When evaluating CRM solutions, customers are, at the outset, sure of what they want and need: essentially, a tool to help manage customer relationships. But the industry has been working hard to convince CRM customers that they need more, and should pay for it.

Lately, topics like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), chatbots, and virtual assistants have been taking over much of the hype cycles regarding customer relationship management (CRM) software. While these are very cool and promising developments, it is important to remember that every organization looking to implement CRM must first master the deployment of “Core CRM” before adding more advanced features and applications.

So, what are “Core CRM” features anyway?  Core CRM represents the fundamental technology building blocks of your customer engagement strategy. Core CRM is the critical foundation for collecting and managing customer data, central customer processes – such as lead conversion, sales cycle management and issue resolution. Core CRM crosses departments, including marketing, sales and customer support. But, a great Core CRM initiative manages to break down silos and tie these departments together with a focus on customer success.

In s series of posts, we will identify the major areas of Core CRM, and explain the importance and functions of each. We will focus on the following key areas: sales automation, lead management, customer service and support, and what I call “productivity and platform.”

First up, let’s jump into the core elements of Sales Automation….

Sales Automation

Also called sales force automation (SFA), just as it sounds, revolves around the technology aimed at optimizing the management of revenue obtained through sales representatives. (As opposed to e-commerce, where customers buy directly from a web site or mobile device.)

Sales automation is typically deployed by business-to-business firms or in situations with a complex sales cycle, since the majority of closed deal are managed by the sales team, and are typically more complex and longer than say a simple transaction a consumer makes at a retail store.

Here are some key elements of the core tenets of sales automation technology:

Account Management

In most organizations, a customer or “account” is at the center of everything. Using a CRM to centralize account information enables more individuals in the company to access critical data, and provide context around purchase history and customer preferences when engaging. In short, accounts are the “hub” of a customer centric strategy and a foundational element of Core CRM.

Contact Management

While the account record is the hub, the fact is – in any business or sales engagement – it is people interacting with people. Therefore, integrated contact management is important. Contact management allows companies to keep an overarching rolodex of key individuals at business accounts – and easily track any type of interaction with these contacts: phone calls, meeting, emails, orders, etc.

Contact management is key in tracking these human interactions. And when you collect and manage this data over time, the CRM system can start to understand patterns, trends etc. and provide insights to users about who to call, and when in a sales cycle to optimize results.

Opportunity Management

While a company may do business with another company (an account) – oftentimes there are many different sales engagements between a seller and buyer over time. Opportunity management captures all of the details about a sales deal: items being offered, number of units, cost per unit, any discounts, etc. and keeps them in a centralized place to both keep the deal on track and to allow for managers and other individuals on the sales team to collaborate around a deal.

Core opportunity management tools should also include integrated workflow. This allows businesses to insure that best practices are always followed and that the proper sales stages are met before closing a deal – again insuring sales reps make sure the right processes is followed every time, reducing errors or customer dissatisfaction. The key here is making it easy for sales professionals to enter, track and manage deals along the sales cycle – and keep track of every aspect of a deal especially when trying to manage multiple deals in a quarter, for example.

Quotes Management

In most B2B sales scenarios, a sales rep will typically talk to a prospect or customer, and assemble a bill of goods and/or services to be delivered. A solid CRM tool will offer simple, effective quoting tools so a rep can quickly generate a professional sales quote with only a few clicks. By integrating the CRM with a product catalog (or storing the product catalog data inside the CRM itself) reps can quickly select products, number of units, etc. and populate a quote for the customer.

Quotes can leverage business rules and automated calculations to include discounts based on pre-configured settings. And quotes generated by the CRM should be easy to attach as a PDF to emails sent right from the CRM system.


A CRM system is all about building more productive, and more predictable, business outcomes.  Forecasting tools are a lynchpin to sales predictability. A solid core forecasting system allows reps to quickly create monthly, quarterly, or any other type of forecast in minutes.

By allowing reps to simply note whether an opportunity in the CRM is “in” or “out” of forecast, as well as create multiple “what if” forecasts to track their best path to quota – productivity and predictability increases. Reps can instantly submit forecasts, and managers can review – and take action where needed. This drives not only predictability, but also allows sales reps and managers to work smarter, not harder towards making quota.

Sales Pipeline Management

Similar to forecasting (and leveraging the outcome of ell-managed forecast operations), sales pipeline management refers to the dashboards, reports and tools designed for managers and executives to provide insight into the revenue stream of a company.

When you have a solid, complete “Core CRM” system in place, you can track the life cycle of leads and opportunities through the various stages – since that data is all captured on a single system and not in smaller purpose-built tools. At a glance, executives can see what revenue is expected, and when – and adjust purchasing and other resource allocation accordingly. Reporting tools in a Core CRM system allow users to slice and dice data to better understand lead conversion metrics beyond simple conversion to opportunity. Managers can see which reps are performing well, and which industries or geographic areas are falling behind. By leveraging this data in lockstep with marketing and sales leadership – problems can be addressed before they become critical and hurt the business.

So, that is what we see as “Core CRM” for sales automation uses in a nutshell. Of course, there are some features and capabilities not mentioned. And, yes, there are many other tools and apps than can overlay a core sales automation deployment to add value and create more effective sales teams – but we wanted to focus on the fundamentals.

Do you think there’s a major piece missing?  Disagree that some of these areas are even core CRM?  Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear your thoughts.

Up next…Core lead management features.

Learn Now:  SugarCRM fulfills the core functions that every organisation needs