the costs of screen scraping (having a computer essentially “read” the screen as a human to extract data), versus paying the associated “termination fees” to get off of the template. This isn’t a position anyone wants to find themselves in.

Verifying your exit strategy up front is critical in any SaaS solution you choose. When using templates, don’t assume that the data will be as easy to retrieve.

stack of coins

Reason 4: Total Cost of Ownership

One of the biggest advantages to using a template is that the deployment costs and timelines are known and easily quantifiable from the beginning.

When you choose to build your system without a template, you’ll get a rough order of magnitude of the price, but you won’t truly know what the costs are, and how long it will take until it’s done.

Scary! — and an oft-cited reason for choosing templates. But the situation isn’t always as cut and dry as it seems. Consider the following:

Cost of Customization

It’s rare that a template does everything you need out of the box, so there’s still a significant expense associated with customization… but these customization costs aren’t qualified or quantified until far later in the build process than they would’ve been with a custom solution.

You are still in the same situation you would’ve been with a custom solution, except now you are in a committed contract.

Until you know the costs associated with customizing the template to fit your needs, you can’t do an apples to apples comparison against a bespoke solution.

Recurring Fees

Many templates carry an annual fee. Having something built specifically for you will incur a higher upfront cost, but it usually doesn’t include an annual cost. As always, total cost of ownership is the most important metric here.

Restrictive Licensing

Some CRMs offer different pricing tiers for different types of users. Dynamics 365’s commercial pricing is between $6 and $115 per month per user, depending on what the user needs to do.

With the base Dynamics 365 implementation (no template), you can mix and match pricing levels within your solution. When using a template though, the costs of the CRM are often rolled into the pricing of the template.

“We secured you a preferred price!” they say … If by “preferred” you mean “higher” … then yes.

The pricing from template vendors usually has fewer tiers, if any. Often you can’t mix and match.

The end result can be a significantly higher price … again … total cost of ownership.

Increase Your Organization’s Value

When you create a bespoke solution, it becomes part of your organization’s secret sauce. No one else has anything quite like it. It adds value to your organization, especially in the event of a sale or acquisition.

When leveraging a template, there are strict guidelines around what you can do with that template. For example, a recently acquired sister organization may require a contract renegotiation with a vendor. You almost certainly won’t be able to productize your template-based offering to others.

Your system won’t truly be yours.

A custom CRM solution created specifically for you belongs to you. Every dollar you invest results in a solution that adds value to your organization.

Due Diligence Checklist

The most successful engagements always share common traits. Follow these tips and yours can be most successful too!

Wrapping Up

Remember… a CRM or template vendor’s motivations are to show you why their particular product will work for you, highlighting the best features. That’s great… but the reasons it WON’T work for you are equally important.

Talk to an independent consultant to help you weigh the advantages and disadvantages (and total cost of ownership) of each platform and solution.

Perhaps… Incite Automation could be a good place to start? Cough, cough.