The foundation of every business is its customers. Simply put, if you don’t have customers then you don’t have a business.
This is arguably the exact reason why CRM systems have become so ubiquitous in recent years. Businesses need a central repository where they can enter and access data about their customers to provide higher quality of service.
Knowing things about your customers is just one piece of the puzzle, however. A successful business also needs to be able to bring that knowledge to bear and use it to strengthen all of its many facets, from the frontline sales team all the way back to upper management.
For such extensive management needs, the typical CRM is usually just not enough. This is the point where companies start looking into other apps that can handle the other aspects of their business.
A system built by stitching separate apps together can work, but it can also be a double-edged sword. Extreme compartmentalization can lead to difficulties accessing important information, for one.
This is the heart of the argument: businesses, particularly those that are experiencing rapid growth and evolution, need more than just a CRM. They need a system with features that most CRMs don’t have — and sometimes they themselves aren’t even aware that these features will come in handy in the future!
Now, because we actually use our own product, WORK[etc], to manage WORK[etc] the business, we were able to search through over four years of sales leads and support ticket histories identifying what features become really important to customers, but ONLY after they had been using the product for at least three months.
This is the ultimate CRM checklist. As you’ll see, the devil really is in the detail.
Not all CRMs are made equal. Some offer more functionality than others by integrating features like project management and finance into a single unified system, allowing you to manage the entire customer lifecycle using just one app.
- Find, sell to, implement projects for, support, and hopefully sell more products and services to your customers using a single system
- Consolidate business-critical data instead of leaving them strewn across different apps
- Easily access and manage almost all aspects of your business
These are the CRMs that you should be looking for. By integrating important business features into an all-in-one system, you don’t have to keep switching between apps that can handle only one aspect.
Navigation is one of the most important aspects that you should consider when looking for a CRM. Yes, it can get you the information you need, but how fast can it do that?
Let’s say you’ve dug in really deep into a project and suddenly need to check a note from four months ago. If you’ve bookmarked the note, it’s always just one click away. You’ll find these user interface tweaks extremely helpful when you have a CRM that contains a lot of data.
- Bookmarks lists let you immediately access the information you feel is important
- Breadcrumb trail lets you jump to higher page levels without having to keep pressing the back button on your browser
- Recent pages and activity list lets you get back quickly to whatever page you were on before
Collaborations and Discussions
Yes, it’s customer relationship management, but a good CRM acknowledges that collaboration is an essential part of any business and openly embraces it.
What with the continued rise of telecommuting, virtual assistants, and the like, today’s workforce is becoming increasingly loosely-joined and scattered all over the globe. Open discussions and collaborations, which can be quite similar to threads in forums and the like, help keep your team tied together tightly wherever they may be.
- Start an online, threaded discussion using any project, sales lead, support case, or even a tricky customer
- Upvote comments and suggestions that you like
- Use Requests to ensure the person you need answers from is immediately notified of your post
Not all CRMs come with some form of email integration. The main advantage in choosing one that does have this feature is that it lets you use your email inbox as another source of leads, contacts, and other forms of useful data.
Within Gmail, each email you receive or send has a Gadget at the bottom that gives you a stripped down version of the CRM menu. If you use Outlook, there’s a widget for it too. Using these add-ins, within your inbox you can:
- Create a new sales lead
- Update a project or task
- Assign a support ticket
- Log a timesheet
- Attach new notes and details to your customer’s record.
Deep email integration help break down the barriers that may keep your team from fully embracing your new CRM. Adoption is much easier as your team doesn’t have to learn any new tricks or change habits. Maintaining customer records becomes as simple as using email.
Web Forms on Steroids
Web forms can be embedded into your blog or website’s pages. They add another level of automation to your business processes, cutting down the time needed to manually turn customer information and concerns into useful data.
They’re easy to integrate into your own website and, more importantly, you can ensure that the information they contain is seen by the appropriate member of your team. Embed a support web form in your website, for example, and your customers can use it to quickly send a support ticket to your support team.
- Build your contact database automatically from web form submissions
- Turn web form data instantly into contacts and support cases
- Customizable web forms can be as simple or as detailed as you want
Self-service customer portal
The customer portal basically gives your customers their own simplified version of the CRM. Permissions are key to the customer portal experience and a CRM that offers this feature should give you total control over who gets to see which information.
By giving your customers access to project and billing details, you can help ensure that the both of you are always on the same page.
- Customers can view projects, tasks, and support tickets as well as paid and unpaid invoices
- Clients can pay invoices using the customer portal
- Customize the portal and make it look more in line with your company’s overall branding
- Increase collaboration between you and the client
Permissions give admin-level users control over which projects, contacts, and other details can be viewed, created, or modified by specific users.
