Ten CRM features that bring the highest ROI and benefits

Determining the ROI for a CRM is notoriously difficult, but for many businesses, a CRM is one of its biggest investments.

Most businesses rely on organizational hearsay:

“The guys in sales love the new CRM.”

“The new CRM is really hard to navigate.”

“We can never find what we need on the CRM.”

Most businesses don’t have an accurate method to determine the ROI of their CRM or the ROI of specific key features. We’re going to take a look at how to start measuring ROI and key features that deliver the best ROI and benefits.

Our CRM feature ROI guide will cover:

Calculating CRM ROI

The simple equation is: (Gain from Investment – Cost of investment) ÷ Cost of Investment

Working out the gain (i.e. the ROI) is the most difficult part. At best, most businesses will look at headline measures like revenue or profit – using these metrics rarely tells the full picture. Often, businesses don’t even have a clear view of their CRM investment outlay – this is an important starting point.

Cost of investment

With the majority of mainstream CRMs now using a subscription model, the cost of investment is normally ongoing and is best described as a cost of ownership. Many businesses fail to include all the associated costs, for example, the management time invested in the implementation is often not considered, our article on CRM implementation goes into more detail, but here is a list to get started:

  • Subscription costs
  • Training costs (materials, internal time, and external consultants)
  • The loss in productivity during training 
  • Customization costs 
  • Time spent in the procurement process
  • Storage
  • Upgrades

This isn’t an exhaustive list but demonstrates the need to consider costs beyond just the subscription.

Gain from investment

You need to start with a baseline and then track progress over a period of time. The baseline might be your old CRM or when your new CRM is first implemented. The more data you have, the better.

Looking at the CRM investment as a whole is a useful start. You can use some headline metrics like:

  • Overall revenue
  • Revenue per lead
  • Cost per lead 
  • Productivity metrics (calls made, emails sent)

Get your free step-by-step guide to calculating CRM ROI from our CRM resources page

These headline figures will start to give some insight of the ROI for the CRM, but to understand how different features are performing it will need a much more sophisticated assessment. Here is a short assessment that will help to start making these judgments:

  1. Describe the feature i.e. what does it do?
  2. How does this feature improve business performance?
  3. How can we measure whether the feature impacts performance as intended?

Let’s take a look at an example:

  1. Describe the feature: segmentation of customers into different groups based on their buying habits with the business, how they interact with the website, and demographic data.
  2. Who in the business does this feature help? One team this helps is marketing – it enables them to target email campaigns more effectively which leads to a better sales conversion rate and higher subscription rates. 
  3. How can we measure whether the feature impacts performance as intended? By measuring open and conversion rates before implementation and regularly over time we can evaluate how any changes to the CRM are impacting performance.

Beware of other variables

As with every metric, there will always be other variables affecting the outcome. In the case above, if segmentation seemed to improve conversion rates, perhaps it’s because the business hired a new copywriter whose emails convert better and changes to the CRM didn’t factor in the improvements.

Once there is a lot of data, patterns will emerge. If segmentation improvements consistently deliver improvements regardless of who writes the copy, the level of confidence that segmentation delivers result will naturally increase.

Ten CRM features that deliver great ROI

These are ten CRM benefits that consistently deliver great ROI:

  1. Data centralization
  2. Segmentation
  3. Lead scoring
  4. Pipeline view
  5. Email marketing
  6. Productivity tracking
  7. Custom reporting
  8. Inventory management
  9. Call center management
  10. Helpdesk management

1. Data centralization

CRM is now seen as a data hub rather than solely a sales and marketing tool. The Economist magazine recently led with the story “The world’s most valuable resource is data not oil”. There is no question that data is important, and businesses are becoming more aware of the need to collect and manage data efficiently.

Better data management is often a key reason why businesses invest in CRM – when data is spread across multiple systems it can lead to a multitude of problems, at the highest level:

  • Lost information 
  • Lack of collaboration 
  • Duplicated tasks
  • Difficulty in rolling out initiatives 
  • Non-compliance

Every business will have specific problems, but one common thread is a lack of efficiency and wasted time.

