The ultimate top CRM features guide

Deciding what CRM features to invest in is a challenge; there are a number of questions to ask before choosing a CRM, and this guide will help you think about what features you need to consider. The features included in this guide have been split into three sections based on the ‘value’ they provide to a business, these are:

Must-have CRM features

First, we’re going to look at six features which are critical to almost any CRM configurations, or our ‘must-have’ CRM features:

  1. Contact management 
  2. Analytics and reporting
  3. Lead management 
  4. Deal and task management 
  5. Dashboards
  6. Mobility

1. Contact management

Contact management organizes customer data centrally; this includes basic details like name and address, plus more detailed information like demographics. It also tracks interactions between the business and customers.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

Access to data allows businesses to maximize the relationships they have. For example, understanding more about each customer can improve sales and customer service. A manufacturing business with great data on clients can extend the right deals.

If everyone has access to the same data, it creates synergies across the organization. If sales, marketing, and customer service can all see the same data on a company, it helps collaboration. If a salesperson notes some information during the sales process, this may help the customer service team in the future. For example, if a customer expresses a worry about how a feature may work in their business, the customer services team can see this flagged up and can prioritize addressing the issue.

Detailed and accessible data on customers can significantly help efficiency across the whole organization. For example, easily accessible customer details can help the finance team with invoicing just as easily as it can help the relationship management team upsell new products.

Helpful contact management features

  • Automatic updating of records from email accounts or submission forms.
  • Use an API to link with a business intelligence database to automatically add more company information.
  • Interact with contacts (calls, emails, and notes) directly in the CRM contact screen.

2. Analytics and reporting

Distilling a large amount of CRM data into business-critical analytics and reports is essential for most businesses.  18% of users cited getting a clear snapshot of business activity as the most important CRM feature.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

Data isn’t much use if it can’t be mined and interpreted so a business can use it. For example, a sales team may want to drill down into how successful their outbound sales function is at converting leads or take a look at a snapshot of the pipeline.

Being able to analyze data quickly and easily allows businesses to improve its processes where necessary. It’s fairly common that reviewing data can prompt a business to change how they operate a part of their business – it allows them to quantify their efforts and can provide surprising conclusions.

If people in a business know they’re being judged on certain metrics in the CRM, it will motivate them to pay attention to the data and engage with the CRM, thus improving CRM usage across the organization as a whole.

Helpful analytics and reporting features

  • Customization is important because every business is slightly different and will need to interact with data in a unique way.
  • Reports presented in a visual format; many employees engage better with visual reports. This can make it easier to digest and get the point of the data across.

3. Lead management

According to research by Pardot, 79% of leads fail to convert without CRM. Generating high-quality leads is one of the hardest business practices. Most businesses say that if they could solve this problem then their business would improve.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

Driving high-quality leads is a big challenge for every business whether they are B2B or B2C. Implementing a CRM that supports lead management is a key step in generating the best leads. 

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Even SMBs may be running multi-channel marketing campaigns, and good lead management allows businesses to track everything. Leads may be coming in from diverse sources, for example, one campaign may aim at selling a new product to current customers, and another might be a brand new campaign aimed at a new market. Good lead management will allow businesses to get a clear view of how campaigns are performing and drive key activity like sales follow-ups and sending proposals.

Helpful lead management features

  • Lead reporting helps businesses keep a view of the whole pipeline.
  • The web-to-lead form is a feature where online inquiries are turned into CRM records and routed to a salesperson.
  • Simple and detailed filtering of data that builds campaigns helps businesses build and track marketing campaigns.

4. Deal and task management

Prioritization is one of the key challenges faced by sales teams; there is often so much potential opportunity to pursue that it can be overwhelming. An effective deal and task management capability will allow a business and its employees to work on the most leveraged tasks.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

An effective CRM will help salespeople to stay focused on the key deliverables. A key part of hitting deliverables is ensuring tasks are completed promptly. 

It’s critical because salespeople not only have to manage a large workload, they’re often dealing with prospects at various stages in the sales funnel. For example, a sales rep may jump from an initial demo call into a detailed meeting with a prospect who has some detailed questions on their solution. A good management system will allow the salesperson to have visibility on the most important tasks.

Helpful deal and task management features

  • Calendar sync and automatic reminders help to make sure nothing slips through the cracks.
  • Reminders for deals at every stage of the process. A CRM that can deliver reminders within an appropriate time frame can add value, for example. For deals that are in the final stage or are of higher value, reminders can be more regular.
  • Automatic actions that are set to send chaser emails to leads at a certain stage in the pipeline.

5. Dashboards

Dashboards help give key information quickly. Many employees and managers will use dashboards as a quick view on progress – great dashboards can give clear oversight and drive pertinent activity.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

For many users, the dashboard view is how they evaluate progress, so a great dashboard that is easy to read and provides the key information is a great tool for engaging users to invest time into the CRM. Some dashboards can be gamified to drive behavior, for example, telling a user their pipeline has grown by x% in the last week.

