Looking for a free customer relationship management system? Here are five options that may be worth considering.
As we’ve explained previously, customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you boost new and repeat business by enabling you to gain a greater understanding of your existing customers and spot market trends.
But with enterprise-grade vendors like Oracle and Salesforce charging a premium, how can smaller companies afford to get started with CRM software?
Thankfully, there are a number of affordable options – including some of the six cloud CRMs systems that we compared previously.
Another option is an open source CRM system. As with many kinds of software, there are multiple vendors that provide open source CRM solutions that are completely free to use. We’ve selected five of the better examples in this feature – and as long as you’re aware of the potential pitfalls of open source software, they could be well worth exploring.
The pros and cons of open source
Open source software alternatives have their pros and cons, and CRM software is no exception. The principal benefit, of course, is that it's free – this makes it an excellent choice for businesses that may not be able to afford a fully-fledged enterprise CRM system like Salesforce.
It eliminates some of the commitment risks of traditional software, too. Unlike major vendor offerings, open source providers typically don't require customers to sign lengthy licensing agreements. This means that you're free to try it out, without the fear of being saddled with a system that you don't get on with for months or years.
Open source CRM software is also highly customisable. If your organisation has very specific needs, open source software allows you to tweak and refine your CRM platform until it meets all of your criteria. This also lets you tweak it to keep up with changing market demands.
There are pitfalls too, however, with lack of support being the main offender. A common trade-off in the open source world, the price companies pay for freely available software is that support is either limited or expensive.
Compatibility can be an issue as well. Since open source software development often features multiple concurrent strands and forks, it can be hard to ensure that your software is up to date, and that it works with that of your partners and customers.
Open source CMS software can suffer visually as well, especially compared to larger rivals. This may seem like a minor issue, but the layout and user interface of a CRM system can prove pivotal. If your sales staff can't intuitively navigate a CRM system, they won't get the most use out of it, making your business less efficient as a result.
What to look for
The question of which open source CRM is best is a difficult one to answer, largely because the answer will vary from company to company. A CRM system that fits one company perfectly might be entirely wrong for your organisation.
Instead, you should focus on finding the best CRM software for you. Examine your business needs, and work out what exactly it is that you need a CRM to do. Here are some of the top capabilities you should be looking at when choosing a CRM system.
Scalability and migration
The first thing businesses should be looking for when choosing an open source CRM is how well it scales. You might only have a handful of people on your sales force right now, but you're going to want a CRM system that can grow with your business, which means looking at a system without hefty upgrade fees.
You should also take migration into account. It's well worth putting in a bit of extra legwork early on to make sure that if you do decide to move to one of the larger, business-class CRM solutions, you'll be able to do so with a minimum of hassle.
Most CRMs will perform equally well when it comes to basic functions, but where the real value lies for many businesses is in their integrations with other business tools. Modern CRMs will work seamlessly with software like MailChimp, Xero and Google's G Suite apps.
Linking all your tools together can have an immeasurable impact on speeding up your organisation's workflows. Do a full audit of what software is in use within your business, and then look for a CRM system that will directly integrate with as many of them as possible.
One of the benefits of using a CRM solution is that it allows businesses to make informed decisions based on concrete data. However, this only works if the CRM system in question allows the business to surface relevant insights.
Organisations should be on the lookout for software that contains strong reporting capabilities, good archiving and any other features that will make use of the large amount of data it harvests.
Support is the biggest real stumbling block for many open source CRMs. Support will frequently only be available to customers on a paid subscription plan, or will be provided by the community rather than an enterprise-grade support team.
This can turn out to be an unexpected problem for unwary businesses. If there's no professional support structure to help when its CRM goes down, the unfortunate enterprise could be faced with days of downtime, if not longer.
And finally, all the open source CRM systems covered here have a web interface, which is great for users but it means they need to be installed on a web server – and that often requires a Linux-based system, web server software such as Apache or IIS, and scripting and database software such as PHP and MySQL.
Learning how to install these CRM systems is generally not difficult for anyone who’s tech-savvy, but for many businesses, the safest approach is to use an IT professional with suitable skills to install and maintain the system for you.
Alternately, you can remove this hassle altogether with a cloud CRM service – either one of those we’ve covered previously, or one of the commercial cloud versions of the following open source CRM systems.
With those caveats in mind, open source CRM systems are worth exploring for many businesses. And while it’s impossible to definitively state which CRM system is best for you, we can narrow down some good options for specific tasks, with the caveat that many others are available, so consider these simply as a starting point.
Next: five open source CRM systems compared