Thinking Inside The Box: The Question Of Customizing Your CRM
Updated: Jun 2
This guest post was originally published by Sabra Aaron on the JCA blog.
Whether you’re implementing a new CRM or living with your database software solution, the pressure from your internal customers to build custom solutions can be significant. And the more capable your IT shop is, the more appetizing customizations can seem. How do you know when the way you do business should drive software development? And when should your software capabilities drive how you do business?
EVALUATE THE REQUEST
As a starting point, take a beat to ask yourself: is this request necessary, possible, and sustainable?
Necessary means that what is being asked for is going to serve a legitimate need that is not currently met by your software solution. If it’s a new field or new data that you’re being asked to bring into the database, will people change their behavior on the basis of having this information available? Watch out for a requirement that doesn’t actually fulfill a real-world need, but that may be an artifact of a previous system limitation. Look at every output to assess whether there is an audience for that specific output, or if an existing report or output would satisfy information needs. Be an expert on your software—many times the needed outcome is possible through a system feature or field that already exists. Getting at the why of the request helps to uncover how it will be done.
Possible means that you can do it with a reasonable amount of effort. Of course, anything that can be thought of can be done with enough time, money, and skill, but consider whether the resources you have can do what is being asked with the tools available.
Sustainable means that what you’re adding is going to be available over time, and that the changes to your system are not going to be overwritten or become problematic as your software vendor upgrades your software.
THINK INSIDE THE BOX
You might alter your current business practice to do it the way your software solution is expecting, if:
It means a simple change in order of operations, and the net result is the same.
If you can make changes to real-world procedures (i.e. batching the work differently prior to data entry) that streamline the workflow as you put the information in the system.
If the current procedure isn’t particularly beloved or well-followed, and your system discovery reveals a procedure that is comparable, it may be a good opportunity to improve how you’re working.
CUSTOMIZE WHEN NECESSARY
There are still times when you will need to think beyond what your CRM solution provides out of the box.
If you have particular legal or auditing requirements that are not appropriately handled by the software as delivered, this may be an area where customization is necessary.
You may work with populations that require particular protections that your software solution does not factor in—you may need to customize or create security that extends beyond what is currently available in your software.
You’ve done the analysis and the feature is not accommodated through any existing feature or function of your software solution.
Another decision making framework is to apply the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule) to the requested feature: If 80% of your internal customers will use or benefit from the requested enhancement, there is a clear benefit to a proposed customization.
Notice that all of these decision making strategies rely upon having a decision making process in place to evaluate and prioritize what your developers/consultants are being asked to provide. Having a process that measures requests against your database solution and core business priorities is key to knowing when to think outside the box, and when to look inside and make it work with what you’ve got.
MAKE THE MOST OF WHAT YOU HAVE
When your CRM is optimized, your team is energized and working at peak efficiency. When it's not, everyone struggles to find the information they need, and in the process, loses time and enthusiasm.
Sabra Aaron is a consultant with JCA, where she works on a variety of nonprofit management technology projects. Prior to joining JCA, she has done stints in advancement services, as a frontline fundraiser, and as a consultant on at least a half dozen major enterprise CRM implementation projects.
Juliana M. Weissbein, CFRE is a respected leader and decision influencer in regard to fundraising operations best practices. With over a decade of experience, Juliana thrives on professional growth, team success, measurable results, and inspiring fundraisers to utilize data-based strategies. Juliana currently serves as the Associate Director of Development Operations at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She is AFP Global's 2019 Outstanding Young Professional Fundraiser and is a member of the AFP Global Women's Impact Initiative. Juliana is immediate past chair of the AFP New York City chapter’s Emerging Leaders Committee and currently serves on the chapter’s board chairing their mentorship program. She resides in Austin, TX and never turns down a good kombucha.