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Updated Jan 08, 2024

The 25 Most Important Features to Look for in a CRM Solution

Tom Anziano headshot
Tom Anziano, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer

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With the right features and functionality, customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you save time and boost sales by monitoring prospects and clients throughout the customer life cycle, from nurturing leads to closing sales to maintaining customer loyalty. We’ll outline 25 essential CRM features that can improve business efficiency and share top CRM solutions that may be a fit for your organization. 

Key CRM software features

CRM software benefits businesses in many ways; however, finding the best solution for your needs takes time. Many vendors offer various products with wide-ranging features. Some even offer specialized software for specific industries like hospitality and healthcare. 

While your organization may benefit from niche CRM functionality, the following 25 essential CRM features can help every business operate more efficiently and seamlessly manage relationships with customers at every stage of the customer life cycle. 

TipTip

When researching CRM solutions, familiarize yourself with key CRM software terms to get a handle on this complex subject.

1. Contact management 

Contact management is at the heart of any CRM platform. Contact management helps businesses seamlessly gather and organize detailed information about prospects and customers, helping you build solid relationships and do better at keeping your customers.

Customer profiles contain demographics, social media connections and all client interactions, regardless of department (sales, customer service, etc.). You gain a 360-degree sales pipeline overview, helping you manage relationships and gain valuable insights and feedback to better serve customers in the future.

Contact management is a crucial CRM feature. Ensure you choose a straightforward, easy-to-use solution with all the necessary customer interaction metrics. 

2. Workflow automation 

Automated CRM workflows can make your life easier. 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. 

With workflow automation, your CRM software can automatically perform specific actions based on triggers or events, such as the following:

  • When a potential customer fills out an online form, the CRM software automatically directs the message to the proper sales representative or department.
  • When a sales representative receives a message, the CRM software automatically sends a preset response to acknowledge the message.
  • Suppose a lead, prospect or opportunity doesn’t respond to your message or proposal. In that case, the CRM software automatically sends a follow-up message after a preset time, such as 48 hours or two business days.
  • When a sales representative calls or sends messages to a contact, the CRM software automatically logs hours and tracks all communications.
  • As sales representatives complete tasks, the CRM software automatically reports them to supervisors and upper management for performance reports. 
Did You Know?Did you know

Workflow automation features also take the time and legwork out of tedious sales tasks, such as order processing, order tracking and inventory management.

3. Marketing automation

Beyond sales automation, look for CRM software that automates marketing tasks.

Marketing automation helps you effectively reach potential target customers by providing valuable insights to inform personalized messaging, such as deals and coupons. You can use website forms to automatically capture lead-tracking and client profile data; your sales teams can use this information to successfully convert more leads. Marketing automation data can also help you analyze your marketing campaign return on investment and help plan future marketing efforts.

4. Customization

No two businesses are alike, so the best CRM software will cater to your business’s unique needs with customization features. Some CRM solutions let you choose which features to include in your package. Others let you add contact fields, select dashboard elements and create custom reports. Many CRMs boost customization options with extensions, plugins and other add-ons to expand your software’s capabilities. 

If you need even more customization, many CRM vendors offer advanced options using application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs give developers access to technical specs and coding for even more enhanced software customization. APIs also let you integrate the software with your company’s existing business solutions to streamline processes.  

5. Feature elimination

Finding a customized solution that offers features that meet all your business requirements is essential. But it’s also important to eliminate package features you don’t use.

CRM software should provide a seamless way to manage your data, customer relationships and sales. You must be able to focus clearly on crucial information without getting bogged down by unwanted and extraneous software features.

6. Third-party integrations

Most CRM programs offer third-party software integrations; choosing a CRM solution that integrates with your crucial business software is key. For example, the popular CRM platform Salesforce has its own AppExchange marketplace, where users can easily connect Salesforce to solutions like QuickBooks, Mailchimp and DocuSign. 

Here are a few must-have CRM integrations that can make your life easier: 

  • Run CRM software straight from Outlook, Gmail or other email clients so that 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 your email marketing software or CRM software so that you don’t have to open both.
  • Back up and sync data with Dropbox and Box.com 

Depending on your software, some integrations may require IT administration. 

