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22 Things You Didn’t Know You Needed in a CRM (Until It Was Too Late!)

Bringing a checklist when you shop around for a CRM is a good idea, but not when the checklist is too short and vague. The devil, as they say, is in the detail. To help out, we've compiled a list of important features that you should look for in a CRM system.

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The foundation of every business is its customers.  Simply put, if you don’t have customers then you don’t have a business.

Now, you would think that selecting a system to manage those customers should be one of the most important activities a business can undertake. Every week, however, we receive the same basic “requirements list” from businesses evaluating CRM solutions.

Unfortunately, a checklist with only ten or so items on it isn’t going to help you find the perfect CRM for your needs. It’s too basic, too vague, and doesn’t really give you a good overview of critical system features like navigation and customizability. What businesses don’t realize until it is too late is that it is the teeny, tiny details that will make or break your CRM implementation.

As you’ll see, the devil really is in the detail.

All-in-One System

No employee in your business should ever be an island.  An All-in-One CRM system allows your entire team to cross-collaborate on activities like support tickets, projects, billing, sales leads and more.  However most CRM’s only focus on one aspect of your business.

All In One CRM
  • Can you manage different activities such as sales, contact management, projects, billing, customer support, and more within a single platform?
  • Will all of your customer information, employee activities, and business data be in one system, rather than spread across several different applications?
  • Can any object or activity be linked to any other object or activity without relying on third-party integration or development?

Find out why you need more than just a CRM to manage your business.

Navigation

Navigation is how you work through all the different areas of a CRM.  Navigation needs to be intuitive and it needs to find what you’re looking for fast.

  • Can you save important items to a bookmark or favorites list for quick access later?
  • Is there breadcrumb-style navigation to help you keep track of where you are within an activity? Can you quickly jump up or down several levels deep within a complex sale or project?
  • Are recent pages and activity lists easily accessible so the work you’re doing right now is never far away?

Find out why an easy-to-navigate system is important to your business.

Collaborations and Discussions

Text-based chat is essential for sharing quick information about an activity, without having to send email back and forth or even pick up the phone. You want to be able to store these casual conversations against a contact, or a project, sales lead or support case so they are available in the future.

  • Does the system help facilitate clear lines of communication between team members through online, threaded discussions? Can you use any project, sales lead, support case, or even a tricky customer as a starting point for these discussions?
  • Can you up-vote comments and suggestions that are the most important in a discussion?
  • Is there a Request feature to ensure the person you need answers from is immediately asked for a response?

Learn more about how collaborations and discussions can help you grow your business.

Email integration

Email isn’t going to die anytime soon.  Email integration means the important emails you receive can simply and easily be sent up to the CRM and attached to an activity and shared with your team.

  • Are you able to create a sales lead, update a project or task, or assign a support ticket using any email you receive without having to leave your email client?
  • Does the system let you log a timesheet from within your email client itself?
  • Can you attach emails to a contact record as new notes and details?

Learn more about how you can make emails work for you.

Web Forms on Steroids

Web forms allow you to turn your website or customer portal into a contact point for your clients. Web form submissions can automatically be turned into anything from contacts and leads to support tickets.

Web Forms
  • Is there a way for you to build your contact database automatically using information submitted via web forms?
  • Can the system turn web form data instantly into contacts and support cases?
  • Are the system’s web forms customizable enough to let you capture whatever information you want your customers to submit?

Learn more about how your business can utilize web forms.

Self-Service Customer Portal

A client-facing customer portal allows your customers to get a bird’s eye view of the projects, bills, and support tickets attached to them. They can also house a collection of specialized knowledge base articles for specific clients.

  • Is there a client-facing portal that your customers can use to view projects, tasks, and support tickets as well as paid and unpaid invoices without having to contact your front office?
  • Can the customer portal be used by your clients to pay any outstanding invoices?
  • Does the customer portal feature enough customization options to make it more in line with your company’s overall branding?
  • Is there a way to use the customer portal as a collaboration tool between you and the client?

Learn more about using customer portals to your advantage.

Permissions

Permissions give you complete control over who has access to which data. The sales team, for example, may be able to view customer financials but the finance team is the only one who can make changes.

  • Can the system’s user permissions be set individually, by workgroup, or by role?
  • Does the system give you full control over access to any project, activity, module, or information within it?
  • Is it possible to restrict who can view and /or modify private sales leads, specific projects, and other pieces of pertinent data?

Learn more about how to use system permissions for your business.

Time Tracking

Timesheets allow you to keep track of actual work performed by team members and contractors.

  • Can you attach timesheets to projects to make sure everyone is putting in the hours?
  • Is it possible to make project budgets easier to calculate by linking them to timesheets?
  • How fast can your staff create a new time sheet entry?  Is there a mobile app or desktop widget that helps make entering time faster?

Learn more about how timesheets can help you monitor performance and productivity.

Custom Fields

Custom fields allow users to add specialized information not covered by the system’s default fields.

  • What kind of information does the system let you capture? Are you able to add fields for any kind of info, no matter how niche or esoteric?
  • Are you able to extend the usability and scope of the information in the system’s built-in modules?
  • Is the data entered into the system standardized?
  • How readily can the system’s individual modules handle future expansion / service & product offerings?

Learn more about how custom fields can be used to collect pertinent information.

Custom Sales Processes and Stages

Not every business follows the same sales processes and stages. This allows users to tailor the system specifically to the business processes that the company follows.

Custom Processes
  • Does the system lock you in to a few default sales sales processes or does it let you create processes tailored to specific products and services?
  • Can you set specific processes for different teams in your company or even those in different regions?
  • Is the system able to keep up with your company’s evolving sales processes?

Find out how important custom processes and stages can be to your business.

