Customer relationship management (CRM) systems can take time to set up and use, but by following a few basic principles, busy agents can use CRMs to thrive in today’s market.
It’s a common refrain from many a time-poor professional: CRM systems are great, in principle, but finding the time to ensure they’re being used to their full potential can be tough.
Philip Le Plastrier, branch manager at Landmark Harcourts Hamilton in rural Victoria, admits he struggles to set aside time for database-related work. He does, however, give high marks to his agency group’s internal system.
The system, which has replaced Mr Le Plastrier’s previous reliance on a spreadsheet, has greatly enhanced his ability to keep in touch with his clients.
But with only two people in the office, his day to day priority was still to “list, negotiate and sell”, particularly with his local market doing it so tough.
This situation is not uncommon, even in industries in which legal demands concerning client relationships are more stringent. For example, a recent report on US-based financial advisers revealed that even with regulatory pressure encouraging the use of CRMs, many still rely on Microsoft Outlook/Office to manage their client contacts and activities.
The survey, conducted in March 2011 by Aite Group, found that of 380 financial advisors interviewed, around one quarter did not use a CRM or did not think the solution applicable to their business.
TIME POOR, CRM RICH
Luke Fahy, managing director of The Professionals Armidale in rural NSW, says the days of trying to remember your clients’ names and of card-based systems are long gone.
Therefore in industries such as real estate where many professionals are extremely time poor, there is an even greater need to take advantage of the benefits and efficiency of CRM systems.
Mr Fahy says his company’s sales database – an off-the-shelf software package named Complete Data – captures every aspect of a real estate transaction, from the very first contact with a client through to their longer-term activities.
The property management division uses a separate client database.
The key principle and practice that Mr Fahy has instilled in his colleagues is that each sales member is responsible for maintaining their contacts using the database and for completing their tasks associated with the system.
The ‘time poor’ excuse for failing to be diligent with CRM maintenance is not acceptable, and Mr Fahy has instituted a hard and fast policy about when database work need to be completed.
“Our database tasks are done before 11am each day,” he says. “We do not encourage inspections before 11am so that our team can get their database tasks done before lunch. This leaves six or so hours each day for productive selling time.”
Each agent would normally have around 30 tasks to complete each day, and once each has been completed it is marked off.
Mr Fahy monitors his sales staff to ensure they are completing their assigned tasks, “otherwise the number of unfulfilled tasks really starts to add up over a week,” he says
Ensuring these practices become part of the regular working day definitely pays off, he says, particularly when you surprise a client by remembering the date they moved into their property – seven years later.
“I know our database has helped us obtain many a listing simply because each and every year we call the owner to wish them a happy birthday,” he says. “I see a database as a list of people who can refer you forever.”
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF
Eddie Cetin, managing director of real estate software developer Agentbox, says a CRM system is imperative in today’s business environment.
Some agents are quite simply unable to call back each person they may have come into contact with during a week. This is where the task-based features of many CRM systems can assist, Mr Cetin says.
While in some situations a CRM system cannot replace face-to-face contact, assigning communications such as thank you emails or e-newsletters to an automated CRM-based system can help free up an agent’s time. It also ensures prospects don’t fall through the cracks.
For agents, introducing a CRM system into their busy daily routine should not be too difficult, Mr Cetin says: “It’s really just about following a process, and being good with time management.”
The most successful agents whom he knows are doing well because they stick to a rigorous system. Tasks are remembered and completed, day in, day out.
Mr Cetin also doesn’t buy into the excuse for not implementing a CRM system given to him by one agent: “I don’t need one because I have Excel.”
START THEM OUT YOUNG
Tony Pickering, director of Darwin-based KG Young & Associates, agrees that good CRM systems are essential for today’s real estate agents. The licensed agent and auctioneer, who also lectures at the Real Estate Institute of the Northern Territory, says it’s a point he stresses to new entrants to the industry.
Databases, if used correctly, can help ensure the energy they expend on establishing trust with a vendor or buyer isn’t wasted through forgetfulness.
Rather than have his real estate agents do the more mundane administrative tasks commonly associated with databases, including the entering of client details, Mr Pickering’s firm has appointed a sales coordinator for that role.
This frees up his company’s agents to focus on getting out of the office to see vendors and buyers.
“After all,” he says, “you can’t milk a cow over the phone.”