The Essential CRM Features Your Small Business Needs

By: on August 2, 2017

Finding the right customer relationship management software can be a daunting task for businesses of all sizes. According to Gartner’s Customer Relationship Management and Customer Experience Primer for 2017 report (available to Gartner clients), customer relationship management (CRM) was one of the top 10 search items on its website.

Source: Giphy

Small and midsize businesses (SMBs) are often in great need of the features that a CRM system can provide, but find themselves overwhelmed. As a result, Software Advice’s CRM Software Small Business Buyer Report – 2016 found that 72 percent of small businesses continue to manually manage their CRM activities. This results in inefficiency in the organization.

When we asked buyers what they wanted most, they chose contact management, tracking interactions and scheduling/setting reminders—features that address their top pain points.

In this article, we’ll help you identify the most essential features of CRM software that deal with the most common pain points.

This report is exclusively based on top-performing products in the Customer Relationship Management FrontRunners. However, in this article, we have researched further into the features of these CRM systems and categorized them into two specific groups:

  • Essential-for-All Features: These are key and indispensable functionalities that SMBs must look for in a CRM system.
  • Essential-for-Some Features: These functionalities become important as your business scales up, so it’s good to have at least one of these features in your CRM system.

Here’s a graphical representation of all the important CRM features:

Read on for a deeper dive into the key features to look for in an CRM system.

Essential-for-All CRM Features

Your customers will never see your CRM software, but if it’s the right fit and your staff is using it well, they’ll notice its effects. These essential-to-all CRM software features provide key functionality while providing both employee- and customer-facing benefits.

These features drive customer-centric processes that improve customer satisfaction as well as foster ideal employee behaviors. They also increase revenue by making sales and marketing more efficient.

Contact Management

Store customers’ contact information in an easy-to-use and searchable interface. It helps build and maintain customer relationships and promote your brand. In some software options, contact management can handle prospects, run direct marketing campaigns and also search and classify customers based on specialized categories.

Contact management (Source: Zoho CRM)

Business value to SMBs: Bring your sales, marketing, customer service and customer communication under one software category. Once you categorize customers, communication and managing relationships becomes much easier. This is really important for SMBs that have a limited number of employees handling particular job roles.

Our recommendation: Implement contact management across the company and not just for sales or marketing. Gartner’s “The Eight Building Blocks of CRM: Overview” report (accessible to Gartner clients) found that less than 25 percent of organizations implement CRM across the board. This lack of integration results in short-term profits, but not long-term ones.

Interaction Tracking

Maintain detailed records of conversations with customers held via phone, in person, live chat, email or any other channels. Businesses can identify improvement areas using data from these interactions. Interaction tracking management also helps identify purchase patterns and customize offers to customer preferences.

Interaction tracking from start to finish (Source: Pipedrive)

Business value to SMBs: This feature helps you know exactly what your customers want. Customizing offers becomes easier and helps you avoid the problem of spamming customers with unnecessary promotional material.

Our recommendation: Don’t just store the info but learn how to use it effectively too. SMBs often rely on crude, randomized methods of analyzing customer needs. Consider investing in a data analytics solution that helps interpret this data so that you can nurture customer relationships in the future. Customer analytics is expected to play a vital role in CRM.

Lead Management

Record information on possible leads in a database to score them later. This feature often helps you identify leads that are most likely to convert, so that the sales team can customize their pitch accordingly.

Lead management on mobile (Source: Salesforce)

Business value to SMBs: This approach can help foster an ongoing relationship with valuable leads that encourages them to convert. It’s much faster and cost effective to let software sort your leads than have your employees do so manually.

Our recommendation: Categorizing your prospects is key to conversions. This feature will prevent your sales team from wasting time on leads that are less likely to convert. Focus on only the relevant leads and put your efforts in building a relationship with each prospect.

These top features form the core of automating sales processes and tasks, also known as sales force automation (SFA). Most businesses use some form of SFA to improve customer satisfaction. However, don’t use SFA as a standalone solution. Combine it with CRM to leverage each software’s separate, but complementary functions.

 TOP PRODUCTS:  Based on their value scores in the FrontRunners matrix, the top-rated products offering these features are Zoho CRM, Salesforce, Pipedrive and Hubspot.

Essential-for-Some CRM Features

As you choose among various CRM software options, you may find that you have additional needs that go beyond these widely used features. Below are some more specialized CRM features that may be essential for your business.

Email Campaigns

This feature lets you create, launch and track email campaigns that highlight new products and promote your brand.

Email campaigns (Source: bpm’online CRM)

When it’s useful: Email campaigns are useful for businesses that rely on building and maintaining a large number of returning customers, such as restaurants, shops and online stores.

Workflow Automation

This is a continuation of SFA that standardizes, and in some cases automates, business processes such as task lists, calendars, alerts and templates.

Workflow management in Oracle CRM OnDemand (Source: Software Advice)

When it’s useful: If your sales teams are losing valuable time focusing on repetitive tasks or your business relies on highly templatized tasks.


Forecasting, reporting and analytical abilities involve visually tracking and aggregating data. These tools can perform sophisticated analysis on past performance and productivity, and predict future trends.

Reports dashboard of amoCRM (Source: Software Advice)

When it’s useful: Analysis is best suited to mature businesses that have access to a large amount of well-organized data on internal performance, sales and customer behavior.

The essential-for-some features listed above are not mandatory. But, these features will help increase your marketing and sale teams’ efficiency. Therefore, you should keep them in mind when looking for a solution.

 TOP PRODUCTS:  Based on their capability scores, you should check out bpm’online CRM, amoCRM, Oracle CRM On Demand and Gold-Vision CRM.

What Solution Do I Choose?

While these encompass the fundamental tasks you’ll want to perform with your CRM system, and detail a few of the most popular specialized features, your business likely has its own specific needs.

To get more guidance about what software can best meet your business needs, give us a call at (844) 852-3639 for a free consultation with a software advisor.

Additionally, you can download a checklist of the above features to quickly understand if a vendor you’re considering offers these functionalities in their CRM solution.

Important: How to use this checklist

  1. Download the checklist and send it to all vendors whose CRM systems you are considering purchasing.
    1. Ask the vendors to add a “Yes” or “No” for each of the features on the list to indicate whether the tool offers that feature or not.
      1. Ask the vendor to add details about the feature in the “Comments” section.
        1. Once you receive the filled-in checklists back from the vendors, check the total score (generated automatically) for all CRM products and make your buying decision based on your requirements.

        Additional Resources

        To further help you understand the landscape of CRM software, we have created a number of detailed buyer guides. Here’s a quick list you can choose to read from:

        By Application:

        By Specialty:

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        The ABCs of CRM: A CRM Terminology Primer

        Customer Service Software Buyer Report – 2016