Customer relationship management (CRM) software offers a variety of tools to manage new leads, deals, and contacts. While most functionality is useful, only a handful are mission-critical. Here are the 12 CRM features that can mean the difference between your team closing the deal and losing it to a competitor.
Important CRM Features & Functions
|CRM Features & Functions||Description|
Used to help ensure you are following up on the best leads
Helps you estimate future revenue
Notifies you if your emails are being opened
Shows you where a deal is in the sales process
Gives you a means of accessing data in the field
Lets you create unique fields for reporting or business-specific pipelines stages
Pulls contact data from sources like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter
Desktop apps are supported on multiple operating systems
Syncs data with third-party tools like QuickBooks and Xero
Allows you to track emails sent from your preferred email client
Offers tools to send bulk emails to contact lists
Offers forms and widgets you can place on your website to capture leads
CRM software features vary from sophisticated enterprise-level software that automates the sales process to email contact management plugins that simply help you keep track of your customer communications. However, navigating the different choices and all they have to offer can be overwhelming, so we looked at what CRM functionality matters most and narrowed it down to these 12 features.
1. Lead Qualification
One of the most important features of a CRM is the ability to have the software help you determine which incoming leads best fit your customer profile. This can help your sales team focus most of their efforts on the highest quality opportunities and avoid wasting time on prospects that aren’t a good fit. The best CRMs allow you to quickly assess leads based on demographics, activity on your website, and engagement with other marketing efforts.
Automated lead qualification is a core functionality of many CRMs, helping your sales team quickly assess which leads deserve their attention and which ones need to be nurtured before they turn into sales opportunities or deals. You can learn more about scoring and qualifying leads with our helpful guide to lead scoring.
2. Sales Forecasting
Sales forecasting evaluates the likelihood of different sales opportunities closing based on where they are in your sales process, and helps you visualize your team’s sales revenue performance. Forecasting is an important tool in sales planning as well as in overall business management as it helps you assess and predict your future revenue based on your sales efforts.
As you create sales opportunities, or deals, they begin to move through your sales process. Many CRMs offer plans that allow you to assign a likelihood of closing at each stage throughout your sales process, which then assigns a value to the deal based on the overall sales revenue you would realize if the deal closes.
As an example, you might create a $5,000 deal for a kitchen remodel. The deal is in the proposal stage, which has a 60% chance of closing. Your sales forecasting tool would assign that deal a value of $3,000 right now, and will continually adjust the value of your sales opportunities as they move through the process. These CRM analytics help you plan the overall value of your sales efforts based on the likelihood of closing each opportunity.
3. Email Tracking
Many CRMs allow you to email your leads and customers directly from within the CRM software, enabling you to not only keep track of conversations, but also track activity such as when a contact opens an email or when they click on a link within the email. This is especially helpful considering that most salespeople send dozens, if not hundreds, of emails to leads, contacts, and customers every day.
Email tracking gives your sales team valuable information such as whether a contact is interested in your company or whether the email ever got there. Most CRMs also include templated emails that you can use to automatically reply to inquiries, and then keep track of how the lead responds from within their contact profile. This is especially helpful for sales teams that manage a large number of incoming leads and want to easily access previous conversations.
For more on email tracking features and services, check out our guide to the best email tracking software.
4. Sales Pipeline Tracking
Monitoring the progress of sales opportunities is another key CRM functionality. Most CRMs offer the ability to visualize your different opportunities according to their current stage in the sales pipeline, though they handle this in a variety of ways. Having a visual sales pipeline helps sales team members get a quick overview of where each of their current deals stand.
Many CRMs have a built-in default sales pipeline that you can implement in your sales process or customize to match your specific needs. In both cases, the pipeline is the best representation of the process your sales opportunities travel through. The ability to track your sales pipeline is also one of the defining features that sets a sales CRM apart from a simple contact and calendar manager and a CRM project management solution.
You can learn more about setting up your sales pipeline in our guide to the 8 Pipeline Stages.
5. Mobile CRM App
Having access to all of your information on the go is important for sales teams that spend time in the field meeting with new leads and managing existing customer accounts. Mobile CRM apps include features like calendar management, email tracking, and sales pipeline information. Some mobile CRM apps also include phone-dialed programs to manage and track call activity.
Mobile CRM apps allow sales team members to have access to all of the important information they need about their leads and customers, including current opportunities as well as past deals won and lost. Read more about the best mobile CRM apps in our comprehensive comparison.
Customizing your CRM dashboard to fit your specific business is an important feature for many companies, especially those with complex or non-traditional sales cycles like manufacturing companies or small businesses that sell services to large enterprises. CRMs offer varying degrees of customization, but most allow you to define things like stages of your sales cycle, lead scoring variables, and the types of contact information you collect.
For businesses that provide marketing services to other companies, white-label CRMs provide the ability to resell a third-party solution with your name and branding as a part of your product offering. White-label CRMs are highly customizable and allow you to configure the software based on the specific needs of your customer.
For some companies, open source software is another good option because it is generally available for use at no cost, and is often highly customizable. Though it usually requires a degree of technical sophistication to set up, it also provides a high level of flexibility to adapt to your business needs. Additionally, for those who are willing to take on the task of configuring the software, the payoff is that it is usually less expensive (or free) to license.
