It's Still About the Client
That fancy gadget is no good if you're not using it to improve service.
Recent technology innovations have helped commercial real estate professionals become more effective and efficient at their jobs. Tablets and cloud computing provide greater mobility. Business social networks increase knowledge sharing, and customer relation management tools, combined with greater access to property data, help practitioners make more-informed decisions.
These innovations have also increased clients' expectations.“The days of saying 'I'll get back to you in a week' are gone,” says Kevin McGowan, CCIM. Commercial Investment Real Estate magazine spoke with four CCIMs about how they're using new gadgets, apps, and software to meet these expectations.
What products are helping you to improve your productivity?
Todd D. Clarke, CCIM: The piece of technology I find myself recommending over and over again is the iPad2. It's a fabulous device for storing PDFs, conducting research, and running site tours. I also use it a lot for ad-hoc deals. When a potential client mentions a site or a city, I use my iPad to pull it up on Google Earth to get the discussion started.
Whenever I go into a meeting, a client inevitably mentions something and I remember that I have done a similar project. I can't drag 23 years of paper files around, but the iPad gives me access to all my documents anytime, anywhere. When a client asks, “Can you e-mail me that when you get to your office?” it's nice to respond with, “No, I just sent it to you.”
Kevin B. McGowan, CCIM: Salesforce is the best customer relationship management program. I use a customized version that helps me categorize all sorts of information such as properties, companies, and transactions. I was on the phone with a customer recently and used it to find a CEO who proved to be a high-value connection for the customer. It allows me to find information quicker, and it reduces my e-mail volume.
I also use Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage program, to sync files across my desktop, laptop, and tablet.
Shawn E. Massey, CCIM: With my toolbox of iPad apps, there is very little I cannot do on the road. The most useful app has been Sitewise. It allows me to do drive time and radial analysis on location with my clients. I use PDF Expert to carry all my listings, aerials, and other pertinent market information. The AOL Instant Messenger app allows me to keep in contact with our assistant, and I use eFax to fax from my iPad.
Thomas E. Hankins, CCIM: I use ShareFile, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneNote. OneNote is fantastic because it syncs across all my devices and integrates with other Microsoft Office programs. I do my own marketing and broadcast e-mails using ACT! with Swiftpage. The program's analytics help me target my follow-up phone calls.
I have a laptop, iPhone, and iPad. You have to be just as good with what I call the “go” technology as you are with your desktop. For example, CoStarGo is a phenomenal iPad app that gives you a comprehensive site report in less than 30 seconds. I used to drive around writing down addresses and then go back to the office do the research. Now I'll enter the address into CoStarGo or the LoopNet app and get site information on the spot.
How does being knowledgeable about technology help your business?
Clarke: Technology is often an icebreaker with new clients. I once had a mayor for mid-sized city spend most of a meeting playing with one of my tiny laptops and asking for tech-related advice.
Technology allows me to do things for clients right away rather than telling them, “I'll do that when I get back.” I can turn on my iPad, access my files on the cloud, and edit and send a document on the spot.
McGowan: I was an information technology consultant for Price Waterhouse out of college so I learned how to design and implement databases and CRM packages. When I'm talking to a client, I understand their database and my business. Having that knowledge can help open doors to new clients.
Massey: Staying current on new technology allows me to improve my productivity. I also use technology and social media to get information about the retail industry and sustainable development. LinkedIn groups such as Retail Site Selection Professionals and Site Selection and Corporate Real Estate Pros provide a lot of good articles and discussions.
Hankins: Keeping up with technology can become a full-time job. I read CNET for tech news. LinkedIn has been great for business social networking.
You always have to try to do what most people aren't doing. For example, there's an oversaturation of broadcast e-mails. I get about 1,000 e-mails per day, and 50 percent of those are property broadcasts. So I mail personalized letters with property photos to targeted groups of about 200 people.
How do CCIM technology products such as STDB and MailBridge figure into your day-to-day business?
Clarke: I use STDB all the time to help clients find and analyze their target markets. It helps my clients understand who will be living in their apartment buildings. However, I almost always do numerical analysis in Excel.
McGowan: Since I specialize in industrial, and since my office uses CoStar for listing services, I don't find myself using the CCIM technology products very often. But I need to start using them more.
Massey: I am starting to use STDB more frequently to supplement our robust in-house GIS system, which is purchased on a state-by-state basis. I was recently looking at site for a retail client in a Tennessee border town. The analysis needed to include Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri populations, but our system would not show Missouri without an additional purchase. With STDB, I easily incorporated the other state into the report. I also routinely run retail spending reports not provided on our system.
Hankins: I use STDB, but I've fallen behind on using the market penetration features. When there was more transaction activity, I found myself using it more. I have about 10 listings right now. Since the sales cycle for these properties averages anywhere from 18 to 24 months, I don't need to constantly log in to run reports.
I use MailBridge a lot, and the more I use it the easier it gets. I get a lot of phone calls from other CCIMs in response to my MailBridge messages. It's given me a lot of visibility, but since my transactions tend to be more complicated I can't say that it's led to a deal.
What industry-changing innovations do you expect or hope to see in the near future?
Clarke: In the near future, the functionality of my iPad, pocket projector, pocket scanner, and laptop will be available in one device that weighs about three pounds and is the size of a letter.
McGowan: GPS, property data, and geolocation are blending together, and all that data will be accessible via tablet computing. So as we drive down the road, we will know the price and owner of a property. This increased transparency means that customers are going to have as much information as we do. Brokers who can access, categorize, and contextualize this information will thrive.
Massey: More and more professionals will move to a tablet. That, coupled with cloud computing, will make commercial real estate professionals more mobile than ever. I think you'll start to see more commercial real estate service providers like ACT!, REA, and CCIM Tech providing mobile apps.
Hankins: In the next five years, I could see LinkedIn and other social media sites becoming very important for marketing in commercial real estate. I don't use LinkedIn for marketing, but I can see an opportunity for integrating listing services like CoStar with a social networking site like LinkedIn.
Dennis LaMantia is the interactive marketing manager at CCIM Institute. Contact him at email@example.com.
About the Panelists
• Todd D. Clarke, CCIM, is the CEO of NM Apartment Advisors in Albuquerque, N.M. He also teaches CCIM Institute's Technology and Social Networking for Today's Real Estate Professional course. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Kevin B. McGowan, CCIM, SIOR, is a director at Newmark Knight Frank Smith Mack in Ardmore, Pa. Contact him at email@example.com.
• Shawn E. Massey, CCIM, is an associate at The Shopping Center Group in Memphis, Tenn. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Thomas E. Hankins, CCIM, is a principal at NAI Realvest in Maitland, Fla. Contact him at email@example.com.