If you found a great way to do something or maybe found a feature that you didn’t know existed, share it!

Transaction Management in your CRM

Many, if not a majority of agents still track their listings and sales on paper.

During my recent experience building and manning tech support for a SAAS real estate CRM, I was a little surprised to find out how many. A good number of agents use Online Transaction Management Platforms (OTMP) such as DotLoop, Skyslope, Transaction Desk and others. There are many real estate CRMs that also do transaction management. Some agents are using OTMPs only to the degree that their broker mandates and nothing more. Others look to the CRMs that have the OTMPs integrated and do a combination of both. 

OTMPs are for listing and transaction management.

CRMs do a lot more than just transactions. They are about creating a process through activity plans or workflows. They are much more flexible and powerful. The question is, should you do your transaction management in your CRM or do you use an OTMP?

OTMP’s have advantages over most real estate CRMs

…but they also have disadvantages. Like anything else, using an OTMP versus a CRM comes down to what features it has and how much time it will save you. One of the best features of OTMPs is that they all allow you to share documents and invite people into the transaction. On the surface that sounds great. The thing is, getting other agents and party members to use it can be problematic. Some simply won’t use them. As agents and consumers get more and more used to doing things online, it’s getting better. But you can’t force everyone to always use it.

CRMs that have transaction and listing management capabilities in them

are common and many are quite good. What most lack, is that ability to share docs and access. When you’re using a CRM without that access, you can miss it. That said, what are the advantages of a CRM? A very big one is not having to do redundant data entry into two programs. When the CRM is integrated, that issue becomes moot, so if you want to do a combination, find yourself a CRM that integrates with your OTMP. Note that for the most part, only a couple of the bigger ones are integrated with very many CRMs. Another downside is that OTMPs have a very specific purpose, and it all revolves around transactions.

What we do, as real estate agents, requires much more process automation than just transactions and listings. We have to deal with other sets of tasks that we do repetitively as well.  Think of all the things you do in your business, and how many of them you could put into an organized plan, or process. Some examples are Customer appreciation party planning, Tax planning reminders, marketing campaigns, employee on-boarding and such.

Most importantly, the biggest downside to using both an OTMP and a CRM

…is the lack of central focus on where to get everything done. When you have to go to several different places to see what needs to be done, mistakes are made more easily. With a team, it’s worse. If it isn’t already obvious, in my experience, I come down on the side of having as much in one place as possible. If you have a team, it’s even more helpful when there are less places to find out what you need to do, and re-enter information you have already entered elsewhere.

Making your business sing like a fine tuned instrument us what I do. Let me know if you need help! Contact Gary here!

 

Four Basic CRM Rules

There are many concepts and rules that you should consider when entering data into and using a CRM.

The features agents use and the way they use them vary widely, but these four things are suggestions that apply to everyone. These four basic CRM rules are really not optional if you want to make good use of it. They are basic tenets that everyone wants to do all the time.

Your CRM is a database. It’s not a phone book

with scribbled entries that make perfect sense, as long as you’re the one looking at it. You will be searching for people and information in your CRM, so your information needs to conform to certain rules. If it doesn’t, the computer can’t make upyour crm data for the data you failed to provide. You won’t get accurate results and/or mailings will go out to people with their names wrong. One thing that so many people do not do well is making sure you have both a first and last name for a contact. When doing a search by last name, if there is no last name, then you get inappropriate results. The same goes for the first name. Lastly, if you have it, use the middle initial. It doesn’t happen often, but you will eventually wind up with one or more contacts with the same first and last name. Having the middle initial will usually allow you to distinguish between the two. 

Every contact must have at least one Category/Contact Type/Group

or whatever your CRM calls them. Chances are that you will have a number of different groups that each contact belongs to. They are a method by which you categorize people such that you can find them in many different ways. Typical categories can include, Buyer, Seller, Past, Pending, Active, Prospect, Closed 20XX, Investor, Land, Residential, Commercial, Lender, Title, Home Inspector, etc. If you want to do a bulk email to all of your Active Buyers, you can just do a search based on you having labeled them as such. 

