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Adding contacts to your CRM – Some suggestions when adding contacts

If you have everything on paper, start entering them according to the ideas suggested below. If you already have them in an electronic format, you have to import them. A common question is if you should clean them up in the old database first, or clean them up in the new one. By cleaning up, we mean getting rid of contacts when we do not know who they are, or filling in a last name on contacts that have none, etc. One difference that may affect that decision is that if you do it in the new one, you are learning the new one, so maybe that’s the better way to go. If you do it that way, but the existing database is such a mess that it creates problems with the import, then you have your answer. Just delete the trial import and clean it up before you import.

As soon as you get the new database in and cleaned up – BACKUP immediately, twice!

As you are adding your contacts, click around in the menus. Try right clicking everywhere and see if anything happens. Experiment! That is part of getting a new CRM. The more time you spend with it up front, the sooner you will feel comfortable and more efficient with it, and the more you will use it.

Add everyone – If you have to call, e-mail, or write to someone once, put them in your database. You never know when you may need it again. Text takes virtually no space on a computer. Taking up too much space is not a factor. Many people have the concern that they did not want to clutter up their database. Some agents want only the names of the people to whom they want to mail in their database. That thinking is probably a throwback to when we had all our names and addresses on a piece of paper that we used to copy onto a sheet of labels to do our mailings.

People will often say they do not want to have to sort through names they do not need. What sorting? You start keying the name of the person you want in the search box, and it comes up. If you have 50 names or 5,000, it is the exact same procedure and result.

After you use a CRM for a few years, if you put everybody in there, you will be amazed at how often you will not have to look someone up because they are already in there. In many markets there are hundreds of ancillary service companies. Title companies, loan originators, termite inspectors, home inspectors, etc. After a few years and a number of transactions, a great many of them will be in your database. When you add a new transaction, many times, many of the parties to the transaction will already be in there. If you need to call or e-mail someone, you will have his or her contact info already. It gets to be a tremendous time saver.

A little advice about what to put in some of the fields. Much of this may seem very basic, but you might surprised how often it is not done.

First name – Only put the first name of one person in the first name field. Do not put Bob and Karen. Karen goes into another field, which exists specifically for that person. Do not put Mr. or Mrs. or anything else in the first name field either. Always include a first name. If you do not have a first name, use the last name as both first and last until you get the first name. Why? Because sooner or later when you are creating a report or doing some kind of look-up, it will matter. And if you ever create an a template e-mail or letter and decide to use “Dear first_name” as an opening merge field, it will be blank. It’s better to have their last name there than a blank.

Middle name – Only use the middle initial, but always use it if you have it. It helps with duplicate names. It would be great to always have one of course, but a full middle name can be problematic. More databases than not do not have room for a full middle name. Most only allow for the middle initial, and sometimes two or three letters. So if you are using a CRM that does have a field for the full middle name, but then you export that data to move to one that allows for only two letters, then you can have a mess to clean up.

Last name – Always put a name in the last name field. If you only have the first name, put the first name in both the First name and the Last name fields until you get the last name. Another option is to put TBD (to be determined) in the last name field. Then, on occasion, you can easily call up everyone with TBD in the last name field, and work on getting those last names. Without going into great detail, not having a name in every field can cause problems when doing searches, ordering names in a list, and other things you may end up doing.

E-mail address or phone number – A name in a database without an e-mail address or phone number or at the very least an address, is probably not worth having unless you are certain one of them is forthcoming. And if it is, create a task to remind you to make sure you got it. Always have at least one of them.

Address – Whenever possible get a postal address regardless of what kind of contact it is. If the City field has an auto fill feature, use it. Auto fill is where you can key in the name of the city and it will remember it and retain a list. In the future, as you start to key in that city, it will complete it for you after the first few letters. It sounds trivial, but saving a few thousand key strokes over a years time adds up.

Company – If the person works for a company, take the time to put the company name in the company field. If it has auto fill, definitely use it. This is more important the city field. The reason is that it is very easy and common to key in a company name differently from one time to the next. You might key in RE-ACT for one person, and RE-ACT, LLC. for the next person. The problem then becomes that if you do a search for everyone in your database who works for a given company, the results can be wrong.

Category – Always put a contact in a category such as Buyer Prospect, Seller Prospect, Appraiser, etc. and always put some kind of note in there on them if possible. The goal is to always have something in the contact record that will jog your memory about them. You would be surprised at how little it takes to remember someone you have spoken with, even years later, if you have them categorized and have a sentence or two about your conversation with good keywords.

