One summer I worked as an outside sales rep going from business to business trying to sell Verizon internet and cable plans. It was a tedious process: going into a business, starting up a conversation with whoever looked like they were in charge, and taking down as much pertinent information as possible before moving onto the next door.
Some days the temperature would reach into the hundreds, and there I was trying to find any decent writing surface to scribble notes on. As if that wasn’t hard enough, dripping sweat threatened to smudge my already messy handwriting.
Tracking prospects and customers on paper was a frustrating, time consuming task, and created a lot of errors, not even including the sweat smudges. When I moved on in my career to an inside sales position, I was eternally grateful to have a customer relationship management (CRM) system to organize and track my prospects…and for the AC.
Unfortunately, the problems I faced are not uncommon in the sales world. People have messy handwriting, don’t remember to grab a business card, or have an inconsistent method of gathering data. When you consider that “only 33% of a sales rep’s time is spent actively selling” (CSO insight) that leaves 67% of time that they are doing other things like prepping for the call. How much time do you think a sales rep could put towards selling if they were working in a CRM rather than an outdated pen and paper system?
But how do you know what the best CRM is? What are the features you should focus on? You may even be asking, what features are commonly found in a CRM. Or even, What is a CRM?
Capterra has developed a team called Software Lab to answer those key questions for multiple different types of software. I am part of that team and we develop reports based on the data collected. If you want to learn more about how we conduct our research, here is our methodology.
From all this data gathered, we learned quite a bit of useful information especially pertaining to features. I’m going to focus on the basic features in a CRM and how those features vary based on three aspects:
- Business size
- Industry type
- Sales cycle
To break it down into more sizable bites, features in a CRM fall into 4 groups:
- Core functionality
- Standard functionality
- Enterprise functionality
- Niche functionality
Core functionality consists of the features a system must have to classify as a CRM. If a solution doesn’t have these features, they are not a CRM. In this case, a customer relationship management system MUST have:
- Contact management
- Task management
- Basic reporting
It essentially upgrades the paper and pen method to a more legible, searchable address book. Unlike an address book, you can make notes about what your next steps to bring a prospect closer to being a customer. Additionally, as a software solution, it allows multiple people in the system at once and collaborate in the system whether it’s cloud based or an on-premise solution.
But let’s be honest, the core functionality is equivalent to a glorified Excel spreadsheet at this point. Most CRMs have additional features past what Excel can do, which are standard functionality. These standard features take it a step further from Excel to a CRM to provide more value and “can increase revenue by a whopping 41% according to sales teams.” Those standard features that crank up your revenue include:
- Interaction tracking
- Email integration
- Document storage
- Mobile access
- Pipeline view
- Social media integration
- Custom reporting
- Marketing automation integration
- Quotes management
I will go through these features based on how common they are in a CRM system and dive into their functionality and application based on company size, industry, and sales cycle.
Interaction tracking logs the communication between you and your customers. We’ve all had that horrible experience where you call to pay you internet or cable bill (in my case with Cox) and they pass you from one rep to another and every time you have to reiterate yourself. It’s even worse if it happens in your sales process where you’re creating a first impression with your company.
As your team grows, multiple people will be talking to one contact. It helps if everyone has the same information to reduce customer frustration. Also, having information in a localized spot makes it easier to delegate work to others on the team as needed and reduced time on each task. Finally, it helps interdepartmental collaboration and even collaborative selling if that is part of your process.
Based on our survey results, 94% of CRM solutions have interaction tracking. But even so, each vendor has a slightly different take on how they want to log communication with the customers.
If you’re a smaller business with basic services or a basic sales cycle, then a simple log of when emails or calls when out will be enough. If you have a more in-depth process, or have more than two people working on one lead, you will want a slightly more robust system that allows for adding contextual notes: what you discussed and conversation take aways. Lastly, you have a full blow, interaction tracking system that logs the emails in full text, records calls, and allows for note-taking. While this robustness sounds enticing, you really only need it if you have a complex sales process or more than five people touching a single lead.
