Across all industries, small businesses want the same thing from their CRM. They want workflows that can build better customer relationships and grow sales opportunities.

The proof is in a recent analysis of Gartner small business data that highlights the biggest CRM struggles for small businesses.

According to the data, 37 percent of SMBs said that their biggest CRM pain point was unorganized work flows, while 29 percent said that it was not being able to properly follow up on leads.

As SMBs try to navigate the complex world of CRM software to find a solution (pun intended) for their CRM woes, vertical CRMs will inevitably pop up among search results.

As opposed to horizontal CRMs, which can be used across any industry, vertical CRMs promise a solution tailored to industries where workflows or processes are more specific. Industries such as real estate and construction typically offer vertical CRMs that have built-in processes and best practices to make customer relationship management easier.

The question that many SMBs end up asking is whether they need a CRM that’s specific to their industry, or if they can get the functionality that they need from a general-purpose CRM.

Horizontal CRMs can be tailored to fit workflows and process, but that usually comes with additional implementation costs. Vertical CRMs have the needed features built-in, but they can be too niche or too process-specific for businesses.

Seventy percent of SMBs are looking for a CRM with new or specific features that will help them better organize customer and leads data. To avoid the costly risk of switching CRMs, feature availability should take precedence over an industry-specific solution when deciding on a CRM.

To help you decide whether you’ll need a horizontal or vertical CRM, I’ll go through:


Standard CRM features

According to a recent Gartner survey, the most critical technology for 73 percent of small businesses is a CRM.

A CRM is often the center of sales and marketing activity. It functions as a way to manage all customer data to provide the best customer experience for a company while keeping everyone in the loop about sales and marketing.

A CRM can be defined by three core features, and five common features that appear in nearly any piece of software labeling itself as a CRM.

Core CRM features

Core features are essential to every piece of CRM software.

  1. Contact management: As a cornerstone feature, contact management will help store customer information in a way that makes it easy to search for customers or clients.
  2. Interaction tracking: Given the number of channels that customers have at their disposal to contact a business, interaction tracking aims to record every touchpoint, whether by phone, email, or live chat.
  3. Lead management: Lead management includes more detailed information about potential customers or clients to be able to make decisions about next actions.

Common CRM features

While not all common features are essential to defining a CRM, most CRMs will have at least two of the following five features.

  1. Email management: Email is an important channel for client and customer communication, and having an integration with an email provider is important to keep communications in check. It also means being able to send email campaigns to clients based on their lead status.
  2. Workflow management: Sometimes referred to as pipeline management, workflow management standardizes business processes, usually in the form of tasks, alerts, and templates. It’s also where you can set up your sales stages based on your sales funnel to move customers through the sales process.
  3. Reporting and analytics: Getting customer data and sales numbers is essential to having useful insight into the success of sales. Being able to report on them can help businesses see trends and forecast for future sales growth.
  4. Call management: As another important communication channel, call management includes being able to call customers (usually over VoIP), track calls, and assess call volume to optimize sales activities.
  5. Lead scoring: As an extension of lead management, lead scoring provides a score to potential customers based on their likeliness to turn into paying customers.

From there, CRMs can have a variety of other features that extend their functionality, either horizontally or vertically. This can include features such as document management, product catalog, quote management, and territory management, among many others.

Vertical CRMs by industry

Vertical CRMs cater to a range of industries including auto dealerships, hotels, and finance. They have most of the core and common features listed above, but they may be called something different to fit the industry. They also have unique features that cater to distinct steps in the CRM process for these industries.

Here is a sample of four industries which offer CRMs tailored with specific features based on industry need:

construction CRM icon CRM for construction

Independent contractors and construction companies have a unique need for managing their clientele. The nature of construction means longer projects need to be tailored specifically to each client.

Whereas a traditional sales pipelines will have sales stages such as pitches sent, leads qualified, or proposals sent, construction companies need to think about things such as quotes or tenders, site scheduling, and servicing.

  • Quotes or tenders: As this process generally involves a lot of back and forth with clients, construction CRMs have features that help monitor quotes and track the paper trail involved in finalizing a deal.
  • Site scheduling: Construction involves frequent site visits and managing teams across various locations. A CRM developed for construction will have features to help schedule and coordinate various teams at different sites.
  • Servicing: While customer service can traditionally come as part of a CRM through a module or an integration, servicing involves more regularly scheduled maintenance or quality inspection beyond sporadic customer service incidents.

real estate CRM icon CRM for real estate

According to data from Software Advice, real estate agents are the most popular industry segment looking for a CRM, coming in at 18 percent. Real estate agents, who typically have to manage expensive listings, long-term clients, and schedule viewings, have a unique set of CRM needs.

