Introduction to CRM customization

One of the most common questions we get is, “What customizations can be done to CRM?”

It’s a great question. Every business is different, and your CRM should be tuned to meet your specific needs.

But it’s also an incredibly broad question. There is a huge range of potential customizations available for the most popular CRM systems.

So rather than trying to build a definitive list of customizations, this article will break down CRM customization into several important categories based on two axes: what you’re modifying, and how you’re modifying it.

My hope is that this will give you a better idea of the ways you can customize your CRM, even if I don’t cover the precise customization you may have in mind.

 

What can you customize in CRM?

Quite a lot! As industry-leading SaaS CRM systems have improved, their customization options have increased dramatically.

You can customize all of the following in most CRM systems, including Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales:

 

Entities

Entities are categories under which you collect information. For example, Leads, Contacts, and Accounts are all entities.

You can change the names and properties of existing entities, or create and track new custom entities entirely. This type of CRM customization gives you a lot of flexibility in terms of what you track and how you track it.

For example, many of our smaller clients don’t track Leads, and instead combine their leads into the Opportunities entity. This makes a lot of sense for small organizations with limited marketing staff and budgets.

But it’s probably a bad idea for a company with an advanced marketing strategy. That company almost certainly needs the Leads entity to track more granular marketing data and build more complex workflows (more on those in a minute!).

 

Fields

Fields are specific bits of information associated with an entity. For example, a company name or phone number.

You can change the names and properties of existing entities, or create and track new custom entities.

Again, this gives you a lot of flexibility. Many of our clients eliminate unneeded fields right away, but field customization can also allow you to track non-standard information that is specific to your business model or marketing strategy.

 

Forms

Forms are made up of data-entry fields from which your users enter information into the system.

Customizing forms allows you to fine-tune your CRM system to the way your team works. You can create new, custom forms, or modify existing forms in order to define and adjust how your team enters data.

Watch out for getting too burdensome here, though. We’ve heard lots of horror stories from salespeople who can’t create new Opportunity records because their CRM administrator created too many mandatory fields!

Your sales team shouldn’t need to know a contact’s birthday in order to add them to the system!

 

Dashboards/Views

Dashboards/Views determine how, what, and where information is displayed to users.

This can actually be customized at two levels: the organizational level, and the individual level.

You can create customized, default dashboards/views for your users to ensure they have easy access to the information you believe is most important to them. Your users, in turn, can create their own custom dashboards/views as well based on their needs and preferences.

At both levels, you and your users can ensure the right information is displayed in the right places and in the most digestible way possible.

 

Workflows

Workflows are actions or a series of actions governed by pre-set rules. These can be triggered manually or automatically.

Workflows are incredibly powerful CRM customizations. They help you standardize and automate your business processes in ways that increase efficiency and accuracy, and hopefully create a better customer experience.

For example, you could create a custom workflow that sends an automated email to an account manager when a contract is due. You could even set that workflow to send three emails: one 90 days in advance, one 30 days in advance, and one 15 days in advance, unless of course the contract status is changed by a renewal.

 

For more information on basic CRM terms, check out our
CRM Buzzwords, Terms, and Definitions white paper!

 

How can you customize your CRM?

That’s a lot of stuff you can customize! But once you know what you want to customize, the next question is how to do so. Will you need to code, or can you achieve the results you want with a no-code or add-on solution?

Whether and to what extent you need to code is important for determining what your team has the time and skills to create efficiently themselves, and what is best outsourced to an outside developer or third-party add-on.

 

No-code customizations

No-code customizations are exactly what they sound like: customizations that don’t require any coding. Some developers call these “configurations” rather than customizations.

No-code customizations use the configuration options built in to your CRM system. Most industry-leading CRMs like Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales are extremely robust in terms of out-of-the-box customization.

For example, you can do all of the following in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales with no coding:

  • Create custom entities, fields, and forms
  • Modify dashboards
  • Create customized business process flows
  • Customize logic for workflows
  • Expand standard views or build custom views

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. We have clients who never move beyond no-code CRM customization, but get everything they need from Microsoft’s out-of-the-box configuration options and a Wall of Value add-on or three.

 

Open standard code customizations

Code customizations allow you to create more complex customizations than are available out-of-the-box. Open standard code customizations do not require you to know proprietary coding languages.

For example, many Microsoft Dynamics CRM customizations use Javascript. Javascript allows you to modify your UI, forms, and data in ways you cannot do without some coding.

For example, you can do all of the following in Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Sales using Javascript:

  • Show or hide a field
  • Enable or disable a field
  • Set conditional logic in forms and fields
  • Create error messages for invalid data entries
  • Display custom content or create custom formatting in views

Again, this is just for starters. Good developers can create some pretty incredible customizations this way.

 

Proprietary code customizations

Some CRM systems use proprietary coding languages. Salesforce, for example, uses Apex, a language similar to Java but unique to Salesforce.

Apex can do many of the same things for Salesforce that Javascript can do for Dynamics 365. But while Javascript is a common, standardized coding language that many developers already know well, Apex is a much more specialized language. This makes for fewer Apex developers, meaning in-house or contract development can be more expensive.

 

Add-on (or plug-in) customizations

Many developers offer custom CRM add-ons. Add-ons are pre-packaged customizations for your CRM system, and often require a high level of coding skill from the development teams involved.

Add-ons can be a very good way to customize your system, especially if you don’t have the time or expertise to create your own customizations.

Even if you do have the time and expertise to build a solution, sometimes it’s more cost effective to buy an add-on if it’s what you wanted to build in the first place.

The value of an add-on lies in the time saved and capabilities added, not the difficulty of the development. There is nothing wrong with buying an add-on that you can build if doing so saves you time and resources that are better spent elsewhere!

 

Hopefully, this article has given you a better idea of what CRM customization can do for your system and your business.

If you have more specific questions about CRM or CRM customization, please don’t hesitate to contact us for more information!

 

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