When you enter a new contact,

one of the four basic CRM rules is that you make sure to enter a note about the contact. Most CRMs allow you to search the contents of the notes. This is an excellent way to find someone years later. You want to add key words that are relevant to that person, or an event with that person. You might reference where you met them, such as Doylestown Country Club. When you are adding a note, make sure to get the spelling of the keywords correct. You won’t find them if you spell it wrong. 

The fact that your CRM is an online service means that they have your data backed up at least once. In theory that sounds like there would be no need for you to have to back up your data. This is actually not exactly true for several reasons. That’s another subject in and of itself, so I covered it in this post. Suffice it to say that at least once a month, you should do an export of all the data your CRM has to offer. This way you have your own copy, no matter what happens to the CRM company.

Software takes time to learn, and the more complicated it is, the more nuances there are. If you would like to reduce the amount of time it takes to learn your CRM and learn it right the first time, contact me. That’s what I do!

Sending Bulk emails and SMS

Do you want to keep out of trouble with the spam cops?

Here’s a simple definition of Spam. “Unsolicited messages sent in bulk by email.” Pretty darn clear right? Unsolicited. In other words, if you didn’t get permission to send them an email, you can’t send them one. It doesn’t matter if you convince yourself it isn’t spam for whatever good reason you think you have. I’ve heard some doozies. If it fits that definition, it’s Spam. There are exceptions based on them being an active client/customer with a defined period afterwards. There are also other requirements. You can read the CAN-SPAM ACT to learn the details. 

No one who provides the ability to send bulk emails or SMS’ wants you to spam people.

Doing so puts their entire email operation at risk. They all send it through a third party such as Sendgrid and Amazon. Those companies have to maintain a minimum email reputation or servers around the world will start blocking them or potentially blacklisting them. When that happens, they have to petition those servers to let them send emails to them again. In the interim, if you or anyone else with that CRM sends an email to anyone in that uses that server, they will not receive it. For this reason, smart CRMs will not let you use their software to spam someone. 

When I managed support for a CRM, I watched as people were sending bulk emails and SMS messages. The majority of the time, they were in violation of the ACT. They were often sending them to their entire database, including ancillary service providers and many other obviously uninterested parties. In case you’re wondering, no they do not want them. Sending your new listing to all the agents in your market is also spam. And no, they don’t want them either. That’s what the MLS is for. Another one is brokers trying to recruit agents through email. That’s Spam and no they don’t want that either. The CAN-SPAM Act says you can’t simply send as many emails or SMS messages as you like to whomever you wish. 

“Each separate email in violation of the law is subject to penalties of up to $42,530, and more than one person may be held responsible for violations.”

There have been successful law suits! What are your odds of being busted? Slim I would think. But is that the way you want to conduct your business? Illegally? How professional is that?

Law suits aside, how about just getting better results from your bulk mailings?  In order to accomplish both, you might want to consider cleaning your database before sending bulk emails and SSending Bulk emails and SMSMS’. By that I mean you need to send an email to ask people to opt-in. Once they’ve done that, it’s not Spam.

There’s a catch 22.

In order to find out which people in your database want emails from you, you have to send them an email! If your database is old, the odds are that many of the email addresses are no longer valid. I saw one stat that said 22% of email addresses change annually! If you have 1,000 people in your database and you send an email to them for the first time in years, many if not most of them are going to bounce. Depending upon who your email service is, that is going to get their attention. And not in a good way.

Years ago I decided to start doing regular mailings to my database. I signed up with Sendgrid  to do it. I actually got a phone call from them! After a few questions it was determined that my database was old and no one was opted in. Sendgrid actually started to back away and say we can’t help you. I was shocked but I understood. So what was I to do? The end result of our conversation was that I agreed to send no more than 200 emails at a time until I got people opted in and confirmed the email addresses. I had 8,000 contacts, so I took the next couple months to clean my database. Yes it was time consuming and no it wasn’t fun, but the end result was beneficial in more ways than one. I had a truly clean database and I actually knew who was in there. I now knew who I wanted to spend my time marketing to and who I did not. It also helped me segment my contacts into groups such that I could do more targeted marketing. 

