Real Estate is a high-touch, relationship-based business. But when you’re juggling a busy career and family life, it’s easy to lose track of things. What if there was a technology that could help you find more leads, make more follow-ups, deliver more personalized service and ultimately, close more sales? Want to know more? Read on!
What is a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) System?
CRMs were developed to manage a company's interaction with current and potential customers using data analysis about customers' history, focusing on customer retention and driving sales growth. At a very basic level, CRM systems can help you organize data and track leads. As they get more sophisticated, you’ll encounter more features that deliver sales insights, automate marketing efforts, and integrate with other aspects of your business such as email and web presence. They are all geared toward helping you be more efficient and profitable.
“CRM is so much more than having your Rolodex online,” says Trent Warner, co-founder of NYB Creative, a Boston-based marketing and consulting agency that focuses on helping real estate firms. “It looks at the full picture of user’s online experience and tracks interactions so you can provide more personalized service. In my experience, I have found that most Realtors® are using CRM, but the majority are not using it to its full potential.”
Say for example you have a new prospect, Sue, who is interested in working with you but not ready to move forward until after the school year. You put her information into your CRM system, including all the notes you took during your conversation such as what size home she’s looking for, how old her kids are, where she likes to sail. A few weeks later, your CRM system notifies you Sue is back on your website. You give her a quick follow-up call and spend a few minutes chatting about the upcoming sailing season, then deliver your sales pitch and email her links to a few properties you just know she’ll love. She soon signs a contract with you.
CRM Benefit #1: Lead nurturing
According to InsideSales.com, 50% of sales happen after the fifth touch. CRM’s lead nurturing feature can send the right message to the right prospect at precisely the right time. A robust CRM makes it easy to segment your prospect list by a wide range of factors, including tracking what stage of the buying cycle they’re in. So instead of sending generic messages, you send a more targeted one with a customized drip campaign that makes it clear you go above and beyond. Result: increased conversion rates.
CRM Benefit #2: Efficiency
Before CRM, Realtors® often complained about spending too much time looking for information – was that prospect note you jotted down in your spreadsheet? Or was it on that sticky note you threw away last week? With smart CRM and consistent data inputting, everything is organized in one place, easily accessible by agents, transaction managers and team leaders. Result: more time spent on revenue-generating activity.
Eileen Mason, a 15-year veteran of ReMax Executive Realty covering MetroWest offered her insights on CRMs. “A CRM is very helpful as long as you enter the data for each client and keep up with it. Be specific, and put in as much detail as you can as you’re setting up your client. The more you use it and the more data you give it, the more it will work for you. It makes life easier; it’s like your go-to list of things to do each day.”
Mason has used several CRM tools, starting with the MLS Property Information Network (PIN) for Massachusetts. “It’s not a full CRM, but you can enter all your prospect/client info and what looking for, then it sends them a constant drip of what’s on the market through the MLS as properties become available. I’ve used that for a long time and it’s very helpful for getting property information out quickly.”
Contactually, a CRM built just for real estate professionals, is another CRM tool she has used for a long time. “It was very advanced, and connected with email. I could pull up a contact and see the history of my conversation with that contact.”
Last year her firm transitioned to booj, a custom-built technology platform with a fully integrated suite of products and CRM at its core. booj streamlines tasks from initial lead generation through post-close nurturing. Mason was just beginning to transfer her data at the end of March when COVID-19 hit, giving her extra down time to get set up.
“It allows me to design and send any kind of campaign I want, for example, drip campaigns for people inquiring but not ready to move forward right away, or if they’re past clients and I want to keep in touch. It gives me reminders to follow up which is good. I can also put in lot more demographics about the client, information about the family, who they are, birthdays, pet’s names, activities, all that stuff is stored in one place.”
Since it’s cloud-based, software is automatically updated when there is a new feature, and agents can access their data from anywhere, another important feature for Realtors.® Mason appreciates booj’s reporting functions for insights into listing trends and tracking preferences. But the bottom line is the time savings. “As business grows, it would be difficult to do all these functions manually again.”
There are three main categories for CRM systems, all requiring different levels of investment of both time and money. First, is the very basic, sometimes free platforms, that will get your feet wet such as Revolve, Pipedrive and LessAnnoyingCRM. “These collect data and pair with your website, but they have limited capability. They do not analyze the behavior metrics of a web user and provide a logical next step through automation,” Warner says.
The middle tier is usually a true CRM with marketing automation, such as HubSpot or SharpSpring. These platforms give you the capability to integrate your data with automated social media campaigns, emails, landing pages, and blogs, and give you a cadenced method to push out all that content. These definitely take more time, and real estate firms will often have a dedicated team member or outsourced marketing agency to help deploy the product, build the email and calls to action, and create the forms. These companies are usually quicker to adapt to changing trends and have more robust R&D.
