Management guru Peter Drucker said, “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” And businesses, small and large, have long since used a variety of manual methods to track and connect with customers.
It was only in the 1990s that customer relationship management (CRM), as we know it today, started taking shape. Contact management, database marketing, and sales force automation were among the first functions to be offered in CRM software.
Today, CRM software has grown in complexity, supports collaboration among multiple teams, and provides predictive and prescriptive insights to optimize sales initiatives. It also helps businesses integrate their marketing, customer service, and sales efforts across offline and online channels.
Analysis of over 9,000 CRM software inquiries Software Advice received from buyers in 2019 revealed that the following are the most in-demand CRM features:
The majority of customers still seek the same core CRM functions that were first automated in the ’90s. This suggests that managing leads and contacts to automate sales processes continues to be one of the primary functions of CRM software.
Marketing features are also gaining prominence given the many channels available today to reach out to customers. Similarly, the demand for reporting and analytics is increasing, as businesses are leveraging data to understand customer behavior and predict sales volumes.
10 key CRM software functions
Let’s discuss ten key functions that you should have in your CRM tech stack. We’ll also cover a few questions that you can ask vendors to understand if a software tool meets your needs.
1. Lead management
Generating leads is the first step in the sales cycle. CRM software helps capture lead details from multiple channels, including web forms, phone calls, social media platforms, and emails. Lead management functionality ensures that you don’t lose any leads and that you score and qualify leads correctly. It also tracks the progress of leads through the sales cycle and helps decide on marketing initiatives for nurturing them.
Key questions to ask a vendor: How many leads can I store? Is there an option to analyze and visualize leads? Can I create custom rules to qualify leads?
2. Contact management
Contact management involves recording customers’ details, such as name, phone number, address, and social media handle, in a searchable database. It also tracks and saves customer interactions in the contact database to build an integrated client profile. Contact management saves sales representatives the time and effort spent on remembering customer details or searching for them in multiple databases.
Key questions to ask a vendor: How many contacts can I store? What are the additional charges for increasing contact storage/numbers? Which details does the contact management feature let me capture?
Contact management in Bitrix24 (Source)
Email is the most preferred channel for B2B communication. Email management offers the ability to send mass emails, track email conversations with clients, plan drip email campaigns, and send automated emails to clients for events such as birthdays or anniversaries. As per Software Advice call notes analysis, an option to integrate the CRM system with existing email applications, such as Outlook or Gmail, is highly desired by buyers.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Do you provide customizable email templates? Are there predefined drip email marketing campaigns available? Can the software integrate with Gmail or Outlook?
4. Reporting and analytics
Reporting and analytics is required across all major business functions that CRM supports—sales, marketing, customer service, field service, ecommerce, and more. It helps track metrics such as profitability, rate of customer retention, and effectiveness of marketing campaigns. Reports and dashboards provide a high-level view (with drill-down options) of how a business is faring on different metrics. This feature also lets you share reports with different teams to make collaborative data-driven decisions.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Are the reports interactive? Do they offer drill-down options? What analytics and reporting features are available in the free version?
Dashboard in Zoho CRM (Source)
Marketing-related inquiries mainly revolved around the ability to segment and nurture leads, prepare and launch marketing campaigns, track campaign optimization, and support social media marketing. The marketing function covers aspects such as content marketing, marketing resource management, and automation. Marketing automation helps reduce costs and improve the efficiency of marketing initiatives.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Are marketing features included natively in the CRM solution, or are these offered via integrations? What are the different types of marketing tasks supported by the software? Can the software be integrated with other marketing tools, such as MailChimp or Hootsuite?
6. Pipeline management
Sales pipelines help visualize the sales cycle and identify where in the sales funnel a particular deal is. They allow you to sort and filter deals and perform bulk actions, such as sending emails to select customers. If you sell different products, you can create multiple sales pipelines to compare sales volume across products. Pipeline management helps tally sales with revenue and decide which deals to proceed with on priority and which ones to drop.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Can I use custom color codes for the pipeline? What interactive elements and drill-down options does this function support?
Sales pipeline in Zoho CRM (Source)
7. Workflow automation
Workflow automation allows you to create intelligent workflows using logic or rules, such as if-then-else, to automate repetitive tasks, including following up on leads, raising invoices, and sending emails. You receive notifications when tasks are completed as well as reminders if you need to input data manually. Workflow automation helps salespeople save time, avoid duplicate jobs, and ensure that the right actions are completed at each stage of the sales process.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Is this feature provided in your paid or free version? What different types of rules can I create for my workflows?
8. Document management
Document management lets you create, access, edit, and share files with colleagues or clients directly from the CRM system. You can set document access and edit rights to improve security. Also, version history allows you to access the previous versions of any file.
Key questions to ask a vendor: What is the storage limit that you offer? Do you charge extra for additional storage? What is your data retention policy? Can I integrate the software with other document storage applications, such as Google Drive or Dropbox?
9. Quotes/proposal management
This feature helps create and send quotes and proposals directly from your CRM solution. It also allows you to revise quotes, export them as PDF or Word files, and customize them to meet your client’s currency and tax structure. You can also share quotes with other colleagues or supervisors for approval.
Key questions to ask a vendor: Do you provide customizable quote templates? Can quote templates be auto-populated using data from Excel sheets or PDF documents? Can I add digital signatures to quotes?
Forecasting in CRM helps estimate your future sales or revenue based on present and past data trends. It lets you test different what-if scenarios to improve the predictability of your forecasting model. It also assists in preparing data-driven hiring strategies, deciding on optimal inventory levels, and investing in new channels.
Key questions to ask a vendor: How robust are the tool’s built-in forecasting models? Can I build custom models? Is the forecasting feature powered by machine learning or artificial intelligence capabilities?
Sales forecasting in SugarCRM (Source)
Other key considerations
Understanding CRM features is just one of the many things you should know when purchasing CRM software. Listed below are a few other things you must keep in mind when making a purchase decision.
- CRM solution vs. integrated CRM stack: Now that you know which features to look for, you must be wondering whether to buy a solution that offers all of them or build a stack of stand-alone tools that can be integrated to provide a seamless CRM experience. According to Gartner’s CRM Application Functionality Starfish report (full report available to Gartner clients only), small and midsize businesses are usually successful in meeting all of their goals with a single CRM application, while, in general, larger organizations tend to use a number of CRM applications, integrated together. Your choice will solely depend on your feature requirements and how extensive they are, as well as your budget.
- Integrations: Integration with existing business tools is a key criterion when selecting CRM products. Check that the CRM tool you select—suite or stand-alone—integrates with your existing tools.
- Mobile application: Mobile CRM apps are handy when you are on the move and need accurate data while visiting clients. Ensure that the vendor provides a mobile app for iOS as well as Android devices. Check which mobile functions work when a device is not connected to the internet.
Check out our CRM software directory and FrontRunners report to compare top CRM options and read user reviews of leading products. If you are still unsure about the right CRM software for your business, schedule an appointment with our advisors for a free, no-obligation consultation.
The applications selected in this article are examples to show a feature in context and are not intended as endorsements or recommendations. They have been obtained from sources believed to be reliable at the time of publication.