Effective Energy Solutions is a good case study illustrating how the implementation of a centralized CRM helped an organization meet legislative changes, improve responsiveness, enhance customer experience, and sell more effectively.

Example – the messy case

A large law firm will collect extensive data on clients and projects; if this can be centralized and accessed by everyone, it can produce significant benefits.

For example, a solicitor working on a complex case that is becoming hard to manage may be able to pull up notes from the client’s initial meeting so they can zero in on the critical outcomes they’ve requested.

The same solicitor can look at similar cases the firm has worked on to get ideas on delivering the best outcome. Meanwhile, the partner in charge can keep tabs on the project and intervene if they feel the project is drifting. Finance can access a clear view on billing and ensure invoicing is completed accurately.

ROI 10/10: It’s very hard to quantify the ROI of centralizing data because the benefits are so broad, but over the long term it has scope to revolutionize how a business operates, can save time, money and provide critical strategic insight: a CRM feature with a vital benefit.

2. Segmentation

Segmentation involves splitting a customer base into smaller groups; this is traditionally important for tailoring marketing to the right customers. It can also be important for other functions, for example deciding on product ranges to release and strategic decisions like what customers to promote products to.

Segmentation can be used in multiple ways, here are a few:

  • Splitting customers by buying habits allows you to target customers with products that are right for them.
  • Detailed demographic data on your customer base helps to inform strategic insights on product development.
  • Demographic data is important when building a brand message – it helps marketers know who they’re speaking to.

In short, you need to know who your customers are so you can deliver the best service to them.

Example – the toy retailer

A website with 65,000 unique visitors per month, thousands of social media fans, and a 15,000 customer mailing list can hugely increase sales with segmentation. Even some rudimentary information can support marketing with information on:

  • Purchasing history
  • How users found the site
  • Demographic data

If a marketer has this data, they can build out dozens of relevant campaigns.

Find other key features that your business needs in their CRM with our free guide to CRM requirements gathering and features

A customer who has spent $1500 in the past year from demographic ABC1 having bought exclusively outdoor play equipment will receive a different message to a user who first visited the site three days ago searching for Star Wars toys and is from a less affluent demographic.

ROI 10/10: This is important for B2B and B2C businesses and a big benefit of segmentation is it can be measured very clearly. In the example above you can take both groups and send different campaigns for comparison purposes – enabling you to track efficacy.

3. Lead scoring

Lead scoring is the practice of valuing different leads; the scores can then determine where sales resources are allocated.

One of the biggest challenges for a sales team is deciding where to focus time and energy. If a CRM reports on the most high-quality leads, this can greatly focus sales activity.

Lead scoring forces businesses to ask the question “who are my best leads?”, and many businesses struggle to answer that question. Just the process of scoring should be helpful in filtering for the best potential clients.

For lead scoring to be effective, a business should have considered the following:

  • Do we have enough data to determine what is a good lead?
  • Will lead scoring inform our tactical approach to leads – if so, how?
  • Is there time and resource available to score leads?

Example – the education consultancy

A consultancy that sells budgetary reviews into school districts can benefit from lead scoring. By highlighting key areas to assess leads they can build key sales targets. They could score leads on:

  • Level of perceived interest in the service
  • Influence of key contact 
  • Need for the service
  • Stage in the sales cycle

Let’s say this reads:

  • High 
  • High 
  • High 
  • Final meeting

Clearly, this is a lead to focus on (the consultancy may quantify this with numbers to determine a numerical score). It seems an obvious approach, but if a database has 750 leads, you can start to see how important it would be to make sure the business is working on the hottest ones. As the leads go from strong to medium, a business can begin to make judgments on where to focus efforts.

ROI 7/10: Lead scoring is critical for businesses in certain circumstances, but it can be a time-burden, and if implemented badly can be inefficient.

4. Pipeline view

A good pipeline view is a visual way to keep track of sales activity and draw quick conclusions on pipeline health.

Pipeline views come in many shapes and sizes – typically a chart, dial, funnel or easy-to-read list are the designs used.

