Technology

Some thoughts about CRMs and how you use them

Inman's tech expert tackles our extensive CRM survey

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The pitch

I’m often asked my opinion about a specific CRM, or whether I’ll review this product or that product. I take them all down, and mark them for future columns.

In terms of recommending a CRM? I don’t want to do that.

Choosing enterprise software for your office is about so much more than features and usability, or who else is using it or likes it.

Office structure, user interest, company growth plans and countless other operational facets of your office factor in to the effectiveness of a CRM.

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Last week, Inman published an extensive reader survey about customer relationship management systems.

The results were really fun to peruse, revealing quite a bit about how you use and choose these software packages.

Naturally, I came away with a few thoughts.

The sale

I noticed that CRMs are mainly the domain of larger real estate offices.

Clearly affordability is an issue, as most are high-ticket items and agents at brokerages with 20 or more agents can swing the stiff dues, because big agencies typically have the marketing dollars to attract the business. More agents means more contacts, transactions, projects and data to control and compartmentalize.

However, broker-provided CRMs are not the norm, which I think is fantastic. It’s a great sign to see individual agents jumping both feet into large technology commitments. You are your own business, after all, and you need software to run it.

I do hope that smaller firms don’t overextend themselves trying to keep up with this tech train. There are a lot of very effective products out there doing great things for more local teams.

The majority of survey respondents reported that “contact management” was the most important feature in the selection of their CRM. Intriguing.

That means a lot of you are paying significant amounts of money (up to $26,400/year) for something your mobile device can do for you.

Next time you conduct your due diligence for CRM, assume that contact management is a given, like tires on a new car. Sure, you’re interested in their quality, but you can safely assume they’ll be inflated and will rotate when you push the accelerator.

I noticed the majority of agents choose a CRM that was built specifically for real estate. I think there’s real value, at least during the analysis of potential vendors, that real estate companies consider products not built specifically for the industry.

Software built from the blending of disparate industry sales tactics can really benefit its users. It can offer agents a competitive advantage, simply by the nature of it not being the same system the majority of your market is using.

Remember, CRM companies are competing with each other, too. They want to be better than what else is out there.

I guess what I’m saying is to not just accept a product as the industry standard. Look outside the property lines for creative solutions and alternatives, you may find a feature that could further define your level of service to your current and most importantly, future clients.

To that end, I want to call out a couple of quotes from the survey that indicate just how disparate the views are on the industry’s more popular solutions. And because the first one is funny.

This, about TopProducer:

“It’s crap,” said another. “Reports are inadequate, activities and contact modules do not integrate adequately — cannot even do simple, common tasks such as filter a call list and download or print it out. Most tasks take 6-8 clicks to search, open a lead and update it. Seriously?? What is this, 1987?”

(Well, you are wanting to print your call list.)

And another:

“Trying to like Top Producer, but it’s complicated,” said a fourth.

A Top Producer screenshot.

A Top Producer screenshot.

However, almost 40 percent of respondents ranked Top Producer an 8, 9 or 10 on a scale of 1 to 10. So how hard is it, really?

Has everyone invested the time to learn it?

Relative to that, the survey revealed some sentiments that worry me a little, primarily that a few respondents are adamant about their CRM being an expense, not an investment. That approach is why, in many cases, software gets neglected. Or is considered hard to use.

Some software is an expense, like systems to answer phones, office security or your accounting systems. Those are costs of doing business.

Customer relationship management solutions are unique in that they only work when you work.

If you’re going to invest the soft costs in setting one up, onboarding your contacts and learning to leverage its features, you should do so with the understanding that it’s a long-term relationship. Software can grow with you — if you allow it to. Databases need time to flourish; primarily, they need data.

Also, CRMs are not mandatory for success. You don’t need one to be good at selling real estate. If you choose to purchase one, it’s a want. And you need to want to make it work for you.

Thus, if you adjust your approach to considering a CRM an investment, its presence will have a much greater impact on your workflow.

The close

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to our CRM survey. It’s extremely helpful for us to understand what concerns our readers.

Like a CRM, our writers and editors and designers and content specialists can’t apply our collective industry insight and expertise without your feedback, without your data.

We’ve all made an investment in making Inman the highest-quality real estate news destination on the Internet. These surveys help us keep that effort moving.

Thanks again.

What CRM do you use — and what do you think about it? Leave a comment and let us know!

Do you have a product for our tech expert to review? Email Craig Rowe.