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Contactually acts Fast!

Contactually has been working on the problem I mentioned in my other post about Facebook and LinkedIn terminating parts of their data sharing. Contactually has another source to get some of the information and has implemented it. It doesn’t have the same capabilities but give them time and we’ll see what shakes out. Click here for an article from them announcing the work-around.

Curious about Contactually? You can get more information or trial it here.

 

Facebook, LinkedIn and your CRM

Facebook and LinkedIn decided to stop sharing data with many vendors, including many CRM vendors. An excerpt from an article in Small Business Trends:

“On April 30, Facebook will no longer allow third-party apps to export your data — including your Facebook contacts, profile photos and messages — into other applications.”

LinkedIn actually started doing it last July, before Facebook, so the same situation exists with that as well.

It first came to my attention yesterday when I saw it with Contactually and I’ve since determined that Top Producer and Wise Agent are affected as well. In other words unless I am misunderstanding the issue, none of the CRMs will have access to the data in Facebook and LinkedIn the way they used to. Point being don’t start running around trying to find a Real Estate CRM that pulls data from them because it will be a fruitless search. It’s not your CRM’s fault.

Contactually used to be able to gather new information like phone numbers and email addresses from Facebook and LinkedIn and no longer can. Top Producer used to display the Facebook status, and you could Like, Comment or View the Status right from within the contact record. No more. Wise Agent also interfaced with Facebook and LinkedIn but has removed them.

So the ability to interface and pull information from Facebook and LinkedIn was very handy but is probably gone for good. I saw a comment by someone who was angry with Contactually because she thought they mislead her about what it could do with regards to interaction with Facebook and LinkedIn. I responded to that post with essentially this: If you have to be angry with someone or something because you no longer have those capabilities, be angry with the Facebook and LinkedIn, not with the CRM vendor who is more upset about it than you are.

A potential upside is that from my conversations with the developers and CEO’s it sounds like the CRM vendors are working on a solution that will provide similar information. Whether they will find one remains to be seen, but it is in their best interest, because it is in your best interest. And they want to keep you happy.

Is my CRM data safe? Part 2

So because you have a Web based CRM everything is hunky dory and you have no worries with regards to the safety of your data right? For the most part that is absolutely true. As always though, nothing is quite black and white. Generally speaking, Web based CRMs are safer for your data than desktop software installations, primarily because most agents are pretty bad at backing up their software.

I would place the odds of you losing your web based CRM data extremely low. I have spent a minimum of three to five hours with the majority of Real Estate CRM developers and CEO’s. I always raise this issue and they have all assured me that their data is backed up at a minimum of one other place off site. Most are at two. There are still two factors to consider though.

One is whether the CRM is stable. Will it always be there? What happens if you go to log in one day and the site is gone for good. No one responds to phone or e-mail. How do you get your data? You probably can’t. I’ve seen seven CRMs go out of business to date. In all but one case I was not even notified and I was affiliated with them as a reseller. It just happened again last week. I was affiliated with all of those seven, but I was not recommending them for various reasons, one of which was that they were not the most stable CRMs in my opinion. My point is that I was not able to determine if the users had ample notice to get their data out before the company shut its doors because I didn’t know any of the users. They may have all been properly notified but I just don’t know.

So what do you do to insure that you have your data if you suddenly can’t get access to it? Do regular exports. All CRMs have the ability to do an export. They vary significantly with regards to how many and what kind of fields can be exported. But they all allow basic contact information at the very least. So at least if you do periodic exports, you are assured that your inventory is safe.

Before you go off and start trying to do an export, there is one huge exception. Does your CRM synch to Gmail contacts, or your phone, or anywhere for that matter? If so, then you have that information already backed up and you don’t need to worry about doing exports for that information, as long as those databases are current and intact. The question then becomes, what other information does your CRM export, and do you want that information as well as your address book information.

OK now maybe we’re getting a little messy. What is synched where? What can I export? Do I need to export? The point is that at least now you’re aware that maybe you should be exporting your CRMs database and why.

The next thing of which to be aware is, can you recover from a mistake you made? By that I mean, what happens if you accidentally delete 100 contacts? Can the vendor get those back for you? Probably not. Or it may be that they can put you back to the day before. So you get your contacts back but you lose whatever you did in the interim. Or maybe they’ll charge you to put you back to the day before. Or maybe they can’t do anything to get those contacts back. So how do you answer that? Call them and ask. Then at least you’ll know where you stand. This is one instance where a desktop CRM is actually better. If you back it up yourself every day, you can easily recover to the day before by using the backup to do a restore. Not so with a Web based CRM. So you need to call them and ask “What happens if I accidentally delete 100 of my contacts? Can you get them back for me? Do I have any options?”

