As you begin your CRM comparison shopping, it’s important to know the features that will best suit your needs for sales, services, and marketing. In this blog series, we’ll touch on each of those areas and provide insights into which features you should be homing in on to maximize your CRM investment.

But first, let’s establish one major point: Selecting a CRM based on features alone is a recipe for failure.

While the features are part of the greater whole, the bigger focus should be “What are my business goals and will this CRM (with the given features) help me achieve those goals?”. Your CRM search should always begin with strategic planning, which is the process of consciously defining your current roadblocks and using those to create actionable goals for your CRM adoption.

Without understanding which problems you’re trying to solve, it’s impossible to find a CRM that will satisfy. Strategic planning builds the framework of criteria for short term and long-term success with the solution you choose. It also reveals potential risks and roadblocks that may not have been apparent at the get-go. Laying out a detailed plan based on actionable goals and real business challenges increases your likelihood of success and decreases the likelihood that you’ll pour thousands of dollars into a solution that won’t deliver ROI.

Many businesses don’t recognize (or don’t invest in) strategic planning as a mainstay for CRM selection, but it is a crucial first step, and it’s a step you should not take alone.

Unite a team of key players in your organization to offer perspectives and act as a consulting board for the CRM purchase. Then, consider a CRM consultant to help you uncover needs you may have missed, offer knowledge on product features and options, and guide your project management with time-tested strategies.

Features related to your CRM goals should be ranked by importance. As you go through this list, think about which features would be your “must haves” and which would be your “nice to haves”.

Ok, I’m off my soapbox now. Assuming you already know the issues you’re trying to resolve, let’s discuss the sales CRM features you should consider.

Collaboration Tools

A collaboration tool is anything that helps the sales rep communicate more effectively. Some examples you’d see in CRM would be call logging, email integration, social media, and analytics sharing.

Particularly for email integration, find out if the CRM you’re considering will integrate with the email solution you already have. Ideally, the CRM will create an omni-channel communication experience, allowing your employees and customers to connect via email, SMS, social media, or a specific chat feature, and then storing that information for reference later. This ability allows teams to discuss information on a granular level, creating more cohesive sales communication.

When it comes to analytics, find out if the CRM offers the ability to share report and analysis data, or if it requires an add-on. Having to use an add-on is not the end of the world, but it does add to your CRM cost of ownership.

Collaboration Sub-Categories
Communication Panel
Tasks and Calendar
Email
MS Outlook Integration
Gmail Integration
Calls
Enterprise Social Networks
Analytics

Business Process Management (a.k.a. Workflows)

Business process management (BPM) capabilities allow sales teams to create repeatable processes inside the system for sales automation. Two questions to ask about BPM capabilities are:

  1. Is BPM supported throughout all the CRM modules?
  2. Is there an additional cost for more robust, customizable BPM options?

Many CRMs come with basic process configuration options but remain limited in functionality. A process-oriented CRM will come with a library of templates (that can be customized) to give you a framework for creating lead qualification and sales automation. If you want the ability to create workflows that are more personalized, your CRM must offer strong BPM options.

BPM Sub-Categories
Dynamic Case Management Processes
Structured BPM Processes
Sales Processes
Process Library
Process Monitoring and Analytics

Lead Management

Lead management is obviously a huge factor for sales reps. Think about whether you need your lead qualification and distribution options to be more product-focused or more contact-focused. Product-focused lead management requires the user to relate the lead to a specific product of interest. Contact-focused lead management allows the user to enter the lead without associating a product, and they can add the product information later. Depending on your processes, one or the other may be better suited for your teams.

Lead Management Sub-Categories
Lead Qualification
Lead Distribution
Hand-off to sales
Analytics on Leads

Opportunity Management

Perhaps just as important as lead management, opportunity management is a considerable sales feature. Does the CRM offer opportunity tracking, sales funnels, pipeline management, histories, and analytics? Can you perform competitor analysis and/or track competitor products?

Are contracting and proposal generation important to you? Proposal and quote generation can differ greatly between projects, so understanding how much flexibility you have with those tools is important.

Opportunity Management Sub-Categories
Opportunity Tracking
Opportunity History
Sales Initiation
Qualification
Presentation
Proposal Generation
Contracting
Pipeline
Sales Forecasting & Analytics

Integration

This is a BIG one. The sub-categories listed in the table represent the most common sales integrations, but certainly not all of them. Take inventory of your other systems before you choose a CRM. Does the CRM solution integrate with any of these? Will it need to? It’s much easier (and less expensive) to connect two complimentary systems than trying to jerry-rig an integration between two systems that don’t have an innate connection.

Sometimes though, even if the systems are compatible, you may have special fields or functions you’d like to integrate. This requires a bit of customization but not as much as a complete integration build would cost you.