Email is a crucial aspect of the sales process. Hubspot said, “email marketing has 2X higher ROI than cold calling, networking or trade shows.” Think about it: having email integration means you won’t have to switch between systems when recapping on interactions with your prospects. When you’re writing an email, the prospect’s info will be easily accessible. It even logs emails sent from within the CRM or from your email system and save you from lengthy note-taking.
Based on Mckinsey, email is still more effective than social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter combined. The benefit of email rolled into your CRM goes beyond being more effective at gathering prospects. It also increases productivity as an employee and as a team. Most systems will integrate with Outlook, Gmail, Microsoft Exchange, and some even have Thunderbird.
Document storage is a feature used to keep all sales documents in one location that all users can access and search easily. It’s like a localized document folder that’s on your computer but your whole team has access rather than having to share each person, and you can easily search to find the documents you need. It replaces a computer drive, cloud drives (eg. Google drive, Dropbox, or Box) or you may even have documents stored on a desk.
But seriously, we’ve all lost a document on our desktop or scrambled to find a contract while on a call. Having document storage saves you the trouble of searching because your sales documents are stored in one localized place. 90% of the vendors we surveyed provided this feature to help you be on top of your game.
As common as document storage is, each system has a slightly different method of storing the documents. Some systems, like SalesNOW, will have a general section to store files. Some systems will go a step further and include folders to organize the files (like vtiger). Others, like Hubspot, are more robust, and will have a section in each contact profile for users to attach files that are specific to that individual, like a customer order, list of requirements, agreements, or photos. Alternatively, some systems will integrate with a document storage system like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive like ZohoCRM.
If you are a small company and track mostly white papers like a product overview or a brochure, then having a general drive in the system might be the best option for you. If you are a larger company and have a variety of specific documents (or changing product versions), then having the ability to add folders to a drive would be a better option for you. Any level of change in the documents would benefit from more organizational power. If you are in an industry with a more customized products and sending more documents, or have more customized documents, you would likely benefit from the ability to assign files to specific contacts so you have all of the intricate details in one spot. Likewise, the complexity of your sales cycle affects how many documents and the type of document storage you need. In general, the more complex a cycle or industry is, the more robust you will need the feature to be.
Think back on the type of industry you’re in, your business size, and your sales cycle in relation to the three types of document storage when looking at systems.
Another feature that you should keep in mind in your CRM search is mobile access. Based on Innoppl, “65% of sales reps who have adopted mobile CRM have achieved their sales quotas while only 22% of reps using non-mobile CRM have reached the same targets.” Having mobile access has a large impact on your sales team hitting their goals and they will thank you.
The sales role is more mobile intensive than others, so for many, having mobile compatibility is important. For some, it makes or breaks their software decision. These days, customers are expecting interaction from companies outside normal business hours, so having more flexibility in accessing customers while on the go greatly increases sales revenue and customer satisfaction.
From our survey, 90% of vendors have mobile access or a mobile-responsive site. 80% said they had an iOS app and 78% had an Android app. For those that need an app you will have more luck if you are working with a iOS based devices rather than an Android based device.
A good way to keep score is with a pipeline view. A pipeline view is a breakdown of each stage in your sales pipeline, usually outlining how many leads are in each stage, and with an option to drill down to the specific leads. From our survey, 86% of vendors said they have pipeline view.
Typically, in a pipeline, there are weak areas where leads tend to drop off. It is caused by one of the following:
- Poor lead management.
- Loosing track of leads in the pipeline.
- Organizational errors.
- Complexities in the process that deters potential customers.
The CRM automatically tracks prospects in each step and the results it provides shows where those hangs up are in a visual form. Having a pipeline view helps managers identify those weak points at a high level and really dive into the problem.
Some systems like Salesbox will give you alerts when a lead required action. Most systems (like TeamWave) provide a snapshot view of who your star sales reps are by revenue or close rate. You then use it to determine what part of their process is working, and what you apply to other reps who need an assist. Pipedrive is a system that has a robust pipeline view to organize the whole process if you have a more complex process.
