With so many options on the market, it can be tough to know what to look for in a customer relationship management (CRM) system. Which features do you need? And what kind of CRM is best for your business?
If you are concerned about what to look for when selecting a CRM for your business, then you’ve come to the right place. Within this guide, we will highlight all the most important CRM features and how they can help your business succeed.
What is CRM?
The concept of CRM refers to the common sales practice of tracking customer-company interactions to learn more about those relationships and potentially increase sales.
CRM systems are software tools that record and store all customer correspondence with the company, from cold calls to sales and beyond. The goal is to break down information silos between marketing, sales, and customer service by maintaining customer data in one easily-accessible location.
A centralized CRM database gives businesses a comprehensive understanding of their customer journey, helping shape sales tactics and marketing strategy. These platforms aim to improve customer retention, boost sales, and ultimately drive business growth using the latest technology.
In the following paragraphs, we will conduct a brief examination of the most important features to look for in a CRM. Let’s get started!
Most Important Features to Look For In a CRM
1. Ease of Use
You’re unlikely to get much out of a system that’s impossible to use. Your team is going to spend a lot of time on this platform, so it’s important your CRM is relatively simple and somewhat user-friendly.
Many of the leading CRM systems offer free one-month trials, which are the perfect opportunity to test out the basic features of the software.
Can you find your way around the dashboard? Is it easy to add data and contact information? Now would be a good time to communicate with a few of your colleagues to solicit their input. Do you and your colleagues like the way the messaging app looks and feels?
Sample the analytical and reporting tools. Generate some reports. Does the basic framework of the program make sense, or do you find it frustrating?
If it’s not at least somewhat intuitive, simple to use, and easy to learn, it may not be the right CRM for you.
In today’s interconnected world, there’s no room for stand-alone applications. A critical feature of CRM is its ability to integrate with your company’s other tools, such as email, marketing, social media, and e-commerce platforms. Without integration, you’ll be wasting a great deal of time entering various bits of data on a disconnected array of tools.
Before you commit to a CRM, you may need to contact customer service to clarify which integrations are available and if any of your business functions will require upgrades or changes. It’s worth the time, as your business deserves a single, streamlined platform where all data lives, breathes, and collaborates.
The right CRM should integrate seamlessly with your business and complement your existing systems. It will decrease your workload and make your job easier and more productive, not the other way around. For these reasons, checking for integrations is an important step of every CRM journey.
3. Team-wide Communication
A great feature of today’s CRMs is that they’re not just about tracking and storing data. They also serve as excellent messaging platforms. A decent CRM should be able to replace your email and internal messaging tools – and most systems include video calls as well.
By centralizing company communications, CRMs streamline operations and enable more efficient collaboration. Don’t hesitate to take your preferred CRM systems for a test drive to find out which one works best for your business. The one on which your team communicates most frequently during the test period might be the right choice for you
4. Contact Management
A key CRM superpower is its ability to store and manage a great deal of customer information. Forget names, phone numbers and street addresses, a decent CRM also highlights social media accounts, provides a detailed purchase history, and analyzes every single interaction with your company.
Having all this info at your fingertips makes it easier to personalize communications and improve the customer experience, thereby potentially increasing customer loyalty. It’s also a good idea to get a reasonable estimate of how much data you’ll need your CRM to store, to help you decide whether you’d prefer a cloud-based or server-based system.
5. Sales Automation
For a sales-focused company, a CRM with sales automation is paramount. These features will enable you to streamline your sales process by automating tasks like customer follow-up emails, quote drafting, sales processing, and revenue records.
A CRM can even automate your task management by tracking the progress of each deal through a sales pipeline. It then provides alerts and notifications when deals are stalled or require attention, directing sales representatives to take action. And some platforms allow you to add additional features that guide sales agents through conversations and recommend the next steps on a deal.
Want to know what’s coming ahead? An operational CRM can automate sales forecasting by analyzing historical data and trends to predict future revenue. By having a picture of anticipated sales, your team can plan ahead and stylishly ride the waves of the market as they rise and fall.
And no CRM feature list would be complete without lead management. In a process called lead scoring, this technology determines the best customers to follow up with based on demographic and psychographic factors. It captures leads from various sources, such as web forms, social media, and landing pages. It then assigns the most promising leads to the appropriate sales representatives and tracks their progress.
