The Right CRM Program Part II–Features & Functions

In our last post, Selecting the Right CRM Program for Your Company, we discussed how a company’s environment and today’s hosting options affect CRM system choices as they relate to long-term business goals. To continue this discussion, here we focus on how to weigh features and functions of CRM programs against those goals.

Shopping for a CRM system can be a long process, and you’ll have to do lots of sifting through exhaustive feature sets to determine which more closely encompasses your needs. What should figure into your decision process when looking for features, and how do your specific priorities intersect with those features? If the only goal is more organization, the CRM solution you choose will look very different than if you were looking to increase the accountability of sales staff–or, at least in theory, it should.

The following sections assess priorities in CRM system adoption and attempt to show what common features will best support those endeavors. Some features support multiple end goals, while others only really figure into decision-making once or twice.

Priority–User Adoption

All businesses want a higher rate of user adoption when it comes to implementing a CRM program, and these rates have a crucial impact on the success of integrating such a program into a business pipeline. Teams with low adoption rates often find themselves frustrated and looking for new solutions, usually at the expense of lost time, money, and effort.

Some features that support adoption include:

Integration with other programs–a CRM system that integrates itself with programs already in use by your business, such as Microsoft Outlook or Google Apps, is more likely to be adopted. Adding the program to daily operations becomes natural and streamlined, and in many cases these systems don’t require any significant change in the way a person or team captures and stores data.

End-of-use and accessibility features–the quality of an interface can be hard to assess by means other than reviews, but ease of use accelerates adoption. Accessibility features for users with special needs help ensure that the widest possible spectrum of people can make use of the CRM system.

Training–some CRM program providers offer direct training through workshops, online course materials, and webinars. While not a feature of the program itself, this training is critical to adoption and success, and helps make the transition to new systems easy. Take time to review any tutorials, adoption kits, demos, or similar material to make sure they are easy to understand and that they address the general scope of your questions.

Priority–Forecasting and Visibility

Getting a business where it wants to go can be an endless challenge. Forecasting helps provide realistic expectations for growth, and can highlight things that need fundamental changes or attention. Customer relationship management can be a part of long-term forecasting solutions by helping you accurately predict future revenue as a function of things like seasonality and current events. By providing intelligent algorithms alongside these features, many CRM systems can accurately predict future revenue trends.

Features that support this goal also support improved visibility. As it becomes clearer to a company how each step of the sales pipeline is handled and affected by decisions, these features that provide ease in forecasting also provide a bird’s-eye view of the health of sales operations in general.

Features that best support these goals include:

Opportunity management functionality–a qualified lead requires a lot of care in the approach. Opportunity management features allow sales team members to show exactly what’s been done for a potential new customer or client. Tracking this activity in detail helps provide CRM system algorithms with more data.

Account management functionality–often bundled with opportunity management features, account management performs much the same role once a lead is warmed and becomes a customer. Track who on your sales team consistently brings in big customers and what they’re doing to reel them in–and learn from this, disseminating that process to other agents.

Reporting–many CRM systems can generate complex, sophisticated reports on the status of the sales pipeline. These reports can provide visibility for upper management into the reality of operations. Reporting happens in the background and shouldn’t be a tedious effort–it should capture all of your data and allow you to weave it into reports that can easily influence the direction of operations in a way that is grounded in empiricism.

Priority–Accountability

One priority that often gets discussed when searching for a CRM system or any business solution that affects the operations of a department or office, is accountability. Business owners want to make sure that every salesperson can demonstrate what they’ve been working on, and a CRM program can help employees generate deliverables that illustrate what they do is effective.

Features that support this goal include:

Reporting–as mentioned above, reporting helps provide an immediate sense of what the data generated in a CRM system means for your company. Some CRM programs can offer breakdowns at the individual level, exposing weaknesses that can be identified and fixed.

Analytics–data tools can help provide strong insight into areas of a business that are high performing or underperforming. Data tools also sometimes expose hidden trends that might not have been intuitive or apparent at the outset of operations.

Priority–Organization

Everyone wants to be more organized, and CRM systems help with that. Many sales professionals develop their own processes where a CRM system isn’t really present (think post-it notes, filing cabinets, stray pieces of scrap paper. . .), but a CRM program can really simplify and altogether eliminate a lot of this kind of clutter. It’s easy to take for granted the power of turning scattered notes and emails into a single, coherent set of customer-related data, but the benefits are exponential to the individual salesperson and to a company as a whole.

If you are interested in better organization, look for a CRM solution with:

App integration–CRM programs that interact with commonly-used programs like Microsoft Outlook and Google Apps make it much easier to stay organized by allowing all necessary tools, documents, and actions to exist in one place. Many of these systems are heavily customizable and can be leveraged by different kinds of teams, even if those teams have significantly varying needs.

Sales Automation–by making several key sales tasks automatic, like inventory control and sales processing, a CRM program can help avoid subtle organizational blunders. Staying automatically updated on exactly how performance indicators fluctuate over time allows you to be better prepared for unexpected changes, and frees up time that you would otherwise have to spend monitoring the books and making calculations.

Priority–Time-Efficiency

Though the two are often closely tied, efficient use of time usually gets its own notes in many businesses’ CRM solution desires. A good CRM system should provide a quick, easy path to anything a sales team or executive overseeing one wants to accomplish. It should also provide clear ways to cut out wasted time, giving sales personnel and executives alike more time to focus on growth.

Want to speed things up? Your CRM should have:

Group email–a lot of meeting content or individual emails can just as easily be turned into a single group email. Programs that offer the option to create groups and subgroups for content can speed up the process of getting word of new changes out to the right people significantly.

Mobile access–whether you’re at a stoplight or waiting for a flight, a CRM program that has mobile access goes with you anywhere. Don’t settle for a CRM system that can’t be accessed whenever or wherever you need it. Sometimes, the best opportunities present themselves in situations we do not anticipate.

App integration, sales automation–a described above, these features overlap with organization.

Weighing Features and Benefits

Not every organization is going to treat every CRM system feature equally. Some just don’t need the sophisticated analysis that comes from a strong reporting tool, or do enough different kinds of business to merit a heavy emphasis on opportunity management tools. In these cases, simple or complex weighted algorithms can be used to decide on front runners between a wide field of CRM clients.

Assign either features or business priorities a numeric weight. Something that will never see use, for example, might be rendered as having a weight of only 2 out of a possible 10, while something that makes up a substantial amount of expected business tasks might rate, say, 8. Then simply plug each CRM program available into the formula and find out which comes out on top. More complex formulas can weigh each CRM solution in this manner on multiple axes, such as its value to sales, support, and marketing departments.

What’s Next?

Now that you know where your CRM system will be housed, what environments it will work in, and what features are most important to you, the final piece of the puzzle is budget. Time and money both weigh in heavily in the consideration of a CRM solution, and the last post in this series will provide a summary of major budgetary and timeline concerns in the CRM adoption process.

In the meantime, here are a few strategy-based pieces we’ve written in the past that relate to better selling habits.

  1. Easy Tips and Tactics for Effective Selling–sales isn’t just about presenting people with a widget that will solve all their problems.
  2. What’s the Best Way to Use Customer Feedback?–if you’re going to start capturing more data on how customers bring in sales, you’ll want to make sure to have an idea of how you’ll use their feedback to make your business more successful.

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