Ask your CRM consultant to help you determine your integration needs as they relate to your sales goals. Even if you don’t plan to integrate now, it’s good to know your options and how much the investment may cost if you choose to integrate later.

Integration Sub-Categories
MS Office Integration
Export to Excel
PBX and Cloud Telephony Services
Google Integration
Mail Integration

Orders & Invoices

Once a sale is made, the order must be documented and the invoice must be processed. CRM order and invoicing capabilities can be as simple as providing order lists, histories, and invoices; or as complex as adding supply and payment schedules, order processing windows, and invoice analytics.

Remember, even if the CRM dots all the I’s and crosses all the T’s for orders and invoices, it won’t mean much if those features don’t reflect how your teams work. Maybe order and invoicing analytics are important to you, but maybe they’re not.

Where do order and invoice functions rank on your list of must have features? In most cases, orders and invoice features will be used less often than opportunity management features, so if you rank opportunity management higher but are worried about order and invoice capabilities, that’s where integration (discussed above) comes back into the spotlight. Integrating that other system with your CRM can fill the gap in orders and invoices without forcing you to completely throw out a CRM that may fit your opportunity management beautifully. These are the sorts of discussions you’ll want to have with your consultant to weigh your options.

Order & Invoice Sub-Categories
Order Lists
Order History
Order Processing from Website
Order Processing Window
Supply and Payment Schedule
Order Approval
Invoicing
Order and Invoice Analytics

Field Sales Management

If you’re a sales rep on the go, field sales management may be one of your most sought after CRM features. Many field sales modules will provide tools to help the rep sell with less complication while out of the office. Features like mapping, best route, contacts near me, and mobile orders give sales teams control of their data on the spot.

Many CRMs offer a mobile app to access the system and perform field sales management tasks while offline. If this feature is important to your teams, make sure it’s robust enough to deliver what the teams need and that you’ve considered how any add-ons or customizations could affect your price point. See the Mobile Sales item below to learn more about mobile sales features.

Field Sales Management Sub-Categories
Field Force Management
Field Sales Rules
Mobile Orders
Map Based Mobile Routing
Mobile Forecasting
Sales Quota Analysis

Mobile Sales

As mentioned above, many CRM companies offer mobile capabilities for field sales management. If mobility is important to your sales team, look for a CRM with native apps for both Android and iOS (HTML-5 compatible mobile browser is a bonus). Mobile sales should include access to accounts, contacts, activities, meetings, opportunities, and leads so the rep can access the most crucial customer information on-the-go.

Mobile Sales Sub-Categories
Accounts and Contacts
Activities and Meetings
Opportunities
Leads
Mobile Feed
Offline Mode
Native Application

Contract Management

Contract management features can include a range of options. Knowing whether you need the ability to store multiple agreements, create documents based on fields or track approval processes will help you determine how “intense” you need your contract management capabilities to be. Some CRMs offer contract management just to track time or incidents for support service contracts, so if you’re looking for something more geared to sales, be sure to ask.

Contract Management Sub-Categories
Contract Database
Printable Forms
Contract Tracking and Approval
Contract Analytics

Product Management

Maintaining a product catalogue in your CRM that can tie a product to an opportunity is a sales feature that many businesses find value in. Some CRMs give the user the ability to categorize the products to belong to a family or hierarchy of products. The feature is called “Product Attributes”. Product Search may also be a crucial component, as sales teams will want the ability to find and filter products from the catalogue.

Product Management Sub-Categories
Product Catalogue
Product Catalogue Management
Product Attributes
Product Selection
Product Search

Document Flow Automation

A document library with configurable document flow automation my prove useful for sales professionals who need to send and track documents like contracts and work statements. An important question to ask about document flow automation is whether the solution you’re considering supports security restrictions. For sensitive materials especially, this is a must.

Document Flow Automation Sub-Categories
Document Approval
Document Database
Related Documents

Project Management

Project management features allow sales reps to create milestones and tasks to keep a process organized and track the progress of a project. Beyond basic project management, a more robust sales CRM feature would include project analytics and tracking.

Project Management Sub-Categories
Project Management
Project Analytics
Project Tracking

System Designer

System designer features provide control of more administrative functions within the CRM. For example, creating role-based views or determining access rights for the users. All CRMs will offer some sort of system designer options, so it just depends on how advanced you prefer your options to be.

This is another point you may want to discuss with your CRM consultant. They can advise you on what these sub-categories are and whether they’re important to your CRM goals.

System Designer Sub-Categories
Audit Log
Activity Log
LDAP Integrations
SSO Support
Mobile Customizations
Access Rights Administration
Multi-Lingual
Multi-Currency
UI Customizations
Visual Designer
Role Based Views
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