New feature in the redesign: improved custom fields

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If you haven't heard, Less Annoying CRM is getting a redesign. Along with the design changes, we're introducing some new features to help make the CRM even better.

Way back in 2011, we added the ability to create custom fields on contact and company records. We only had about 100 users at the time, and we honestly had no idea how this new custom fields feature would be used, or what functionality we needed to support. As a result, what we built was very basic. It was a big improvement over not having custom fields at all, but over the last 8 years, we've learned a lot more about how the custom fields feature should actually work.

Along with the major redesign we've been working on this year, we're also overhauling custom fields. Our product team completely re-thought this feature from the ground up, and in the new version, fields will work the way they should have all along. In this blog post, I'm going to explain the main improvements that will be coming to LACRM custom fields with the new design.

Phase 1 - Released with the new design

Making changes to custom fields is a bit tricky because it involves changing the underlying data that we're storing in the CRM. This is made especially tough because right now, some of our users are on the new design and some are on the old design, so we have to support both versions at the same time. Some of the changes can co-existing on both the old and new versions, but some won't be possible until 100% of our customers are on the new design.

So we're breaking this custom fields project into two phases. The first one will be included with the new design, and the second one will come later.

Phase 1 will include a number of nice improvements to how custom fields work:

Separate contact and company fields

One of the worst design decisions I've ever made was the decision to combine contact and company fields together so that all records have the same field types. The reality is that most of our users want an entirely different set of fields for contacts vs. companies (what, you mean you don't want to store a "birthday" field for companies?), and this new version will finally reflect that. You'll be able to create completely different fields for the two different record types:

All field types available on contact and company records

For years, you've been able to make different field types on pipelines. In addition to the normal text boxes, you could make text areas (i.e. multi-line text fields), date fields, dropdown lists, checkbox lists, and number fields. But contacts and companies just had basic text boxes and nothing else. We're finally fixing that with the new version of LACRM. You'll be able to create all the different field types on any record you want.

Here's an example of a contact record with a dropdown list and custom date field at the bottom:

Status colors

We're changing how pipelines work a bit. In the past, you'd have statuses which were just text labels describing where the contact is in the pipeline, and then you'd have priorities (high, medium, low) which were a way to color-code the contact in your pipeline. As it turns out, almost everyone just wants the color to correspond to the status (e.g. all "warm leads" should be red), so having a separate field for priority was redundant.

With the new design, you'll be able to assign colors to the statuses directly, so we won't have a "priority" field by default. This will simplify things, and it'll make the color coding much more intuitive. You'll still be able to make a custom priority field if you want both, but for most use cases, that won't be necessary anymore.

Re-order all fields

The old design let you choose the order of custom fields, but you had no control over the order of the default fields. The new design will let you order all of the fields together so that you can make your forms look exactly the way you want them to.

Restore deleted fields

You'd be surprised how often people delete fields only to realize later they had important information in those fields. That's why we're adding the ability to restore fields that you previously deleted.

Re-order "multi-fields"

A multi-field is a field that allows you to store multiple values. For example, you can enter more than one email address or phone number for each contact. The problem is, in the old design, once you enter multiple values, there's no easy way to re-order them. The new version will let you drag-and-drop those fields to change the order so if you want a contact's work phone to be moved above their mobile phone, that's easy to do.

Phase 2 - Released after the new design

We have other custom field improvements planned, but some of them can't be built until all of our customers are using the new design. That's because once we release these new features, the old design will become completely broken and non-functional. So these "phase 2" features will be coming a bit later, but here's a summary of what we're planning:

Date fields integrating with the calendar

You've always been able to create custom date fields, but we didn't do anything to remind you about upcoming dates. We're going to start showing your custom dates on the calendar just like we do with birthdays right now. We'll also include them in the daily agenda email, and you'll even be able to set up custom emails to remind you about dates before they arrive (e.g. you can get a reminder a couple weeks before a contact's birthday so you have time to mail them a card).

Field sections

If you have a lot of custom fields, your forms can get a bit messy. We're going to let you break your forms into different sections so it's easier to keep things organized. You can even set a section to be minimized by default so the fields don't show up at all unless you expand that section.

New field types

We don't have this 100% finalized yet, but we plan on adding new field types including file uploads, contact links, user links, and currency fields. We also might add the ability to create custom versions of some of our default field types like address, email, phone, and website.

Other odds and ends

There are ton of other improvements on the way. I can't list them all here, but just to name a few: You'll be able to delete default fields (if you don't want a "website" field for contacts, just get rid of it"), customize the "types" for multi-fields (e.g. you could make emails default to "home" instead of "work" or even make an entirely new option in that dropdown), set default values for fields (are all your contacts in the same state? We can fill that out for you automatically.) and much, much more.

When we designed the first version of custom fields, we had 100 users. Now we have over 22,000. Suffice to say, we have a much better idea of what functionality our users need, and so we've completely re-thought how custom fields should work from the ground up. We hope you like it!

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