A good pipeline view depends on a few factors:

  • Information that’s up-to-date
  • A clear understanding of key metrics
  • The well-designed pipeline allows viewers to draw useful conclusions

Example – the insurance sales floor

Many insurance sales organizations have large floors of salespeople and optimizing performance is a critical function of the sales manager. An effective pipeline view will give the manager oversight of team performance and health of the pipeline; it also gives the option to drill down into each sales rep and how they’re performing.

A tactic that often works is setting up views for reps that are motivational and drive the right performance. For example, a dial that shows target versus actual performance can be effective.

A good pipeline view helps reps decide where they should focus their effort. If leads are looking low, they could work on filling the funnel, whereas if there were a lot of quotes being reviewed chasing up and closing quotes may be the best approach.

ROI 7/10: A good pipeline view can help in multiple ways: tracking, motivation, tactical decision-making, and reporting.

5. Email marketing

According to one report for every $1 spent on email marketing, $38 of revenue is generated; email marketing that is integrated into a CRM can deliver the best returns.

Many businesses have a CRM and a separate email marketing provider – it is becoming more common to bring the email marketing and CRM into one place.

Email marketing tends to be a very intimate method for interacting with customers. Many marketers will say that email marketing brings the biggest return of any medium. A few common tactics are:

  • Sending personalized offers
  • Newsletters that build relationships 
  • Useful content that engages readers

By integrating into a CRM that has good customer data, marketers are empowered to send information that is tailored very directly to customers. Automation that sends emails based on different preferences and behaviors typically improve results further.

Examples – the independent cinema

A small cinema can use email to build their brand. One approach is sending out high-quality content that keeps the cinema in readers’ minds - for example, film reviews or details on upcoming events they have happening. Once they send out some initial emails, they can use automation to tailor follow-up messages.

Check out our buyer's guide to marketing automation software for more information on CRM with integrated marketing functions

For example, a user that clicks on events may be sent a series of follow-ups that go into more detail on events; someone that has clicked on the link about Saturday’s films can be sent a reminder later in the week about the upcoming films.

By tailoring their messages, the cinema can give readers what they’re looking for and improve the likelihood of emails being opened.

ROI 10/10: Email marketing is still one of the most effective mediums for building relationships with customers, and email list building is central to many marketing plans.

6. Productivity tracking

A well-designed CRM can deliver analytics on the activity levels of teams and individuals. This data can track:

  • Calls made 
  • Emails sent 
  • Notes added
  • Meetings attended
  • Tasks completed

It can be hard to draw meaningful conclusions from this data, but as the data accumulates over time, it can often be very telling.

For example just because the best salesperson makes double the sales calls as the other salespeople doesn’t necessarily mean that the number of sales calls is the reason for their better performance. But once you have data on many salespeople over a period, trends are likely to emerge on what actions lead to results.

Businesses can use this data to build operational frameworks that are proven to work over time. For example, making between 100 – 125 calls per week is optimal or attending at least five meetings a week improve close rates.

Example – the enterprise SaaS sales team

Enterprise sales are beset with disagreement over what works – in a company with twenty sales reps tracking their actions for 12 months gives a treasure trove of useful data. Sales reps can be ranked on sales and a host of other metrics to see where correlation emerges between actions and outcomes. Correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but at least it’s a starting position.

Let’s say John is the best salesperson and he makes more calls than everyone – once this is confirmed the business can start to explore if it’s the calls that make him the best.

ROI 6/10: It’s very useful to evaluate what everyone is doing, but there are problems – it can take time to track these actions, often data can be incomplete and this analysis often throws up data that doesn’t have statistical significance.

7. Custom reporting

Custom reporting is a term that encompasses the range of reports that a CRM can deliver. The best CRMs not only deliver a suite of useful reports but it also has the functionality to build custom reports. Reports can come in many forms:

  • Sales figures 
  • Activity reports
  • Pipeline overview
  • Sales team performance
  • Segmentation
  • Email marketing

Example – the tea manufacturer

The MD of a tea manufacturer may use custom reports on a weekly basis to get oversight on how the business is performing. A weekly reporting kit could include:

  • Sales: looking at team and rep performance
  • Manufacturing efficiency: how much tea is produced
  • Management account: profit and loss accounts that show overall performance
  • Cash reporting: indicates the businesses solvency

From this initial high-level set of reports, the Managing Director can drill down into areas of concern. For example, if the sales team are performing badly, a set of reports on marketing and sales team productivity could be assessed as part of a more detailed investigation.

