Agent tools - Customer relationship management (CRM)

Over 60% of sellers find agents from referrals. And  most of those referrals are cultivated through an agent's sphere of influence. This dynamic means agents are always thinking about how they can turn a contact into a strong relationship. Or how they can stay top of mind with a buyer they worked with when it comes time to sell. Agents often use a customer relationship management or CRM tool to answer the following problems.

  • How do I organize, track, and analyze my network of business contacts?
  • How do I automate and personalize outreach to my contacts?
  • How do I manage contacts across a team?

Customer Relationship Management tools or CRMs

A quick overview of CRMs

CRM stands for customer relationship management. Software tools created for CRM help organize, track, execute, and analyze communications. CRMs were popularized largely by Salesforce. Salesforce offers a powerful CRM platform for all sorts of businesses. But because agents have specific needs, many real estate-focused CRMs have emerged. 

Salesforce CRM feature graphic
Salesforce is the inspiration for many real estate CRMs. Real estate CRM feature sets can be very similar to Salesforces’. Source: Salesforce.

Technology and features of CRM software

Most real estate CRMs offer similar functionality. Below is an overview of the most common real estate CRM features.

  • Contact management: the heart of a CRM is adding  information on a professional contact. This includes name, email, company, and other similar details facts. Afterwards, agents can can add notes to a profile as a relationship is built. Virtually every CRM will offer this core feature.
  • Track communications and add contacts: CRMs often integrate with email providers and phone numbers. They track when contacts are communicated with. New contacts are synced with the system and added automatically.
  • Organizing and prioritizing contacts: there are multiple ways CRMs allow agents to rate and group prospective clients. Some may group contacts into current or past clients. Others  encourage assigning a number or letter grade to each lead.
  • Reminders, follow-ups, and calendar integrations: one of the biggest advantages a CRM has over a spreadsheet is it can remind an agent when to check in with someone. This might mean sending an email three days after a phone call to check in with a strong lead. Or it could be sending an anniversary note to a with a client an agent sold a home to a year ago. Many CRMs even post these tasks directly onto an agent’s Outlook or Gmail calendar.
  • Templates, bulk messages, and customized messages: many CRMs allow for personalized messages using existing information in the CRM. For example, an agent may automate a birthday email to send based on the birthday field in a profile. Some CRMs even have full libraries of sample messages for agents to choose from. Finally, most CRMs allow these custom emails to be sent to entire groups at once. For example, an agent might send a new listing in a neighborhood to all of their contacts in a certain zip code.
  • Team management and lead handling: for teams and brokerages, CRMs often display team productivity and distribute leads without generating errors. Many CRMs directly link to brokerage websites, real estate portal, and open house apps. This way, leads go straight to the CRM. An assistant or team leader can help assign leads to the right agent.
  • Integration with email marketing newsletters: some CRMs offer built-in email newsletter marketing. Many also integrate with popular providers like Mailchimp. Many agents will primarily use their CRM to manage their marketing newsletter.

There are more-advanced features that some, but not all, CRMs offer:

  • Pipelines and project management: some CRMs allow agents to visually see where each contact is in the deal cycle. Often this means moving a contact from prospect to active to sold, with many steps in between. There may even be integration with transaction management software. This way, information can quickly be be handed off to closing software like Dotloop or Docusign.
  • Automation and drip campaigns: templates, messages, and processes can often be automated, down to the day and time. For example, a new prospect might get an intro email after one day. Then three days later, they get an email with neighborhood pricing information. Ten days after, the agent may give them a call to check in. This step- or time-based outreach process is called a drip campaign.
  • Lead activity: many CRMs integrate with email tracking and agent websites. This can inform agents when a client has performed an action. Actions can include opening an email or visiting an agent's site. This can help agents know when to reach out or follow up.
  • Suggestions: artificial intelligence and machine learning can be used to determine when an agent should contact someone. This helps agents find active contacts that may not stand out otherwise. This can nudge the agent to reach out when they wouldn’t have normally.
  • Dashboards: most CRMs provide a dashboard on an agent’s performance.  Some even grade how frequently the agent reaches out to their contacts. This can help agents monitor their progress in the CRM.
  • In-app calling and texts: Some tools allow agents to call and text directly from the platform. This can be helpful for automating processes when an agent is at their desk. It also means text messages can be included in automated outreach and drip campaigns.
Follow Up Boss graphic highlighting four features
CRMs such as Follow Up Boss offer many features beyond standard contact management. Source: Follow Up Boss.

