If you think of customer relationship management (CRM) as a business approach in which interaction with your current and potential customer base is critical for success, then real estate CRM is currently positioned as an indispensable and strategic tool for agents and brokerages alike. Essentially, CRM packages can be divided into two types: those specifically designed for your industry, and general-purpose CRM packages that offer customization and integration features. The question is: how is real estate CRM different from regular CRM? And is it worth it to invest in a real estate-specific CRM?
Solid arguments exist on both sides of this question, and the decision is not so simple. That’s because it depends on a variety of factors: the type of real estate operation you have, the level of control you want, your facility with a CRM platform, and the budget that you have in mind for this investment. Hopefully, most of these considerations will be addressed in this discussion on real estate CRM.
The purpose of any sound CRM system is to nurture and strengthen client relationships while increasing overall productivity. The key to finding an effective CRM package for any business requires separating the features that are “must-haves” from those that are “nice-to-haves.” This process is no different for real estate professionals. Before looking at the “must-have” features of an industry-specific CRM, let’s discuss some of the aspects of the business of real estate that are unique.
Like many other businesses, the primary activity (and goal) of realtors is selling. Therefore, a real estate CRM must have, as its primary purpose, a strategic and timely competitive advantage based on an information-based, web-driven platform.
Unique Practices and Struggles of Real Estate
When realtors are asked about their most important client source, the large majority point to leads. As a major source for potential revenue, real estate brokerages place great importance on managing leads. The lead management practices common in real estate are unique to the industry, as realtors face challenges that other sales and marketing businesses don’t. Why are real estate leads different from sales leads in other industries?
In real estate:
- Sourcing real estate leads is done primarily through referrals and listings
- CRM in many other industries functions as a tool for repeat business. In real estate, repeat business from the same source is the exception, so the role of nurturing long term relationships that can generate new referrals is key
- The lead-to-close cycle is longer and requires a different level of involvement with the lead at multiple stages
These are the key differentiators when discussing effectively managing leads in real estate compared to other enterprises. And, importantly, these key differentiators favor a CRM system that’s industry-specific. Here’s why:
- Most general CRM systems can be configured through apps or plugins to complement work systems, but to achieve maximum efficiency and usability, a customized system is the best option.
- A direct MLS feed option is critical. General CRM systems aren’t able to accept an MLS feed, meaning you have to manually enter all listing data into market listings.
- The level of support available for general CRM systems don’t meet the level of support that most realtors are comfortable with. The primary support methods for most CRM software is customer-driven support communities or video tutorials.
- The cost of a CRM system can be prohibitive, depending on the size of the brokerage. General CRM can add significant costs to adapt the system to be real estate specific.
As with many industries across the marketplace, CRM functions at its best when it works in harmony with that industry’s unique requirements. In other words, CRM is a tool that must accommodate its environment, not the other way round. A CRM platform for the real estate industry must provide the tools that fits a real estate agent’s business model and enhance it.
Recent industry surveys have, in fact, shown a high correlation between CRM system usage and agent productivity. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) said a long-term CRM strategy is the best way to ensure a steady flow of clients. In 2013, 40% of real estate professionals reported using a CRM system.
Significantly, 95% of the top-performing real estate agents were among the 40% that used CRM systems. Currently, CRM usage has leaped to just under 75%. So what are some of the compelling features that differentiate real estate CRM from other CRM systems? And which techniques or systems generate the best agent usage?
What Features Make a CRM System Real Estate Specific?
Now that we’ve attempted to make a strong case for investing in a real estate CRM system, let’s look at some of the features that are unique to real estate CRM. We’ll also look at why they play such a pivotal role in the industry:
Robust Lead/Contact Management System
As we’ve stressed, the real estate business relies on its lead/contact base. Therefore, the top priority of a real estate CRM should focus on a strong contact management platform. The platform should be able to categorize people by referring agents, partners, competitors, leads, and clients. Further segmentation of clients should be permitted, including cold/warm leads, current/past clients, and unsatisfied/satisfied/highly-satisfied clients. This tagging allows you to group together similar clients, in order to better strategize promotional and selling incentives.
Robust List Management
Listings are your principal source of revenue, hence it makes sense to prioritize this feature when checking real estate CRM software. Look for a system that allows you to customize database fields in order to create a list based on offers, deals, dates, third parties, events, and commissions. A good real estate CRM software should also allow you to generate or attach service reports, property details and transaction documents in sync with the listing. This should provide you with a comprehensive list, including relevant and important documents attached.
Robust Email Platform
Like most industries, real estate benefits from email marketing, in which case, real estate CRM software should support a strong email system. Social media dominates many industries, but buying property is regarded as a serious decision, and most people view email as a more professional platform than social media. A real estate CRM’s email tool should have features such as pre-designed drip email campaigns for various contacts, monthly real estate newsletters, and a selection of email templates with industry-specific marketing keywords like “just sold” and “just listed.”
Drip email marketing is a funnel system, where you can send an autoresponder initially, e.g. when a user subscribes to your newsletter, you send an auto “Thank You”. Following that, a series of personalized emails follow, with the intention of eventually funneling the recipient into agreeing to attend a viewing, reach out for questions, or participate in another conversion activity.
Compatibility with Popular Platforms
If you’re using products like MS Office and Google Docs, your real estate CRM software should be compatible with these tools to facilitate the transition. Expecting agents to learn totally different software can be time consuming and interfere with sales. In the same vein, make sure the system is easy to use, even for your agents that aren’t as tech-savvy.
Mobile Capability – Cloud-Based, Web-Hosted, Online
CRM systems with a mobile version is particularly helpful to real estate agents, because they’re usually on the road. Consequently, your real estate CRM should preferably be cloud-based in order to take advantage of mobility, while limiting cost. A mobile CRM platform should be compatible with the most popular mobile OS for smartphones and tablets (e.g. Apple and Android).
Some control options are also important. For example, an agent should have access to sales reports, but they shouldn’t be able to download or forward those documents. Additionally, financial statements shouldn’t be accessible while in the field to protect your customers’ privacy.
Vendors that Specialize in Real Estate CRM
We’ve argued that the growth and development of an agent’s database should be the basis of his/her marketing plan. In order to implement this plan, selecting the best real estate CRM is critical. Now we look at some of the vendors that provide this industry-specific product to the real estate profession (not in any particular order).
This software and service company is based in downtown Washington, DC., and was founded in 2011. This real estate CRM system is rated as being user-friendly and inexpensive. It integrates well with Google products, and uses a “bucket” system to organize contacts into groups. Contactually also integrates well with mobile devices.
This software was created by Ben Kinney, regarded as a “mega agent and real estate technology mastermind.” This system enables agents to manage their business, market their listings, and communicate all of their transactional and marketing activities with clients simultaneously.
In addition to advanced MLS features, REthink also allows agents to categorize contacts, send automated emails, and set follow-up reminders.
Founded in 1993, Top Producer has been the go-to CRM for the real estate industry for more than two decades. They offer a lot of functionality for the price level, and while the interface is somewhat dated and has a slightly steep learning curve, Top Producer is considered a great option.
The Inman News Award Winner for Best Website/Service in 2011 is considered the industry’s most integrated lead-to-close online platform that includes lead management, contact management, a marketing library, and a paperless transaction system. All of this is incorporated with a personalized mobile app and agent website that helps you capture and track your leads. But, it’s important to note that eEdge agents must be affiliated with Keller Williams Realty to have access to this all-in-one solution.