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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.

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!

  • David Jones

    The typical problem with All-In-One systems is that they dont do ALL as good as the typical best of breed providers do ONE. WorkEtc is the exception to this rule as they do it ALL very well.

  • Thomas Lawler

    Work[etc.] has successfully created a tool that brings the whole business cycle together in a place which allows companies to produce & allow for more transparency. I believe work[etc.] has hit the “sweet spot” when it comes to features & functionality. It is broad but not to complex, which allows for easy integration into current business models & workflows that span various fields.

  • Daniel, you know you are blowing the competition out of the water,right? As a result, small business owners can use WORK[etc] to rise heads above their competition also. Sweet.

  • This is an insanely exhaustive list! Amazing to think this is all in WorkEtc. I actually had to sit here for a few and think of what I would add to this ultimate list. If I got abstract I would say it would be fantastic to have:
    1. integration with Mail Chimp so we could send out really great newsletters beyond the email marketing that is currently built in
    2. Be connected to Zapier (or directly with Squarespace) so we can link our Squarespace forms to the CRM. This may be a mute point once the current WorkETC forms are updated.
    3. Some sort of Live Web Chat (like Olark) module that could be embedded into your website and clicked to convert to a lead or support ticket
    Thats all I can think of at the moment, but I will be sure to update if I think of something else!

  • This list shows why WORK[etc] was our final choice after much deliberation. As Thomas L. points points out – there is a delicate balance between ease of use out of the box (which tends to make the system simple to use but very rigid) and its ability to be moulded over the existing business processes (which takes a little time and effort but ultimately what makes it such a powerful tool). In our opinion WORK[etc] strikes the perfect balance between the two – and hardly a day goes by without us interacting with other companies and saying “Wow – couldn’t they do with WORK[etc]!”.

  • Tony Tsicouris

    WorkEtc does a great job of being able to tweak and customize the application to your needs while making the configuration process easy. We have used multiple custom configurations, from custom fields to projects. Another feature that comes in handy are the Smart Views. They make it easy to set up and see the important information you are looking for at just a click.

  • Michael

    I would have loved to of read this post last July when we were looking. I’m glad we found Work[etc] any way. To think we were looking very seriously at other programs were I know nightmares have become reality, I shudder. In less than a year we have seen great strides in the Work[etc] services and support that let me know we have made the right choice. I’m looking forward to the newest version updates to see what changes have been integrated that hasn’t already been discussed. My two wish list items would be integration with office365 and in Weekend and Holiday recognition in Projects (more akin to ms project in this respect). But even without these, Work[etc] is simply the best available right now!

  • Mindy

    This article is right on! We have been through 4 CRM’s in the last 4 years and so happy to finally have found one that offers all it lists above and much much more. Our team and staff are all held accountable for their responsibilities since everyone has access to everything and there are no excuses to not know what is going on.

  • BriteVerify

    You also need to plan for data quality QA to make sure your incoming data is accurate and also to check to make sure your existing data is still valid every so often. This is especially true for B2B Email data with such a high turnover in the workforce these days. A tool like BriteVerify.com will allow you to make sure any new email address is Valid before it is allowed into your CRM and you can also check your existing to data to make sure those email addresses are still valid every so often. Full disclosure, I work for BriteVerify, but we work with a lot of CRM tools and have helped numerous clients solve the problems created with invalid email data.

  • Guest

    The dependencies and triggers features is what really makes the app stand out for me. I tend to micromanage my projects a lot. Setting each step up with triggers makes it easier to keep track of where everything is currently at. Only thing I feel that’s left to add is more integration with more apps (Mail Chimp, any kind of web chat).

  • Brittany McClure Thompson

    What an awesome list! These and a few others are the reasons we switched from using an insanely large number of accounts to track all of this to one with you guys!

  • John Belchamber

    I’e ben using WORKetc for around five years now and have seen it grow from good to great.
    Keep up the great works guys, I love the way you always listen to use users and make improvements consistently…Bravo!

  • David McGarry

    I have been involved in IT in Australia and the UK for the past 20 years, so in that time have been exposed to many CRMs.. the good, the bad and the ugly.

    I work closely with project managers, developers (my role) and support and have found that Work[Etc] is the one of the most comprehensive but more importantly the most intuitive systems that I have used.

    In our company it helps us not only with day-to-day work but also with sales, quotes and marketing. As a blog post, this is a totally comprehensive breakdown of what a CRM should do/be!

  • Michal Brenneman Wahli

    Could this list include anything else?! I love that Work[etc] features all of this. I read this post the other day, and have been trying to think of something else that I’d like to see it include; it’s not easy. But, as I’ve been thinking about this and working in the software today, there are two things that I’d love to see:
    1. Scheduling features for emails. I wanted to send out invoices to customers over the weekend, but it didn’t seem professional to send them out late on Saturday night or anytime on Sunday. A feature that would allow me to get my invoicing done, then schedule emails to send out first thing Monday morning would be fantastic.
    2. Some way to allow customer’s to pay via ACH through the portal. Maybe this is something that would have to be accomplished through conglomeration with banking services, or maybe it’s just as simple as an online form that the customer fills out and we process internally. PayPal and credit card processing costs our company SO much when customers pay using those services.