So here’s your homework.

Is my contact information available somewhere other than in my Web based CRM, such as on my phone or in Google Contacts?

Do I want insurance that I will have as much other information as possible available from my CRM if they go out of business?

If so, I need to learn how to export my database and set up a recurring reminder to do it weekly/monthly.

What happens if I accidentally delete something and I want it back? Call my CRM vendor and find out.

via Is my CRM data safe? Part 2.

Is your CRM data Safe? Part 1 of 2

Part 1 will deal with Desktop CRMs. Part 2 will deal with Web based CRMs.

Let’s be clear on what we’re talking about. Using the words database, backup and export is a little abstract. In more meaningful terms, we are talking about your livelihood. We are talking about your inventory. You’ve spent anywhere from a couple years to several decades creating an inventory of people who have given, or may give you business. Without them, you have to start all over again. You can re-create some of it with many hours of aggravating effort, but you will never replace all of it. And all that time you spend re-creating it is 100% needlessly wasted time that grates on your every nerve while you’re doing it. It’s one of the most depressing things that can ever happen in your business life. The most religious backer-uppers are the ones who have been there. They know they never want to go through that again. Have your attention now? J

It’s ironic that some people think that because their CRM is on their computer, that their data is safer than if it were a web based CRM. The reality is the opposite. Web based CRM data is backed up automatically in at least two different places. Can you say the same of your desktop database?

With regards to those of you who are using a web based CRM, don’t get too complacent. That’s part 2.

Let me define what I mean by desktop versus web based. Desktop means that you install the software on your computer. It is not accessible anywhere other than on the computers upon which it is installed. Web based means you have to be online and log on to your CRM via the Internet. It is not accessible otherwise.

The desktop CRM that has far and away the most users is Agent Office so I’ll use that as an example, but this is applicable to any desktop CRM. If you have a desktop CRM installed on only one computer, that’s the only place your data is unless you back it up and have it stored somewhere else. By somewhere else I mean on a removable storage device such as a thumb drive. And the only way to be 100% safe is to have that thumb drive stored somewhere other than where your computer is.  If your computer is in your house and your house burns down with the computer and the thumb drive in it, you’re out of luck. I know. I can read your mind. You’re thinking, “Yeah, what are the odds?”  You don’t think that can happen? Then why do you have homeowners insurance?

Many of you may already know that, but even if you are one of the wise and few who store your backups off-site, it still may not be safe.  In the case of Agent Office, what happens if it stops working and you can’t get it working again? You may say, “No worries – I have a backup”. Not necessarily. The only thing that can access your data with an Agent Office backup, is Agent Office. The backup file is in a proprietary data format that can only be read by using Agent Office. That backup is useless otherwise. The exception is if you can find a database expert that can dissect the backup file and get your data out of it for you. That will be expensive if you can find someone qualified to do it.

Agent Office is no longer supported in any meaningful way so if it crashed, you may be out of luck. If you have some other kind of desktop software and it is also no longer supported, you may be in the same fix.

In order to insure that you will always have access to your data, you need to do an export in addition to a backup. An export is something you do from within the software that creates a file in a data format that any number of programs can read or import. The most common file types are ASCII and CSV (Comma Separated Values). All Real Estate CRMs have an export function within them. That said, the data/fields that each different CRM will allow you to export varies dramatically.  In the case of Agent Office, you still have a problem because your backup contains all of your data, but an export only contains your basic contact information such as name, address, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. It does not export the contact’s notes or categories. There are two ways to get notes and categories out of Agent Office. That’s one of the services I provide so just call me if you need that.

So to summarize what you have to do if you want to be 100% safe:

You have to do regular backups and store them off-site

You also have to do regular exports in a common data format and store them off-site.

Ironically, the best way to insure that you do these things on a regular basis is to create a recurring event on your calendar in your CRM, reminding you to do it!

One of the most disturbing calls I get is when someone has not been backing up, or has been backing up but not doing regular exports, and their computer crashed. Or worse, they have been doing backups but they are backing up to the computer that has crashed. I am sometimes able to help, but more often have to tell them they are out of luck. Not a fun phone call.

I sincerely hope you take this article to heart and I never get a call of desperation from you. If this article is mostly Greek to you but you get the point and want to do something about it, that is one of the services I provide.

Exporting CRM Data – The rest of the story

This an excerpt from my book – Choosing and Using a CRM.

A common misconception agents have about Real Estate CRMs is that some of them intentionally make it difficult to export your data. In interviews with over 30 Real Estate CRM developers, that does not ring true. It is true that some export more fields than others and some do it in more usable formats. However, how many different data fields your existing CRM will export is only half the equation. How many of those fields your new CRM will import is equally important and sooner or later you may decide to switch CRMs.

