Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions can do much more than organize contacts and act as a digital rolodex. With the right features, CRM software can also help you boost sales by keeping an eye on customers, from nurturing leads to closing the sale and maintaining customer loyalty. It can also save you tons of time and money through sales force automation.
Here are 12 features to look for in CRM software.
1. Workflow automation
CRM software can make your life easier by automating your workflow. Look for software that lets you set up custom rules and comes with sales force automation to help you and your team be more productive.
By using rules, you can set your CRM software to automatically perform a specific action based on triggers or events, such as these:
- When a potential customer fills out a contact form on your website, the CRM software automatically directs the message to the right sales representative or department.
- When a sales representative receives a message, the CRM software automatically sends a preset response to acknowledge the message.
- If a lead, prospect, or opportunity doesn’t respond to your message or proposal, the CRM software automatically sends a follow-up message after a preset amount of time, such as 48 hours or two business days.
- When a sales representative makes calls or sends messages to a contact, the CRM software automatically logs hours and keeps track of all communications.
- As sales representatives complete tasks, the CRM software automatically reports them to supervisors and upper management for performance reports.
Workflow automation features can also take the time and legwork out of tedious sales tasks, such as order processing, order tracking and inventory control. [Looking for a CRM solution? Check out our guide to the best CRM software.]
No two businesses are the same, so the best CRM software can cater to your business’s unique needs. Some CRM solutions let you choose which features to include in your package, and some also allow you to customize basic areas, such as with the abilities to add contact fields, choose which data to show on your dashboard and create custom reports. You can also customize with extensions, plugins and other add-ons to expand your software’s capabilities.
If you need even more customization to truly tailor the software to your business, many CRM software providers offer more advanced options using APIs. This gives developers access to all technical specs and coding for full customization of your software. The API also allows you to integrate the software with existing business solutions your company uses to streamline processes.
3. Third-party integration
Connecting your CRM software to other solutions you already use can save you tons of time and money. Most CRM programs offer third-party software integrations; the key is choosing one that’s compatible with the software you use and easy to implement. For instance, popular CRM software Salesforce has its own marketplace called AppExchange, where users can easily connect Salesforce to solutions such as QuickBooks accounting software, Mailchimp email marketing software and DocuSign electronic signatures.
Here are a few things you can do with the right third-party integrations to make your life easier:
- Run CRM software straight from Outlook, Gmail or other email clients so you don’t have to keep switching between apps.
- Automatically sync sales and order information with your POS system and accounting software to eliminate manual data entry.
- Automatically build email lists and launch email marketing campaigns from either your email marketing software or CRM software so you don’t have to open both.
- Back up and sync data with Dropbox, Box.com and other popular cloud backup storage services.
Depending on your software, some integrations may require IT administration.
4. Customer service
CRM software can help you acquire and retain customers by providing excellent customer service. Look for the following capabilities that will allow your sales reps and customer support team to perform their best:
- Gives you a 360-degree comprehensive view of customers that shows everything there is to know about a customer from the first point of contact
- Automatically tracks all points of communications, from lead acquisition to closed sales and sales histories
- Logs all incidents, website visits, purchase histories, and other activities for future reference and to keep all reps on the same page
- Uses customers’ first names to personalize all correspondence
- Has unique reference numbers for each account, customer and help issue
- Automatically sends customers acknowledgments of their inquiries and messages so they don’t feel ignored
- Supports premade email templates and call scripts that answer the most common questions
Some CRM solutions can make this even easier by integrating third-party apps such as the Desk.com support platform, SurveyMonkey feedback forms and the RingCentral business phone system.
Editor’s note: Ready to look for CRM software? Fill out the below questionnaire to have our vendor partners contact you with free information.
5. Employee tracking
CRM software is a great way to track employee activity and performance. Choose software that gives employees their own accounts where they can individually track their hours, tasks, meetings, sales numbers, goals and other items. The software should also give supervisors and upper management access to dashboards that let them view individual employee goals, completed tasks and other metrics of productivity. This can help managers write employee performance reviews, create incentives, reward strong employees, and identify those who are struggling and address areas of improvement.
6. Social media
A CRM with built-in social media monitoring features can save your marketing team time, because they won’t have to switch platforms to perform the essential task of monitoring your company’s social media.
Salesforce, for example, has tools for you to perform these social media tasks:
- Get in tune with what people are saying about your brand through social listening.
- Gain insight into the numbers of social media actions your brand gets, such as comments, shares and mentions.
- Check every social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to customize your social media strategy accordingly.
- Get insight into who your customers are.
- Identify and leverage your brand.
- Manage the day-to-day tasks of posting to your social media accounts.
7. Lead management
A lead management feature will help you to identify your leads and the actions they’ve taken along the sales cycle. Through the lead management process, you’ll be able to score your leads and, if needed, filter them off to a different member of your team to turn select leads into customers.
Sometimes dead leads sit in a CRM for weeks or months. A smart sales manager stays on top of leads and redistributes quiet or seemingly dead leads to different members of their team for reengagement.
8. Real-time data
Starting in 2017, real-time data became the main driver for CRM systems, according to CMSWire. As noted in the article, CRMs can pull real-time data from devices, applications and even appliances.
These are just a few of the benefits of pulling real-time data:
- It helps you make better-informed marketing decisions about bidding price and placement of online advertising.
- You get an instant snapshot of market demand, so you can update your marketing plan accordingly to yield better results.
- You can identify which of your products and services generate the most revenue, and which generate the least and may need a boost in exposure.
9. CRM analytics
CRM analytics, also known as customer analytics, offer insight into customer data. This data is important because it can help you make better decisions about the types of products, services, marketing and overall communications you distribute to your customers.
Look for these specific analytics in a CRM:
- Customer segmentation that is simple to read and understand
- Clear profit and loss data to help you determine your ROI
- Informative web analytics that illustrate customer website use and behaviors
Reporting is the feature that brings the results of your sales and marketing efforts all together, and it comes standard with all the CRMs we’ve researched. The more of these report types you can access, the better:
- The number of leads that come in during a certain amount of time
- The number of sales generated during a certain amount of time
- Which of your sales agents closed which leads and how many they closed in a certain amount of time
- The number of outbound calls being made
- The effectiveness of your emails
- The stage at which your leads converted, helping you identify opportunities to close leads in a shorter time
11. Sales forecasting
A CRM with this feature predicts your future sales based on data from your current pipeline. You may need to alter your marketing plan based on the sales forecast. For example, if you thought your toy store was going to sell a lot of girls’ dolls during Christmas but learned through sales forecasting that building blocks are more popular, you can cater your campaigns accordingly. Sales forecasting can also anticipate market changes to mitigate your business risks.
Tracking emails through a traditional inbox can get overwhelming and confusing. Lifewire noted that, as of 2015, the average office worker received 121 emails. It’s important for every single sales email to be received and addressed in a timely fashion to increase the probability of generating revenue.
An email feature in a CRM helps keep your sales reps organized and productive. They can integrate their calendars to schedule appointments and engage prospects and customers accordingly. Another great email feature is the ability to automatically pull in email templates so reps spend less time crafting email content. You can use this feature to create several email templates, such as these:
- Basic information about the company, segmented by industry
- Follow-up after a phone call
- Follow-up after one email has been sent
- Follow-up to a proposal that reps are waiting on customers to return
CRM software can be a useful tool for businesses of all sizes, but it’s important to select a truly effective platform that can scale with your needs. If you look for these 12 features in CRM software before you buy, you can’t go wrong.
Sara Angeles contributed to the reporting and writing in this article.