Open source CRM software often includes powerful features that compare to top-end CRMs like Salesforce, but at a much lower cost. Check out our guide on open source CRMs to see which are the best for small businesses.
7. Social Media Integration
Social media integrations are an important CRM feature for businesses that find new customers through social networks like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Integrations include:
- The ability to have the social profiles of your contacts automatically imported into your CRM
- The opportunity to view your contact’s social media activity
- The capability to monitor brand mentions for new leads
Some CRMs automatically create a new lead from a social media mention, giving your sales team a valuable tool to find new prospects and qualify them through your sales process without having to enter information every time. Many also directly import the social media streams of your contacts so you can view their activity from within your portal, possibly even using that information to contribute to lead scoring.
For more information, read our guide to the best CRMs with social media integration.
8. Cross-platform Compatibility
Many sales teams include remote and distributed team members who often use their own devices on the job. The reality is that very few software solutions run on only one platform, and CRMs are no different. Support for cross-platform functionality includes macOS native software, cloud-based apps that run in Safari and Chrome browsers, and mobile apps available on iOS and Android devices.
Businesses that run exclusively on Macs, which often include designers, video production studios, photographers, and other creatives, look for CRMs that run well on browsers built for macOS as well as for iOS devices like iPhone and iPad. Some cloud-based software also take advantage of iCloud integration, which can help keep your data and login information in sync across devices, as well as giving you access to your iCloud storage drive.
There are also a few CRM built with software that runs natively on macOS, like Daylite. These CRMs include deep integration with Apple’s Mail, Calendar, and Reminders (task management), and are useful for teams that want desktop-based software that work on the computers they use to run their business. You can learn more with our guide to CRMs with macOS compatibility.
9. Accounting Software Integration
While CRMs easily handle contact management, most are not built for managing your finances, which makes integration with accounting software essential. QuickBooks is the leader in the accounting software space and most CRM options available today feature some kind of integration that allows you to share invoices and sales revenue between the two.
This type of CRM integration is especially helpful for small businesses that don’t have dedicated accounting departments. The ability to send information to your accounting software eliminates the need to enter sales invoices twice, reducing the amount of work and streamlining your accounting processes.
Some CRMs, like Freshsales, allow you to view all of your QuickBooks invoices related to a customer in their contact profile as well as view unpaid invoices and total revenue per account. To learn more, check out our guide on CRMs with the best QuickBooks integration.
10. Outlook & Gmail Integration
Outlook and Gmail are two of the most used email platforms, and both its mail and calendar software are used by businesses everywhere. Many CRMs offer the ability to connect to your Gmail or Outlook email and calendar as a way of helping you keep all of your important tasks, calendar, and communications details in one place at all times.
Additionally, there are several plugins that allow you to transform your inbox into a CRM by adding sales opportunities, deal management, and account modules. Since many businesses use Outlook and Gmail, a solution that allows your sales team to manage all of their leads and customers from within the software they already use every day can help simplify and streamline your sales process. Learn more by reading our guide to the best CRMs for Outlook.
11. Email Marketing Integration
Email drip campaigns can be an important part of the sales process, and the ability to integrate with your email marketing software is an important feature of many CRMs. In many cases, integrations allow you to sync the contacts in your CRM with your email marketing lists and enable you to send targeted emails campaigns from your email provider.
Email marketing providers, such as Mailchimp, include the ability to host forms on your website so that visitors can subscribe to your email list. CRMs like Freshsales include integrations that allow Mailchimp to send those subscribers to the CRM as new leads and can include email marketing activities in your automated lead scoring. Both of these integrations help make your sales process more efficient and effective.
You can read more in our handy guide to CRMs designed for email marketing.
12. Website Integration
Many CRMs offer integrations to connect to your website landing pages and contact forms. This allows you to capture contact information and generate leads automatically when someone completes a contact form or sends an email from your website. The contact is created in your CRM with the form details included in a note, allowing your sales team to follow up and take action on the contact while keeping track of everything directly in the CRM.
WordPress is one of the leading content management platforms and many small businesses use it to create their website. Having the ability to connect your WordPress site to your CRM is an important feature to consider when selecting the right software for your sales team. There are two specific types of WordPress integrations for CRM to consider. The first is simply a connection between your website and your contact management tool that passes information.
The second is plugins for WordPress that actually function as a CRM within WordPress. These options are more limited in functionality but can be convenient for sales teams looking for a basic CRM hosted within their existing site. Both can be effective ways to manage contacts, depending on your specific sales process. Be sure to check out our guide to the best WordPress CRM plugins for more information.
There are as many different combinations of CRM features and functionality as there types of CRM available on the market today, giving teams the flexibility to select the product that works best for their individual needs. No matter which CRM is selected, the software serves as a critical tool helping sales teams manage deals and contacts.
If you want a CRM with the features mentioned here, Freshsales is the best choice for small businesses. It offers a free-forever plan with several of the features on this list as well as more robust options as part of its paid plans. Visit Freshsales’ website and sign up for a free trial of any of their plans to learn how each of these features can benefit your sales team.