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Software Customization Required for Less Than 1/10th of 1% of Organizations

Joe Romello

As a consultant for several years, if not decades, I have met the phrase “our business is unique”, I’d say conservatively 99% of the time when I begin a conversation with the Business; be that the Owner, Founder, Executives and/or Board members.

In every situation I ask the following question, do you have any competitors? When I hear yes, I then ask, well if you are unique then how can you possibly have a competitor? To be fair, I have not ever encountered a Business that told me they had no competitors. That could be a reflection on me as a consultant to non-unique Businesses; or, it could be that the Business landscape has very, very, very few truly unique Businesses.

Aside from debating the last paragraph, let’s focus on the broad bases of non-unique businesses with competitors. That would include my Business and most likely yours. What we offer is most likely unique services and/or products; or, we try our best to identify the aspects of our products and services that make us different from others and therefore announce that we are “unique”.

Why such a focus on "unique"? Very simply because while our services and products may fall into the unique category, behind-the-scenes business processes are not at all unique. And, when we seek services to support our business: sales, marketing, office support, payroll, insurance, technology, etc. the idea that our businesses are “unique” can cost us dearly and take funds away from the expansion of products and/or services.

Allow me an example to illustrate the point. Today, different from just five years ago, there are numerous CRM packages and applications that can be utilized by Businesses to retain knowledge about Leads, Prospects, and Customers. Salesforce, Hubspot, to name just three. EACH of these packages comes with what they present as their Standard Processes. And, they have parameters for each that one can use to configure the processes to fit the Business. Each also has a list of Partners that offer knowledgeable services to implement, train and customize the application for your Business. All for a cost, of course; how much?  That's up to you and me.

You will notice two words that are underlined above – configure and customize. In the parlance of today’s technology, configure means to use the knobs provided by the technology provider to adapt the application to your needs. Customize, on the other hand, means having a third party (the Partner) create custom code to mold/change/add/expand/etc. the application to your needs.

You should understand that in ALL cases, Configure will be the cheaper option to get an application operating for your Business AND ensure that as the application expands (through enhancements, acquisitions, etc.) that you will be able to take advantage of those enhancements during your subscription period.

When you Customize (creating even a single line of code) you will in ALL cases find the project to be more expensive than if you had Configured. AND the customization of today may preclude you from ever taking an upgrade of the core application and could also tie you into a relationship with the Partner for as long as you use the core application.

How do I determine whether to configure or customize? Good question and the good news is that is all under your control. At the beginning of this article, you will recall we spent time harping on unique. Here is the reason why. While your Products and Services may be unique, the operation of your Business isn’t. My apologies to the 0.0001% of readers who truly have a unique Business Operation.

All public Businesses, in the USA, operate in accordance with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). Without getting into the discourse of the GAAP, let’s just say that the GAAP provides a basic language of communication of things financial so that decisions can be made with confidence on reported financial statements by Companies. While you (certainly I) may not be a public Company, it is wise to follow what they do so that, as your company grows, in the event you go public or are acquired, you have followed the guidelines so that decisions can be made on your financial statements.

Most Accounting systems offered on the market today comport with the GAAP. Your CPA or Accounting firm should know the details but from a technology support perspective, you should not be customizing an accounting system to which you subscribe. There are ample configuration options to tailor the package to your specific Business needs. And, if you find yourself in a situation where you believe the application cannot support your Business needs, then congratulations; you are in the 0.0001% of Businesses that are unique.

Let’s look at CRMs, which should be used over a spreadsheet or paper to track your leads, prospects, and customers. No CRM, out of the box, operates without some configuration. You will have to configure your Lead to Sales process, establish your KPIs to quantify your Pipeline, and determine how Leads are qualified, nurtured, and retained. You will then identify at what point and with what key pieces of data you will have Opportunities or Deals or whatever the moniker to identify something with potential revenue possibilities. You will also have to configure your products and services, the bundling, subscriptions, etc. And, it continues with configurations. The benefits today, as opposed to just 10 years ago, is that all applications that you will (or should) consider will embody the "best practices" of their numerous customers.

What does that mean and what is a "best practice" and why should I care? In a nutshell, when an application is used by a wide variety of users and a variety of industries, the demands placed on the application to serve various audiences and needs will mean that the application becomes configurable and also adaptable to a variety of uses. The benefit to you is that since you aren't in the unique space, some other company has come along and probably has the same or very similar business model as yours and thus you can look at the customization steps as a guide to becoming efficient and benefit from the others that have come before you with this application. So in the context of CRMs, they all provide a mechanism to identify and nurture leads. At some point, the lead becomes qualified (according to your rules configured in the application) and becomes a business opportunity. The apps may call them something different like deals, opportunities, etc. but they are the same - something that could generate revenue for your business. The revenue may be for services, products, product subscriptions, etc., but it tracks revenue generation opportunities. Each package will come with a notion of a sales pipeline. The stages or steps in the process of completing a sale can be configured and then measured.

What is important is that you understand what your process is before you pick your application. And, as you proceed, do not be wed to the exact process you have outlined - learn from others. Be willing to modify your process so that you do not have to customize an application to codify and embody your process. The benefit of "best practices" is that applications will deal with most if not all, business scenarios through the configuration of their solution. You should pause and reflect if your process is so different from a configurable solution that it seems the application won't work. Use the breadth and depth of the application to sanity-check your internal processes. In that way, you take advantage of the multiple companies and industries that HAVE used the application for their businesses successfully. This is a hidden benefit of considering a widely used application, it provides a litmus test of your internal processes.

The same conversation as above can be had for most of what you will be looking for to support your business:

  • email
  • office applications
  • business file storage
  • email campaigns
  • marketing collateral generation
  • websites
  • accounting
  • payroll, taxes, and benefits
  • career applicant tracking, interviewing, and management
  • and so on.

The one thing to remember during all application selections is that customization should be avoided in all cases.  As Aaron Levy said, "We are going from a world of customized software to standardized platforms."



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