Anything worth doing, is worth doing right, right? Do yourself a favor and get right with your database. It will feel good. I promise!

Need help? This is what I do! Contact me at Gary@GaryDavidHall.com 

Are simple CRMs a good thing?

The first real estate contact manager was created in 1982 by Howard Sanderson.

It was called Howard and Friends and agents loved it. It was the first of dozens of software tools to help real estate agents do a better job of organizing their business. Unfortunately there were a relative few people who even knew about it. Those who did buy it, did so because they recognized a need for more help with their business. Everyone else just kept using what they knew – Outlook! That was called a “Contact Manager” which is a much more apt name than CRM (Customer Relationship Manager) because it did/does so little. Are simple CRMs a good thing? No. If you go too simple, don’t bother. Stay with Outlook. 

The problem with Outlook was that all it did was track your people…old style crm

…and let you make appointments on the calendar. That was pretty much it. It was essentially a glorified Rolodex That’s enough for some people, but not enough to really get the job done right. What was missing? The ability to create “activity plans”; to be able to string together a list of things you want to do with the timing you need.  That and the ability to “complete” an activity. These capabilities are necessary to be truly organized.

When agents started to realize what they needed…

…they started looking for alternative solutions. After Howard and Friends in 1982 came Real Estate Specialist a few years later. After that came Top Producer in 1989 and Agent Office in 1992. Now the tools existed to really help. The issue then became, was there something better. More and more CRMs for real estate came out and they kept getting more and more complex. Then something different happened. People started losing sight of what they needed in the first place and they started complaining that the CRMs were too complicated. 

The result was that some real estate CRMs started dumbing themselves down.

It got to the point where some of them were not much more powerful than Outlook. Are simple CRMs a good thing?

Now what we have is over 30 real estate specific CRMs of many varieties that have many different strengths and weaknesses, as well as levels of complexity. You can now get CRMs that are extremely basic. The question you want to ask yourself is this; “Do I want to get better and faster and more efficient, or do I simply want a glorified Rolodex? If it’s the former, don’t let the allure of simplicity fool you. The more simple the CRM is, the less it does. Do your due diligence and find a CRM that suits your needs. Just remember that you’re getting it to serve a purpose, not just to pacify someone who said you should have a CRM. There’s no point in investing the time and money into one if it’s not going to help much. 

If you need help finding the right solution, contact me. That’s what I do!

Drip campaigns alone are not enough!

Just a reminder in case you didn’t get the memo.

Drip campaigns alone are not enough! Before email, it cost a small fortune to stay in touch with a large sphere or geographic farm. I used to spend hundreds every month and I know people who spent thousands. Then came email!!! Hallelujah! FREE communications for our sphere! 

When email first became available, easier and cheaper, it was a no-brainer.

Instead of spending hundreds on mailings, agents started dropping their expensive physical mailings and replacing them with email. Drip campaigns alone are not enough! They’re great and some of them are phenomenal, but you need to also have other methods of marketing going as well.

Drip campaigns can make up the foundation, but from there you want to consider newsletters, postcards, SMS messages and periodic pop-bys. I used to leave spookies (tiny pumpkins) at the base of the driveway in my geographic farm for Halloween. Then on Memorial Day I did flags! You can have that be part of your plan.

A drip campaign is accomplished with an activity plan or workflow and it is comprised of a number of activities.

Many CRMs have drip campaigns included. Typically, what people call a drip campaign is strictly emails, sent out on a scheduled basis. More often than not, if your CRM has drip campaigns, they also have the ability to edit that campaign, or create a new one entirely. More CRMs are now enabling to do texting automatically. Consider taking that drip campaign and adding activities to it for automated SMS messages in addition to the emails. You could also add reminders to do phone calls, snail mailings, newsletters, postcards and other marketing activities.

NOTE: Before you send bulk emails or texts, educate yourself.

