SugarCRM vs – The Facts – Part 3 – Customisation


As SugarCRM celebrates its 10th birthday, over a decade of innovation has lead to the product becoming a major player in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space. Indeed, Gartner now ranks the product in the “Visionary” quadrant (details here).

As someone who has kept a close eye on the product over that time, and who runs a company dedicated to supplying and servicing SugarCRM, I have watched the product mature and gain huge ground on its closest competitor –

So what exactly are the differences between Sugar and SalesForce?

Well, funnily enough, the main differentiators are the same now as they’ve always been – price, control andflexibility. But with the release towards the end of 2013 of Sugar 7, we can now add one more item to that list –usability.

I’ve already covered the differences in how the two platforms manage your data in my previous post (SugarCRM vs – The Facts – Part 1 – Data) and I’ve covered the difference in cost in part 2 of this series (SugarCRM vs – The Facts – Part 2 – Cost)

This post deals with how easily you can tailor each system to your own needs.

Why Customise?

Your business is unique. So, it stands to reason that you’ll want your own CRM to hold different information to another business. At the very least you’ll define your sales stages differently, or the sectors into which you segment your customers. It is highly likely that when you first start up your shiny new CRM system you’re going to want to rename a few labels, change some drop-down lists, and perhaps add a couple of your own fields to make the system more closely mirror your business domain.

SugarCRM supports three layers of change:

  • Personalisation
  • Configuration
  • Customisation


These are the types of changes that each individual user can make to their own view of the CRM. Things like amending their dashboard, or choosing which fields are shown in search results, or building a custom report. SugarCRM hands a great deal of power to the individual user though an innovative user interface. I’m not going to go into too much detail here though as its the subject of a later post.


This is the type of changes that you will want to do when setting up the application before you formally “go live”. They’re options that are available to any user who has been assigned the “System Administrator” setting. They include the following:

  • Changing any system label
  • Amending drop-down lists
  • Adding fields
  • Changing screen layouts
  • Building new modules
  • Adding additional relationships
  • Loading third party applications/bolt-ons
  • Setting up currency conversions and tax rates if you trade internationally
  • Security profiles and team memberships
  • High level forecast settings

Changing System Labels

SugarCRM lets you rename everything on screen from the admin panel. All field labels, menu options, messages and buttons. So, if you don’t like the out-of-the-box term “Accounts” then you can re-label it to read “Companies” or “Organisations”. What’s more, if you’ve an international user base then you can re-label the items in one of about 30 languages.

Amending Drop-down Lists

SugarCRM contains a handy feature in the admin panel called the “Drop-down editor”. You can amend any drop-down list in the system. Add values, remove values, re-order them. Even add new lists.

Adding fields

SugarCRM lets you add your own fields. You can add as many as you want. Text boxes,drop-downs lists, image controls, date fields, and many more – even dynamic fields populated from other websites (such as a Google Map).

Changing Screen Layouts

SugarCRM provides another admin feature – The Studio – which allows you to rearrange screen layouts through a simple drag and drop interface. Click “deploy” and your changes are rolled out to the users. You can change the record view, the list view and which fields are available for use as search filters. You can even change which fields are exposed to the mobile interface.

Building New Modules

Not only does SugarCRM let you add new fields to the existing modules (a module is the Sugar nomenclature for a record type – so Contacts is a module, Opportunities is a module, Calls is a module etc. – but it also lets you add as many new ones as you like. This is a very powerful feature allowing you to add completely new record types without any programming.

By way of example, let’s say you are running a series of events and want to record which customers attended each event. Simple, the module builder will let you create a new module called “Event” and set up the fields on it you want – such as Event Name, Event Date, Location etc.

Once set-up you can deploy it with a single click and have your own brand new module in the system.

Adding Additional Relationships

SugarCRM lets you link up modules in new ways. Again, using the example above, if you’ve created an Event module, being able to establish a relationship between that module and the Contacts module, perhaps with a relationship name of “Attendee” allows you to completely model the interaction.

And the best part is that all of the normal Sugar features will also work with the new relationship – you can report over it, represent it visually on the dashboard and even leverage it through Sugar’s API.

Loading Third Party Apps

Even when functionality strays beyond that which is achievable in the Studio and Module builder SugarCRM still supports you. Third Party “bolt-ons” can be downloaded from the various app exchanges (such as SugarForge, SugarExchange and SugarOutfitters) and loaded up through the module loader. Some apps are free and some carry a small fee.

So, if you want to connect Sugar to your preferred marketing solution, finance system, telephone system or add additional features and functionality you can.


Finally, even if you need to add bespoke functionality, and can’t find anything like it in the app store, there are still options. SugarCRM is Open Source. So you can get the whole source code and change it. Even if hosted in the cloud.

The application is written in PHP – the most popular web development language around. The application framework is designed to be extendible – so your programmers or partner can, with care, add features and functionality without modifying the core code and thus ensuring that you can stay on the product upgrade path.

How does this differ from

Having looked at what you can do with SugarCRM, all without constraint, and all as part of the base price, it’s time to examine (SF). Let’s start with the very basics – relabelling a few fields on screen. Price List –

The lower editions don’t allow you any form of customisation at all – not even renaming a label.

In fact, you’ll need to be on Professional Edition to do even the most trivial of changes. To achieve the same level of freedom that SugarCRM Professional povides (at $36/user/month), you’re looking at SF’s Enterprise (at $125/user/month) or even Performance Edition (at $300/user/month).

For advanced customisation, you’ll also need to engage a specialist with knowledge of SF’s proprietary scripting language called APEX. You can expect high consultancy fees for such specialist skills.


SugarCRM is the right choice if you wish to tailor the CRM to suit your organisation’s domain

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