When you started in Real Estate, you did your due diligence to decide in which office you wanted to work. Are you still there, or have you moved on to a different office? Choosing a CRM can be just as, if not more difficult. Optimally you will find the right CRM the first time and you will stay with it. However, it doesn’t hurt to anticipate some aspects of switching to another CRM down the road when you are purchasing your first one.

Much has been said about software vendors holding your data hostage. The reality is that that is an emotional reaction to learning too late what happens when you move from any CRM to another one. There are two kinds of data in this context. That which can usually be exported, and that which can not. What is usually exported by almost all CRMs is the contact data. That is names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Web site addresses and categories. Notes are often the most unpredictable. Most CRMs export all of the above, but you do need to check. Agent Office is an example, as it does not export categories or notes. There are two CRMs that use the Agent Office database file and extract notes and categories as well as other fields instead of using the Agent Office export, but they are exceptions.

There are many other types of data that can be exported, but are often not, which is probably where the hostage statement has its origin. Some examples are:

Calendar data – it is relatively rare that this information can be moved from one CRM to another.

Property data and notes

Transactional notes

Transaction documentation stored within the CRM

Showings

Template content (letters, fliers, post cards and activity plans) – NOTE: Even if the content is capable of being exported, you still have to modify the merge fields in all of it. Most agents would have to do that manually, although in some cases it can be done with some kind of utility or some knowledge of database manipulation

Tasks/To-do’s

History – not to be confused with notes – this is the record of dates and times of appointments, phone calls, mailings, etc., from the contact or the property screen.

Even if all the above types of information can be exported from your existing CRM, an equally important question is how much of it is capable of being imported to your new CRM? In a few CRMs, literally every field is capable of being exported. Unfortunately, most of that export can only be opened in a spreadsheet/database type of format, such as Excel or Access, as opposed to being able to import it into the new CRM. So yes, the information may be there in the export, but it is not of much use if it can not be imported in to the new CRM.

It is important to note that in most cases you will not be able to move historical information or e-mails associated with transactions from one CRM to another. That could turn out to be a huge disadvantage if you ever needed to defend yourself in litigation. If you switch CRMs and lose that information, a prudent step to take would be to print out transaction reports and e-mails from your existing CRM first, if that ability exists. Making it a practice to add that kind of report to your paper file for each transaction is a good idea. How much information is contained in those reports varies dramatically, but anything is better than nothing.

The vast majority of the time you will be able to import most of the contact fields into a new CRM. You want to make sure that the one you choose exports virtually all of the contact fields, making particularly sure that notes and categories are included. In addition, the more phone number, e-mail address, and Web site address fields it can export, the better. You want to make sure that when it exports those latter fields, that each field is identified. For example, if I export a phone number field that is labeled Work1, then it should export it in such a way that I will know where to put it in the new CRM. Note that phone numbers are often problematic because no two people label their phone numbers the same way in the same order. Having a systematic approach to ordering and labeling those fields from the start can be a huge help when switching to another CRM.

The bottom line is that you do want to identify what information your CRM will export and in what data format, before you purchase it because it is an important factor in choosing a CRM. That said, recognize that for the most part, only common contact fields will survive the move to another CRM. Taking appropriate measures to systematically retain the information that may be lost in a transition to another CRM in either a printed or digital file is a good business plan.

via Exporting CRM Data – The rest of the story.

How safe is your data? Web based vs. Desktop CRM’s

Following is a little known fact. If one were to think about it, it makes perfect sense, but I had simply never thought about it. Everyone who likes Web CRMs always says, “I like Web based databases because I don’t have to worry about backing up.” Let us think about this in some detail. Let us say your computer is stolen. With a Web based product, all you have to do is get another computer, log in, and everything is there like you left it. Very nice! And that’s the type of scenario people always think about when they think about what would happen if they had a desktop solution and their data is not backed up. They look at it in terms of a total one time loss. They think about losing their computer, or having a hard drive failure, or having a virus, etc., and losing everything.

But let us say you were working on your database on a Web based product, and you accidentally delete 200 of your contacts instead of putting them into a different category like you thought you were doing. There is a good likelihood that you are bleep out of luck. It is possible that they will be able to restore your database to the day before, or some period before, but if they can, it may cost you a fairly significant chunk of change. So what can you do to protect yourself? Not much. You can do periodic exports, say weekly or monthly. Just bear in mind that exports never contain all of your information. See “How much of your data can be exported?”