    That aside, it helps us maintain day-to-day operations, while effectively serving our clients and making the most of our time and money. This blog post is a total and accurate representation of how Work[etc] can, essentially, run your company for you.

  • Steve Westrop | WORK[etc]

    Of course, also need to consider the Support & Training elements…..
    Is there email/phone/live support available during the times you work?
    (this may not be 9-5 Mon-Fri in the vendor’s home country)
    Do the Support team really know and understand the product AND business?
    Is there extensive yet easily accessible self-help documentation and video?
    What about training? Is there a cost, or are they free to access group webinars?
    Can they help and advise on business processes and implementation?
    Do they care about you and your business? Are you more than a number?
    ….
    Or an even more basic question – do they use their own product?

    Well, that’s a few more boxes checked for WORK[etc] hopefully 🙂

  • Dan, you keep coming up with new features that make are small business grow and me as an employee be more productive! love your work and cant wait for all the other new features you have in store for us!

  • Reading through these features a few stand out to me. Can you up-vote comments and suggestions that are the most important in a discussion? This is a very interesting feature that we currently don’t use. However, I can really how awesome it would be if we were using it. Clients could see what topics of discussion are helpful in a group setting. And management could see what is important to the client for any given topic of discussion. I can see how this could almost be a hands free way to retreive data from the client allowing us to improve customer relationship.

    Is there a Request feature to ensure the person you need answers from is immediately asked for a response? This feature along with template email response is absolutely imperative feature! This saves so much time for repeat questions. Something vital for a small business or even a large business for that matter.

    Another feature I commonly use are Bookmarks, Smartlists, and Customized fields. This gives me quick access to deliver content to a client, update documents and lists, and much more. One thing I have learned is that client to client and employee to employee, we all have different needs to make our work station efficient. Without features such as customized fields and smartlists, this just isn’t possible.

  • My team tried all the major CRM’s and could not find one we liked or that worked for us. Many were too sales oriented or required you to find, evaluate, purchase, learn and configure add on apps to provide additional functionality. WORKetc, especially when combined with G Suite, provides a nice suite of functions that helps us manage our business end to end.

    During our implementation of WORKetc, we have used and experimented with many of the functions listed above. We are still learning and experimenting as we develop a work flow process that is perfectly suited to us. Though WORKetc provides a nice set of standard features, it also allows for nearly unlimited customization that can help a company meet unique needs.

    Finally, WORKetc support is unmatched. If I or anyone on my team has a problem or question, we know the name of the person (and the person) who will answer our question or will lead us in a live web session to a solution.

  • Wow, just wow! Such a great list and really shows everyone all the things that WORKetc has to offer. One of my favorite things about this system is the fact that it’s very customization to your business. There are several features that are available that we do not need, we have those turned off so they don’t clutter our views or confuse our team members. I also enjoy the fact that with that customization, you are able to create items within the system that makes the most sense for your organization. Off the top of my head, I really can’t think of any additional features that you left out of the list above, or of things that I think you should look into creating/adding to your system.

  • Drew Tennimon

    Wish my business software would integrate into this, that is the only thing missing to integrate 100% with real time customers… but heck they are offering the best payroll software, and using the least technological old bulletin board customer service portal where they have to answer each question that is repeated by each customer over and over…I laugh, because we have email standard responses that make us look good/personal and supportive of our clients with well thought out explanations for the new clients.

  • This is a great informative and comprehensive list.

  • Louise Roberts

    As an IT company we have been looking for a comprehensive CRM system for sometime now and have trialled a good number of them. The part that is still lacking for us is a full inventory system that allows us to check stock on hand and complete stock takes. We sell both services and products / software so it is important that we have a way to track these items. So far, for us at least this is where all CRM’s fall short. If WorkEtc were to implement this I think we’d be onto a winner!

  • Tabitha Mills

    This is a great list however I’d like to see more integration options. Perhaps like a desktop app for both win and OS X. I’d love to see api access to be able to integrate custom applications as well as standalone plugins for major e marketing platforms.

  • Branden

    I think one of the main things our company would fine useful is the ability to put different prices for different activities for different people for different clients. Complex enough? Essentially, what I might need to charge for development work for client A isn’t the same as for client B and isn’t the same as support for client A and isn’t the same as my boss’s project management for client B, etc etc. As much as it would be easier if everything was uniform, life complicates things!

  • Nakuma Scott

    Being able to customize projects was a bonus for us. The CRM that we tried in 2014 had projects that were built specifically for our industry but didn’t allow for customization. Just because our business fits an industry description doesn’t mean that we are the same as other businesses in the industry. Customization is important as a feature and WORKetc allows the level that we need.

  • TechGro

    Having tested dozens of different CRM tools, I think this list about sums it up. It seems like most of the CRM’s out there fall short in several areas or are very expensive or difficult to customize. Great to say that worketc. has all of the features I need and it is easy to use as well.

See all

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