The top tier is comprised of products like Salesforce, which Warner calls the behemoth of the CRM industry. “It takes a minimum of $100,000 per year, right out of the box. In addition, you need a salesforce engineer to build workflows on back end, to create frameworks for data input, and to create the workflow for utilization, ensuring your MLS is associated with it. It is in no way formatted for you to take and play with it yourself.”
Your choice of CRM depends on several factors. First of which is the size of your agency as well as the size of your marketing team. If you’re a solo-preneur or small firm, you may want to start with a basic product such as Pipedrive. The upside is a low cost of entry ($12.50 per user per month to start), but the downside is a limited number of emails allowed.
If you’re a bigger firm operating in multiple states and touching 100+ clients per month, you’ll likely want something with automation built in like HubSpot or SharpSpring.
However, some of the lower-end products have contracts that make it difficult and expensive to leave. “I had one client whose CRM was so intertwined with their business and billing system, they lost over $100,000 in disruptive billing, and they had to pay to pull away,” Warner says. Other
Next think about your goals and where you want to be five years from now. Consider a tiered product that will grow with your business both in features and in capacity. That way you don’t have to switch products and face another learning curve when you grow out of a CRM.
It can also be helpful to make a list of the features you want and decide if it’s worth purchasing a higher tier just to get that feature. “There are some features hidden in upper tiers that can be incredibly useful, but you have to decide if it’s worth paying extra to buy up into that tier. Or, can you use a plug-in with a lower tier and make work together?” Warner asks.
Costs, both initial and ongoing, are also a consideration. The cost of implementation and training will be the most expensive, but they are one-time costs. Then there’s the cost to keep the system running, both subscription fees and staff needed to run it.
Pay attention to user reviews, they can have valuable information from people using the product. For instance, Warner says some of the lower-end products’ emails have been blacklisted by major email providers like Yahoo and Gmail.
The beauty of CRM is there is no one-size-fits-all solution – you choose the size and feature level that fits your business. If you don’t have a dedicated technology person or department to guide you, a consulting firm can help.
“We are SharpSpring partners at NYB Creative and have been for a while now, but we will work with whatever system a customer has in place,” Warner says. “We think SharpSpring is one of the most affordable and product inclusive tools for the majority of real estate agencies. But it’s not for everyone: I wouldn't try to fit a 100+ person sales staff onto SharpSpring, I'd recommend SalesForce. I’ve also been a HubSpot vendor, and if an agency had a pretty robust internal marketing team, I may recommend that. It’s a good tool but cannot be operated by sales people right out of the box, even their terminology is drastically different than other companies.”
CRM can make or break a customer relationship. Warner offers his top seven tips for getting the most out of a CRM.
1. Integration. Make sure it’s as integrated in your sales process as your email and phone, and check in with it multiple times per day.
2. Discipline. Keep on top of entering your data. If you’re consistently getting leads, you can’t let them pile up.
3. Action. CRM is incredibly rich in data so use it for actionable meetings. You can see where the leads are coming from and where the sale process is breaking down: are you showing the wrong houses or do you just not have the inventory?
4. Value. A robust CRM can associate various marketing efforts such as Facebook campaigns and Google ads with leads and with dollar amounts closed. So, you can associate a lead with a closed/won business, which gives you the true value of a lead, not just its cost. Then you can evaluate which marketing platforms are bringing you the most value.
5. Follow up/remarket. CRMs can compile a list of leads that didn’t pan out for one reason or another (closed/lost), perhaps the prospect just wasn’t ready to buy. Set up an email campaign to reach out to them when it’s logical.
6. Information. A CRM is only as good as the data you put in. Look at your product offering and understand the different categories you can put a lead in – home value, zip codes, single/married, anything, really – that makes for more targeted follow-ups.
7. Spelling (and uniformity) counts. All CRMs should have ability to fill out custom fields that can be sliced and diced any way you want. But beware when you’re inputting – to the back end of a CRM system, Southie is not the same as Southy, or South Boston.
Cookies (not the chocolate chip kind) help marketers and CRMs do a better job, but the online privacy movement could put that in jeopardy. “The pressure is on for companies like HubSpot and SharpSpring to adapt and provide value. If your website looks like it was built two decades ago, people will be less likely to accept cookies. You need a site that looks and acts securely,” Warner advises.
Text is becoming the most-used form of business communication and lead conversion. In the future, text messaging could begin to integrate with CRMs, just like email does now. Lastly, Warner is curious to see how the Artificial Intelligence (AI) aspect of live chat will integrate with CRMs to begin compiling a customer profile as they’re interacting with the chat function.