With so many sales automation and artificial intelligence (AI) CRM tools available today, why not allow AI to enhance your business? At the end of the day, you need a CRM system that enables your sales team to focus on closing deals, rather than administrative tasks. Find one that can manage all aspects of your sales pipeline, and free up your team to focus on the bigger picture.
6. Marketing Automation
Do you want your marketing team to spend their days sending emails and posting to Instagram, or would you rather have them creating your next breakthrough campaign?
Marketing automation takes care of your marketing emails and social media posts. Rather than simply sending out old-school email blasts, the latest CRM systems personalize your marketing to reach your ideal customers on their level.
Through an action called customer segmentation, an operational CRM system creates targeted marketing campaigns based on criteria such as purchasing history, demographics, and social media behavior. This helps to determine in which sectors of the market your customers reside.
CRM also enables you to improve your lead nurturing — the process of cultivating leads that are not yet ready to buy. With the help of a CRM, your automated campaigns will deliver targeted content to prospects at just the right time in their buying journey. With the right CRM system, these moves are based on data, not guesswork.
A good CRM will also identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities to promote complementary products and services to existing customers. Some are even capable of designing and managing complete marketing campaigns with built-in, data-driven artificial intelligence.
The simple fact is technology is better than a human at some tasks, and marketing may be one of them. So it’s a good idea to let the tech do its thing.
7. Customer Service Automation
Serving the customer is priority number one for many businesses, and the best approach is to embrace all tools that can contribute to this effort. Today’s operational CRM offers a host of service and support features to improve and streamline your customer experience.
Many CRMs can autonomously manage basic customer inquiries and issues via a ticketing system. Customers submit their issues through various channels like email, phone, or live chat, and the system assigns a ticket number and a rep to each request.
Before bringing in a team member, an operational CRM system can answer many questions using a built-in knowledge base that provides customers with self-service options. This can include articles, FAQs, tutorials, chatbots, and videos that help customers find solutions to common issues without the need to contact customer support.
Some operational CRM systems give businesses the option to set service level agreements (SLAs) that define response times and resolution times for customer inquiries in order to help keep customer service representatives on track.
CRMs also provide businesses the means to gather customer feedback through surveys and reviews, assisting you to measure customer satisfaction, identify areas for improvement, and address customer needs proactively.
Having a CRM for your customer service department is like having an all-star player/coach on your roster who makes the whole team better. With them in your corner, you’re ready to win over your customers for the long haul.
8. Workflow Automation
We humans quickly tire of tedious tasks like data entry, creating reminders, and tracking assets, which often leads to errors. CRM workflow automation is able to take jobs like these off your hands, eliminating mistakes and increasing efficiency.
The bonus is that employees who no longer need to take care of these duties are likely to be more positive since they can focus on more engaging work. To put it simply, workflow automation performs repetitive business processes in response to some behavior or activity.
Let’s say a potential customer visits your website and fills out a brief form to subscribe to your newsletter. The CRM would record which webpages the new lead visited, hinting at their interest, pass their info to a sales rep who will handle that lead, and send a welcome email to the new lead, promoting certain products and detailing the next steps.
Another example would be that your CRM, noticing that you’ve only got a few toy widgets in stock and the holidays are looming, would automatically place a large order that restocks the inventory just in time to meet an incoming wave of orders.
That’s workflow automation, and it often makes for smoother operations, more pleasant customer experiences, and more closed sales. So it’s wise to think about which processes you’d like to automate.
9. Employee Tracking
Is it essential for you to know where your employees are and what they are doing at all times?
You don’t want to be Big Brother, but tracking staff hours and tasks helps ensure your team is running as efficiently as possible. Today’s CRMs are able to closely monitor this information by giving each employee an account that records their hours, tasks, meetings, and sales numbers.
This means supervisors have dashboards where they can view employee goals, completed tasks, and other metrics of productivity. This can help managers write employee performance reviews, create incentives, reward strong employees, and identify those in need of improvement.
Lead your team with insight and confidence by having all the key info at your fingertips.
10. Reporting and Analytics
Now we’re getting into the real value-adds. Today’s best CRMs are able to examine all your data and extract invaluable insights to shape sales and marketing strategies. If you have the right CRM system for your business, it will be like having a high-powered data wizard on your team.
