For the last 25 years, one of the most common things I’ve been asked is: What is the best CRM for commercial real estate? I’ve made a career out of cracking the code on this so I’m the guy to ask.
Every commercial real estate professional should be using a CRM. Based on my experience, you are at a significant disadvantage without one. And, a commercial real estate CRM is special because it’s made to accommodate a specific type of user.
Over the years I’ve identified a distinct list of proven CRM features that are relied upon by our industry’s top producers. This post will help you understand those features so you’ll be able to recognize the best CRM for commercial real estate when you see it.
Playing by different rules
Generic CRM solutions like Salesforce and Microsoft Dynamics are so successful because they provide amazing enterprise software solutions to the world’s biggest companies. By definition, “enterprise CRM software” refers to an application designed to satisfy the needs of the organization and not the individual users. This makes sense if you’re an auto manufacturer or a big bank, and your users are employees with specific roles and job responsibilities. It fails in commercial real estate though.
A commercial real estate CRM is different in both its design and its target market. It contains features, workflows and modules that are industry specific. It also focuses on the productivity of the individual user as opposed to the organization, which is critical when users are independent contractors with proprietary data. I’ve seen more failed enterprise software CRM rollout than any other technology initiative. Be certain that whatever CRM you choose is native to CRE, and isn’t masquerading as an industry-specific solution when it’s actually an enterprise software platform. Otherwise, your chances for success aren’t good.
Ease of use
The fact is, you are unlikely to invest time in CRM training. And, even if you do, you’re going to forget everything you’ve learned. Because of this, you need a CRM that is essentially training free much like the latest generation of mobile devices. Did you invest weeks learning how to use your phone? Of course not, even though it’s a highly complex device.
Get a demo and/or a free trial of a potential solution. Does everything seem to make sense? Or, do the features require lots of explanation? Trust your gut since you’ll be spending a lot of time with your CRM. The simpler, the better.
I’ve always maintained that any feature added to LightBox ClientLook that requires training is a failure of design. We chop lots of overly complicated functionality this way. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the CRM provider to create a solution that’s easy to use. It is not your responsibility to obtain training to make up for poor software design. Find the CRM that is the most intuitive to you, and you’ll be well on your way to success.
Deals are the lifeblood of your business. In a commercial real estate CRM, a deal represents any type of assignment regardless of your specialty. In their most basic form, they help manage your pipeline of opportunities. However, the best CRMs will turn deals into a whole lot more.
Think of your CRM as a data collection tool that seamlessly organizes everything you do into deals. A deal becomes a sort of digital file cabinet that’s accessible by your entire team, and even your clients. It should reduce your need for paper while streamlining your communication.
Here’s the important thing about deals. As your business matures, just about every call, meeting and email will have something to do with a deal. It’s critical that your CRM is wired to channel this deluge of data into deals. This includes emails and file attachments too. In fact, seamlessly connecting emails to deals is really important. Scrutinize any CRM to ensure that this feature is available.
You work hard every day for your clients, and they need to know it. The best CRM for commercial real estate should be fundamentally designed to make you shine with every deal. It should contain features and workflows that help you deliver the kind of stellar client service that drives repeat business and referrals. Putting you on top this way is achievable provided that the CRM offers the following features:
- Log activity. Easily relate all of a team’s activities and emails to deals
- Deal digest. Effortlessly view a searchable rollup of deal activity, prospects, offers and more in one place
- War room. Provide clients with an online portal to self-serve their need for files and updates
- Reporting. Send hard-copy reports to clients who are not technically adept
- Mobile app. Provide your clients with a free mobile app for instant deal access and real-time collaboration capability
You live on email. For better or worse, it’s probably your main channel of communication. It’s critical that all those messages are easily accessible and even searchable inside your CRM. Attempting to organize everything in complicated folders within Microsoft Outlook, or using labels in Gmail is old school. Your CRM should do all that for you including automatically linking incoming and outgoing emails (including attachments) to contacts and deals.
Why deals? Relating emails to contacts is great, but connecting emails to deals will revolutionize your productivity. The best CRMs will allow you to relate emails to deals from any email software, any operating system and any mobile device. Those that do not are deficient.
This mechanism connects an email to the recipients (ie. contacts) as well as your deal in a single step. It allows you to use deals to view (and search) all of your correspondence in one place. This is especially impactful if you’re working on a team. In fact, this single feature alone will dramatically increase your effectiveness. Don’t settle for anything less.