7. Customer service  

Many businesses use CRM for customer service functions. If customer service is a top priority, look for a CRM that can do the following:

  • Provide a 360-degree comprehensive customer view, with everything you need to know from the first point of contact onward.
  • Automatically track all communication points, from lead acquisition to closed sales to sales histories.
  • Log all incidents, website visits, purchase histories and other activities for future reference and to keep all reps on the same page.
  • Use customers’ first names to personalize all correspondence.
  • Provide unique reference numbers for each account, customer and help issue.
  • Automatically send customers acknowledgments of their inquiries and messages so they don’t feel ignored.
  • Support premade email templates and call scripts that answer the most common questions.

Some CRM solutions simplify customer service functions by integrating third-party apps like the Desk.com support platform, SurveyMonkey feedback forms and the RingCentral business phone system. 

Key TakeawayKey takeaway

Bad customer service is one of the primary reasons why customers will dump your brand. CRMs can help you deliver excellent and timely responses to keep your customers happy and away from competitors.

8. Employee tracking

CRM software is a great way to evaluate and track employee performance and activity. Choose software that gives employees their own accounts to track hours, tasks, meetings, sales numbers, goals and other items. 

The software should also give supervisors and upper management access to dashboards to view individual employee goals, completed tasks and other productivity metrics. This can help managers write employee performance reviews, create incentives, reward strong employees, identify those who are struggling and address areas of improvement.

9. Task management 

Look for a CRM solution that goes beyond tracking employee performance. Find one that helps you manage their tasks.

A good CRM system can automate task assignments based on an employee’s skill set, experience, workload and location. 

10. Social media

As businesses use social media more, finding a CRM with built-in social media monitoring features is crucial. With the right feature set, your marketing team won’t have to switch platforms to monitor your company’s social media accounts. 

Salesforce provides excellent examples of social CRM capabilities. It allows users to do the following: 

  • Get in tune with what people say about your brand through social listening.
  • Monitor comments, shares and mentions.
  • Check every social media channel (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) to customize your social media strategy.
  • 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.

11. Lead management

Using CRM software for lead management will help you identify leads and their actions throughout the sales cycle. This feature supports lead scoring, allowing you to filter leads to the appropriate team members. 

Dead leads can sit in a CRM for weeks or months. Robust lead management features help sales managers stay on top of leads and redistribute quiet or seemingly dead prospects to different reps for reengagement. 

12. Real-time data

Your company needs the most current, accurate data to make the right decisions. Good CRM solutions can pull real-time data and provide valuable reports and insights.

These are just a few of the benefits of pulling real-time data: 

  • Make better-informed marketing decisions about bidding price and online ad placement.
  • Get an instant snapshot of market demand to update your marketing plan to yield better results.
  • Identify which products and services generate the most revenue – and which generate the least and may need an exposure boost.

13. CRM analytics

CRM analytics, also known as customer analytics, offers customer data insights. This crucial data can help you make better decisions about the products, services, marketing and overall communications you distribute to customers.

Look for solutions that provide the following CRM metrics

  • Customer segmentation data
  • Clear profit-and-loss data to help you determine your ROI
  • Informative web analytics that illustrate customer website usage and behavior 

14. Reporting

CRM reporting is a crucial standard CRM feature. Reports generate valuable insights that inform decision-making. 

Here are a few report types your CRM should provide:

  • The number of leads that come in during a specific time
  • The number of sales generated during a specific time
  • Which of your sales agents closed which leads, and how many they closed in a specific time
  • The number of outbound calls being made
  • Email campaign effectiveness
  • The stage at which your leads converted, helping you identify opportunities to close leads in a shorter time

Consider a CRM’s report presentation capabilities. You want reports that are visually engaging and easy to understand. Ease of sharing across platforms is another factor to consider.

15. Pipeline management

You must ensure team members across all departments can easily visualize the entire sales pipeline

Tracking customers as they move along the pipeline helps relevant departments provide appropriate, timely services and allows you to spot problem areas. You can efficiently address issues to get the most out of every opportunity. 

16. Sales forecasting

CRMs with sales forecasting tools help you predict future sales based on data from your current pipeline. You may need to alter your marketing plan based on the sales forecast. For example, say you thought your toy store would sell many puzzles over the holidays. However, sales forecasting revealed that building blocks would be more popular. This knowledge helps you tailor your advertising and marketing campaigns accordingly. Sales forecasting can also anticipate market changes to mitigate business risks. 

