Picture this: It’s Friday afternoon, 3:00pm. You are scheduling your next week’s business activities, setting priorities, and putting a plan in place. You’ve had a pretty successful week – got a contract on a large listing, met a new prospect who is likely a buyer for a couple of projects, went to a successful networking event, and called 25 new prospects on big land tracts. You’re feeling good. But as you begin to plan, you look down and see business cards scattered on your desk, a wrinkled legal pad with half-legible notes, and a desk calendar sprinkled with coffee stains. You breathe a deep sigh and wish that you were better organized.
Does this sound like you? Perhaps it’s not as bad as all that. However, I think we can all admit that we have been there. Things get busy and we run our business with pen, paper, and our own brains. But in the long run, all 3 of those things will fail you. There should be (and is) a much better way.
Client Relationship Manager (CRM) software is the extra brain that every successful business operator needs to keep their business at peak efficiency. A CRM is far more than a list of clients. Used properly, a CRM is your contact database, your personal assistant, your calendar planner, and your goldmine of information. It will remind you to follow up with a new client, call a prospect you should’ve heard from by now, or get in touch with a past client at regular intervals. We’ve all got way too much flying around in our heads to remember it all. Handing off a lot of that responsibility to a CRM is a great way to free up brain space and time in order to focus on the most important aspects of your business.
Many of you are already using a CRM at peak efficiency. Great! Stop reading now and go make it rain. But many of you are not using one well, or worse, not using one at all. I submit that in today’s market with all of the available technology, speed of information, and industry competition, it is more important than ever to be the person most engaged with every prospect you want to do business with. Your CRM will keep you honest and consistent with that engagement.
I’d like to offer three tips for choosing a CRM as well as three tips for using one – and using it well.
CHOOSING A CRM
Tip 1: Keep it simple.
Many CRMs have intricate functionality and can perform high-level categorization and analysis on your contacts, prospects, and pipeline. These features are great. But make sure you will actually use them before you select a CRM that does so much. You might get bogged down in all the functionality and lose sight of the goal.
Remember that the CRM is supposed to serve you. Not the other way around.
Tip 2: Don’t break the bank… at least at first.
Do you want to spend thousands of dollars on a CRM? There are many available. Do you want to get one for free? A few of those exist as well. If you’ve never used a CRM before, start with a free one (Zoho and Insightly are free for 1 or 2 users). You might not get every bell and whistle but as discussed above, you don’t need them. Once you are accustomed to using a CRM effectively you can always upgrade. And you’ll be far better prepared to select among alternatives since you will have some likes and dislikes from your free experience.
Tip 3: FORCE yourself to use it.
When first starting out with a CRM, you will be tempted to use all of your old methods as a crutch. As you encounter frustrations and growing pains, you will tend to shy away from the CRM – only using it when it’s convenient. This is no good. Select a system, spend a few days playing around with and getting used to it, then COMMIT. If you encounter issues, use the help function. Or use Google. Figure it out as you go along and deal with the pain up front. You want to get that machine good and oiled up so that it’s smooth sailing once you’re past the indoctrination period.
USING A CRM
Tip 1: Do it right from the beginning… or at least from right now.
If you’re just getting started or only have a couple of years in the business, make this a high priority for yourself. Properly creating, growing, and maintaining a quality database can be tedious, but it’s far more tedious to get 10 years down the road and try to do it all at once. Maybe you’ve been in the business for many years and use a spreadsheet, a notepad, or even a Rolodex (anyone??). All of that should be converted into a digital CRM. YES, it will take time. YES, it will be painful. But the benefits you will reap when it is complete far outweigh the work of getting it done.
Tip 2: Once you figured out the basics, try a new function or capability.
Once you have pushed through the transition, you should be pretty comfortable with the functionality – at least the basics. When you’re feeling foggy, learn something different about the software and find a new way it can help you. You may discover that it can tell you something interesting about your business operations. What’s your average time from listing to closing? How often do you really call that important client? How many new calls do you make on a weekly or monthly basis? By exploring different functions you will more deeply understand your contacts, your process, and your overall business.
Tip 3: Change to a different software after 3-5 years.
OK, this may sound crazy but I really do believe it is beneficial. As technology continues to develop, newer, better, and less expensive options will always be available. If you shop around every few years you may find a product with functions you’ve always wished your current CRM had. Furthermore, moving to a new system will force you to look at your information and clean it up. It’s kind of like moving into a new house. You might finally decide to throw away that box of stuffed animals you’ve had since you were six. By cleaning up your database once in a while, you will keep it streamlined and relevant – making it more useful in your business.
A well-maintained and properly utilized CRM can make a struggling business good and a good business great. With very little effort, anyone can introduce a much higher level of structure to their business, keeping the pipeline full and the clients happy.
About the author: Caleb McDow, ALC, is a land specialist and vice president for Crosby & Associates in Winter Haven, FL. He holds a Master of Science in Real Estate (MSRE), the CCIM Designation, and is a licensed private pilot and drone operator. McDow joined RLI in 2014 as a Military Transition Program (MTP) member. He is an active member of RLI, serving on the 2017-2018 RLI Board of Directors and as Chair of the 2018 Future Leaders Committee. He also regularly shares his expertise on real estate issues for various industry blogs.