ROI 8/10: Giving team members a snapshot of performance that allows them to drill into problems and issues is a key benefit of a CRM. If the reports are set up effectively the ROI can be considerable because it acts as an early warning system to uncover problems.

8. Inventory management

Inventory management is a way to track which products you hold and includes relevant details on those products. This is most pertinent with businesses that sell tangible products. A good inventory management CRM has many benefits, here are just a few:

  1. Stock control: re-ordering stock when it’s running out. 
  2. Give insights into purchasing habits: for example, sales of a product may be in terminal decline so may be worth replacing.
  3. Product details: keeping product details can be helpful when answering customer questions.
  4. Manufacturer details: this can include information on deals, warranties, and reliability of manufacturers – useful when making decisions on what which products to stock.
  5. Pricing data: looking at the wholesale and retail price and margins over time can help zero in on products that deliver the best profits.

Most medium and large retailers will have some form of inventory management, and these systems can ensure that sales, margins, and stock levels are optimized. Although, surprisingly, 46% of US SMBs don’t use an inventory management system.

Example – golf retailer

A golf retailer that has five stores over a 60-mile area can use an inventory management system to ensure that the shops don’t run out of key stock lines; it may inform the shops when there are opportunities for making bulk purchases and driving down unit cost.

The retailer may use the system to evaluate their best selling products; these may vary between locations so each location can have the stock levels that work best for it. For example, a store in a more affluent area may stock more expensive products.

ROI 9/10: For any store, an inventory management system will provide valuable insights. No retailer can keep a handle on all stock issues effectively without reliable data. The best inventory CRMs will not only keep stores stocked but provide insights that help make decisions on product lines to maximize sales.

9. Call center management

CRMs with call center functionality are useful for a few key reasons:

  • Calls can be made from within the CRM meaning that everything moves faster.
  • Call recording enables users to listen to recordings.
  • The data from calls can be updated directly into the CRM, so everything is kept in one place.
  • Activity reports that can be run to track call data like time on calls and number of dials.
  • If there are multiple call centers across the company, then a centralized system should reduce duplication.

Example – stationary sales

Having a call center CRM can be helpful for a large sales operation; the shared data and centralized notes and call lists are critical. Also, tracking call data allows team managers to assess individual performance and tailor training accordingly.

Listening to the calls of the best reps can be used as a way to model the best sales performance and help develop the whole team.

ROI 6/10: Calling from inside the CRM, activity tracking, and call recording are features that can help, but many sales operations evolve and are successful without them.

10. Helpdesk management

A helpdesk solution that gives helpdesk reps access to the right information when they need it can be powerful.

For example, being able to immediately understand the value of a customer that is requesting a solution can be critical. A customer could be a huge client or a very small one – in an ideal world, the business would deliver consistent quality but given a long list of requests it makes sense to look after the best clients first.

As well as looking at the most valuable clients there are other features a good helpdesk CRM will have:

  • A series of well-organized and insightful help articles and videos.
  • A system for tracking and prioritizing tickets.
  • Centralized storage that allows reps to pull up relevant data from past queries – if the problems are the same or are persisting this may affect how they deal with requests.
  • Performance tracking allows managers to assess the performance of helpdesk reps.

Example – IT service provider

An IT service helpdesk in a large business with many computers and complex infrastructure that receives hundreds of requests per day needs a sophisticated system for tracking requests, and associated actions so that the most important jobs are addressed.

Also, request tickets can be assessed for recurring problems so systemic issues can be addressed.

ROI 8/10: For a business with a large number of helpdesk requests, a system that allows teams to manage the workload has two key ROIs: efficiency, and customer retention. Poor service is one of the key reasons for customer attrition, so a system that promotes excellent customer management can help retain customers and incentivize customers to refer.


The ROI on a CRM is hard to determine, but it’s important to take steps that try and make sense of the information you hold. As data becomes more important, having a clear view of the data you hold will give you a competitive advantage.

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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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