The Essential CRM Guide

Specify Your CRM Requirements: This article is an excerpt from our free CRM Essentials ebook series.

Updated October 2022

Specifying your CRM system requirements is a separate exercise from specifying your business requirements. The business requirements specify what your business must do to be effective; the system requirements specify how this will be done. To define an effective system, you need at least four things:

  • a well-defined set of business requirements
  • an outline of what you want the CRM system to do for your business
  • a good understanding of what you can expect from the different modules of most CRM systems
  • a small, motivated and focused team who fully understand the business and the importance of getting this right first time.

When planning your system, consider who will use it the most. In Vendors Reveal 10 of Their Top CRM Tips, Jennifer Schiff, quotes Scott Holden, director of product marketing at

Try to define your rationale for installing a system up front before you begin discussions with vendors. Make sure that you put the user community at the center of defining your requirements. Too often CRM experts lead the selection and companies end up buying a complex solution that has comprehensive features but may not solve the user challenge. (Scott Holden, 2010) By this stage, you should have a good idea of what you want from a CRM system. Some of it will have come from the exercise of specifying your business processes and some it from reading the outline of what the common CRM modules can do. You and your team should also do a bit of independent research, firstly to fill in any gaps in your knowledge and secondly, to improve your understanding of the different use each module might have.

An independent view

One way you could do this is to invite one or more independent consultants to come and give a one day workshop to your key staff. Yes, there will be a cost to this, but if neither you nor your staff have much knowledge of what to expect from a CRM system, this is a good way to get expert advice. Be aware that if you ask CRM vendors to do presentations, they will all tell you about their own particular offerings and you will end up hearing the same thing again and again. Time enough for that when you begin the software selection phase of this project. Right now though, you need the views of knowledgeable but unbiased experts.

Next, it is time to look at what each CRM module offers and decide if there is a real place for it in your CRM plans. Essentially, what you are about to do is to define the goals you expect to achieve with a CRM system. To help you identify which aspects of which CRM modules are essential to your business, you and your team should be asking questions along the lines of:

  • What are the must-have features for any given module?
  • Which aspects of CRM will have the most immediate impact on revenue and profitability?
  • Which CRM modules will affect business efficiency for the better? Learn to differentiate between nice-to-have and must-have. Be ruthless in distinguishing, because the more features you want to have, the more complex the system implementation will become. As with any system or product, the more complex it is, the more expensive it will be. It might help you to draw up a table, list the features and have columns to indicate if it is a must-have, nice to have or for future consideration. So, for example:
  • Column 1 will list all the features that you and your team have identified across all CRM modules.
  • Column 2 is a tick-box for the must-have features.
  • Column 3 is a tick-box for nice-to-have features.
  • Column 4 is a tick-box of features for future considerations.

Be careful of getting bogged down in too much detail at this stage. Details of functionality can be filled in later in the process. Neville Turbit, in a 2006 white paper on the software purchase process, says:

“I have seen people develop extremely detailed requirements before going to market. It usually results in disappointment that there is no perfect solution. A better way is to agree macro requirements. These are a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 20 ‘must-haves’. If the package does not have these attributes, it is not going to make the cut.” (Neville Turbit, 2006)

Turbit suggests that the macro requirements are not limited to functionality only. Some examples he gives are:

  • cost of the system
  • length of time to implement and ease of implementation
  • compatibility with other software
  • availability of local support
  • other installations of this particular system in your industry

Another aspect to consider is which CRM modules will have the most immediate impact on revenue and profitability. The CRM modules that will improve business efficiency are the modules on which you should focus your initial efforts. Getting these up and running – and showing results – will win over any doubters and smooth the way for the rest of the system.

A document, published by Really Simple Systems in 2008, lists some of the goals that you might have for your CRM system. They include:

  • Helping sales people manage opportunities and close deals
  • Giving sales managers a complete view of the sales pipeline
  • Automating sales forecasting
  • Making sure that the relevant people in your organization have a complete picture of every sales process
  • Providing a 360° view of every customer to the people within your organization who are involved with customers
  • Tracking the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns
  • Providing a better service for your customers

When businesses were asked if any of these matched their CRM goals, some answered “all of the above”. However, most people said that those aspects that affected both sales and marketing were their priorities.

