“The customer is always right!”

You may have heard this refrain many times before, but is your customer relationship management (CRM) tool right for engaging your customers?

If you’re a small business owner or IT professional preparing to deploy or upgrade a CRM solution, choosing a feature-specific tool with the right mix of features for your customer-centric processes remains a key challenge. Even more so if you’re operating on a tight budget.

That’s why you must clearly differentiate between the core features of CRM software and features that are nice to have or optional before you purchase a solution.

According to Software Advice, 50 percent of small businesses use manual methods (e.g., spreadsheets and email) to manage customer relationships, and 9 percent are still using no method for customer relationship management.

Small businesses owners or IT professionals choosing a CRM for the first time or upgrading their CRM must have a clear technical understanding of the top CRM features, or else they risk missing out on these essential features or choosing features they don’t need, which will result in negative ROI from the software implementation.

In this article, we’ll explore the technical aspects of the top and most notable CRM software features. Advanced technical insights can help small businesses know which CRM features are an absolute must in a solution, and which aren’t as necessary.

Jump to the features below for more details:

Top features

Notable features

Overview of top and notable features of CRM solutions

Top features: The core ‘must-have’ CRM features

Contact management centralizes data to break down silosContact management centralizes data to break down silos

Contact management is the central database that stores customer contact details (e.g., name, email address, interaction history, order history, feedback).

Key facts:

  • Nine out of 10 small businesses that are using a CRM use it for contact management to store customer interactions, emails, and chats as it facilitates easy retrieval of data.
  • The EU’s new privacy regulation—GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)—imposes restrictions on the way businesses collect and organize personal data, giving EU citizens greater control over their personal data. Most CRM software vendors have added GDPR-centric enhancements such as customer consent forms, double opt-in mechanism (authenticating a customer’s sign-up by sending double opt-in emails), and data encryption to their offerings.

“techKey technical aspects of contact management

  • Real-time data collection, storage, and filtering: This is where users collect and store customer and leads data in a central database. The data can be further organized into sub-tabs under specific filters such as contact, lead, or opportunity. Sales or customer service departments can format custom fields as text, numerical, date, and drop-down menus to gather relevant details about a customer’s interactions. In addition, users can add new contacts or bulk import existing customers to the CRM solution directly as a CSV file. Contacts can also be imported from an email contact list.
  • Contact appointment management: Sales reps can schedule appointments, events, and meetings once they’ve identified prospective leads in the contact database. They can also create a personal scheduling page, upload the appointment scheduler to the company website, add events to the CRM or Google calendars, share the appointment-scheduling link with customers, and get automatic notifications about open and booked appointments.
  • API integrations of contact information with external platforms: With the help of an application programming interface (API), CRM tools integrate with social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to extract contact information. CRM email integrations allow importing contact information from multiple email accounts and synchronizing data transfer to the contact database. In addition, integrated card scanners equipped with optical character recognition technology (OCR) allow users to scan business cards with a smartphone camera and import contact information into the CRM.
  • Encrypting contact data using AES, TLS, and SSL : Contact management offers multilevel security to limit access to unauthorized users, with role-based permissions and authentications to view and edit contact information. Moreover, most CRM tools encrypt contact information through AES, TLS, and SSL data encryption technology and provide network security measures through IPS (intrusion prevention systems). This prevents unauthorized access to internal storage, network, or device data.

“thumbsKey benefits of contact management

  • Eliminates manual sorting of contacts: The contact management dashboard filters contacts based on demographic location, products purchased, last transactions, and other criteria. This eliminates the need to manually sort contacts on spreadsheets.
  • Provides a central repository of contact information: The ready availability of contact details helps support teams solve customer issues faster, as they have all the information on hand in a central database.
  • Cross-functional access to contact information: Access to contact details and contact history helps sales teams connect, follow up, and close deals more quickly. Sixty-eight percent of sales professionals agree that it’s critical to have a single view of the customer across departments or roles.

Interaction tracking identifies key pain points of customers and prospects iconInteraction tracking identifies key pain points of customers and prospects

Interaction tracking allows sales and customer support reps to log customer interactions during meetings, phone calls, and live chat while closing a deal or resolving customer issues.