Different CRMs call them different things. Categories, Contact Types, Classifications, or maybe Groups. It is a field that identifies what that person is to you. Buyer-Past, Seller-Active, Gold Partner, Title Rep, Mortgage Processor, etc. For you to truly interact with your database in an expedient and accurate and profitable manner, being able to categorize your contacts is at the core of what you are trying to accomplish. The versatility here is critical. You should require that you at least have the ability to add as many categories as you choose, and that a contact can be included in as many categories as you need. Keep in mind though that you want to have an organized rational approach to adding categories. Think it out first before you start adding them haphazardly. If you are working in a team, there should be one person who is designated the Category Cop. That person is the only one permitted to add or delete categories, either on their own, or by committee review/agreement.

To get started, consider the following core categories:

  • Buyer Past
  • Buyer Active
  • Buyer Pending
  • Buyer Prospect
  • Seller Past
  • Seller Pending
  • Seller Active
  • Seller Prospect
  • Settled 20XX (XX = year /closed/settled).

Referral – Always put in the name of the person who referred this contact to you if that was the case. A good CRM can show you a referral tree of who referred whom. A really nice feature of a CRM is when it tracks a commission dollar value to each referee. Then you can see not only who that person referred to you, but how much money they made you by giving you those referrals.

Source – If it was not a referral then you need to record the source from which they came. Such as Homes and Land ad call (note that you should not just say ad call). Be specific because in a good CRM you can generate a report to show you where your business came from. This is the kind of thing people are talking about when they say that you need to run your business like a business.

If you know exactly where your business is coming from, it allows you to identify your strengths and weaknesses, and where to continue to spend money, and where to stop. Business people have an annual budget. You should generate a report that shows you how many transactions can be directly related to specific types of advertising. Now you can see that you spent $3,000 on Homes Magazine ads last year, but only earned $2,500 on one commission from a lead from it. The argument can be made that the $500 net cost to be in that magazine is a reasonable amount to maintain a presence in that magazine. But the fact is that you are now making that decision based on ROI and tangible information.

Mail Preference – When you meet someone and get their contact information, you should try to determine with which mode of communication they are most comfortable. When getting their e-mail address, do not ask them if they check it often or daily etc. Ask them how often they check it. Their answer will tell you if e-mail or postal mail is better. If your CRM tracks it, you should note their mail preference. In some CRMs, that can automatically determine whether or not they get an e-mail or a printed letter when something is sent to them in their follow-up campaign.

Date of initial communication – Whatever CRM you pick, make sure that it both date and time stamps your notes when you key them in. This comes in handy for many things including risk management down the road. Copious and accurate notes frequently stave off hours of wasted time and unnecessary finger pointing and posturing. It is absolutely amazing how quickly someone will defer to you when they become aware that you have an accurate point by point record of date and time stamped phone calls, notes, e-mails, and letters all at your fingertips. In the future if you have another transaction with them, they will remember. What will happen is that eventually you will get a reputation for being accurate and organized, and other agents will sometimes recommend your offer over others because they are confident that their transaction with you will go smoothly.

Follow-up reminder – If this new contact is a lead of any kind, you should have a reminder either to call or e-mail them at some point in the future. You should also have everyone in your sphere of influence receiving something on at least a monthly basis. There is no doubt that sending something that is clearly valuable information is the best thing to do. That said, if ti is taking too long to come up with that perfect follow-up piece, do something in the interim. If you stay in touch regularly with you SOI, you are one of a small percentage of agents who do, and you reap the rewards.

In summary, every effort should be made to insure every contact has information in the following fields:

  • First name
  • Middle initial
  • Last name
  • Postal address
  • Company
  • E-mail address
  • Phone number
  • Web site address
  • Note about initial conversation or communication with the date of that communication if other than e-mail
  • Category
  • Referral person or source
  • E-mail or postal mail preference
  • Calendar item for next contact – at least one if not a plan

People often ask “What does a CRM do?” This article covers one aspect of the answer to that question. There are many others. If used correctly, eventually your CRM will be the hub of your business, and it will be a much more efficient and organized business.

Remember, not everyone thinks they need a CRM. But if you want to grow your business, while having more of a life, with less stress, with less mistakes, with better service, with less staff, with more compliments, with more referrals, then you do.

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.