There are rules and you need to know what they are. The CAN-SPAM Act allows for fines up to $11,000 per violation! Yes, you read that right. Learn the rules so you don’t shoot yourself in the foot.

Different people respond to different forms of marketing, so you want to make sure they get what they need. Variety is the spice of life! Add some to your marketing efforts! Your business will like you for it!

How to Learn a CRM

This is one of the most common questions I hear.

Many CRMs (Customer Relationship Management) solutions have fairly good training materials. Some have great materials. Some have none. But what none of them really excel at, is a tutorial to take you through the basics, in a “Where do I start” format. Maybe I can propose a bit of a solution for how learn a CRM.

One of the issues making a starter tutorial problematic is that different people consider different things to be the basics, and the CRM’s themselves can be quite varied as to what it is they are capable of doing for you in the first place. So how about teaching yourself how to get started?

The very first thing you do is actually a no-brainer.

In any of them, you get all your contact information in. Names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, etc. Always have both a first and a last name for every contact. If all you know is Margaret, put that as both her first and last name until you get her last name. Which contacts go into it? ALL of them. I have seen some people recommend using one program for business, and one for personal, such as Top Producer for the former, and Google for the latter. My personal opinion is that I could not disagree more. I have been using, teaching, and reviewing CRMs in the real estate industry for over 20 years, and I just do not see any benefit to that line of thinking. Why have your contact information and scheduling information in two places? It makes for duplication of effort, and confusion having to reference two sources for everything, not to mention that business and personal sometimes overlap anyway. I have my business contacts, my friends, my Christmas list, my neighbors, and I even have my daughter’s dog in my contacts. Why? Because I can track his birthday that way! I have a contact – First Name: Computer; Last Name: Tips. In the notes for that contact, I have various things I want to remember about little tricks I’ve learned over the years, and I even have them at my fingertips in my handheld, because the notes sync!

Remember the cardinal rule for contacts; 

always have a contact in at least one category. Otherwise, you end up years from now with contacts for whom you have no clue whatsoever what they are. If you are using a CRM, and you are using Activity Plans of some sort, I recommend the following nine categories for a start:

  • Buyer – Prospect
  • Buyer – Active
  • Buyer – Pending
  • Buyer – Past
  • Seller – Prospect
  • Seller – Active
  • Seller – Pending
  • Seller – Past
  • Closed – 20xx (x’s being the year they closed escrow)

After that, a question I get a lot is, Should I key in my past transactions?”.

I would say that other than this year’s and possibly last year’s, I would not bother. It’s time consuming and more often than not, that time could be put to better use, such as learning howe to use 

So what’s next? Create a list of what it was you wanted to accomplish with your CRM when you were originally selecting it If you don’t have that list, create one now. It should contain things such as; Print Labels to ‘Sphere of Influence’; Export names and addresses for mailing, for calendar company; print ‘Just Listed’ post cards to geographic farm; Create activity plan to remind me to follow up with Internet leadsCRM Operations

A good CRM will have some kind of training available

to learn how to do each of these basic things. Your issue is that you don’t know where to start. It’s a big job. It’s HUGE. It is an elephant! Get over it! How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. No one is going to tell you where to start, or what is most important, so you need to figure it out yourself. This is how you will do it.

  1. List what you want to accomplish, as above
  2. Prioritize it
  3. Use the available training to learn each of those things.

It really can be that simple! Now you have your start. Do you your list. Add things to it as you go. By that time, you’ll be getting a handle on the software, and the rest will naturally follow.

Now some people will do what I just said, and that will be the end of it. That’s fine! If that’s all you want out of it, then you stop there. Others of you though, want to see what else this CRM can do for you. The only way you’re going to get a good feel for your CRM is by playing with it. When you’re in a screen, click on the menu items, and follow them. You can’t hurt it, and it can’t hurt you.

The most important thing to know about learning a CRM is that you need to use it at least daily for an hour first thing in the morning, until you are using it to run your business on a daily business. Spend the time and you’ll get where you want to go.

New Content! Real Estate Machine!

Years ago I affiliated with Real Estate Machine but they have re-invented themselves and have a great new look!