First off, you’ll always know your sales totals and inventory in real time. What’s more, you’ll be able to leverage that information to stay ahead of your customers, and maybe your competitors as well.
CRMs harness big data to better understand your business and drive growth. It all starts with customizable dashboards that display key metrics in real-time. These dashboards can be tailored to roles and departments, providing relevant information to each team member.
From there, a CRM system can generate custom reports that provide detailed insights into customer data, sales performance, marketing campaign effectiveness, and other key areas. The reports can be exported to various formats, such as CSV, PDF, and Excel.
Furthermore, a CRM provides customer analytics that enable businesses to analyze customer behavior, preferences, and needs. These tools help businesses create personalized experiences, identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, and improve customer retention.
Last, but not least, CRMs are able to analyze trends and make detailed projections and forecasts, identifying areas for improvement. Having a CRM that can provide reporting and analytics at the drop of a hat sounds a bit like having a looking glass into the future. And for most business owners, being able to do that would be pretty good for business, wouldn’t it?
Every entrepreneur wants their baby to grow, and good CRMs can keep up with even lightning-fast expansion. Keep in mind some CRMs are built for a small number of clients, while others are able to handle up to a million. And there may be some features you don’t need now, but might want later.
Most CRMs are built to be scalable and able to adapt to your needs. Before committing to a platform, consider your long-term goals and make sure your CRM can evolve as you do.
If you get the wrong one, your impressive growth could turn into a major headache.
If real estate is all about location, good customer relationship management is all about customization.
While some entrepreneurs will be happy to have the simple, basic version of a program, others may want to invest in more customized options.
Many CRMs essentially allow you to craft the perfect platform for your business, in terms of pricing, features, add-ons, dashboards, reports, and more. Don’t need workflow info? Get rid of it. Want more customer service data? Expand that report.
The options are essentially endless, so take the time to test the customization capabilities of your preferred CRMs to avoid jamming a round peg into a square hole.
13. Document Management
Organization leads to efficiency. It sounds basic, but don’t underestimate the value of having all of your key documents in one place.
CRMs offer essentially bottomless storage space for your files and documents, putting them all in a central location so you’ll never be digging through emails or the cloud for that marketing report.
The document tools can also improve your team collaboration as CRM systems offer version control features that enable businesses to track changes to documents and maintain a history of document revisions.
Many CRMs offer built-in document templates that help standardize systems across the board. Take a look at these features and decide which you like best.
14. Mobile Access
Need to work on the go? Business these days is often done outside the office, so you need to be able to access your sales data from any location and any device.
Many CRMs come with mobile applications that enable executives, managers, sales and marketing to work wherever they are and address urgent issues on the fly.
CRM apps enable users to manage contacts, sales pipelines, leads, tasks, documents, analytics, and reporting. Some also permit users to access data and key features even when offline.
To compete in the 21st century, mobile access is an absolute must for many businesses.
This is an essential feature that even the most conscientious business owners sometimes overlook. Secure data brings peace of mind, and many of today’s better CRMs offer robust security that includes data encryption, two-factor authentication, a strong password policy, and regular backups.
Robust CRM security systems may also use biometric passwords, like fingerprints or voice patterns, to make information even more secure. And smart CRM providers store data in several data centers, that way if one server fails, processing is quickly transferred to a replica server in another data center.
Good CRMs perform daily and even hourly backups and maintain these backups in different geographic regions to protect against regional disasters. Again, test your preferred CRMs to make sure the one you choose provides the level of security your business needs. The alternative is a major breach that damages your brand and erases customer trust.
16. Customer Support
Like any complicated product, CRM systems offer customer support, which for some businesses is absolutely crucial. CRM implementation can be a real beast, so it’s wise to test the customer service of your preferred options to make sure your managers and sales team can reach out for guidance whenever they run into trouble.
Knowing there’s a competent human being within easy reach provides peace of mind, especially when making a major investment. Some CRMs provide excellent service; others, not so much. Also note that some CRMs charge for customer support, while for others it’s included.
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the possible features and factors there are to be considered when choosing the right CRM system for your business, well, that might be a good thing. CRMs are complicated and expensive, and the smart approach is to take the time to weigh the pros and cons and capabilities of your top options.
Consider your business needs and priorities before committing to any platform. With the right features, your new CRM could be the tool that takes your business to the next level.