Users engage with CRMs if they are simple, and many people are visual in how they take in information. A dashboard view can be something that helps them understand the information contained within the CRM.

Helpful dashboard features

  • Dashboards that allow users to easily dive into the relevant detail are helpful. If you can see sales conversion is down by 22%, being able to bring up a list of deals that haven’t converted may be helpful.  This allows users to quickly diagnose the high-level problems the dashboard has alerted them to.
  • Visual features like charts and graphs to help users digest information.
  • The flexibility to customize dashboards to a users’ favorite format improves engagement.
  • Easy printing options can be helpful as many organizations still engage with hard copies in meetings.

6. Mobility

In the modern workforce flexibility to work at convenient times is important. Having a CRM that is easy to use across laptop, desktop, tablet, and phone is critical. Inoppl Technologies research suggests that sales reps that use mobile CRM achieve quotas 65% of the time, whereas in companies that haven’t adopted mobile CRM only 22% of reps achieve quotas.

Why is it a must-have CRM feature?

CRMs that dominate the mobile space take advantage of different platforms to enhance the experience. For instance, a dashboard is presented in the best way for the platform - a mobile screen won’t be able to show the same data as a 20-inch laptop screen and acknowledging this and tailoring the experience is important for user engagement.

Being able to access information ‘on-the-go’ is important, especially for sales reps that are on the road a large portion of the time. Also, cynically it means that it’s easier to access work information so they may be more inclined to work a few extra hours.

Helpful mobility features

  • Native apps for Android and iOS.
  • Mapping and navigation to help visualize a contact on the map, this can also help map sales territories.
  • Offline, online and hybrid connectivity, and background synchronization.

Nice-to-have CRM features

These features aren’t considered absolutely critical, but are very useful to your business, and should be considered on your list of CRM requirements.

  1. Calendar integrations
  2. Email tracking
  3. Workflow automation
  4. Ticket management
  5. Quote and order management
  6. Project management

1. Calendar integrations

Calendar sync allows activities and meetings in a CRM to match the employee main calendar tool.  It helps with the consolidation of information for users and ensures key tasks aren’t missed. Whether a business uses the tool depends on the type of user – for sales teams that are proactively booking a large number of meetings and calls, calendar integration is important to manage the workload.

Calendar integration CRM features

  • Integration with mainstream calendars like Outlook and Gmail.
  • Two-way sync where the CRM pulls in data from the calendar and pushes data from the CRM.
  • Assigning calendar events to contacts.
  • Send invitations directly from CRM.

2. Email tracking

A study by Strongview suggests that successful email marketing can return $40 for every $1 spent – although this seems excessively high it’s widely accepted that email marketing is one of the most successful marketing techniques.

Email tracking gives users a critical insight into the effectiveness of their email marketing campaigns; typical email tracking functionality will track opens and clicks.

Good email tracking analytics can be highly informative to help users zero in on the most effective email campaigns. Visibility over email campaigns can help users develop split testing where different approaches are tested.

Email tracking CRM features

  • Real-time open notifications can be useful for sales teams that are looking to make contact with a prospect.
  • Analytics that track campaign success over time to help users spot trends and zero in on the most successful campaigns.
  • Sync with contact feature allows users to see in the contact view if a prospect has opened a message.

3. Workflow automation

Workflow automation is used by small, medium, and large businesses; these automations allow businesses to define processes and use a CRM to enable them. For example, if someone signs up to a newsletter this may trigger a set of steps: being assigned to a sales rep, add the contact to the CRM with certain tags that define its origin and trigger a series of follow up emails.

Automation can save time and improve efficiency; they also allow users to build highly targeted and specific processes. A prospect that originated through one form may experience a very different set of follow-ups than a prospect from a different form.

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For example, a hotel and spa may have different forms for prospects that have inquired about hotel stays and those that have enquired specifically about spa treatments. Different follow-up email marketing can be directed at prospects depending on their interests.

Workflow automation CRM features

  • Set up processes based on “if-then” rules, so an action triggers a set of automated actions. For example, if a deal is won it may trigger a notification to an account manager, follow up emails and an invoice.
  • Integrations with third-party applications so the automation can push out process commands.

4. Ticket management

For certain businesses, ticket management is an important CRM feature.  It has particular importance in customer services and help desk functions where there are a myriad of requests incoming that need to be tracked.

Businesses that use efficient ticketing systems in customer services regularly see a considerable increase in their customer retention.

Using ticketing within a CRM can also add any tickets raised to a contacts record so that there is a record of issues. Account managers can be notified so they can check that tickets are dealt with, and customers are happy.

Ticket management CRM features

  • Central ticketing list with visibility over assignees and progress.
  • Analytics that gives the business a view on key metrics around response rates and customer satisfaction.
  • Notifications to key internal users (for example informing account managers if one of their clients has an issue).
  • Auto follow-up to check customers are satisfied with the response.

5. Quote and order management

This is an important feature for many businesses; rather than just using the CRM as a contact and sales database the CRM is deployed as a fulfillment tool. This can be particularly useful in e-commerce businesses or businesses with a large number of transactions.

