Open source CRM: everything you need to know

Offering an alternative route to traditional CRM systems, open source CRM offers affordability and customisation. Is it right for your business?

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If conventional CRM software is outside of your budget or the features don’t meet the needs of your business, then open source CRM is the next best option.

Open source CRM is a freely accessible source code that lets you tailor your CRM software to your liking. The cherry on the cake? It’s free. As an alternative to the CRM giants, however, open source CRM can seem unfamiliar and you might have some questions.

What is open source CRM?

Open source CRM is software with freely accessible source code, allowing businesses to download, use, and modify it to fit their requirements.

Supported by a vibrant community of experienced developers, open source CRM ensures continuous improvement – bugs are swiftly addressed, new features are added, and extensions are built collaboratively. These characteristics make it a customisable and affordable alternative to conventional CRM systems.

There’s plenty of open source options on the market, but based on our independent research and user testing, we’ve found that these are the 5 CRM systems that are best suited to SMEs:

SuiteCRM

❤️ Best for: integrations

SuiteCRM is a great option to build out integrations and create your personalised customer relations software. It comes with unlimited leads and contacts and offers built-in reporting. This means businesses will be able to easily draw data-driven insights on their business operations. It works on every operation system and uses REST API, which means it can seamlessly integrate into your software infrastructure. 

The downsides include a help-desk that is community-based, which might mean responses are scattered or delayed; and it requires a high degree of technical knowledge.

Odoo CRM

❤️ Best for: business with technical expertise

Odoo comes equipped with a strong range of apps that will make your CRM system more robust than a traditional one. It is best for businesses that have staff with technical expertise who can build reporting apps, or for those who want a generous menu of apps to connect with – Odoo has a selection of over 10,000 apps.

The downsides are that its reporting options are limited and it's pretty difficult to use.

OroCRM

❤️ Best for: ecommerce businesses

This is for ecommerce businesses that need an open source CRM can be customised for their reporting and can integrate with other software. It works natively with top ecommerce platforms like Shopify and it integrates with dozens of third-party tools.

The cons are that its customer support is limited to users who subscribe to OroCRM and there is no mobile app, limiting your ability to do business on the go.

Vtiger

❤️ Best for: CRM beginners

This is a great option for businesses that would prefer a browser-based CRM and who need basic functionalities for smaller teams. It has a user-friendly interface when compared with other open source CRM providers; and offers free 24-hour support, making it great for those who are new to the world of open source CRM.

The cons are that it comes with limited CRM features and many features are only available with a paid hosting plan.

CiviCRM

❤️ Best for: nonprofit organisations

This is the right option for nonprofit organisations that need an affordable CRM. The platform is designed with nonprofits in mind by offering great event and member management features. It can be added directly into CMS systems like WordPress and has a feature that lets you manage event capabilities.

The cons are that its user interface isn’t as intuitive as other options and that customer support is only available via email.

Benefits of open source CRM

Open source CRM is a technical alternative path that can fit the needs of cash-strapped businesses that want to elevate their customer relations in an innovative way. Here are some benefits.

  • Affordable solution: Oopen source CRM is either free or are budget-friendly options when compared with proprietary solutions. This level of accessibility ensures that small businesses and startups can embrace CRM without financial constraints – provided there is time investment and they have the skills needed to modify the code to suit their needs.
  • Customizability at your fingertips: One of the standout features of open source CRM is its inherent customisability. Businesses can tailor the CRM platform to match their unique needs by shaping the code to their requirements.
  • Consistent improvements and quick issue resolution: Open source CRM leverages the collective expertise of a vibrant community of developers and active users. Businesses can benefit from faster issue resolution and bug fixing, which is thanks to the collaborative efforts of a community that ensures the continuous improvement of the system.

Drawbacks of open source CRM

While there are many benefits that come with open source CRM, it’s still far from being a customer relations panacea. Here are some potential disadvantages your business could face from adopting this system:

  • Third-party dependency and limited support: one of the primary challenges is the reliance on third-party vendors for uptime and support. Unfortunately, most open-source CRM vendors don't provide support for the free versions. This can leave businesses vulnerable, particularly when encountering issues that require expert assistance.
  • Expert dependency and increased costs: to fully unlock the benefits of open source CRM, businesses might find themselves dependent on experts, especially if there's no in-house developer available. Relying on external expertise can inadvertently increase costs, potentially negating the cost-effectiveness that initially attracted businesses to open source CRM solutions.
  • Harder to use: unlike some proprietary CRM solutions known for their user-friendly interfaces, open source CRM software may not boast the same level of aesthetics and sleek design. Navigating complex functionalities may also pose a challenge for those unfamiliar with code manipulation.