17. Email features

Tracking emails through a traditional inbox can get overwhelming and confusing. It’s essential that every sales email be received and addressed promptly to increase the probability of generating revenue. 

CRM email features help keep your sales reps organized and productive. They can integrate their calendars to schedule appointments and engage prospects and customers. 

Another great email feature is the ability to automatically pull in email templates so reps spend less time crafting email content. Essential email templates include the following: 

  • 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 

18. Mobile CRM

With most providers offering cloud-based services, your employees will most likely use CRM software on their computers and mobile devices. Look for a solution with an easy-to-use mobile app with access to all features and tools. A mobile CRM solution should also work across all devices, including iOS and Android. 

Mobile CRMs let you set up alerts to stay on top of campaigns by receiving valuable information as it comes in. Alerts can also notify you of new customer interactions so your team can provide necessary support as quickly as possible. 

19. Quote and order management

CRM solutions can help take much of the time-consuming busywork out of sending quotes to potential customers by using templates to generate automated quotes from information taken directly from the lead.  

Once a sale is made, you can also use custom templates and automation to speed up the order and delivery process.

20. Dashboard

A CRM dashboard is a central location where you can easily visualize all relevant information and data you need to do business. You can see reports, real-time data, lead information, forecasts, employee performance, customer interactions and the sales pipeline. 

Your CRM dashboard should be easy to understand and straightforward to control. It should also be customizable so that employees can include the information most relevant to their tasks and roles.

21. Data storage and security  

Data security is a crucial CRM feature. CRMs contain a plethora of sensitive customer information, sales data, and financial information about your company. You’ll want to choose a provider – whether it’s cloud-based or a data center – with robust security.

A good CRM solution should also allow for internal security control with role-based access. You can restrict specific information and features to certain people within your organization.

22. Chat integration

CRMs allow team members across departments to access and share information effortlessly. However, they should also be able to collaborate through an integrated chat program. 

A chat program can also provide real-time customer service that employees from any department can participate in.

Did You Know?Did you know

Live-chat systems generally connect human service reps to handle customer inquiries. However, some chat systems use AI chatbots to handle straightforward queries.

23. Testing environment

A customizable CRM should provide an isolated testing environment, sometimes called a sandbox, where you can make adjustments and changes to the system before implementation. 

A sandbox allows your developers to tinker with the system without running the risk of affecting your data. A CRM testing environment also allows you to invite third-party developers into a separate workspace without granting them access to sensitive data.

24. Vendor support and training

Although not technically a CRM feature, your CRM provider’s customer service level is another crucial consideration. Whether it’s getting the software up and running, training employees to use its features, or getting someone on the line to troubleshoot problems as they arise, you want a vendor that goes above and beyond.

When it comes to implementing a CRM solution, look for a provider that makes tutorials, videos or training sessions readily available. Ensure you have access to live customer service chat, a 24/7 support hotline and forums to help quickly solve any problem. 

25. Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is transforming businesses, and CRM usage is no exception. Many CRM providers are implementing AI into their software to help automate tasks, provide advanced insights and help your business run even more smoothly.

Generative AI, like Salesforce’s Einstein GPT, can improve the customer service process through chatbots that have a complete picture of the customer and can analyze their feelings and respond appropriately with personalized messages. AI can also personalize automated marketing efforts to help drive a customer through the sales pipeline.

Through machine learning, AI can monitor and analyze complex data in real time, generating quick and accurate insights that can inform your decisions, help you determine how best to spend your money, and forecast future sales and marketing efforts.  

TipTip

When choosing the right CRM software for your business, ensure the platform consistently works with businesses in your industry and is an appropriate solution for your company’s size and number of employees.

The best CRM software

After identifying your business’s needs and most desired features, take a look at some of the best CRM software to consider. 

Salesforce

Salesforce is one of the most popular CRM software providers. Its Starter platform contains essential CRM features, costs $25 per user per month (maximum of 10 users, annual contract required), and is perfect for small and growing businesses. 

Salesforce also offers more robust and customizable solutions for businesses of all sizes, plus industry-specific products. Its Enterprise plan costs $150 per user per month, and the Unlimited plan costs $300. Prices for industry-specific products vary. 

Some of Salesforce CRM’s benefits include the following:

  • Easy-to-navigate, customizable dashboard
  • Many integrations 
  • Einstein GPT, AI-powered insights and recommendations 
  • Trailhead (a free platform to learn CRM skills)

Read our in-depth Salesforce CRM review for more information about this solution’s features and functionality. 