Your General Manager, for example, will of course have access to anything and everything in the system. Project Manager Tom will have full access to all projects he manages, but not the ones assigned to his colleague Bill. In that same vein, Jane in tech support won’t be able to access the company’s financials.
By controlling access to certain modules, you can make sure that each team member stays focused on his or her tasks. Confidential information stays confidential.
- Set user permissions individually, by workgroup, or by role
- Control access to any project, activity, module, or information within the system
- Restrict who can view and/or modify private sales leads, specific projects, etc.
A CRM with a built-in timesheet module can help keep your company running smoothly by not requiring everyone to use another app just to clock in. It’s convenient, efficient, and gives people more time to concentrate on their tasks.
- Attach timesheets to projects to make sure everyone is putting in the hours
- Automatically calculate project budgets by linking them to timesheets
- Enter timesheet data using a mobile app when out on the field and a desktop widget when at the office
Complicated timesheet entry processes can easily bog down any project, especially if they involve a separate app or system. Keeping it inside the CRM system itself makes the task easier to accomplish.
It’s a very rare occasion when you come across a CRM that fits your needs perfectly right out of the box, especially if your business is very specialized. Highly customizable CRMs take this problem out of the picture by giving users the ability to add whatever custom data fields they want to a contact, project, or report.
Aside from widening the extent of data that can be entered into the CRM, custom fields are also useful when it’s time to start expanding. You’re not locked into what the CRM lets you do; you have full control over what you can do with it.
- Add any kind of info no matter how niche or esoteric
- Extend usability of built-in modules
- Ensure standardization of data entered
- Customize modules to handle future expansion / service & product offerings
Custom sales processes and stages
Every company has its own specific sales process. Most CRMs try to be industry agnostic, but not all of them can be tailored to fit your specific sales processes. CRMs that support custom sales processes and stages let you create your own sales process and set it as the default.
Many CRMs limit users to a single sales process. What you want is one that lets you set up multiple processes for different aspects of your business. That way, if you ever need to make a sales process for a one-off service or product that you normally don’t offer, you have more flexibility to tailor it to your exact needs.
A lot of companies follow a “Cold > Warm > Hot” process for their leads. You can be more detailed and turn it into, say, “New > Attempting Contact > Contacted > Paperwork Out > Contracts Signed.”
- Create and associate different sales processes tailored to specific products and services
- Set specific processes for different teams in your company or even those in different regions
- Easily make necessary changes to evolving sales processes
Custom sales processes come in really handy when you already have a system in place. Even if the default process in the CRM is different from the one you follow, you can quickly replace it with your own process.
Setting up similar projects from the ground up again and again for different companies is not only cumbersome, it’s very inefficient. It eats up time that would be better spent actually getting the project off the ground; using a project template is a better proposition.
Of course, you’ll have to set up a project at least once so you can turn it into a template, but after that it’s all smooth sailing. By using these templates for your more common projects, you’re always just a few clicks away from a ready-to-use project as soon as you close a deal.
- Manage and deploy projects faster
- Cuts down on time spent creating new projects
At the other end of the scale, there are some projects that are way too specific to be deployed using templates. This is the time to use custom projects.
- Control every aspect of any given project
- Add sub-projects, tasks, timesheets, and completion stages
- Add a near-infinite number of sub-projects and tasks
Custom fields work well with custom projects, as they can be used to include additional details and information.
Multiple project views
Some people prefer graphical representations of project schedules while others prefer a more structured tree view. Different strokes for different folks, as they say, so multiple project views is a must.
Project managers, for example, would likely prefer a Gantt Chart like the one shown above as it allows them to quickly draw out the start and end dates of each sub project.
Giving your team multiple project views not only ensures that they can get an overview using a scheme that suits them, switching between them also helps you find the exact data you’re looking for faster.
- Switch between different views quickly and easily
- Use in conjunction with filters to find info faster
- Sort activity according to priority, progress, budget, etc.
Real-time progress tracking
A CRM and project management system doesn’t mean squat if you can’t keep an eye on how each project or sales opportunity is coming along. Real-time progress reports lets you do exactly that.
The progress tracker is usually included along with the different project views. You can choose to update the progress tracker manually or have the system itself do it for you so you can just keep an eye on the project’s progress percentage.
- Get a birds eye view of the status of the company’s projects
- Drill down deep into sub-projects and sub-tasks and check their status
- Cut down the need for progress report meetings
The tracker is extremely useful in that it gives you an updated view of each project’s status and lets you pinpoint any problem areas that are causing the project to take longer than expected.
Consolidating data into reports is important, but let’s be honest here: it can also be a boring slog through rows upon rows of information. Automating report generation is a more efficient solution.