“Sales people are capable of making a sale without a CRM system so their cooperation cannot be taken for granted. This is a good reason to ensure that your CRM system first meets the needs of the sales people, then build the marketing and support or service functions around that.” (, 2008)

The paper goes on to say that marketing and support teams are well disciplined, used to automation or, at the least, happy to accept it. Given the truth in this statement, much as salespeople might protest that they are also well disciplined, it makes sense to focus your initial CRM efforts on the sales process and implement the other modules later.

This approach also makes sense if you have limited resources at your disposal as it allows you to bring all of them to bear on implementing sales automation. A phased approach to implementation is one of the three installation options we discuss in The Essential Guide to Best Fit CRM, so we will not cover it in any detail now.

To get anybody within the business, let alone salespeople, to accept and adopt a new system wholeheartedly, it has to be easy for them to use. This has to be a prime consideration for your specifications and should be a non-negotiable of whatever system you select. A user-friendly system must:

  • Refresh and present the next page quickly – no more than one second should be acceptable
  • Be intuitive, in that the data fields must be presented in a logical fashion with clear indications of what is required
  • Populate the page with as much default data as possible – and the defaults should be user specific so that if Joe is logged in, then the data reflects Joe’s sales code, territory or any other data pertinent to that salesperson
  • Require the minimum of typing to complete, such as making extensive use of drop-down tables, predictive text typing for names of cities, cross-checking and autocorrecting of suburb/town based on zip codes entered

With so many different CRM applications available, choosing the right option for your business is not easy. What adds to this trouble is the extremely dissimilar nature of the CRM applications because they are designed to cater to businesses having extremely varying needs.

Luckily, we’ve an easier and smarter approach for you: now you can choose the CRM which has maximum number of features – as shown in the list below – you desire to see on your dashboard. But first let’s learn their basic definitions:

  • Dashboard/Homepage
    Usually, it’s a customizable workspace where you can keep your most used widgets/modules besides, the main menus.
  • Contact management
    Features under this menu allow you to manage and communicate with your personal and business contacts, leads, opportunities, customers, collaborators, and vendors. Usually, names, email ids, addresses and telephone numbers of your contacts are stored in the database.
  • Company management
    It’s similar to contact management, but ideal for businesses that deal with other companies.
  • Task management
    It’s basically the process of managing your to-dos through their life cycle usually with the help of a built-in, interactive calendar. The task management cycle involves planning, testing, monitoring and reporting.
  • Sales force automation
    Abbreviated SFA, it’s the hub of any CRM. It involves techniques and rules to automate the sales processes – from order processing, to inventory monitoring, to performance assessment.
  • Customer Support
    This menu gives you the ability to create, assign and manage requests/issues raised by your customers.
  • Sales quotes, estimates, invoices and billing
    If you want to get paid online, this section enables you to create estimates, invoices and use any of the online money transfer services to receive payments.
  • Marketing management
    With the help of this section, you can run email campaigns, SMS campaigns or cold calling to promote your products and services.
  • Survey forms
    These forms are an ideal way to get suggestions and feedback from your consumers.
  • Document management
    It’s a shared storage space that allows you to store, manage, assign, and transfer your documents for increased productivity.
  • Inventory management
    Helps you manage your inventory related activities. Some advanced systems send alerts or even automatically order when you run low on a product.
  • Security and backup
    It’s usually the responsibility of the CRM vendor, but most systems give you the ability to create your own backups, assign roles and set other security preferences.
  • Time management
    If you do time based projects, you need a system that automatically tracks time, creates timesheets and then converts them into invoices.
  • Calendar management
    An interactive calendar that keeps track of your upcoming events, activities and tasks.
  • Reporting and analytics
    Reporting system shows where your company stands in terms of targets and achieved goals. You can also view your team’s performance or an individual’s performance.
  • Admin/setup
    This section is for managers and top management to manage users, set different rules of operation and assign roles.
  • Integration
    It’s the integration with 3rd party apps so you can synchronize your data between different systems and manage different activities right from your CRM’s dashboard.