I would like to take a moment to ease some concerns about data loss that are either outright wrong, or simply overstated. They are:

• Your data is not safe with a Web based solution

• Desktop solutions make your data vulnerable due to inconsistent backups

There are actually two sub-categories here. Some people are afraid that the web based provider may steal their contact database, and sell it. There was an instance back in the 90’s when a major franchise provided a Web based solution for its agents, and unbeknownst to the agents, the people in their contact database were suddenly being deluged with e-mail and postal mail, soliciting the franchise’s mortgage company, title company, insurance company, etc. In that case, the franchise claimed a right to the data. Whether or not the franchise was entitled to use that database was debatable, but it is quite different than a third party vendor doing it. Maybe that event is where this, what I consider to be irrational fear, came from.

That scenario is considerably different than a Web based CRM provider actually compromising their user’s databases by selling the database, or soliciting to it. If they did that – their business would be over! It’s that pure and simple. They would be found out in short order, and their business would be done. For what? For a few comparative measly dollars that they could get for the sale of that data. I am sorry – I just don’t see it. Is it possible? Sure. Is it probable? Most certainly not. If it were that probable, it would have happened by now. Is it possible that it has happened, and I just haven’t heard of it? Sure, but I doubt it. People love to recount such horror stories, and I’ve spoken to thousands of people for over a decade one-on-one and to groups, and have never heard of it happening with a third party vendor. Another possibility is that a disgruntled employee could steal it. Again, that is absolutely possible, but has not happened to date to my knowledge. It takes a great deal of time and effort to develop and market a CRM solution. To then allow such a thing to happen is unlikely at worst.

Additionally, people are concerned that their online database will simply be hacked, and marketed to. Is this possible? Sure. Is it probable? With no statistical data to support this supposition whatsoever, my guess would be that it is about as likely as your personal hard drive being hacked, and having your database stolen from it. Very low odds. Getting hit by lightening also comes to mind. Also consider that Top Producer would be a perfect, well known target, given that it has the largest market share in RE CRM and it has not happened to them since they went online with their data in 2003.

With regards to an online solution simply losing your data; they always have at least one redundant set of servers – a backup. That said, my advice has always been to do at least a monthly export of your data from a Web based solution. This leaves nothing to chance. While that export will not be a copy of all your data, it will be all or most of your contact data, normally including names, phone numbers, addresses, notes, categories, etc. Note that I said an Export and not a Backup, the latter being usable only by restoring it into the software.

There is actually another topic that bears discussion here. That is the heavily blown out of proportion, and just plain misrepresented, topic of contact managers/CRM solutions that hold your data hostage. Each Web based solution is very different with regards to how much data they make available for export, but all of them enable you to export at least some basic contact data. The answer to quelling that fear is simply to find out, before you decide on a solution, exactly which, and how many, fields are available for export from your chosen solution. Also consider weighting what data is most important to you. As long as you have the primary contact information, you have your inventory. As long as you have your sphere of influence’s names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses, you have far and away the most important information. Everything beyond that may seem absolutely necessary, but if you think about it, not having it would be a nuisance, but it would not put you back to square one, as losing your inventory would.

Another sometimes overstated issue is that having a desktop solution means putting your database at risk, as many agents are bad/inconsistent at backing up. While this is a valid concern, it used to be true more than it is now. One of the reasons is that a significant number of agents have now been burned – lost their data. You have never seen more religious backer-uppers than those who have at one time lost their data. The next reason is that if you pick the right solution now, there are very often at least two copies of the data in two different locations. Consider that a significant percentage of agents have both a desktop computer, and a laptop/tablet PC, or simply two desktops. One at the office, and one at the home office. If that is the case, then the database is being shared between the two, hence two copies, and no need for a backup. For two of the contact management/CRM desktop solutions I sell, the Master Database may be stored on a thumb drive, which is used to transfer the changes back and forth between the computers, while each computer also has its own copy of the database. This means there are three copies of the database. If you have two or more computers, backing up is not an issue. Those same two solutions offer to host your master database, making it available to be shared by any number of remote users/computers. This of course, once again, makes backing up a non-issue, as the master would be the third copy of the database.

For those agents who have only one computer, which is certainly still a significant percentage of agents who use a CRM database, there are better and easier methods of backing up coming out all the time. There are automated online services which back up your computer in the background with no effort from you whatsoever, other than the original setup. My personal preferences for backing up all my data can be found on my home page. But if you still do not back up consistently, then you will be in trouble some day. For those of you who know you will not back up consistently – get an automated Web based solution! This will be a safer solution for you. Once you have finally realized that you must have some kind of method to track and maintain a relationship with your sphere of influence, without a doubt, keeping that sphere of influence (your inventory) safe, is of paramount importance. Proper research and planning will ensure that it is given the attention it deserves.