When it dominates any conversation about how technology is changing the industry — in an era of amazing innovation — is the CRM really doing enough for real estate? As the de facto, must-have industry tech tool, it’s time for true innovation.

Have suggestions for products that you’d like to see reviewed by our real estate technology expert? Email Craig Rowe.

Strange times.

We’ve heard it so often in the last couple of months that it’s become a cliché, a term to stamp closed an awkward back-and-forth about how we’re doing or what we’ve read in the midst of something none of us have ever encountered. It’s like wondering what dinosaurs sounded like — we only sort of know.

But I apply the phrase to another situation: the collective state of our industry’s customer relationship management software — the eponymous CRM.

Recently, this column generated a healthy amount of inbox activity from software executives whose products weren’t mentioned.

I very much welcome their feedback. In fact, it’s my job as a columnist to generate it, but not unnecessarily inflame it. There is such a thing as healthy debate, though Twitter might suggest otherwise.

I told them the column wasn’t a ranking of any sorts — it offered readers a cross-section of available tools that can help digitize deals.

But, there was some difficult-to-discern nuance unnoticed to me until shortly after publication. I’m willing to admit now that it was a passive-aggressive slight slipped into a long-gestating disagreement.

I could have swapped out a number of major brand CRMs for the ones included, and readers would have equally benefitted. And that is what bothers me.

The CRM category of proptech is suffering from an abundance of good choices, a very rare few stand out from the crowd.

IDX Websites. Lead source importing. Team-specific lead routing. Marketing automations. Text campaigns. Landing pages. Action Plans. Retargeting. Free blog content. While all useful functions of software, they can be found in countless products. Maybe with different terminology.

Agents need to identify the small innovations, such as how leads are scored or what behaviors trigger task assignments in order to find something truly unique.

User experience is becoming the real way to separate from the pack. How does your software do the same thing better? First’s Personal Network Efficiency and myPlanit’s location data integration come to mind. Still, both of these products exist on the periphery of what defines the modern CRM.

So yes, there are solutions I feel do a better job than others, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what doesn’t work for one agent can’t work for another.

Subscribe to any Facebook thread on CRMs, and you’ll find recommendations as diverse as the people at a San Francisco street fair. And everyone there is selling why their CRM is better than what’s at the next booth.

Problem is, come next weekend, when the neighborhood across town has their street fair, we’ll be haggling with the same vendors. It’s easy to figure out why agents have such a hard time remaining loyal to a CRM, or why brokers offer their offices several options.

I’ve met brokers who are quasi-software resellers, stockpiling CRMs at volume discounts to offer agents at retail. How is that helping? Multiple listing services pack their marketplaces with partnerships. How can so many companies be preferred vendors?

I believe competition is good; this isn’t about limiting good consumer options. It’s about wanting more from what we have available.

Brokers, you too have to demand more from the vendors you’re paying for. It’s too simplistic to put the lack of adoption on the backs of your licensees.

I get it. Assembling the right tech-stack can seem Sisyphean at times. The due diligence gets done, agents test it, then agents leave. Or a pandemic hits.

I suppose I’m calling out for some authentic, risk-taking innovation. A Tesla among Priuses.

Agents need advancements to lead them into a future now more vague than ever, thanks to a market turned over by an indiscriminate killer bug, a rise in agent-vacant transactions and a consumer base armed with big data.

Our CRM providers are doing great work. They’ve earned the opportunity to seek the bleeding edge and step into its abyss. Because the last thing real estate needs is another WordPress template.

Read all of Inman’s coronavirus coverage here.

Have a technology product you would like to discuss? Email Craig Rowe

Craig C. Rowe started in commercial real estate at the dawn of the dot-com boom, helping an array of commercial real estate companies fortify their online presence and analyze internal software decisions. He now helps agents with technology decisions and marketing through reviewing software and tech for Inman.

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