Whatever else you’re doing to drip on your peeps, new content is always worth a look. 

Whether you’re a brand new real estate agent who doesn’t really know where to start or a seasoned veteran who’s looking to reach a new audience, Real Estate Machine is here to help!

Keeping in touch is critical to an agent’s success but it’s a job that’s often overlooked. Our electronic newsletter is the best way to keep in touch as it’s automated, customizable and inexpensive. Best of all…our service is so simple that anyone can use it!

Real Estate Machine Newsletter LiveThey’ve been doing electronic newsletters since 2003! It comes completely re

Real Estate Machine Facebook Post 1

ady to go each month so the branded newsletter will go out each month without the you having to lift a finger. But – if you like, you can customize it with your own content. You can even create different versions of newsletters for different neighborhoods if you like.

This is the newsletter on the left and they also have Facebook posts!

Sending content to people on a regular and fairly frequent basis is something a lot of very successful agents do. Different content each week in some cases. Check this one out and see if it might be one of them!

DO NOT BUY A CRM… unless you are committed to:

Making the time to learn it!

Note the use of the word making as opposed to getting the time. It is so very important to understand that this one point can make all the difference in the world. You can be someone who implements the CRM and reaps the benefits, or someone who eventually simply regrets spending the money, and blames it on the CRM. Maybe you have heard the time management axiom that a meeting takes as longCRM Choice as the time you allot to it. The same goes for your real estate day. You can’t keep putting off learning your CRM until the time that you need to spend with it presents itself. For many of us, that time just does not come. When you put one hour into learning your new CRM first thing in the morning, before you answer any calls or e-mails, you get it done! Then, you somehow miraculously manage to get everything else you need to get done that day, done! Of course if you can devote larger blocks of time up front to get comfortable with it, all the better.

DO NOT BUY A CRM…

unless you are committed to learning to use it as more than just a glorified Rolodex. If that is all you are going to use it for, stick with Google or Outlook or some other contact manager.

As a real estate licensee, we wear many hats. No one likes them all, and learning software is one that many distinctly dislike. There are those who will tell you that the reason most agents do not use a CRM is because they are too complex and they need to be easier. An entire generation of real estate specific CRM’s was born in 2006. There was a theme emerging and that was to make them easier to learn. What it turned out to be in some cases though, was that CRM’s were being dumbed down to the point where they were no longer CRM’s. They were contact managers. An overly basic CRM is essentially a contact manager. A CRM is far more robust than a contact manager, so regardless of how well it is presented, or how intuitive it is, you still need to take a good bit of time to learn it. You learned how to use Google or Outlook, MS Word, and maybe MS Publisher or MS Excel too. You spent hour after hour playing with them with no support and no training, until you got a handle on them, and never complained because you had no choice. What is so different about learning a CRM? If you want to profit by what a good powerful CRM does, then you need to invest the time to learn it.

You do not have to like the time you invest into becoming proficient with a good 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 need it.

Make that determination right here and now. In order to accomplish the above, you must make a commitment to investing the time to learn how to use a CRM. You then must either create, or purchase and tweak pre-written e-mails and letters, fliers, post cards, prospect follow-up campaigns, etc. This does not have to be done all at once! It’s an elephant. Eat it one bite at a time!

Note that at no point so far has the financial investment been mentioned. That was done purposefully to illustrate just how inconsequential the dollar investment is, in contrast to the investment of time. It is easy for the person not spending the money to say, but none-the-less it is very true.

To address cost, they are all over the board.

You can get very basic desktop CRM’s that are actually closer to contact mangers than they are CRM’s, for free, For true real estate CRMs, they start for as little as $179/yr. or as much as hundreds of dollars per month for SAAS products for teams. The most important thing that can be said of cost is to bear in mind that you should never start with a less expensive one, planning to move to a more expensive one later. You will lose the difference in cost many times over.  The time wasted on a new learning curve alone makes it a bad choice. Another significant loss is the data itself. When moving from one real estate CRM to another, you will very rarely be able to move anything but your contact data. All the other information such as transaction history, email templates, fliers and the like don’t transfer. There are very few real estate CRMs that export that information. Then the issue is that very few real estate CRMs are capable of importing those things. Try to get the right one the first time! It’s a heck of a lot better in the long run. 

