Not every organization is financially blessed enough to buy or license CRM software. We’d all love Salesforce.com, but the fact is that an industry leading system like that just isn’t an option for everyone. There are cheaper alternatives too of course, but if you want to avoid costs entirely and look at open source solutions, then it’s worth making the right decision before investing your time in it.
For the last 6 months I’ve been casually working on setting up a CRM for a group I volunteer with. Like most small volunteer groups, our budget for anything non-essential is $0. Our spreadsheet works fine to track sales given the low volume we do (we’re in a niche adventure seeking industry), but as someone who does CRM at my day job, I’ve long known that even a basic CRM system could bring incredible efficiencies and time saving opportunities to our very small group of part-time volunteer staff. In addition to that, I could use some automated emails built around our sales opportunities to take our customer experience to the next level too.
Open source CRM was my option. Years ago, SugarCRM was a leader in this space and would have likely been the obvious choice to use. However, SugarCRM decided to stop supporting the open source community and discontinued their open source version – unless I wanted to run an outdated version from several years ago (which is still available to download).
The Vtiger CRM is built on what SugarCRM left behind with their open source offering. The developers have continued to advance Vtiger forward with a fairly regular release schedule, and have continued adding new features too. It’s one of the top results when you start searching for open source CRMs.
I built our business into Vtiger – at first, that is. I spent all my evenings for several weeks building fields, layouts, optimizing the setup, and entering in our data. It ran great and it was time to migrate it from my development server to the production one. Things fell apart.
Vtiger requires a whole host of php.ini modifications, file permission modifications, and a certain finesse to get it installed. I had some struggles on my dev system installation, but got past them. From that point on, even following the notes I took on the first install, I continued to struggle with installing it onto the production server. I tried multiple VPS’s I had, multiple php versions, re-imaged a VPS to try several different OS’s, and it just would not reliably work.
I signed up for their forums, and was still let down. Forum sign-ups need admin approval, and the admins never approved me! In fact, I’m still sitting here months later, not approved. There seems to be no way to reach the admins, so I was stuck even further, now without access to the “official” support forum either.
I found several other posts in the forum of users having the same issues I was. However, as is a problem with a lot of posts in the Vtiger forum, all were replied to by Indian consultants who leave you all their contact info and tell you to contact them privately to “help” (aka sell you their services to help). The support forum rarely has answers provided in the public forum and almost always turns into consultants trying to sell you their services in their replies.
This was useless. Free or not, I didn’t want to tie our organization into a CRM that would be something I consider as a risk. Updates would be difficult, and if they went awry, I’d have nowhere to go for help. Customization of Vtiger, as I found out along the way, was also very code based.
Time to try SuiteCRM
I somehow missed SuiteCRM as a contender in my initial research. SuiteCRM is also based off of the SugarCRM open source remnants, although I’m told it’s from a much newer code base than the Vtiger base. SuiteCRM is also sponsored and developed by a UK consulting agency who contributes heavily to open source. Their support forum is great, it has a mix of their own staff and users, and isn’t just loaded with consultants wanting “a PM” in order to help you, like Vtiger was. Plus, I could sign up and didn’t need to go through an “approval” process to be allowed to ask for help, or to help others.
SuiteCRM has a nice GUI, although a bit of a hideous colour scheme (I can deal with that!). It’s also fully mobile responsive so we can actually use it on the go – a huge complaint with Vtiger was the lack of any mobile support. When I have some time, I’ll monkey with the CSS and see if I can’t make the theme just a bit more modern.
Installation was a breeze! I didn’t need to wade through my php.ini file and fill it with customization and changes – it “just worked”. I did run this github script to setup permissions faster though: https://github.com/amariussi/chperms
The GUI and setup pages of SuiteCRM are vastly different than Vtiger, but I like it. After poking around, it was evident that the SuiteCRM team had propelled this CRM into the future much faster than Vtiger. it could do a lot more.
The feature I love the most has to be the module builder. SuiteCRM custom modules can be built and customized entirely in the web GUI – no coding needed! This would allow me to customize this CRM to meet our business needs even better than I could with Vtiger (I had no interest in coding custom modules in Vtiger – I simply don’t have that amount of spare time considering this is a side volunteer gig for me with the group I run it for, and I have many other responsibilities with them beyond just CRM).
Move over Vtiger. They may still have a big name in the open source world, but it’s clear that the platform isn’t moving at the speed it needs to in order to remain a solid option in today’s business world. Most of the Vtiger project appears to be off-shore driven, and I believe this leads to less understanding of the needs of businesses in more developed nations. Plus, the support forum is sad – any hopes you have of support are quickly ruined by some consultant just wanting to sell you his help to fix your problems.
SuiteCRM has been a joy to work with. Sure, I had to re-develop everything I built in Vtiger in this system, but it all just works, and it works well. It offer much more [easier] customization, has been more stable overall (with daily operation, updates, server moves, etc.), and not needing to venture into code-based customization as often as Vtiger also means that a less “coding savvy” admin could run SuiteCRM (which is often the type of resource you’ll have if it’s a small business or non-profit type of organization who needs to use it).
I’m very happy with SuiteCRM so far. I wish they’d have had the same exposure that Vtiger does when I started looking for an Open Source CRM. Had I found them first, I’d have saved myself a month of misery.