What Can a CRM do?
Following is an updated excerpt from my book that will give you an overview of the many features that exist in Real Estate CRMs to help you run your business better.
Many agents with whom I speak think that a Real Estate CRM is essentially a glorified Rolodex. If that’s all you want it to be, then that’s all it will be for you. But if you’re a good business person, you can and should run your business with it. So what can a Real Estate CRM do besides track your contacts?
In general it means the following will happen. The degree to which you will experience these depends entirely upon how many features you take advantage of in your CRM and how well you use them.
- Less stress for you and your clients
- All your information at your fingertips wherever you are
- Less mistakes
- Less staff
- Better service to your clients
- More respect from everyone you work with
- More referrals
For what it’s worth. How do I know this? Because I started real estate using a DOS CRM in 1988. In 1994 I closed 47 sides with a part time assistant and a buyer agent. I personally experienced the benefits from many of the features below even then.
OK so how specifically can a CRM help you accomplish these desirable outcomes?
Adoption: One of the most difficult challenges as a team leader or broker is getting the agents to actually use the CRM. What’s the answer? Gamification! A built-in tracking and reward system for using the CRM. The more they use it and the more parts of it they use, the bigger the reward. It could be as simple as a badge in the system that displays their accomplishments, or as generous as gift cards for milestones achieved. Or how about a grading system? You keep an A+ grade for follow-up in the CRM for a year and you get that extra bonus or higher split.
Affiliations: Many CRMs have third party affiliations to expand it’s feature set. The ability to automatically dial phone numbers in a series would be an example. Interaction with Docusign, DotLoop, Evernote, and others are other examples.
Agent referral network: With this rare but available tool, you can put your listings in your CRM and have other agents with the same CRM see them, and search their own CRM for buyers matching them. It’s agent networking at it’s best and easiest.
Appointment management: The ability to not only track when and where you had an appointment with someone, but also have the ability to note the substance of that appointment. All appointments are automatically added as a history entry with the contact or transaction.
Articles for sharing: This is an extremely cool feature. You can be on a blog, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. and by using a shortcut on your browsers favorites bar, add the article on the page to the CRM’s content. You can then share with all your contacts or just with specific groups of people. This is the perfect tool to make it extremely easy to do some very personalized marketing. There is no better kind of marketing and it’s normally harder to do so most agents don’t do it. Now you have no excuse!
Blast emails: Send out a newsletter or blast email to your sphere of influence and then watch as people identify themselves as the hottest prospects. Huh? Campaign reporting. You can see who clicked on what and how many times. That guy that keeps clicking madly on everything you send him – call him. Now.
Business accounts: If someone is not a past client or a prospect, they are a company. So entities like title companies, mortgage companies, home inspectors and the like can be considered Business Accounts. These kinds of contacts are different by definition and should have different information available in a different format and order than regular contacts. In most CRMs you can do a search for contacts that are categorized as Home Inspector for instance. That serves the purpose, but this one has a screen that is specific to the purpose instead of a regular contact screen. This is unique out of all the CRMs I have seen and now that I’ve seen it, I don’t understand why they don’t all do this!
Buyer requirements: Record your buyers preferences with their contact record and have them available wherever you are. Search your CRM to find the buyers who may be interested in that new listing you just got.
Call log/automation: Some agents love to sit down at their desk, strap their headset on, and get a ton of calls done quickly. Most CRMs do not have this feature but have it in various formats. Some enable integration with third party solutions to facilitate it.
Categorization: There are many names for ways to categorize the contacts in your database. They include, category, contact type, group, classifications, and even buckets. This is one of the core functions for a CRM. They enable you to categorize and find anyone by using one category or a combination of many as well as to exclude certain ones in the search.
Chat for your web site: You’re on your computer and you hear a beep. You open your CRM and there is a notification that someone is on your web site and wants to chat with you. You respond from within the CRM, land a new buyer prospect and it’s all recorded in a log in that person’s contact record.
