Businessmen shaking hands from two cell phones

CRM, or customer relationship management, software has evolved significantly since its days as a glorified rolodex. Much more than just a book of contacts, CRMs now include functionality for lead generation, customer lifecycle management, and yes, of course, as a bank of contacts. They can help growing organizations manage their customers, keep different departments like sales and marketing aligned with customers and strategies, and provide useful information for past, present, and predicted customer actions.

If you’re still one of the 50 percent of sales teams not using a CRM, now might be the time to take the plunge. As one of the cornerstone pieces of software for many businesses, what functions should you look for in order to get the biggest benefit from a CRM?

Things to consider

The lines between CRM, sales management, and business management can be quite blurred, so it’s important to consider exactly what you need from a piece of software. There are a few practical questions and considerations to take into account before deciding which CRM to choose.

Primarily, you want to make sure that your CRM is cloud-based. As the software shift continues to move further into the cloud, these systems benefit greatly from being accessible online and remotely, especially via mobile devices. Having a mobile app for your CRM will be especially important if you’ve got employees constantly on the move.

As Laurie McCabe, contributor to our Q3 GetRank report on trends in CRM, points out: “Every salesperson wants to be able to access their CRM on a mobile device. Having mobile capabilities and being able to do the things you do every day in the office, but on a mobile device, is a prerequisite.”

When you’re looking at cloud-based solutions, also make sure to check out what other applications it integrates with. This will be especially useful for things like accounting software when creating quotes, invoicing, billing and keeping track of customer sales, or email marketing if you want to build inbound marketing campaigns.

Next, you should consider the size of your company and ask if the CRM is scalable. You’ll want to choose a product that specializes in businesses of your size– scalability is important from both a budget and an implementation standpoint. Small businesses with two to twenty employees might be overwhelmed with a mid-market or enterprise-level solution, but if you’re forecasting big growth, make sure to you choose a solution that can grow with you.

Also, look at your current level of satisfaction with your customer interactions and how much you know about them. Do you know where your customers are coming from or how they ended up at your product? Have you analyzed your online traffic so that your marketing and sales strategies are targeted? Look for a solution that enables you to analyze your customer behavior and offers strategic guidance on how to improve your customer relationships with business intelligence and analytical tools. As McCabe says: “Right now, CRM is glorified contact management for a lot of companies. Analytics really have the potential to make it into a decision-making, strategic-thinking tool.”

Finally, consider your budget and what you actually need. A CRM can have all the bells and whistles, but you might not need them. Don’t be afraid to check out some free trials to see what they offer and how easy they are to maneuver before you make a commitment to one system.

Key functions

Once you know what you want from a CRM, you’ll want to consider some of the more practical functions to look for.

Customer database: At the most basic level, any CRM application will allow you to create a comprehensive customer database and update with notes, meeting schedules, documents and other pertinent information so that you can better manage your customer communication. Even more beneficial is a searchable customer database via categories, meaning that you can tag your customers by the likelihood that they’ll continue to use your service or product, which company they’re from, prior interactions, and demographics, among others.

Calendar and task assignment: A calendar will be really useful to schedule calls, keep tracking of marketing campaigns, and see which tasks are due. On that same note, a function to assign tasks to different sales or marketing staff can help everyone keep strategies in line and avoid duplicating contact efforts.

Sales analysis and forecasting: A dashboard that offers an overarching view of your sales pipeline is useful in order to help in future planning and forecasting. Analytics and reporting capabilities should let you build analytical reports about sales and share within your organization. Sales forecasting tools will also help you predict the potential outcome of any opportunities in your sales funnel.

Email and social media integration: Having info about a customer’s reaction to campaigns will help you gauge their interest in your product. For example, once a client receives your promotional email, you can determine their interest by their actions: did they sign up for the white paper or the free trial? Did they unsubscribe or opt out? You can also get a history of what you’ve sent them and whether or not it sparked any interest. Similarly, a lot of CRMs are now equipped with ‘social listening’ tools that can help gauge what’s being said about a product online and by whom.

Manage sales channels: If you’re using multiple sales channels, you’ll want channel specific forms, templates and fields (like email, phone, etc.) that will let you request specific information depending on the different distribution channels you use so that you can identify buying patterns and needs.

At the end of the day, a good CRM is all about the customer: it will enable your marketing and sales departments to identify and target their best customers; help develop individualized relationships with customers with the aim of improving customer satisfaction and maximizing profits; and offer better customer service in order to build customer loyalty, customer retention and increase customer profits.

Top CRM apps to consider

CRMs come a dime a dozen, and it can be really difficult to navigate the space to figure out which system is right for your company. A good place to start is GetRank, GetApp’s quarterly ranking of top cloud-based CRM apps. The ranking is based on five data points– user reviews, integrations, mobile app availability, social media presence, and security– and will give you a good sense of some of the leading contenders in the industry for SMBs. See the top five below, or check out the full top 25 list here.

  1. Salesforce
  2. Pipedrive
  3. Pipeliner CRM
  4. Insightly
  5. Zoho CRM

If you’re interested in getting to know about trends in CRM software, check out our Q3 report, Customer Success in Cloud: Key Trends for 2015 for insights and expert commentary on the industry.