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2013 Contact Management Solutions: Key Specs

February 10 2013

Guest contributor Michael Antoniak of REALTOR®Mag says:

2013buyguide crm specsContact management packages range from the phone book software that came with your smartphone to customer relationship management components of fully integrated real estate solutions. Between these extremes lies a diverse class of applications and "cloud," or online, services with databases so you can organize and act on the information.

Which approach is right for you? Well, these systems are only as valuable as the data and details you enter into them. Your best bet is the one you'll actually use. If the interface seems too cumbersome, if you don't enter and update client information, or if you're only an occasional user, you may never realize any return on investment of your time or money.

So, the big challenge here is to match a solution to your work style and needs, then stick with it for as long as a year before you start realizing the full benefits. Fortunately, most vendors offer demo versions or free trial periods so you can test their solution before buying.

In the broadest sense, there are two classes of contact management and CRM products: generic solutions designed for users in any business and specialty solutions set up for the specific requirements of real estate.

Many real estate professionals maintain that they have as much contact management as they need in such standard products as Outlook or Gmail. Others have devoted their time to adapt generic solutions like ACT, Maximizer, or to the information, tracking, and activity requirements of real estate. If you're not inclined to do the work that requires, you'll be better served with one of the many real estate solutions now available.

Those come preformatted to organize the kind of information you gather about clients on a daily basis: names and numbers, family members, interests, income, price range, home and neighborhood preferences, and so forth. Most also allow you to attach notes and correspondence to these records, adding to the history of your relationship each time you interact. These are the basics of real estate contact management.

Depending on the system you choose, there's much more it can do to make your working life easier and more focused. One big convenience is the ability to capture leads off a Web site by automatically creating a contact record with information pulled from the site. Add a drip-marketing component, and you can keep your name before your audience as often as you deem necessary with little additional work.

Automation is another advantage that many solutions offer, but it can take different forms. Combine them with calendar and scheduling features and these systems can be set to remind you of a client's birthday or anniversary, the meetings on today's schedule, when to follow up with a buyer you met last week, or anything that needs to be done — and when — to move a transaction toward closing. And some of the more robust systems can be set so the contact's complete history is just a click away when you receive an incoming call.

Everyone likes to work a little differently, so with all this preformatting for real estate, it's important that the solution you choose allows you room to customize it. The ability to add fields for recording specific information, write your own activity plans and drip-marketing campaigns, and customize reports will allow you to enjoy the full benefits of this powerful tool.

Like many other categories of software, contact management and CRM are now available as software you install on your computer or as a cloud service. A few vendors offer both options. Let your personal preference and comfort level guide your choice. All cloud services carry a monthly or annual subscription fee, and they'll cost more over time than software. With cloud services, though, you enjoy the benefit of the latest features as soon as they are released.

Software installed on your own network server that can be accessed remotely offers the same convenience, without the psychological dilemma of entrusting all your business intelligence data to some faceless entity in the "cloud."

Contact management is such a basic technology for real estate that it's now built into many other products available as a standalone solutions and included as just one feature of larger real estate business management suites. Before you buy, check where you're already storing information on buyers and sellers. Look for compatible solutions that can easily import that data.

Whether it's software or a cloud service, any contact management or CRM system you're considering today should also support mobile access to all its resources. With smartphones and tablets, the new standards in mobile hardware for real estate, you'll need easy access to your critical data wherever you are.

After all, you can't build successful relationships if you can't remember who's calling and why.

To view the original article, visit REALTOR®MagREALTOR®Mag.

For More Information

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