Client reporting: One of the things I have promoted for many years is to utilize the Activity Plans/Campaigns/Workflows to launch follow-up plans for listings and closings. I developed activity plans for listings and closings when I was an active agent and was amazed at how they took me to a whole new level in my business. My stress levels were reduced. Things stopped falling through the cracks. My team stopped playing Who’s got the file. It was a game changer. I later developed Trans-Plans Listing & Closing Activity Plans and Emails/Letters for many of the CRMs I have here. Some of the CRMs enable you to automatically generate a PDF report or a Web Page that chronicles your efforts. Every time you complete a task, it automatically becomes part of these reports. The listing presentation and the initial buyer interview presentation is all about differentiating yourself from the rest of the mooing herd. How better to do this than to offer them something they haven’t been offered by anyone else?
Closing coordination: Too many details can fall through the cracks. The busier you get, the more details you have swimming around in your head. Every day you have to make many decisions regarding what actions you need to take for which transactions. And then you come in the next morning, look at all those same files again and make all those same decisions again. Even the best paper list and file methods are rife with bottlenecks and inconsistencies. Having all the information you need in one place, as well as all your to-do’s automatically posted on your daily to-do list, makes your job far easier and less stressful. Add to that that as you mark a task done, it automatically adds itself to a report that you email as a PDF or send the client a URL that they can log on to to see the status of their transaction. Not only did you not have to spend the time answering the question, but you have provided better service than 99% of the other agents with just that one service!
Communications documentation: Also known as history, there is a place where it all comes together. History is comprised of notes, tasks, phone calls, e-mails, letters, post cards, fliers, and appointments. You will have a contiguous record of everything that has happened with that contact or transaction.
I once had an attorney for the spouse in a divorce send me a letter essentially saying that I was not doing anything to get the house sold. He picked the wrong agent to challenge. My client/seller was also a developer and was going to build four spec homes. I wanted those listings. Not only had I been doing everything under the sun to market the home, including having it priced right, but it was all documented in detail. It took literally two minutes to find what I needed and print it out. I sent him a couple months worth of documentation and I never heard from him again. Sold the house by the way. If you are ever challenged legally, having a documented record all in one location is a beautiful thing.
Contact management: That means everyone including suspects, prospects, clients, vendors, friends, relatives, and neighbors. Know how to find any information on anyone, even from many years ago, with a few clicks virtually instantly. Try that with post-its, desktop blotters or napkins.
Customizability: Most do not, but some are capable of actually adding, deleting, or moving fields, or rearranging entire screens.
Document management: Store all documents and photographs relevant to a transaction with the transaction record and/or the contact record.
Dynamic mailing lists: You just got off the phone with a hot buyer prospect and you want to make sure to follow up with him. You add him as a new contact and add him to the category Hot Buyer Prospect. You’re done! Because when you added him to that category it automatically added him to the follow-up plan you designated for Hot Buyer Prospects. You don’t have to take more steps in Prospect Converter to add him to a follow-up campaign because it added him to it simply by adding him to that particular category. Just one more way to save yourself some time.
E-mail management: How many e-mails are in your inbox, or in an overburdened folder filing system? Do you have the folders labeled by contact, listings, closings, etc.? If you already have a contact record, listing file, and closing file in the CRM, why would you maintain a 100% redundant set of files in your email software? If you need quick access to see, send, or print an all-inclusive and contiguous record of a contact’s history or a transaction, it can be a simple matter of a few clicks in the CRM to do any of them. Email software is to send and receive email. CRM is to track, consolidate, disseminate, and archive email in conjunction with it’s corresponding history.
Geographic farms: You can create socially enabled neighborhood pages within your CRM that is in a format very similar to Facebook so people will be able to easily adopt it. It’s like having a Facebook page for a geographic farm but you’re in total control. Getting established in a geographihc farm can take years and there are many things you can do to help establish yourself as the defacto agent in a neighborhood. This may be the very best one!