Key facts:

“techKey technical aspects of interaction tracking

  • Engagement metrics: Emails sent by sales or customer reps to customers and vice versa are tracked to measure customer engagement and identify potential leads for a product or service. The software can measure URLs clicked, note device or browser details, and log geographic location. You can also track customer interactions via live chat for information on number of chats, days visited, average time spent, most recent visit, and more.
  • Call logs: Customer support agents can record call details, such as date and time, duration, and additional notes to track various metrics, including average time spent on calls in a day, month, or quarter.
  • Email tracking through IMAP servers: With email scheduling, sales reps can schedule email delivery to leads on specific sales campaigns. Most CRM tools integrate with email applications such as Outlook, Gmail, Lotus Notes, Microsoft Exchange Server, or IMAP–based (Internet Message Access Protocol) email servers. This facilitates two-way email sync, helping salespeople view, send, and track emails directly within the software. They can also set when and how (browser, desktop, or CRM) to receive email notifications.

“thumbsKey benefits of interaction tracking

  • Create high-impact sales and marketing campaigns: Interaction tracking helps small businesses differentiate between the most active, engaged customers and the least engaged ones. These details can help create marketing and sales campaigns that focus on high-impact prospects, engage inactive customers, and remove outdated information or customers that are not interested in your product or service. In addition, the feature also helps you target your sales or marketing campaigns based on interactions with customers or potential leads.
  • Compile repository of common customer queries: Analyzing customer interactions helps small businesses identify frequently asked questions. The answers can be compiled into a knowledge repository to help potential customers resolve future queries through self-service, which reduces the queue for customer service reps, freeing them up to attend to customers with more urgent or specific issues.
  • Gain deeper customer insights: Interaction tracking is beneficial for small businesses that specialize in call center management. It helps them derive more customer insights based on call notes analysis.

Lead management converts leads into customers iconLead management converts leads into customers

The lead management feature stores information on leads such as demographic details, interactions, website activity, lead score, and recent tickets from potential leads. It helps with lead capture and assigning leads to sales reps. You can also sort leads using filters such as lead score and geographic location.

Key facts:

“techKey technical aspects of lead management

  • Automatic lead capture from external platforms: This feature streamlines lead generation by automatically capturing and storing information about website visitors, as well as those that interact with the business via social media and email. The most common lead capture mechanisms are web to lead (using a lead capture form on a web page), call to lead (call from a prospect that’s automatically entered into the database as new lead), email to lead (email from a prospect), and social to lead (incoming posts, comments, tweets, etc., on your social media page).
  • Lead assignment: Sales reps are automatically assigned new leads based on their queue, product, department, the lead’s geographic location, etc. You can also opt to use a round-robin queue to assign leads fairly and optimize follow-ups. Once you set the rules, the tool begins to automatically route leads to the right rep.
  • Lead scoring: This feature helps you assign a positive or negative score, or a ranking, to each lead based on explicit and implicit lead data. It lets you focus on high priority customers that can be converted quickly into leads. Lead scoring tools track a weekly increase or decrease in lead score and factors that contribute to the score such as the lead’s engagement level, willingness to buy a product or service, clear indication of a business requirement, etc.

“thumbsKey benefits of lead management

  • Improves sales team’s outreach to potential customers: Lead management helps small businesses reach out to a larger number of prospects online and gather more information about each lead, thus, speeding up conversions and also by pairing sales reps with leads that are the best fit, so that the right rep works on the highest impact deals.
  • Helps differentiate lead quality: It prevents the loss of valuable leads by differentiating between high-impact and poor leads using lead scoring. Moreover, your sales team’s productivity spikes as a smaller, but targeted pool of qualified leads makes the sales process a lot easier.
  • Optimizes sales efficiency: Automatically routing leads to the appropriate sales rep helps optimize the sales team’s efficiency. It also creates an organized workflow, which leaves less chance of a lead slipping through the cracks.

Notable features: Optional features to be considered against specific business needs

Forecasting/reporting/analytics tools provide hard data to eliminate guess work iconForecasting/reporting/analytics tools provide hard data to eliminate guess work

Forecasting, reporting, and analytics features within CRM tools track, aggregate, and analyze CRM data (often through visual dashboards) to assess the sales team’s performance, productivity, and win/loss rates, as well as do sales forecasts.