As the screenshot above shows, these automatic reports can come in a variety of flavors. They take the guesswork out of metrics and analytics by only using the data you and your team enter into the system. They can even be used to supplement your performance trackers.
- Any and all of the data you enter into the system will be used to generate a range of reports
- Reports include financials, timesheets, projects progress, and more
- Bookmark important reports for quick and easy access.
Workgroups and Roles
Workgroups and roles are subsets of your standard Employees group. You can set them for your sales team, your distribution team, or even the office softball team.
- Assign tasks or projects to a team rather than selecting the same set of individual employees.
- Share contacts with a workgroup
- Set access privileges according to workgroups and roles
Workgroups are most useful when a new employee comes aboard. Adding them to a workgroup would instantly make them privy to records and information relevant to that particular workgroup.
Social Media Integration
Social media has not only helped change the way we communicate, it also gives you more opportunities to get to know your customers — an important consideration for any kind of business.
Being able to link social media profiles to your contacts means you have multiple ways of communicating with them. It also helps keep your contact info as updated as possible without having to pester your clients about it.
- Get updated contact info by linking to their social media profiles
- Filter contacts according to social media profiles
Google Contacts is one of the most convenient ways of keeping track of contacts across a wide range of Google products. Using a CRM that allows syncing with Contacts means you don’t have to transfer them all into the system one by one.
Google Contacts syncing and integration helps make sure that you always have easy access to your contact list wherever you may be. If you can’t access the CRM, you can still find them in Google Contacts itself or vice versa.
- Two-way syncing of person-type contacts ensure that you can access all of them through either app
- Sync acts as a backup system; accidentally deleting a contact in one system doesn’t delete i in the other
- Contact updates made in one system carry over to the other
- Fix incorrect contact detail updates easily by reverting to a previous version of the contact
- Access contact information in the CRM through your iOS or Android device
Dependencies & Triggers
Dependencies and triggers further automate project management. They also help make sure that essential sub-projects are completed before the project moves on to the next stage.
Dependencies and triggers are perfect for projects that require a lot of documentation, permits, and the like before the company can move on to the next stage. Think of it as a built-in failsafe mechanism that keeps your team from wasting time and resources on stages that haven’t yet been given the go signal.
- Set requirements for specific project stages like obtaining permits, finishing reports, etc.
- A task that has dependencies on an earlier task won’t start until the task before it is completed
- Keep your to do list uncluttered by making sure it contains only the tasks you need to work on right now
It’s easy to hit information overload when you’ve amassed a lot of contacts and projects. Filtering helps keep the focus on the items that you need to see right now without cluttering up your workspace with unneeded ones.
Quick and painless data retrieval should be an essential factor when selecting a CRM. Filtering is one of the most effective ways increase efficiency when using the system.
- Remove unneeded items and entries from view and focus only on what currently need.
- Save filtering parameters to access the results you need most often with a single click
- Use search filters on any module — contacts, leads, activity history, projects, communication logs, and even files and attachments.
- Break down project data and see what’s relevant to you at that time.
- See active tasks assigned only to you and filter them further into tasks that fall within a certain date range
Between contacts, emails, and projects, and everything in between, your CRM is going to end up holding a lot of data. SmartViews let you use lists and filters to easily find the exact data you need without having to pore through every single piece of info in the system.
By using SmartViews, you spend less time looking for certain items within the system. They’re efficient, productive, and cause less frustration than a normal search.
- Use and save customized searches through all of your data and access them witha single click
- Quickly see a list of items that fit a certain criteria (location, current tasks, etc)
- Mark items with custom tags (a “good customer” tag for a preferred client, perhaps) to facilitate quicker searches
- Filter for any employee’s tasks to check how many tasks he or she has
- Build complex marketing lists by filtering contacts through granular variables
A CRM that handles almost every aspect of your business needs to be able to present all that data in an easy-to-digest format. After all, what use is an all-in-one system if you can’t even keep track of what you enter into the system?
An activity history module not only does that, it ties together everything you ever do with your customers and links pertinent details, bills, correspondence, and more to the appropriate client, lead, or project. It’s only possible because WORK[etc] captures everything you do with your contacts throughout the entire customer lifecycle.
- Attach new leads, projects, invoices, support cases, and other activities to a contact
- View every activity associated with any and all of your contacts in an easy-to-digest format
- Filter and sort activity history according to employee, activity, or time period
- Search for specific data — be it an amendment to a recent project or an email from three months ago
The activity history page perfectly encapsulates the meaning of CRM — it’s 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. It’s the entire customer lifecycle at a glance, with all of the data you need available to you with a few simple clicks.