Choosing a CRM
Wouldn't it be nice to have a full-time assistant who could remember all your
clients' names, properties, and birthdays? Even better, what if the assistant was
available 24 hours a day and never called in sick? For many commercial real estate
professionals, a customer relationship management system fills that role. A CRM system
can improve a company's efficiency, as long as the system matches the company's
The term customer relationship management is loosely used by software
makers to describe programs that have a wide range of functions, including grouping
contacts, automating sales tasks, qualifying leads, and tracking marketing analytics.
Commercial real estate professionals often turn to CRM systems after realizing their
email address books are insufficient for managing customer interactions.
Systems such as Real Estate Assistant, Rethink Commercial Real Estate CRM, ACT! for
Commercial Real Estate, and ClientLook are made specifically for industry
professionals. Other systems, such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, SugarCRM,
Infusionsoft, Daylite, Highrise, and Kazeli CRM, are designed for general business
A common feature that distinguishes a commercial real estate system is a built-in
property database, which allows users to connect people to properties. A property
database isn't standard in general business systems, but it can be added with some
Jason M. Allen, CCIM, leasing manager at Dean Realty Co. in Kansas City, Mo., has
used ACT! for Commercial Real Estate for about three years. His company customized the
system to track office and industrial leases. "The opportunities feature, which syncs
with our calendar, allows us to set up a series of activities for tenants whose leases
are expiring." Those activities include tenant meetings 8 months to 10 months before
the lease expires to see how business is going. "Six months out, we'll start talking
about the renewal process and improvements that might need to be done," Allen says. And
when a prospect is added to the system, it is automatically assigned a three-month
follow-up campaign, including emails and phone calls.
Most CRM systems also include reporting features that offer an aggregate view of a
businesses' activities. "Reporting is really helpful for me," says Daniel J. Scanlon,
CCIM, adviser at Grubb & Ellis Northern New England in Manchester, N.H., who has
been using REA for about seven years. "Reports allow me to identify specific property
types and match them to investors who are looking for that type of property."
Allen, likewise, prints a weekly report to see who's at the top of his opportunity
Email integration — which gives users seamless access across desktops,
smartphones, and other mobile devices — is another important feature
for many CRM users. "REA syncs with Outlook, and Outlook syncs my calendar and contacts
to my phone," says Nicholas L. Miner, CCIM, of Commercial Properties in Phoenix.
Email integration also helps commercial real estate professionals manage email
marketing campaigns. "I use REA's merge function to send personalized emails every week
to about 500 people and maintain a history of recipients," Scanlon says.
CRM System Buying Tips
CRM systems can offer vastly different features, which can make comparison shopping
difficult. Prioritizing features and setting a price range make the selection process
For example, a cloud-based system may be a priority, which would eliminate any
products requiring network or desktop installation. Other features to consider are
mobile access, email marketing and tracking capabilities, tech support quality,
property listings, and scalability. Prioritizing features can focus the buying
CRM providers charge either a recurring — monthly or annual — fee or a
one-time fee, and systems are priced according to the number of users. Single-user
prices begin at about $40 per month. One-time fees range from $230 to $2,000 for more
advanced systems. When pricing systems, buyers should include costs for training,
maintenance, and upgrades.
To avoid overbuying, potential buyers can take advantage of free trials offered by
most CRM companies. "Once you know how the system will be used, research the options
and do some trial runs," Allen says. "During the free trial, play with the features and
apply them to your business model. Think beyond the standard Rolodex idea."
Taking advantage of every feature a system has to offer can help commercial real
estate professionals expand their business models, but full adoption can be difficult. "Most brokers use 10 percent of their CRM's
capabilities, regardless of what system they use," says Rod N. Santomassimo, CCIM,
president of the Massimo Group in Cary, N.C. "CRE professionals should really evaluate
what features they will actually use versus the ones that seem really cool."
Underuse may be the result of feature overload or reluctance to modify routines.
"You have to be consistent in your use," says Miner. "If you're not consistent, you'll
get frustrated and resort to what used to work, which for many people is Outlook. Ask
yourself, 'Am I really willing to commit to the new CRM system and make it a part
of my daily routine?'"
Dennis LaMantia is interactive marketing manager at the CCIM