OpinionIndustry News

Agents need simple, bare bones CRM

Commentary: Complex user interfaces can hamper adoption

By MATT BEALL

I’ve talked to a lot of real estate brokerages about their customer relationship management (CRM) software.

In general, they always seem to face two main challenges: the user interface (UI) and user adoption.

Let’s address those challenges.

User interface

Entire books have been written on the subject of user interfaces. We’ve come to understand how important they are to the user experience.

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Somehow this has gone unnoticed by the makers of CRM systems. What we have available to us is overly complicated and too feature-rich, compared to the simpler UIs real estate professionals are used to dealing with in apps, mobiles sites and modern websites.

Consider Microsoft Outlook. The average Outlook user taps only a portion of the features built into the platform — not because they don’t want to use all the features, or because they wouldn’t benefit from them, but because they can’t find them.

A classic example of this is when a user creates innumerable email folders for individual clients, and then drags and drops individual emails into those folders. Outlook does that exact same process — automatically — in its “Activities” tab. But that feature is largely unknown to most users because it’s totally inconspicuous.

Inconspicuous is not only bad UI. It’s frustrating.

User adoption

Adoption is the bane of every brokerage business. It’s a slog enrolling agents in a series of processes to get them using a new platform.

There’s the training, the servicing, the hand-holding — the occasional therapy session — to get agents over the hump of distrust they have for the broker in sharing their client info. That often goes hand in hand with a general belief that a new, feature-rich CRM won’t benefit their business or their bottom line in a way that even comes close to justifying the insanity of learning how to use another heavy piece of inefficient technology.

These issues are currently being addressed by some of the new vendors in real estate, such as OpenHousePro, Buyfolio and others.

There’s a dire need for CRM developers to adopt this way of thinking.

Let’s get simple

I’m talking about a CRM application with ?ve ?elds, tops: name, phone number, email, mailing address, and tags like “buyer” and “seller.”

That’s it. Nothing more. Something any agent who can type can use.

Using this approach, we were able to tailor our CRM to achieve companywide enrollment of all of our agents with no pain, no therapy and no distrust.

Here’s how we did it.

We started with Highrise from 37 Signals. Highrise lets you create a contact simply by forwarding an email to it. So we set up our website to automatically create leads by emailing Highrise.

We created a few simple companywide tags to make sure we were all using the same language — you don’t need separate tags for “buyer-lead” and “buyer-prospect,” for example — and from there, we were off and running.

We were able to add layers of complication for power users, while keeping it simple for the rest of the team enrolled in the basics.

Our agents recognized the value in using a scalable CRM solution. They saw the value we provided in helping them to distribute marketing collateral when all of their clients and contacts were imported in this simple CRM system.

Total enrollment. I believe this is what great software provides, beyond efficiency.

In speaking to many of my broker peers, I continue to see a trend of companies dropping one heavy CRM platform that proved unworkable for another that’s likely be just as unsuccessful.

Try something different. Something simple. Bare bones. CRM that does only the most basic and important thing a CRM should do: tracking who said what, to whom and when.

Matt Beall is the principal broker and owner of Hawaii Life Real Estate Brokers.

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