Open Source CRM: How Does It Work?

Monday, December 17, 2018
Christopher Sirk
CRM.ORG is a knowledge hub for all things work: digital tools, customer service relationship software, and other innovative methodologies for exploring work-related relationships. In “What is a CRM?”, we break down the meaning of the three-letter monster that is CRM and explore the history, benefits, and features of the customer relationship software.  

To open source or not to open source, that is the question. Well, it is if you’re trying to choose a CRM for your business at least.

Open source CRM and proprietary software each have their pros and cons in terms of costs, complexity, upkeep, and overall user-friendliness.

Which one should you get to make your work life easier? The answer, as usual, can be somewhat complicated, but we break it all down for you.  

Open Source Code vs. Proprietary Software—what’s the difference?

A proprietary software is a closed system, a boxed up, finalized product. You download it for free, or buy a subscription, then set it up for your needs. No assembly required (aka. you can skip hiring in-house developers).

This category of CRMs are ‘full stack’—they’re generally designed for the big picture, which means they can cover basic needs across the board, with a faster start-up period.

With open source CRMs, meanwhile, the platform’s source code is available to the public for use and further development and modification. The expectation is that you’ll want to take the existent product and tweak things here and there to calibrate it towards your specific workflow needs. In most cases, said open source code is already well developed, and customization solutions have been streamlined for speed and ease.

Businesses of all sizes and descriptions use open source CRMs. Ditto for closed source, proprietary software.

Some may find great appeal in the open source movement that surrounds CRM, with its sense of reciprocal community and freedom to innovate, contributing to open source can feel like you’re hacking the system, or simply producing something original. Others might find open source software development to be a time-consuming foray down the rabbit hole that distracts from the primary business.

Open source CRMs tend to offer more robust integrations because you can build the integration you want without any vendor restrictions. If you’re concerned about flexibility and scalability over time, an open source CRM definitely has the advantage.

Another very pragmatic reason for using an open source CRM is cost—they’re free or affordably priced and are less likely to have time-based commitments to software licenses. If you signed up for a year with a proprietary CRM but decided it wasn’t right seven months in, you’d be eating some fairly rich costs. That wouldn’t happen with the vast majority of open source CRMs.

If you choose an open source CRM, it’s important to make sure it has a strong, active community of open source developers. Updates, bug fixes, and the like all have to be taken care of by the developer community surrounding the platform.

When it comes to ease of implementation, however, proprietary CRMs have the alpha. The task of adapting an open source CRM to your purposes is not to be taken lightly. While both proprietary and open source CRMs are functional out of the box, proprietary software is ready-to-go after the initial set-up while an open source CRM is going to require developer hours and a coherent implementation plan to make it worth the time invested.

Who’s who in the glamorous world of Open Source CRM


SugarCRM is one of the most well-known open source CRMs, and a force in the field. SuiteCRM and Vtiger, for example, are children of SugarCRM’s original open source code, birthed and set off into the wilds in 2013 and 2004 respectively.

SugarCRM’s development tools allow you to make custom apps for your specific needs. Its modular design lets you do a lot of developer-oriented stuff without knowledge of open source code. The CRMs drag-and-drop interface allows you to arrange features and fields at will, and of all the open source solutions out there, SugarCRM may well be one of the easiest to learn.

These days, SugarCRM’s main product retails at $40 USD a month, but the Community Edition of the software is still free, and there’s a very active, helpful group of people surrounding the platform.


SplendidCRM shares a lot of similarities with SugarCRM, but it’s specifically designed for use with everything Microsoft. The platform operates on the premise that Microsoft’s own CRM, Microsoft Dynamics, is a lumbering beast of a system—daunting to figure out and implement—and that Windows and Android people deserve a clean, comprehensible CRM experience too. It’s available as a free Community Edition and in three paid versions (Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate).


Then there’s Odoo, which (surprise surprise) also offers both Community (aka. free) and Enterprise (aka. paid) products. Odoo is all about ‘extensible architecture,’ with a modular design that lets you mix and match different features. Over the years, freelance open source developers in the Odoo community have built a bunch of modules for free, or for purchase. You can shop around to see if there’s an existing no-cost solution for your business, pony up and buy one, or hire someone to build it for you.


Last but not least, there’s OroCRM, which has a reputation as the most flexible open source CRM. It’s based on the Symfony2 PHP framework for web development, which is widely used and well-liked. That means that lots of open source developers find it easy to understand Oro’s code and create new customizations, making it relatively easy and cost-effective to modify the platform to your needs.

Easy integrations with Zendesk, MailChimp, and many other clutch apps are a nice touch too.

Are you the Open Source CRM type?

Depending on your skill set and what you want to achieve with a CRM, an open source CRM might appeal to you more than a free or a paid closed source one.  

If you’re running a small-ish business and looking for very specific features, an open source CRM could indeed be the way forward. But if your business is doing something more ‘normal’ in a well-defined market, needs more complex tools, and/or demands highly responsive product support, it might be better to go with a fully-loaded, proprietary tool that was built to address your needs.

Thankfully, if you’re on the fence, it’s easy enough to download a free open source CRM and explore.

Happy hunting.