Social Media Integration
According to Kissmetric, “46% of social sellers hit quota compared to 38% of sales reps who don’t.” Social sales involves building more of a relationship with your customer. Social media is a great way to reach your prospects and provides access to direct prospects and their network as well! There are about 13,000 people on Quora alone asking questions each day! Not using social media to communicate with prospect in the twenty first century is only hurting you.
Most CRM social media integrations allow you to post pertinent updates and interact with customers through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. The average person spends at least two hours a day on social media. On Facebook alone, there are 1.13 billion daily active users. Essentially, without including social media in your sales efforts, you are missing out on billions of sales prospects who have already marked their interests and have years of data collected for targeted advertising. Social media greatly increases your reach to your customers and their network in a way you can’t achieve through email or phone calls alone.
Custom reporting takes reporting beyond the basic premade standard reports like close rate, new prospects by x date and allows you to create and select different metrics like:
- Sales stage (which you can customize to fit your sales cycle)
- Lead type
- Sales profits, etc.
It allows you to dive deeper into your analytics. Of the vendors that we surveyed, 66% provide custom reporting. Some of them charge extra for custom reporting so be aware while searching.
Each solution varies in terms of robustness and ease of use for custom reporting. If custom reporting is a “nice-to-have” feature for you, something more basic like ProsperWorks will fit your needs. It uses a plug in with Google Sheets for you to customize reports and dashboards. It’s fairly basic, but will do the trick if you don’t need to customize reports often.
If you need something with a little more umpf, then look at CapsuleCRM. It has built-in customization that allows for custom field creation and custom lists. If you are going to create custom reports every day, and have a variety of custom fields to track, then a more robust system like Salesforce will be the best option for you.
Again, bring it back to your business size, sales cycle, and industry type to determine how much customization you will need.
Marketing Automation Integration
As you grow, you need to make sure you won’t outgrow the CRM you invest in. To do this you can either purchase a robust solution upfront, or integrate a CRM with specialty solutions as the need arises. One of the most common next steps for a business after purchasing a CRM is to invest in a marketing automation solution. Agile CRM found that 89% of their uses integrate CRM with marketing automation to make the full process and data management easier.
When you integrate the two systems, the goal is to combine the data from two pipeline views to show the whole sales and marketing cycle in one.
It helps you get more out of a pipeline and understand the relationship between your sales and marketing efforts. In the end, the company will find the best markets to sell to and what channels are bringing in the best quality prospects to become loyal customers. Big picture, if you like money (and who doesn’t like money), integrating will:
- Optimize your marketing budget to increase overall sales revenue.
- Nurture leads before sales even talks to them.
- Inform customers increasing their likelihood to make bigger purchases.
- Get further insight into buyer behavior through web activity.
- Score leads to target sales to those most likely to purchase.
If you are looking to purchase a marketing automation solution then here are some articles to get you started:
- Is This The Right Time to Adopt Marketing Automation For Your Company
- What’s The Difference Between CRM and Marketing Automation Software?
- Tracking with Google Analytics vs. Marketing Automation
Quote or Proposal Management
Quote or proposal management helps reps navigate more complex sales transactions. 60% of vendors have a quote or proposal management functionality. Some may argue that it’s more niche, but a large enough percentage of vendors provide it and enough companies need quote or proposal management than you think.
For instance, my previous employers used quotes to give customers a detailed look at what they were buying. It was like when an architect creates a sketch before actually building a house. The quote shows the buyer exactly what they’re getting, and gives a walk-through of what each item does. A quote is usually converted from quote or proposal to final sale, and then emailed to the customer as their final receipt.
Companies that would need it have complex sales cycles, or highly customized products, like custom furniture sales or a software manufacturers . Quotes or proposals prevent mistakes in the order, and assures that the customer is signing off on all changes.
The majority of you will find the standard features mentioned above helpful no matter your industry or business size.
As usually, with every situation there are outliers. Some of you out there with your own methods won’t require some of these expected features. Some industries will even have specific “CRM” solutions tailored to these unique needs: for example; construction, field service, salons/spas, or medical organizations.
But for the majority of you who are looking to fit the standard sales process, those are the features you will find and use in a CRM solution.