Goal setting and tracking: I attended entire seminars devoted to learning this back in the day. We used sheets of paper. Set your financial goals and determine the gross needed to obtain the net. Break that down into transactions needed. Then track what it takes to get those transactions and set daily, weekly, monthly prospecting goals. Tie it all in with your CRM and you have the tools it takes to become a money making machine.
Google integration: Most of the better CRMs now integrate with Google Contacts and Calendar. Some also enable Gmail email to be displayed from within the CRM in the contact record.
Landing pages: Single web pages provided by the CRM to enable lead generation and auto-population of those leads into the CRM.
Lead distribution and tracking: The ability to give out a lead to a team member, and then follow up to see if that member is doing what you want them to do to capitalize on that lead. This feature can be as simple as a next up or as powerful as being able to pick which agents get what kind of leads
Lead source tracking: Knowing where your business is coming from and spending your marketing time and money accordingly/wisely. If you spent $3,000 on Homes & Living last year and you closed $23,000 in business as a direct result. You spent $2,000 on Homes and Land last year and you had zero sales. If name recognition in Homes & Land is worth $2,000 then maybe you keep advertising. If you;re looking for ROI from it, maybe you drop it.
Listing coordination: The biggest complaint lodged against Real Estate agents has always been poor communication. A comprehensive, automatically executed listing plan enables you to turn those complaints into praise, effortlessly and automatically. Instead of looking at a checklist on the inside of your listing files each day to see what you need to do, you will have an automatically generated to-do list that tells you only what you need to do that day.
Listing import: Instead of keying your listing information into the CRM, you can just key in the MLS number and click import. Voila! Any field that is complete in the MLS, which has a corresponding field in the CRM gets populated automatically.
Mail merge: Do all print or e-mail merging from within the CRM eliminating redundant external databases.
MLS Replacement? You meet a buyer at an open house. You add them as a buyer lead in your CRM including their preferences/criteria. You then do an MLS search from within your CRM, and send them the results. You also add them to the automatic notification list for new listings that meet their needs, from your CRM. What I am saying is that you can now do all the work you want with a client, including their MLS searches, all from within the CRM. It can have an IDX feed directly into it, instead of your web site! And it does more than the MLS does to track what they’ve seen, clicked on, etc. What’s the big deal? It saves a significant amount of time.
Mobility: For years agents have had the impression that in order to use a CRM you had to be tied to your desk all the time. That was never really true but now it’s clearly not an issue of any kind. Relatively recently the better CRMs have gone to having a different User Interface for the mobile devices. This means far more information available on your phone than in recent years when synching was the status quo. Now you can view and edit a great deal of contact information, property information, hot prospects, client call reminders and much more on your phone. Can you say “less calls , texts, and emails to my assistant”?
Neighborhood listings and sales: based on their physical address in the contact record, you can click on a button and see all the active listings and recent sales on an interactive map. So Barbara Past Buyer calls and says I just saw a new sign go up a block over. Can you tell me how much they are asking? Instead of saying Hold on while I get into the MLS and find it for you, you can see the listing she is talking about in about five seconds. So you might not have to let on that you don’t know about that listing in her neighborhood.
Newsletters: Some CRMs include a free newlsetter to be distributed through the CRM, and some enable campaign reporting to see what it happening with that mailing.
Performance Analysis: Which agents are your most valuable ones and why? When you have a system to track your leads, where they went, how quickly they were answered, who took more of them, etc., when you meet with the agent to discuss their performance you have data to analyze it.
Post closing follow-up/client retention: Not staying in touch with past clients is one of the single biggest causes of lost of income in the Real Estate sales industry. Never lose another referral due to your failure to stay in touch. Easily set up smart reminders for you to call past clients every X months. But unlike a recurring activity, a smart reminder checks the contact’s notes to see if you contacted them in the last X months. If you did, it will reset the reminder to X months from that last contact date before it reminds you unnecessarily.
Project management: Sometimes you have something going on that is not the norm. You need something laid out differently to track progress and post dates for tasks to be accomplished. Some CRMs have this extra kind of project handling.