Security and data handling: things to keep in mind with open source CRM

Although open source CRM can represent the holy grail of customer relations for some businesses, don’t forget it comes with certain security and data privacy risks. We break down what those are, considerations when choosing your open source CRM, and how to ensure you’re being compliant.

Security measures

🔒 Encryption protocols: open source CRM systems prioritise the implementation of advanced encryption protocols to secure data at rest and in transit.  Check that your open source CRM employs industry-standard encryption algorithms, such as AES (Advanced Encryption Standard), which ensures that sensitive information remains confidential.
🔒 Access control mechanisms: controlling access to critical data is a fundamental aspect of security. Open source CRM platforms incorporate robust access control mechanisms, allowing businesses to define user roles and permissions. As you’re setting up your open source CRM,  think about who in your team should have access to your customer data and whether you want them to be able to manipulate that information.
🔒 Regular security audits: to stay one step ahead of potential security threats, open source CRM systems conduct regular security audits. These comprehensive assessments help identify vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the system, so you can have peace of mind that your system runs smoothly. Double check with your supplier how often these take place to find one with a frequency you feel comfortable with.

Data Handling

🛡️ GDPR compliance assurance: open source CRM systems prioritise GDPR compliance to protect customers’ data privacy. This translates into your business being able to confidently deploy these systems without fear of violating privacy laws, ensuring a trustworthy and legally sound CRM environment.
🛡️ Data backup strategies: open source CRM systems incorporate robust backup strategies to prevent data loss due to unforeseen circumstances such as system failures or cyberattacks. Regular, automated backups are integral to ensuring business continuity and mitigating the impact of potential data disasters. We recommend checking that your data backups are running smoothly on your open source CRM.
🛡️ Data migration processes: when transitioning to an open source CRM solution, seamless data migration is crucial. These systems provide efficient data migration processes, ensuring a smooth transfer of information from legacy systems.

Who should use open source CRM?

Open source CRM is a great option for cash-strapped small companies. Its accessibility and affordability makes it easy to start managing your customer relations with data-driven insights without the fuss of having to adapt to all the technicalities and specificities of an out-of-the-box mainstream solution. With open source CRM, SMEs can gain access to a feature-rich system that's tailored to their needs.

Given how businesses can manipulate the code of open source CRM, it also is a great solution for niche industries with very specific technical needs. The flexibility of open source CRM allows businesses to address the gaps that conventional systems don’t fill. This means open source CRM becomes a strategic ally for those looking to optimise resources and tailor their CRM experience.

Conclusion

Is open source CRM right for your business? The answer will be different for every enterprise, but make sure to factor in the evolving needs of your business, the integration requirements you have with your other systems, and if you need any advanced features.

Although it’s a thin line to tread between wanting something cheaper and customisable and something more established and feature-rich, there is no doubt that open source CRM offers users a lot of benefits. We’d recommend giving it a go temporarily and see how you feel – after all, it’s free to try!

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Do I need a CRM if I have a website?
    It’s better if you have one! A CRM system helps you organise and manage customer interactions, track leads, and streamline communication. All of this helps improve your customer engagement and your sales processes, which can give you invaluable insights into customer behaviour.
  • Is Salesforce CRM open source?
    Salesforce releases open source projects, which can help solve infrastructure, security, application development and roll out artificial intelligence. However, Salesforce is traditionally more of a licence-type of CRM software.
  • Should a small business use a CRM?
    Yes! SMEs can reap a long list of benefits from using a CRM. It makes it easier to handle customer interactions, gives business data-driven insights to inform growth strategies, and enhances communication.
Written by:
Fernanda is a Mexican-born Startups Writer. Specialising in the Marketing & Finding Customers pillar, she’s always on the lookout for how startups can leverage tools, software, and insights to help solidify their brand, retain clients, and find new areas for growth. Having grown up in Mexico City and Abu Dhabi, Fernanda is passionate about how businesses can adapt to new challenges in different economic environments to grow and find creative ways to engage with new and existing customers. With a background in journalism, politics, and international relations, Fernanda has written for a multitude of online magazines about topics ranging from Latin American politics to how businesses can retain staff during a recession. She is currently strengthening her journalistic muscle by studying for a part-time multimedia journalism degree from the National Council of Training for Journalists (NCTJ).

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