Now if you are thinking, “those features are great but I need a little more,” then you will need to look into advanced features. Advanced features are less common in your standard CRM (eg. less than half of the systems are likely to have these features), and limit you to industry specific solutions or enterprise-level CRMs.
Enterprise CRMs are built for a larger organization. Typically, larger companies will have more complex sale cycles and more people touching each lead. If your company has 200+ employees, you will more than likely need an enterprise CRM. The features for enterprise systems tend to reach a little into the marketing and customer service space to facilitate interdepartmental collaboration, without having to switch systems.
More common enterprise features that we found were:
- Call center management
- Email marketing
- Help desk management
- Referral tracking
- Sales automation
They’re in alphabetical order and give a quick overview of what each features does. It will help you determine what to keep in mind for the future when making a purchase so your system can grow with you.
Call Center Management
Call center management allows you to auto dial from the CRM, and track calls automatically, which in turn saves time spent dialing and entering notes. It’s a useful tool if you have a lot of people making calls across the company, and ensures each point of contact is fully up-to-date on each account.
Some solutions with call center management:
Email marketing organizes email templates and campaigns to save time. Additionally, it will allow further customization to receive better response rates. Overall it helps your sales team be more productive and increase customer response rates.
Some solutions that have email marketing built in are:
Help Desk Management
Help desk management allows customer service reps assist customers from within the CRM system. It includes creating and posting FAQs or chatting with customers. It allows you to keep all the information for a contact in one place; from lead, to customer, to repeat purchaser.
Solutions with help desk management are:
Referral tracking allows sale reps to track prospects passed along by current customers . It also runs campaigns to promote referrals. Referrals may not seem like such a big deal, but the lifetime value of a referred customer is 16% higher than a non-referred customer. If you aren’t currently collecting referrals, you want to start as soon as possible even if you aren’t in need of referral tracking at this point.
Sytems that have referral tracking are:
Sales automation cuts down on time composing and sending emails to leads, among other things. It will essentially send emails for you, rank or score leads, and can calculate sales forecast. It’s a little automation and analysis rolled into one. It streamlines the whole sales cycle and provides data points to improve the process as you go.
Some solutions that have sales automation:
Niche features are created for a specific industry or sales cycle. A features that walks the line between standard functionality and niche would the quote or proposal management. Additional features are:
- Product tracking
- Territory management
- Web forms
Again, I’m going to give a quick breakdown of what each feature does and then go into what businesses need the niche feature.
Product tracking is a way to manage the products you sell and the details about them. It ranges from a basic list of the products you sell with a description, to a mini inventory management system including the quantity, reorder points, etc. This functionality is helpful for those with tangible goods, and is less useful for service providers.
Product tracking is a feature in:
Territory management allows a manager to assign locations to a sales rep. It prevents sales reps from hitting the same leads and frustrating potential customers. It also allows for delegation and process organization. If it’s a more global organization, or if you have sales reps in the field, it’s particularly helpful to keep sales reps from flying all over the world in an inefficient manner.
Examples of system that have territory management are:
Web forms collect leads from your website. Whenever a new person visits your website, a form appears. Visitors then fill out a form if they want more information or to speak to a real person about their needs, without having to scour your website for the appropriate email. It is not necessary for all industries or sales cycles. For instance, if you are a large B2B manufacturer, where most of your leads are referrals, it will not make as much sense to have a form on your website. on the other hand, if you are a small to medium eCommerce site you should have a web form for leads to sign up for promotions to entice purchases.
Some systems that have web forms:
Enterprise and niche features are what makes a CRM unique, so really look at each solution and see if they have any advanced features, that will provide the most benefit from for your industry, size, and your specific sales cycle.
No matter what size or industry your business is now, you will need a CRM to organize your process.
If you need more incentive for why a CRM is imperitive to success, check out these great stats to convince even the most tech defunct.
If you’re ready to go off and find your software match, then dive right into our full CRM directory and use the filter tool to find your perfect CRM.
Looking for Customer Relationship Management software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Customer Relationship Management software solutions.