The CRM automatically processes quotes and sends out orders. The advantage of doing this in the CRM is to get all sales, marketing, and contact information in one place, providing the business with an end-to-end view of its business operations.

Quote and order management CRM features

  • Integration with opportunity management so that salespeople can quickly and efficiently produce and track quotes.
  • Easy quote updates and customization. 
  • Generate invoices from quotations.
  • Track quotations in contact views.

6. Project management

Project management is an important feature for many businesses. Some organizations have sales and project management in separate systems, but keeping them in one place has many advantages like sharing information between sales and delivery teams and tracking upselling opportunities during a project.

Project management in a CRM is of particular importance to businesses that run complex projects when a piece of work has been won – management consultancy and construction are two such examples.

Project management CRM features

  • Task assignment and tracking. 
  • Setting and tracking key milestones.
  • Client communication and project updates.
  • Issue monitoring.

The added ‘extra’ CRM features

These features aren't at the same need level as the must-have and nice-to-have features, but do provide some great benefits to your business and should be considered as add-ons or potential future investments.

  1. Marketing automation 
  2. Social media management
  3. Chat function
  4. Product configuration
  5. Partner relationship management
  6. LinkedIn integration

1. Marketing automation

CRM and marketing automation are traditionally seen as different disciplines and in the past have been deployed using different software.

Marketing automation focuses on outbound marketing activities; often once leads have been generated they graduate to a sales CRM.

There is some inefficiency regarding using different systems and vendors have noted this so started building marketing automation into the CRM feature-set.

Marketing automation CRM features

  • Email marketing functions and email automation that tailor campaigns.
  • Automation activities pushed to contact database.
  • Email templates and tracking analytics.
  • Segmentation of leads to help build targeted campaigns.

2. Social media management

According to WurlWind, 37% of B2B buyers ask questions on social media when making buying decisions. Being able to track social media activity within the CRM and even build and deploy campaigns directly from the CRM is an exciting functionality that can revolutionize workflow for businesses that rely heavily on social media marketing.

If a company can track customer interactions in social media on the CRM, it can help teams across the business assimilate what is happening on social platforms into their workflow. A sales team can take questions on Facebook or Twitter, turn those into live sales leads and create follow-ups.

Social media management CRM features

  • Track activities on social channels inside the CRM and create contacts from social media interactions.
  • Enrich CRM data with data available through social media channels.
  • Keyword and hashtag analytics can help businesses identify potential new clients or enrich current customer profiles with extra tags that can inform customer preferences and how the business markets to them.

3. Chat function

Internal chat within a CRM can be a useful tool for addressing key issues and improving collaboration between teams. If an account manager notices a note made by a sales team member, jumping on chat can help resolve the query quickly.

Chat function in CRM is controversial because of potential distraction, and businesses like to use email, slack or another medium. However, chat within a CRM can have unique benefits, the chat notes can be logged against accounts, notifications can be created and chat messages that can’t be answered immediately can be turned into tickets that can be addressed later on.

Chat function CRM features

  • Chat messages pushed to an email provider or Slack.
  • Chat messages uploaded to contact or deal profiles.
  • Pop-up windows and automatic notifications.

4. Product configuration

A product configuration model allows a user to create product profiles quickly within a CRM; this can be used for generating invoices, preparing quotes or building budgets for new product ideas.

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An example would be a business that sells bespoke bicycles. When a request for an order comes in the product configuration module in the CRM would make it easy to develop a quote for the requested product.

The advantage of doing this in the CRM is that all quotes can be kept on client files and their preferences can be recorded. This can help with relationship management and sales in the future.

Product configuration CRM features

  • Integration with quote production module.
  • Bespoke imagery and pricing.
  • Centralized knowledge base so that sales teams can access information to help customers optimize orders.
  • Updated customer information can be completed centrally.
  • Plug into stock management systems so a user can advise on lead times when selling to customers.

5. Partner relationship management

Using a CRM to manage partnerships can be just as important as managing clients. A business may have many different types of partner: sales distributors, consultants, managed service providers or suppliers. Developing efficient and harmonious long-term relationships with these partners is arguably more important than with clients.

Partner relationship management CRM features

  • Activity tracking
  • Contact information
  • Integrations into workflow automation
  • Partner performance dashboards
  • Integrate partners with the CRM, so that have access to information they need, for example on projects or calendars.

6. LinkedIn integration

LinkedIn has a treasure trove of important information about potential customers and a recognized channel for reaching them. Being able to utilize this database in collaboration with a CRM has many benefits. Contact profiles can be enriched and kept up-to-date in real time, LinkedIn messages sent directly from CRM and connections instigated.

LinkedIn CRM features

  • Messaging direct from the CRM 
  • Automatically updated
  • Notifications for key changes
  • Auto-created leads

Hopefully, this has been a helpful overview of some of the core and emerging features that you can deploy in your CRM.

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Doug Haines

About the author…

Doug Haines has worked on a variety of CRM implementation projects and now writes on a wide range of topics. He is a regular contributor to Discover CRM

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Doug Haines

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