  • Listing management: Agents need a way to manage their listings. At the very least, this should be an integration with listing software, or a connection to websites where properties are being showcased, such as or Zillow.
  • Commission tracking: Given the higher-than-average commission rates associated with real estate agents, being able to calculate agent commissions in relation to different sales schemes or payment plans is essential.
  • Client access portal: This provides a place where clients can come and check out property matches, read through their contracts, or see the schedule for upcoming viewings.

ecommerce CRM icon CRM for eCommerce

ECommerce CRMs are more tailored to businesses that operate exclusively in the online sphere of product sales. This generally means a lot more focus on inventory management, shipping, and storing customer purchase history. It aims to track the customer journey as accurately as possible to give better insight into sales and marketing activities.

  • Data tracking: This tracks the journey of your customer as they make their way around your website. This helps give a better idea of which pages they’re going to and even how close they may have gotten to checkout.
  • Marketing campaigns: While traditional CRMs usually have marketing features, eCommerce CRMs will have an even bigger focus on marketing to include marketing analytics and features that can link customer actions back to marketing campaigns.
  • Product catalog: This will help keep track of product inventory and send notifications if a product is getting low on stock.

healthcare CRM icon CRM for health care

Because sales isn’t necessarily the top priority for the health care industry, a CRM with funnel stages might not be overly useful. Health care CRMs have the need for keeping track of patient records and scheduling appointments.

Especially important for health care CRMs is to be compliant with regulations regarding patient information, including HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

  • Patient information system: As opposed to general customer management, a patient information system can store more detailed patient history and records for easy reference.
  • Recruiting management: Being able to recruit new physicians and nurses is an important part of managing growing health care practices, and is oftentimes an additional feature of CRMs for health care.
  • Regulatory compliance: A CRM can’t necessarily make you compliant. The features within it, however, can help your practice comply with industry regulations using modules to inform sales and marketing activities as it relates to patient privacy data.

CRMs with the most functionality

GetApp’s Category Leader ranking scores apps on five data points, one of which is functionality. The functionality score is calculated using a combination of user ratings and functionality breadth based on the identified presence of common and optional features.

Below is a list of the top five apps with the highest functionality score in GetApp’s Category Leader ranking for CRM.

For more detailed information about the scoring methodology used for Category Leaders, check out the methodology section at the bottom of the Category Leader ranking for CRM page.


Functionality score: 17/20

Salesforce offers flexibility and customizability when it comes to features and modules. As a popular solution across industries, Salesforce lets you add modules for marketing, customer support, and analytics to be able to expand on it’s already extensive feature set.

An example of the new homepage in Salesforce Lightning (Source)

Zoho CRM

Functionality score: 17/20

Zoho CRM is a popular solution among growing businesses. As a foundational piece of software for the Zoho suite of products, the CRM can easily become the central hub of customer data. This includes features for inventory management and customer service.

Zoho’s dashboard lets you view the most important information on its home screen (Source)

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Functionality score: 16/20

Microsoft and its Dynamics 365 suite offer plenty of features for CRM through its sales module. It’s got the added bonus of offering an AI engine to assist with tasks including email optimization and social media analysis to dive deeper into customer sentiment.

The dashboard view in Dynamics CRM (Source)

HubSpot CRM

Functionality score: 15/20

HubSpot is known in the world of marketing as a powerful tool, and its CRM adds more power to that name. The tool is a fully-featured CRM with the potential to add plenty of additional features to extend its usefulness. This, of course, includes an integration with HubSpot Marketing.

A view of the sales pipeline in HubSpot CRM (Source)

Agile CRM

Functionality score: 14/20

Agile CRM is another tool with plenty of functionality that’s both flexible and customizable. The multifunctional CRM also works as a marketing automation and customer support tool to centralize all activities in one place.

Agile CRM dashboard view (Source)

The verdict is in…

For heavily regulated industries such as health care, using a CRM built specifically for the industry will make it easier for data management and compliance.

What CRM selection ultimately comes down to, however, is features.

You might be able to get up and running more quickly with a vertical CRM designed for industry standard tasks and processes, but you can also tweak a general-purpose CRM to be able to fit your business’s workflow. CRM software often comes with customizable options anticipating that exact need.

To properly assess which CRM will be best for your business:

  • Outline exactly what you want to achieve with your CRM. This is the first step toward getting what you’ll need from the CRM you choose.
  • Compare feature availability for different CRMs, both horizontal and vertical, to see if they offer the features that you’ll need to make your business tasks and processes more streamlined.
  • Take advantage of the free trials offered by CRM vendors to get a taste of what to expect from your software of choice.
  • Talk to a sales rep about your specific needs and how the CRM can be customized for your business.