CRM software used to be the place where you kept records of all your current and prospective customers. It was used mostly by B2B companies, or companies with a dedicated one-to-one sales teams.

But in 2018, CRM systems can do so much more. Modern CRMs can act as the bridge between sales, service and marketing, and power automated, personalized engagement with customers throughout the organization. It’s better to think of it as a “customer intelligence” platform, rather than a mere directory for tracking sales activity. In fact, the modern CRM has graduated from sales software, to a platform that manages the entire customer experience.

What Defines a Modern CRM?

We’ve identified five essential differences between a modern CRM and a more traditional one.

These differences illustrate what a modern CRM should be able to perform, either on its own, or through integration with complementary software. Use the below descriptions of these features to grade your current CRM software, and ask your vendor what it would take to get you to the next level.

5 Features of a Modern CRM

Feature 1: Integrate Your Multi-Source Data

To act as a customer intelligence platform, and not just a directory, the CRM needs to be able to store data that comes from many sources, not just the form fields you manually populate. This means the ability to store data from other channels and departments, such as web browsing behaviors, customer service call logs, and even social media activity. Some CRMs are even able to append third party or non-digital data such as survey results, although it can be a cumbersome process.

All this helps to create a much more complete picture of an individual customer/prospect, which in turn should power the kind of personalized outreach and content they receive.

Feature 2: Power Your Personalization

In the past, salespeople did personalized outreach manually over the phone or email. But new CRM systems can power personalized engagement in real-time on digital channels like email, display ads, websites and mobile apps.

For example, browsing behavior or email identification stored in the CRM can connect with your web personalization tool to dynamically change the content according to the unique preferences of the customer in real-time. A recognized repeat customer could see a more product focused home page, versus a first time visitor, who might see a more brand-focused home page.

You can also set up the CRM for trigger responses, for example, if a recognized customer abandons a shopping cart on your e-commerce site, the CRM can recognize the action and trigger an automated email response, such as a discount coupon.

Feature 3: Log Interactions Automatically

One thing modern CRMs have gotten much better at is automatically logging customer/prospect interactions. This frees salespeople from the tyranny of having to log every single phone call or email outreach, with a record of how it went. Nowadays, CRMs can track your email activity, recognize the customer names, and identify positive responses through keywords in the text. By analyzing these interactions, the CRM becomes more of a strategic tool rather than an operational one, not to mention a better way to track the performance of the sales force.

Feature 4: Generate Actionable Insights

The one feature that truly elevates a CRM from a customer directory to a customer intelligence platform is the ability to generate actionable insights. By being able to ingest so much disparate data, CRMs can now apply artificial intelligence to recognize patterns in customer behavior and recommend actions for the best-predicted outcome.

Which customer prefers email outreach over the phone? Which customer is ripe for a follow up email? What type of content resonated most with one group of prospects? These are all questions an intelligent CRM can help you answer. Also look out for the bonus feature of a visualization tool that helps bring these insights to life in a more actionable way.

Feature 5: Serve Many Departments, Instead of One

The customer data and insights stored in a modern CRM are relevant to all customer-facing parts of the business, not just the sales team. Having two-way communication between the CRM and marketing, as well as the CRM and sales can be tremendously valuable in terms of creating personalized content and serving the customer with more empathy.

Marketing can feed customer interaction data from the digital channels they manage back into the CRM to help the sales team tailor their outreach strategy. And customer service can save the sales team a great deal of embarrassment by letting them know that a potential lead is actually a disgruntled customer who’s not happy with the product.

Final Thoughts

All of this means that its worth investing in a CRM that is an open platform, i.e. one that has out-of-the-box capability to integrate with software in other departments. It also helps to demand lower individual licensing cost from your CRM vendor, since you’ll want to increase the number of people who can access the CRM.

This post originally appeared as a LinkedIn article by Omar Akhtar titled, “5 Essential Features Your CRM Should Have in 2018”. Omar Akhtar is an Industry Analyst at Altimeter, a Prophet company. He is based out of Prophet’s San Francisco office. 

Learn more about using CRM technology and analytics to gain full customer intelligence.