Customer relationship management (CRM) solutions lie at the core of successful sales processes today. Having largely replaced manual processes involving paper (Rolodexes, little black books) or digital point solutions such as email calendars, CRM is a way to track customer information, preserve information about customer relationships, manage leads and set appointments. This is no less true for real estate, so agents can benefit significantly from a good real estate CRM.
Not all CRM solutions are the same, of course, because not all selling processes are the same. For very large sales such as real estate, a CRM solution designed to accommodate real estate selling can speed up the cycle by managing all details from appraisal to sale; tracking properties, listings, requests and MLS; and allowing users to segment their databases for marketing purposes. Real estate is a relationship-driven business, and CRM is an important means of furthering those relationships.
Market intelligence company Inman has reported that more than two-thirds (71.5 percent) of real estate agents and brokers are using a real estate CRM solution today. The respondents to Inman’s survey found that contact organization was the most valued feature of solution (with 61.2 percent of respondents choosing it), followed by activity management (56.5 percent) and ease of use (50.3 percent). Ease of use is a critical feature, as the Inman survey found that most respondents (84.1 percent) manage their own CRM without the help of an administrative assistant.
Common complaints shared by real estate professionals using CRM include too much complexity in the solution (too many clicks required to perform certain tasks), non-editable fields, a lack of integration with other important solutions and applications and the absence of marketing options such as email campaigns. When asked which features they wished their CRM solution would add, respondents chose more (or better) integration with Google, lead integration or lead generation services, calendar functions and the ability to customize more.
When shopping for a real estate CRM solution, perform some legwork in advance that will help you understand what you need in a platform.
Make a Wishlist of Features
While it will be impossible to find a real estate CRM solution that matches your selling style exactly, some will align better than others with the way you sell. Avoid getting caught up in features that sound nice but aren’t needed for your needs, as they will distract. The Inman study found that nearly three-quarters of respondents (72.9 percent) said their CRM offers features they don’t use.
While all solutions will work for individual agents, if your organization emphasizes team selling, look for features that support it. Some solutions, such as Agile CRM, allow companies to unify disparate and autonomous sales reps’ efforts and turn them into a collaborative sales force that works together to close more business. Appointment calendars can be shared between internal teams, and all touchpoints are stored in a single location for anyone on the team to view at any time.
Consider Whether You Need Vendor Training
While good solutions will be intuitive and have easy-to-use interfaces, real estate is a complex business. Many vendors will provide training to users purchasing a critical mass of licenses or subscriptions. For real estate companies that want agents to use the solution regularly, vendor training is a way to reduce rejection of the software, boost user rates and take advantage of more complex product features.
While you may not wish to have formal vendor training sessions, there are times when you will need help with the solution. Ask if the vendor you are considering offers customer support via phone or chat, and whether there is a price tag attached to calls to the vendor’s help desk.
Keep Integration in Mind
Many CRM solutions purpose-built for real estate will integrate with other commonly used solutions such as email, messaging and collaboration, telephony, social media, file sharing and databases. Be sure you ask vendors well in advance how their platform can be integrated quickly and affordably with the solutions you rely on, particularly real estate-specific applications such as Zillow Tech.
It’s also a good time to integrate your new solution with capabilities you don’t have now but would like to use in the future. To provide a good tool for every business, some vendors keep their core product relatively simple and offer optional plug-ins for more complex processes such as financing and property inspections.
Assess Your Marketing Needs
While some agents and brokers require a solution to manage contacts and leads only, others are looking for a full-featured solution that will help them manage marketing campaigns. Some solutions feature online lead management modules that allow real estate companies (or individuals) to track which lead sources are performing and which aren’t and conduct email and social media marketing campaigns right from the CRM solution.
Solutions such as Agile CRM provide an automated process for the creation of email marketing campaigns (thanks to easy templates to choose from) and newsletters. Users can also keep track of the success of email campaigns and test “split” campaigns to determine which email or newsletter performed better.
Determine the Best Delivery Model for You
While premise-based solutions are usually paid for in licenses up front, cloud-based models often have flexibility to pay either annually or monthly per user (or “per seat”). An annual model, which often has a lower per-seat cost, works well for a company with very regular and predictable business. By paying monthly, real estate companies may pay a little more per user, but they have the flexibility to grow and contract the number of seats as needed in a seasonally cyclical market. Some smaller, less expensive cloud-based solutions charge users by the number of contacts that are stored, or flat rates per month or per year with a maximum cap on the number of users.
A cloud-based solution can also help you build greater mobility into your business. Since most agents today rely heavily on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, it’s worthwhile to look for a cloud-based solution that can be accessed from anywhere using a Web browser.
You’ll pretty much want to go with a cloud-based solution such as Agile CRM; on-premise software still exists, but across all industries it is becoming obvious that the cloud is the present and future. CRM is no exception.
Many real estate companies get by simply adapting a generic contact management solution. While this may work reasonably well for smaller organizations that don’t plan to grow, a real estate CRM solution can help automate native real estate process in a way that leaves more time for selling and building relationships.