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August 20, 2017

2015 CRM Solutions: Is Simpler Better?

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2015 CRM Solutions: Is Simpler Better?

Some relationship management tools can do anything you want them to, but the time it’ll take to learn the ropes may not be worth it.

Customer relationship management systems today have such varying features and user interfaces, it’s nearly impossible to decide which one is right for you and your business without a little trial and error first. Whether you’re shopping for a new solution altogether or considering upgrading your current one, it’s important to get hands-on experience with different products before committing to purchasing.

In This Guide

CRM Trends
While new product versions aim to improve the user experience, you'll want to test your selection before committing to it.

CRM Shopping Tips
Keep these things in mind as you try different products.

Products on the Market
From basic products to full real estate suites, take a look at these options and see what you get for your money.

Most buyers will probably want a CRM as a cloud service so you don’t have to be tethered to a desktop to use it. Beyond that, though, you may not know what best fits your needs and work style until you’ve had hands-on experience with a few options.

“There are CRM systems that can do almost anything you imagine,” says Mary Pope-Handy, CIPS, CRS, a sales associate at Sereno Group in Los Gatos, Calif. “What you really have to figure out is which features you will actually use. … What are the most important tools you need to improve business and make your life easier?”

Pope-Handy is considering migrating to her third CRM system in as many years. When the company behind the system she’d been using stopped supporting it, she felt she had no choice but to switch. “Rather than sift through 30 different products, I sought help from Gary David Hall,” she says. A former REALTOR®, Hall is now a consultant on CRM solutions for real estate professionals.

Why a CRM Is Essential

“It’s the foundation of the sales software stack for many businesses,” notes Ben Legman, director of content and research for business software review site G2Crowd.com. “Tracking relationships with clients and prospects is a necessity, and CRMs allow users to do just that.”

At the core of every CRM solution is a contact manager with calendar functions. For the average user, these provide a structure for storing details about leads, buyers, and sellers, and scheduling related activities. But most will want a true real estate–specific CRM system, which can do the following:

  • Adds automated task and activity planning
  • Integrated marketing components
  • Alerts and tracking features to know when you’re hitting or missing your sales goals

“A real estate–specific CRM may be the easiest to set up and use,” Legman says. “Generic CRM tools can be tailored to offer the same functionality, though they may require custom development work or a longer implementation time.”

Unless you have the skills and time to tailor a generic CRM solution to your needs, stick to real estate–specific systems. Usually developed with input from real estate professionals, they are designed to capture the information you need and nurture relationships with buyers and sellers from initial contact to follow-up after a successful transaction.

Hall told Pope-Handy that some CRM features offer a lot of power — but at a price. “He told me if I wanted something real leading-edge that it could be set up to do anything, but it also involved a long learning curve,” Pope-Handy recalls. “And he was right. I’ve been using my CRM six months, and I love the customization possibilities. But it’s just not as intuitive as I’d like. It’s taken more of my time than I expected.” She’s planning a trial run of Realvolve to see if it’s easier and better fits her needs.

Most real estate professionals will rank an intuitive interface as well as easy setup and operation of key features as their top concerns when shopping for a CRM. “But the factor that sets the different CRMs apart the most is the number of features it has, which is what increases the learning curve,” Hall says. “Most agents don’t want a lot of features because they aren’t comfortable with software and, hence, won’t use them. The most powerful CRMs have the longest learning curves, and they’re definitely not right for everyone.”

Mike Holbrook, associate broker at Atlantic Avenue Realty in Lake Worth, Fla., found the right combo of functionality and intuitiveness in RealtyJuggler. He had been using Microsoft Outlook to manage contacts when he heard about the real estate CRM system. “I was originally attracted to RealtyJuggler by how easy it made it to keep track of my income and expenses,” Holbrook says.

He contends that attaching and retrieving notes with contact records, launching drip marketing campaigns, and managing every detail about clients and listings has become much easier with his CRM. “It becomes your life, with everything you need to know as a real estate agent,” Holbrook says. “You learn to depend on that.”

That kind of all-encompassing business solution is what practitioners should look for and expect in a CRM system today, Hall says. “We have finally gotten to the point where blast e-mail with internal reporting, print campaigns, drip campaigns, transaction management, marketing, social media, MLS integration, and so much more are possible—all from within the CRM,” he notes. “You should look to do as much as possible from within one program.”

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