While everyone has their preferences of what are the most important features to them, the following should be basic requirements for everyone. Each of the following is a topic which I have written about extensively in my book, but the following is a brief description of each.
- E-mail stored with the contact record – This is a major issue about which I have written an entire article in the past. Please click here to see that article.
- Bulk e-mail – If you don’t already do a periodic e-mailing to your sphere of influence, you should. It musthave a good perceived value if you expect it to be opened, and you can’t overdo it. You can do this with any number of third party solutions such as Constant Contact or others, but that requires maintaining two separate databases which is a waste of time. Your CRM should allow you to either send that out through their servers, or have a relationship with a third party solution that allows you to mail directly through them without maintaining two databases.
- Document storage – Paperless is good, but we still have to retain the documents for potential future retrieval. Your CRM should provide the capability to store your contract paperwork as well as any related documents in a manner that provides a way to associate them with a transaction or contact record.
- Ease of use – Not to be confused with Easy to learn or Intuitive. Easy to use means that some CRMs require too many clicks to perform simple tasks such as adding or retrieving contact or property information, starting a follow-up plan, or making an appointment with a contact. One caveat is that while some CRMs may be a little more cumbersome to use, if they also have a number of other features that are unavailable in other CRMs, the overall efficiency may be worth it.
- Tech support – Phone support should be available at least during business hours, with extended hours being desirable. When you are trialing a CRM, make sure to call support at different times of the day and different days of the week. If you don’t really have any questions, make some up! Seriously, you need to check their response time, willingness to resolve your issue, and familiarity with the product before you purchase.
- E-mail drip campaign capability – Your CRM should have the ability to create a variety of e-mails that go out to a contact at pre-determined intervals when you launch that campaign. Some CRMs have campaigns already included, whereas some enable you to create them, but do not already have the e-mail templates. Either is acceptable, but the latter requires that you either create them yourself, or purchase a set of templates/campaigns and import/install them into the CRM.
- Activity Plan capability – One of the primary features that set most real estate specific CRMs apart from many generic CRMs is the ability to create a set of tasks, including but not limited to to-do’s, phone calls, e-mails, and letters, that are posted to your task list automatically at a pre-determined number of days after the launch of the plan. This is the kind of plan you would use to be reminded to call a prospect, or follow-up with past clients to stay in touch, with something other than an e-mail. You would also use activity plans for listings and closings to keep you on track with the many details associated with a transaction.
- Calendar with appointments linked to contacts – When making an appointment, it should be linked to a contact or a transaction so that as the appointments or tasks are completed, they become a part of the history of that contact or transaction that can be referred to. Optimally that can be used to automatically create a status report for the client’s reference.
- Cross platform capability – Optimally, when you select a CRM, you should hope to never change to a different one. Choosing one that works on both Windows and Mac, any kind of phone, or any kind of tablet computer, prevents being limited to what kind of hardware you choose to use in the future.
- Phone synchronization – Having your address book and calendar information shared between your CRM and your phone should be a basic requirement. There are essentially two ways to accomplish this. One is that the information is synchronized between the CRM and the phone, which essentially compares the existing data on the devices and then merges whatever is different. While this is the most common way to share the data between the devices, there is no perfect synchronization method to date. The other is for the devices to all essentially be sharing the same database in a live real time environment. The most common method to accomplish this is with an “exchange” environment, well known to Outlook users. More recently though, some CRMs are using what is essentially a “window” into the CRM data with a link that provides access to a limited number of features such as address book, calendar, leads, and in some cases basic transaction information.
Your goal for a CRM should be for it to be the hub of your business as much as possible. Eliminating redundant data entry by having to use many different applications is key to be being efficient. Using different applications typically enables you to have the best of each kind of feature, but it also reduces overall efficiency. Accepting less than the best of each function when the CRM provides adequate alternatives is the best overall solution in my opinion. This is something I have been promoting for many years, and I am finally seeing a trend towards that end in CRM purchasing decisions. Find a CRM and commit to using it to truly run your business, and you will be amazed at how much more efficient you will be, how much better your customer service will be, and how much stress you will see eliminated from your daily life.
It takes time to learn and integrate a CRM into your business. You have to be ready to make the commitment necessary to make the best of it. It is a mindset. From my book:
“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.”