Project Templates

Templates speed up deployment of projects that the company often undertake. Templates should also be further customizable to handle specific customer requests.

  • Does the system have a way to let you manage and deploy projects faster using templates?
  • How fast can users make new projects? Will the system help you cut down on time spent creating these new projects?

Learn more about how templates can speed up project deployment.

Custom Projects

Custom projects allow users to create very specialized projects and tasks specifically tailored to clients, products or services. They should be able to handle both recurring and one-off projects.

  • Does the system give you full control over every aspect of any given project?
  • Are you able to completely micromanage every single project if you want to by letting you add and manage sub-projects, tasks, timesheets, and completion stages?
  • Can you add a near-infinite number of sub-projects and tasks?

Learn more about what you can do with custom projects.

Multiple Project Views

Multiple ways of viewing projects allow different users to easily find pertinent information. Additional sorting and filtering options make data even easier to find.

Project Views
  • How is project data presented by the system? Does it let you switch between different views quickly and easily?
  • Do the system’s multiple project views help you find the information you need faster and more efficiently?
  • Are there a number of ways to sort and filter information? Can you sort activity according to priority, progress, budget, etc?

Learn more about how multiple project views help give you a quick overview of all your business’ projects.

Real-Time Progress Tracking

Real-time progress tracking cut down on the need for management to get progress updates from project managers and other team members. They can instead view project progress using the system in real-time, anytime they want.

  • Is there a page that gives you a bird’s eye view of the status of the company’s projects without having to check each individual project?
  • Does the system allow you to drill down deep into sub-projects and sub-tasks and check their status?
  • How much time do you waste on progress report meetings? Will the system help cut down the need for them and allow you to allocate these precious man hours to more productive company pursuits?

Learn more about how real-time progress tracking helps your business.

Automatic Reports

Automatically generated reports remove the hassle associated with making and compiling reports by hand.

  • Can any and all of the data you enter into the system be used to generate a range of detailed reports?
  • Is the system able t automatically create reports ranging from financials and timesheets to projects progress and more?
  • Are the system’s reports able to be bookmarked so that you can quickly access important reports from anywhere within the system?

Find out more about how automatic report generation can save your business from a lot of hassle.

Workgroups and Roles

Segregating team members into workgroups and roles makes assigning tasks and disseminating information faster and easier.

  • Does the system allow you to assign tasks or projects to a team rather than forcing you to select the same set of individual employees every single time?
  • Can you use the system to share contacts with a workgroup?
  • Is it possible to set access privileges according to workgroups and roles instead of individual users?

Find out more about how workgroups and roles can help drive business efficiency.

Social Media Integration

Updating contact details can be make quicker by integrating clients and contacts’ social media profiles into the system. They may also serve to provide additional insight into contacts and leads.

Social Media Integration
  • Does the system allow you to get updated contact info by linking your clients’ social media profiles?
  • Can you filter your contacts according to their social media profiles?

Learn more about how to utilize social media integration for your business’ contacts and clients.

Contact Sync

Contact sync makes transferring contact data between two separate applications faster and hassle-free.

  • Are your person-type contacts accessible through two or more apps, giving you access even when you’re not able to use the main system itself? Does the system have its own iOS and Android mobile apps?
  • Does the system’s sync feature act as a backup system so that accidentally deleting a contact in one system doesn’t delete it in the other?
  • Will contact updates made in one system automatically carry over to the other?
  • Are previous versions of a contact kept as backups so that you can fix incorrect contact detail updates easily by reverting to earlier versions?

Learn more about how syncing contacts gives your entire team access to the contact information they need wherever they may be by clicking .

Dependencies and Triggers

Dependencies and triggers allow for further micromanagement of projects by setting specific tasks to trigger only after earlier tasks and sub-projects are completed.

Dependencies & Triggers
  • Will the system let you set requirements for specific project stages like obtaining permits, finishing reports, etc?
  • Can you set it so that a task that has dependencies on an earlier task won’t start until the task before it is completed?
  • Does the system allow you to keep your to do list uncluttered by letting you make sure that it contains only the tasks you need to work on right now?

Learn more about how dependencies and triggers give you more control over your projects.

Saved Filters

By saving filter and search parameters, users can quickly see only the information that they need to see right now. Each system module can be customized to display what the user wants or needs to see.

  • How flexible are the system’s filtering functons? Can you see active tasks assigned only to you and filter them further into tasks that fall within a certain date range?
  • Does the system let you save filtering parameters so you can access the results you need most often with a single click?
  • Are search filters usable on any module — contacts, leads, activity history, projects, communication logs, and even files and attachments?

Learn more about how saved filters help increase your company’s efficiency.

SmartViews

SmartViews allow users to further refine search parameters and tags to easily search for and access specific information.

  • Does the system let you use and save customized searches through all of your data and access them with a single click?
  • Can you quickly see a list of items that fit a certain criteria (location, current tasks, etc)?
  • Does the system support custom tags for faster searches and enhanced filtering and sorting?
  • Is there a way for you to build complex marketing lists by filtering contacts through granular variables?

Find out how SmartViews let you easily find and access pertinent information.

Activity History

The activity history is a running record of the relationships you have with your contacts — from the very first email you sent them to the latest support ticket that they filed — that gives you an overview of the entire customer lifecycle at a glance.

  • Is there a way for you to view every activity associated with any and all of your contacts in an easy-to-digest format?
  • Can you attach new leads, projects, invoices, support cases, and other activities to a contact? Can these details then be filtered and sorted according to employee, activity, or time period?
  • Does the system allow you to search for specific data — be it an amendment to a recent project or an email from three months ago?

Learn more about how the activity history perfectly encapsulates the true meaning of CRM.

Have we left anything out? Leave a comment!

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