Popular CRM software

There are three different types of CRM technology agents use:

  • Standalone real estate CRMs: these tools have limited functions outside of core CRM features. They specifically focus on managing relationships and then integrate with other services that help with other real estate functions. Some examples are Contactually, Lion Desk, and Follow Up Boss.
  • Agent platform CRMs: CRMs are often built into other platforms. This allows different features to work together such as marketing, websites, and lead generation. For example, an agent might make a website in the platform and then the leads will automatically go to the CRM. The tradeoff can be flexibility. If the platform’s website builder isn’t great, it can be frustrating to pay for it if an agent just wants a CRM. Most real estate CRMs are part a broader platform. Some examples are Chime, kvCore, BoomTown, Curaytor, Propertybase, TopProducer, and Wise Agent. 
  • Non-real estate CRMs: real estate agents often use CRMs designed for other industries. Many agents use popular generalist CRMs like Salesforce, Hubspot, and Streak. These are often more complex and expensive. But there are also plenty of free CRMs on the market.
BoomTown pricing and feature tiers
Many tools like BoomTown are known for their CRM service. But they offer full agent platforms with websites, marketing, and other services as well. Source: BoomTown.

Spreadsheets can be good good CRM tools for solo agents

Ultimately, the problems CRMs solve are pretty simple. Organizing and tracking contacts can be done in a spreadsheet and calendar. Project management and pipeline features are doable with free project management services like Trello. For many agents, especially those that work alone, a spreadsheet is just as good as any CRM. Spreadsheets are flexible, free, and something they already know how to use. Some agents even get by just using pen and paper or a calendar.

Email and direct mail newsletters

Many agents use their CRM to reach out to their contacts via email newsletters or direct mail. As a result, many agents simply use their email newsletter software as their CRM. it’s worth Popular providers are Mailchimp and Constant Contact.

The impact of coaching programs on CRM

An unsung hero in CRM adoption is agent coaching. Real estate coaching is exactly what it sounds like. Agents pay for a personal coach or service to advise them on how to win more business. Most agents with coaches spend $400 to $750 per month. Some of the most popular coaching systems are Tom Ferry, Mike Ferry, Buffini and Company, kwMAPS, and Complete Agent. These coaching systems understand that agents want to grow their business. Most business comes from sphere of influence and referrals, and many agents don’t use a CRM. As a result, getting agents to use a CRM can be a huge win for coaching system. Buffini and Company not only has a coaching system for contact management, but also created a CRM to power it. Complete Agent simply recommends Contactually and Follow Up Boss. Tom Ferry has recommended Contactually in the past, but promotes using any CRM to get started. These coaching programs have a huge influence in the industry. An agent may not use a coach, but someone influential in their office probably does. As a result, these coaching systems are often creating a constant pressure for agents to start using a CRM.

Buffini and Company CRM feature list
CRM is so important to the Buffini and Company coaching system that they launched their own. Source: Buffini and Company.

CRMs are simultaneously important and underutilized

There is an interesting problem with CRMs. Everyone agrees they’re important but many agents don’t use them. Only 14% of agents surveyed by NAR said their CRM was the most valuable technology tool they used. This was the least popular choice, ranking behind cameras and document storage software. Only 18% of agents said that CRMs have provided them their highest quality leads. Yet over half of real estate firms actively encourage contact management software.

The issue is the same one that coaching programs highlight. CRMs can be powerful, but they have to be used. They don’t provide instant gratification. They require a lot of work to start up and maintain. And a spreadsheet may be an acceptable alternative for many agents. Many coaching programs are successful simply by forcing agent clients to use a CRM.

As a result, you will hear over and over again that CRMs are incredibly important to building a strong business in real estate. But many agents, even incredibly successful ones, still don’t use a CRM.

NAR Tech Survey results for most valuable technology tools for real estate agents
CRMs were flagged the least often as the most valuable technology tool used by agents. Source: NAR Technology Survey.

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