Data mining refers to the variety of ways you’ll search your database to find targeted information. Some CRMs have poor searching so pay particular attention to these capabilities during your evaluation. You should be able to search for anything including contacts, company, deals, properties, listings and comps. Searches should be on-demand and not require some rigid “view” or complex report. Here’s a test. Try to figure out how to search your CRM without instruction. If you fail, then there’s trouble.
The other big feature you need is the ability to search notes, completed activities, files and email. Otherwise you’ll never be able to leverage all of this extremely valuable content for data mining purposes. Imagine being able to search a consolidated activity feed of everything you and your team have completed. It’s available today and amazingly powerful.
If you find yourself entering the same contact, property or listing into multiple applications then you’re the victim of redundant data entry. This is the scourge of our industry, and one of the biggest efficiency killers out there. A CRM can serve as the hub for all your information provided that it’s capable of integrating with the other important technology tools you use. This could include email distribution platforms, marketing material generators, listing portals and more.
It’s critical that your CRM choice integrates with best-in-class solutions and not internal, proprietary tools. You need the flexibility to choose your own integration partners. Integrations between leading commercial real estate technology services are designed to eliminate redundant work. Not everyone participates yet, but the tide is turning.
Outsource your data entry
CRMs take a lot of data entry. In fact, as a CRM user you can expect to spend between 1-4 hours per day plugging in data. The payoff for all this work is invaluable, but committing to “feed” your account every day can be tough.
I’m the first guy to tell you that entering business cards, logging notes and scheduling follow-ups is not worth your time. What…? It’s the kind of work that needs to be done, but just not by you. You need to be focused on deal making.
So what do you? Hire an assistant and outsource as much of your data entry as possible. Someone once said that either you have an assistant, or you are one. Which one are you?
The problem is that it’s difficult to find an assistant, train them, and then ultimately repeat the process when they quit. Some teams will share an assistant, which lessens the cost since it can be significant. Your other option is to find a CRM that offers data entry services.
You probably spend half of your day in the field. If your CRM doesn’t offer an intuitive mobile app for your phone, then the party’s over. This is a deal breaker since you need to stay connected. Test the app and be sure that you can navigate, search and add information without any instruction.
Be sure there’s an app for your chosen mobile platform like iOS or Android. If you use a tablet, then make sure that the CRM will at least run natively in the tablet’s browser. That’s totally acceptable. The mobile app should provide access to everything the web has to offer including contacts, activities, properties, deals and more.
The most modern CRMs for commercial real estate will also offer an app for your clients to use. This allows you to provide your clients with access to deals so they can stay on top of your activity. Include this in your next sales presentation and see how it helps you win assignments! Don’t expect to pay an extra fee for this benefit.
What should you expect with customer support? You should expect a highly responsive team that cares about your needs and is passionate about fostering an amazing experience. You should be able to communicate via phone, email and in-app chat. Expect prompt replies. Be leery of companies that don’t provide a support phone number. It’s lazy. The support teams at the best commercial real estate CRMs should be staffed by industry veterans who speak the “language” of CRE. You don’t have time to translate your particular need for someone who doesn’t understand the business.
Most importantly, in the event you have a question or issue, customer support should be capable of “owning” it. This means that they’ll see it through to completion no matter what it takes. Don’t allow anyone to put the blame on another company. Providers that offer a video library, blog and free training webinars are great. The most innovative CRMs now offer Success Services to help propel your business to the next level. That’s a big bonus.
There are some features that I’ve purposely omitted from this discussion. They are the things that I consider to be overhyped, unproven or just plain useless. Don’t be fooled. These include:
- Dashboards. These look so cool, but users rarely contribute enough data to make them useful. Don’t pay more.
- Activity series. Too rigid and not applicable to CRE unless you’re chained to a desk. Your schedule is too fluid.
- Advanced APIs. Integrations are valuable, but trust me you won’t be doing any advanced programming.
- On-boarding fees. A little is OK, but paying 5 figures is a rip off.
- Any suggestion of AI. What are you SIRI, Google? Get over yourself.
The final item to consider is price. Price is always relative to the value you receive. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the more you spend, the better the solution. Similarly, a deal that seems too good to be true probably is. Be sure to check with your company or association to see if there’s a discount for your CRM. If not, try to negotiate a bulk deal.
Get a ClientLook demo
No matter what you do in your quest to find the best CRM for commercial real estate, you need to act now. If your CRM is not contributing to the success of your business every day, then make a switch. Being stuck with a bad CRM is sort of like owning an underperforming stock. At some point you need to cut your losses and just get out. Find a CRM that fulfills all the criteria above and you’ll be set for life.