I can tell you which ones import and export which data. If you have questions, I have answers!

IXACT Contact announces Broker Related Enhancements

An announcement from IXACT Contact!!!

IXACT Contact is excited to announce the first release of the Broker Portal which will allow authorized users at the broker level to do the following:

  • See a searchable list of all accounts created under the brokers partner code
  • See key data points om each account including:
    • Account Status
    • Account Type (individual vs. team leader vs. team member
    • Account Created Date
    • Last Login
    • Number of Contacts
  • The ability to cancel or reactivate accounts
  • The ability to publish (or unpublish) email and letter templates to all agent accounts
  • The ability to publish (or unpublish) activity plans to all agent accounts

We are also pleased to announce some important features in the IXACT Contact Recruiter version of IXACT Contact. You can now set your prospecting and hiring goals each year using the Goal Setting feature, and track how how you’re doing using the Prospecting Activities Dashboard widget. We have also added new ways to search your prospect database including contact history and note keyword searches, as well as the ability to find contact profiles missing key data points like email address or phone number. 

Workflows and Activity Plans in a CRM

What’s the difference between workflows and activity plans in a CRM? The answer to that question can play a very big part in which CRM you choose. Generally speaking, workflows are much more powerful than Activity Plans and CRMs that have workflows are far and few between.crm workflows 2 Activity Plans will absolutely do the trick, just not as powerfully. The industry started out with activity plans and they will stay around, probably forever. Choosing between the two is about how much time you’re willing to spend and how adept you are at learning new software.

My opinion is that a real estate business should use workflows, if you are capable of creating and implementing them. They are much more efficient and will streamline your processes like nothing else. That said, not everyone is cut out to be able to use them. They tend to be more complicated to learn, set up and implement. Depending upon you, your staff, and your needs, activity plans may be a better choice for you. 

The big picture difference between a workflow and an activity plan is that the former has the ability to branch. By branching I mean that certain actions are black and white. They are either done or they are not. But some actions are not that simple. Some require a decision about what to do next as a result of the answer to the reminder. Huh?

Let’s take an activity in an activity plan that is a reminder to check to see if there is a mortgage commitment. The to-do item comes up in your list. It says “Is the mortgage commitment in?”. If it was indeed approved, then you just mark that activity complete, right? Not really. If they got the commitment, you have other things you now need to do as a result. If they did not get the commitment, then you have a different set of tasks to perform.

In an activity in an activity plan, checking the box to complete it simply marks it as complete. If you want to take additional steps after you mark the activity complete, you have to remember to do that manually or have a very bloated activity plan.

crm activity plans

In a workflow, that need of having to take different actions depending upon what happens, is addressed. In the image below on the left, you would click in the box to complete the activity. Upon doing that, instead of it just being marked as complete, it comes up with two options, or actions

In the real world, when the mortgage commitment is received, sending a quick email congrats would be a good move. However, if the mortgage is declined, you might want to send a different email offering to help them fix their credit. As you can see in the boxes, clicking one of the two new check boxes will either send an email or start a new workflow. It’s all up to you, when you build each activity. This is the primary difference between workflows and activity plans in CRMs. 

crm workflow

workflow for crm 2

 

 

 

 

 

While this is the primary difference, workflows tend to come with many more options than activity plans. That’s what makes them so much more powerful.

Are workflows better than activity plans? Well, they’re more powerful and you can do much more with them. But, if they’re more detail and work than you want, then they’re not better, for you! They are more than you can use effectively, so go with activity plans. You’ll understand them faster and get them built and running faster. Activity plans are what we have been using for many years. They’re an incredible boon to our business to keep us organized. Some people want much more from their CRM than others. Some are perfectly content with less detail. Which one are you? 

Contact me and we’ll talk about it and figure out which best suits your needs!