Key facts:

  • According to Software Advice’s CRM software Buyer Report, 22 percent of small businesses want reporting/analytics functionality in a CRM tool.
  • Three-quarters of sales professionals surveyed say that sales analytics has helped them improve the consistency of the customer experience they offer across multiple channels.
  • Seventy-nine percent of sales teams currently use or plan to use sales analytics technology to improve their sales process efficiency, gain deeper insights into lead quality, and ensure greater visibility for managers.

“techKey technical aspects of forecasting/reporting/analytics

  • Predictive analytics for sales forecasting: CRM tools can help you predict monthly or quarterly sales, revenue, financials, and more in order to set realistic sales targets and quotas. Forecasting reports are created based on key information such as deals in the pipeline, sales and revenue history, team performance, key trends, and quotas met in the previous fiscal year.
  • In-depth sales reports: Reporting features help you create data-driven reports to track the sales process, understand pipeline metrics, and see sales breakdowns by product. Based on the sales reports, you can analyze patterns, trends, behaviors, and other market insights. Import and export files from databases, third-party business apps, etc., for your reports and use easy-to-read charts, graphs, pivot tables, and tabular view components to present the data in a visual format.
  • Integration with other platforms: Most sales reporting/analytics/forecasting tools integrate with accounting and ERP (enterprise resource planning) apps as well as Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote. Data synchronization pulls data from the CRM and automatically exports the projected sales order information to the ERP system.

“thumbsKey benefits of forecasting/reporting/analytics

  • Enhances sales data transparency: Detailed business intelligence reports automatically give sales reps access to sales data from multiple channels.
  • Helps sales managers make critical sales process decisions: The ability to see, compare, and analyze sales data at micro and macro levels using reports and dashboards can help small businesses make quick, data-driven business decisions.
  • Increases accuracy of sales forecasts: Accurate sales forecasting will help small businesses move beyond guessing what will work and what won’t, so they can streamline their sales planning and budgeting process and avoid the common pitfalls of over- or underestimating forecasts.

Call management improves phone support, reduces customer frustration iconCall management improves phone support, reduces customer frustration

Call management features help small businesses monitor, record, route, and queue incoming or outgoing phone calls to or from customers and leads.

Key facts:

  • Twenty-nine percent of sales professionals say that connecting with prospects via phone is a top challenge.
  • Many popular CRM tools are configured to obtain the customer or prospect’s consent before recording the call, both domestic and international, as some countries prohibit call recording without consent. These tools automatically turn off the recording feature and show a pop-up alert to remind the caller to obtain consent before recording a call.

“techKey technical aspects of call management

  • Interactive voice response (IVR): This is a human interface technology that helps customers navigate product and service menu options during a call. They use keypad and voice-based commands to facilitate a self-service customer process such as logging a complaint.
  • Call routing and queuing: This feature lets you configure and determine the criteria (such as maximum wait time, queue size, and voicemail options) to handle each incoming support call. Real-time queue monitoring tracks which reps are on calls, so that incoming calls automatically go to a free rep. You can also group route direct calls to specific customer support groups.
  • Call recording and forwarding: This feature allows you to save a record of every call made or received and then map it to an existing lead or create a new lead. Customer support reps can take notes during calls that are automatically added to the customer’s interaction history. They can also take calls from the desk or forward it to their mobile using the call forward functionality.

“thumbsKey benefits of call management

  • Manages huge call volumes: As customer queries are addressed through phone calls, the call management feature manages huge volumes of outbound and inbound calls by automatically assigning calls to reps through scheduling and automatic call routing features.
  • Helps train sales reps through call recording: Small businesses can improve their service quality levels by logging calls, storing information and call history, and recording notes from calls to train sales or customer service reps on the key pain points of customers or leads.
  • Increases customer loyalty: With call flow management features, such as scheduling and routing calls to the next available customer rep, call management addresses customer queries much more quickly than manual call assignments could. Moreover, this feature reduces idle time for a customer to speak to a rep, which helps to boost customer loyalty toward your small business as they don’t have to wait longer to be attended by a rep.

Next steps and additional resources

Identifying the core versus optional features in a CRM tool is essential to avoid seeing a negative ROI on your CRM platform deployment.

Actionable steps to help you shortlist a CRM tool based on the features you need:

some actionable steps that can help you shortlist a CRM tool based on the features you need

Research for this piece contributed by Deeksha Malik.