Technology Solutions

Invest in Automation

Implementing a technology-enhanced system can add to your success.

Adversity often gives rise to innovative ideas. At least, that was the case for William J. Byrd, CCIM, a broker with Colliers International in Houston, when faced with the challenge of successfully marketing a 1,100-acre land tract with significant development impediments, assisting the seller in selecting the most qualified buyer, and closing the deal within a five-month time frame.

"With our traditional methods this would have been nearly impossible to do for this particular property," Byrd says. "We needed to look at selling it with different tools - we needed to approach the process in a more innovative and efficient manner."

Traditionally, commercial real estate has not been an especially tech-savvy industry, but that's all changing. Technology systems that lead to faster closings, happier clients, and more time for brokers to meet with future investors have been used successfully by early adopter brokers for years. Process automation is not a technology of the future - it's available now. Commercial real estate is moving to a business model where brokers "write once and publish everywhere," enabling them to manage both client contacts and properties more efficiently than in the past.

What Can Be Automated?
When most brokers acquire a new listing, they input the same summary information about the listing into a whole host of marketing platforms including a property marketing database, a letter to their best clients, a postcard that goes to the entire database of contacts, a general flier, the company Web site, other listing sites such as CCIMNet, blast e-mails, and a summary sheet in the full offering memorandum.

The time and effort spent on this labor-intensive process may be nominal for a single listing, but when multiplied by the number of listings a broker does in a year, or when there is a great deal of technical information to convey, it adds up to a significant amount of time.

"We were able to disseminate unlimited amounts of due diligence material at once - and it went to everyone who needed it," Byrd says. "It didn't tie up people's time in the office or prospects' time in completing evaluations. Timeliness was of the utmost importance in our listing, and technology sped up the process tremendously."

With automation technology, the manual process is transformed into a single input of master property data into a broker's property database. That data automatically flows into an offering letter template and is sent to a printer. With the click of a mouse the property is pushed to three different Web sites, and a blast e-mail is auto-generated and ready for final review before being distributed to thousands of investors. Most brokerages have not reached the point of 100 percent automation, but many industry teams are developing templates and working with Web and print vendors to define an automatic exchange of data between their computers instead of between people.

Contact management automation systems have been implemented on a national scale by a few companies leading the way. When investors register to view offering data on a brokerage Web site, their information automatically flows back into the broker's contact database.

"[This allows us to] dedicate our efforts internally in chasing leads that we know have the potential to lead somewhere. We're not blindly following every buyer that knocks on the door, we can prequalify potential buyers," Byrd says. "What's more, by taking advantage of the technology, we can see who is interested in what aspects of the property by where they're spending time in the online memorandum. We already have a sense of what's motivating the prospects before we speak with them. The technology makes us more than efficient and effective."

Based on an investor's answers to a quick acquisition survey at the time of registration, the investor automatically is added to mail, fax, and e-mail distribution lists to receive timely information about the property types in which they are interested. A record of all the listings an investor views on the Web is kept and is incorporated into the broker's contact database alongside all other marketing events related to that investor such as phone calls, e-mails, and letters sent to them.

Benefits to the Marketplace
There are many benefits of process automation for investors to use. Property sellers benefit because their brokers are spending more time on the phone with prospects - instead of preparing marketing materials - and sellers can see a record of all marketing activity and interaction with prospects. This is something that would not be possible without technology.

"Traditional methods always require people to be involved at every step," Byrd says. "Technology enables interested parties to evaluate the merits of the property at three in the morning if that's when they need it. It expedites the process."

Investors reap the benefits by receiving data about new listings earlier. The information also is more specific and tailored to their interests. With updated listing information automatically pushed to a self-service Web site, investors and their staff have 24/7 access to the due diligence information and are not bogged down with property information that is irrelevant to them.

Brokers benefit by having more time with more buyers (who often turn into sellers) on a daily basis. Brokers also have more time to treat their buyers and sellers with a higher-level of customer service.

Getting Started
Implementing a process automation system may seem intimidating at first, but if taken one step at a time it can be straightforward.

"We had a specific situation that required a solution," Byrd says. "Automation technology came through for us in this case, so of course we're evaluating the use of technology on some of our other, more routine deals."

For most brokers, whether it's a two-person office or a large national brokerage, the first step is to combine property and contact data into one shared database. Streamlining this information allows a brokerage team to share it with other programs, Web sites, and vendors. Offices equipped with in-house programmers can have them create a custom property and contact database, and work with outside vendors to make that data flow back and forth to anyone who needs it.

The key to setting up a process automation system is to analyze redundancies and then decide if an off-the-shelf product, an outside vendor, or in-house programmers can take the first steps toward managing client and property data more efficiently. A broker's time is better spent managing the transaction and investor relationships; let technology manage the data.

Michael Mockus

Michael Mockus is managing partner of Reaction Web, an online marketing and multimedia design company specializing in the commercial real estate industry in Littleton, Colo. Contact him at (303) 841-2335 or mike@reactionweb.com.

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