Pipedrive 

Pipedrive is a sales-focused CRM platform for businesses seeking a robust visual sales pipeline. Its easy-to-use visual tools and customizable features help sales teams focus on understanding tasks and meeting goals.  

Some of Pipedrive’s benefits include the following:

  • Easy-to-use drag-and-drop interface
  • Simple setup that doesn’t require IT help
  • Excellent visual features and reports to help employees focus on meeting sales goals 
  • Customizable and intuitive features that help you start selling immediately and effectively

Pipedrive’s affordable pricing makes it an attractive option. The Essentials plan costs only $14.90 per user per month (billed annually). The Professional plan costs $49.90, and the Enterprise plan costs $99. 

To learn more, check out our detailed Pipedrive review.  

monday Sales CRM 

monday Sales CRM provides excellent organizational and time-saving solutions for businesses that want to streamline workflow with simple task automation across multiple platforms. 

Some of monday Sales CRM’s benefits include the following:

  • Simple trigger-and-action recipes that make it easy to automate tasks (not available in the Basic plan)
  • Work management platform
  • Template center with time-saving templates across multiple categories
  • Excellent 24/7 customer support

All plans have a three-seat minimum – something smaller businesses should consider. The Basic plan costs $10 per seat per month, while the Pro plan costs $24. Contact a rep for Enterprise plan pricing.

Our complete monday sales CRM review lists additional features and considerations.

Oracle NetSuite CRM 

Oracle NetSuite CRM is an excellent unified, all-in-one solution for sales, marketing and operations. It comes as part of the NetSuite enterprise resource planning (ERP) platform, supporting the entire customer life cycle. It offers built-in integrations for almost everything your company needs. 

However, NetSuite is a complicated CRM solution that requires a paid initial setup. It’s also pricier than competitors. Although you must contact Oracle for a price quote, which can vary based on customized options, small businesses should expect to pay over $1,000 monthly.   

Some of NetSuite CRM’s benefits include the following:

  • Robust and unified platform for managing all customer-related activities
  • Built-in integrations for almost every process and workflow
  • Many advanced and customizable features and tools
  • A configure, price, quote (CPQ) feature that makes selling highly configurable and complex products simple and painless

Visit our Netsuite CRM review to learn more about this powerful solution.

Freshsales CRM 

Freshsales focuses on optimizing communications and helping your team better understand customers. Its AI-powered assistant, Freddy, offers insights and recommendations. It also has an AI-powered customer service chatbot that frees your customer service team to focus on higher-level issues. Notably, Freshsales has a built-in VoIP phone service that allows businesses to cut the cost of a regular phone service provider. 

To get the most out of Freshsales, opt for the Pro or Enterprise version. The Pro level costs $39 per user per month when billed annually. The Enterprise version costs $69 per user per month. There is a free version and a basic Growth version for $15 per user per month, but it’s worth investing in the more complete packages.

Some of Freshsales’s benefits include the following:

  • AI-powered insights and customer service chatbot (limited, based on plan)
  • Built-in VoIP phone services with toll-free virtual phone numbers available in 90 countries
  • Ability to run complex outbound email campaigns 
  • Useful tools and resources to get started and troubleshoot problems as they arise

Our Freshsales CRM review includes more information on this robust CRM platform.

Why should you invest in CRM software?

You and your hardworking team have invested time and energy to start and grow your business. You’ve created a unique product or service, built a loyal customer base, and developed sales pipelines and marketing plans. However, as your business grows, keeping on top of all these tasks can become complex and time-consuming.

CRM software can help streamline all business processes to help you and your team focus on taking your company to the next level. What you need from a CRM solution depends on your business’s specific requirements, so talk to your departments to determine what features will best help them do business more efficiently. Investing in the right CRM software will optimize your teams’ performance, boost sales, increase customer satisfaction and help your business flourish.

Marisa Sanfilippo and Sara Angeles contributed to this article.

Tom Anziano headshot
Tom Anziano, Business Ownership Insider and Senior Writer
Thomas Anziano is an advertising and marketing professional who has worked in the U.S. and Germany. He has also taught Business Writing in English to university students in Madrid, Spain. He holds a degree in Marketing and Spanish.
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