Properties: Track your listing and sales information such as target dates, lockbox codes, and many other things. Right now you have it the MLS or a file. Do you have any idea how much faster it is to do your job when you have the most frequently used property information available in a matter of two to five seconds? A lot!
Prospecting: Get suspects, turn them into prospects, and turn them into sales. Know who they are, what they want, and when they want it, all in significant detail. Buyer, seller, prospect, golfer, Eagles Fan, Chardonnay, U of C… Be reminded to capitalize on that information automatically.
Referral tracking: Knowing who is referring you the most business, so you know who to do more for in return.
Rentals: Most North American agents do not bother with rentals for the most part but some do, so it’s helpful when a CRM enables you to track the necessary information. But – In other countries most agents work rentals as a normal part of their business. A fair number of Real Estate CRMs concentrate on markets outside North America so having rental features is getting to be more common.
Reports: You name it and it’s available in at least one of the CRMs. They offer simple contact reports all the way up to detailed reports of listings, sales, conversion rates, expenses, etc.
Risk reduction: Knowledge is power. If you use a CRM properly and consistently, you will automatically gravitate towards centralizing the huge volume of detail with which you work every day. It cannot be overemphasized how important it is to have a contiguous chronological accounting of any communications you have with clients and even prospects. You can be challenged at any point about a myriad of issues from Fair Housing Violations to Mortgage Fraud, Procuring Cause, and any number of other things. A CRM can easily and automatically organize you. Having complete records of phone calls, letters, e-mails, appointments, etc., insures that you will enjoy a superior position from which to defend yourself if need be.
Showings: Some CRMs not only have a feature that allows you to track showings, but also enable you to shoot out a quick email to all the showings agents to announce a price adjustment or other things.
Social media: This feature varies widely from one CRM to the next. It can be as simple as providing a window into the media, or as powerful as gathering information from social media and adding it to the CRM.
Smart follow-up: This feature keeps reminding you to follow up with past clients daily reminders. You tell it how often you want to be reminded and it takes care of it from there. You will never again lose a listing from a past buyer because you didn’t stay in touch with them by phone, (unless of course you choose to ignore the reminders). You could schedule a recurring activity for each past client in your database to call them every six months. It works. It’s how we’ve been doing it. It gets better though. You could call it a smart reminder versus a recurring activity being a dumb reminder. A recurring activity will remind you every X months no matter what. This will not remind you to call unless it sees that there have been no notes with that contact for six months. The recurring activity will come up anyway, so you’ll have to delete it. I prefer smarter!
Staff training and accountability: Personnel retention is a problem that never goes away. Having a system in place with notes built into the CRM task lists significantly diminishes the impact of a lost staff person. It enables you to have the new person step right into a tried and true system, and if you did it right, none of the details are lost in the transition from the old person to the new one. Additionally, it provides a clear picture of exactly what is being accomplish by whom each day, concerning each individual’s responsibilities.
Target Marketing: Quick search – anyone in Bucks or Montgomery Counties who is a golfer. Less than five minutes later you’ve fired off an email sharing that you saw that Bucks County Country Club has half price greens fees this month. They think it’s a personal email because it is so targeted. Shiny!
Time management: Having automated to-do lists, and organized methods of consistent follow-up. Decide what you want to do once in any given situation, and automatically follow up that way every time from then on. If you have even one other person with whom you work, you will be amazed at the amount of time you save by having all of your information organized and in one place, accessible by all, immediately. The number of texts, phone calls, and BCC’d emails will drop to almost nothing compared to now. And you never have to play the “Who has the file” game again.
Virtual Assistant Integration: Why bother finding a VA (Virtual Assistant) when your CRM can do it for you? Sort of. You post the job you need done in the CRM. You go to the VA tab and submit “Send ‘It’s Tax Time’ post card to SOI.” A VA picks it up and does it for you for $12-15/hr. And it’s out of your hands. These VA’s are specifically trained on your CRM.
Before you ask… there is no one CRM that has all of these features. Some have many. Many are moving closer.
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