CRM Platforms vs Products

With the emergence of more open technologies, web-based applications, and SOA architecture, I have seen an increasing number of charities who are looking to implement CRM platform solutions as opposed to CRM products which may provide more functionality ‘out of the box’.

What’s the difference between a CRM platform and a product? A question which is not actually as straightforward as it sounds, especially as we are seeing solutions which can be considered to be both a product and a platform. Let me try and explain….

A CRM product is designed for a niche market (e.g. charities) and should provide most of the required functionality for a charity as standard. Implementing a product should not involve huge amounts of configuration/customisation as the heavy lifting has already been done by the supplier. Examples of standard functionality include donation and direct debit processing, managing gift aid, and cultivating major gift prospects.

In comparison, a CRM platform can be considered to be more like a toolbox that can be leveraged by charities and developer communities to build a solution that meets their specific requirements. A CRM platform is typically more flexible and capable of being moulded to meet a charity’s business processes, rather than the charity needing to alter their business processes to work in the way that a product has been designed.

What’s so great about platforms?
•  Flexibility – you do not have to adhere to the standard functionality (which can also be a bad thing if not used wisely)
•  Less reliance on the supplier – platforms put tools in the hands of the charity (assuming you have the correct skills in-house)
•  Easier to integrate – because of their open nature and extensive APIs, platforms are often easier to integrate with other systems within the charity

What’s so great about products?
•  Implementation should be quicker and less complex
•  More functionality ‘out of the box’ means less time & effort building your own functionality
•  Easier to implement changes to legislation – for example electronic Gift Aid submission, bank account validation, PCI compliance
•  Clearer upgrade paths
•  Leverage best practices – apply proven techniques which are already being used by other organisations
•  Less reliance on technical / platform development skills

In summary, both products and platforms have their place but you need to make sure you pick the solution which is right for you. If you are a small charity with limited technical resources then a platform solution may not be the best option. Similarly if you are a large charity with complex business processes which you don’t want to compromise then perhaps a product is not the right option. The good news is that Blackbaud offer both!

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