Contact Management

Ahhhh, contact management. The most fascinating, exciting, provocative topic in real estate!

Actually, it IS a surprisingly popular topic of discussion ’round these parts. In early 2011, we began doing a twice-a-year series of teleseminars and webinars on the subject of contact management, and they have been among the most registered-for and well-attended programs we’ve ever done.

And that’s fantastic! Why is it so fantastic? Because… selling real estate successfully isn’t just about looking at houses. It’s not just about being a “people-person” whatever that is. It’s not just about sending out a boilerplate postcard every two weeks reminding everyone you know what you do for a living. No, being a successful real estate agent – one who is worthy of the business and referrals you hope to inspire from friends, prospects, past clients and even strangers – takes a commitment to managing the details of all facets of the business, from self-promotion to taking great care of the clients you’re already honored to have.

And good contact management can help you do that.

Below are several articles to help you better understand the power of contact management and how it can change your business – and therefore your life!

Which contact management system do I recommend? Click to see!

Article: The Two Things a Contact Management System (aka CRM) Should Do VERY WELL

I believe a contact management system should do two things well. Very well. If it doesn’t do these two things Very Well, I don’t care what else it does, Very Well or otherwise.

These two things are:

•  Managing Your ConTACTS, and

•  Managing Your ConTRACTS.

Your “conTACTS” are the people who make up your database, aka, your sphere of influence or SOI. Your “conTRACTS” are your active listings and pending sales.

Managing Your Contacts

A good contact management system will allow you to easily and intuitively enter contact information for everyone you know, including data for their spouse, partner, children and other relatives, including different last names and individual contact information. It should allow you to track the birthdays of all members and notify you of an upcoming birthday (and other special dates you want to acknowledge). It should allow you to categorize your contacts into various groups, and the names of such groups should be fully customizable. It should allow you to include a person in more than one group and sort accordingly. It should allow you to link conTACTS with conTRACTS.

Managing Your Contracts

Speaking of contracts, a good CRM should allow you to create checklist  templates (also known as action plans or activity plans) that are fully customizable, to apply to your real estate transactions.

For example, the CRM should make it easy for you to create a “New Listing Checklist” with all of the to-do’s associated with a new listing from Day One to the date it expires or goes under contract. When you get a New Listing, you simply apply the New Listing Checklist template to that contact profile and BAM! You have an auto-populated to-do list for the listing that reminds you to do all those things you need to for the seller, on the day you need to do them.

Those are the two things a good CRM must do. The rest – all fluff. I don’t care if it creates fancy splashy newsletters, I don’t care if it has a gazillion drip campaign emails or marketing letters, I don’t care if it creates CMA’s or listing presentations, I don’t care if it blows your nose for you. If it doesn’t do the two things I just described Very Well, it’s not a good contact management system.

Article: Creating Reasonable Expectations for Your Contact Manager

There’s a natural desire among us human being types (‘specially us self-employed creatures) to be as efficient as we can with our money and our time, and, apparently, the space in our purses or pockets. Thus, the evolution of the All-in-One printer/scanner/fax/copier/sandwich-maker, the smart phone data device and yes, the contact management system.

One summer, I tossed my Palm Pre smart phone out the window and went back to having two devices – one to make phone calls and one to handle emails when I’m on the road. After trying out several all-in-one devices that promised the world, I found that, fancy as they were, none of them did much of anything to my satisfaction. Once I fired back up my old LG flip phone and my vintage Blackberry Curve, my life improved exponentially. I never looked back!

Well, I think it’s the same with Contact Management. Most claim to provide a kitchen-sink level of features and services; from email management to newsletter creation to market snapshots to CMA’s to contract preparation.

Impressive.

But I’m not impressed. All these extraneous features, in my experience, are clunky and imperfect. Yes, they will do newsletters, but, oh wait, the ability to track opens or include your fancy signature isn’t available yet, but will be in the next upgrade “sometime next year!” Yes, it will create a CMA for you, but not in all markets and, no, that particular report isn’t available, but will be in the next upgrade! Yada yada yada.

Here’s the thing. We claim to be professionals; therefore, it only makes sense that we choose to use the BEST systems, tools and programs to run our businesses. And it’s highly unlikely that one system, tool or program can possibly be the BEST at everything you need a system, tool or program to do for you.

A CRM is simply one tool to help you run your business, and as described above, it needs to do contact (and conTRACT) management Very Well. If you can find a CRM that you are happy with in those two areas, you’re golden.

Don’t expect it to do everything else for you – does a surgeon have only one-size scalpel? Does your family doctor only prescribe one drug? Does your hairstylist only have one pair of scissors?

No, and as professional real estate agents we should search out and commit to having the best tools and systems, both to build our businesses with and to serve the clients we’re honored to be hired by.

Article: “But I Can’t Afford a Contact Management System!”

At one point or another in their careers, most real estate agents consider purchasing a contact management system to help them manage their businesses. It can be an overwhelming decision – so many to choose from, offered in various platforms and formats all promising the world in features and benefits. And these features and benefits come at a cost, of course – that cost ranging from $10/month to $35/month to $90/month, or, for desktop-based versions, a one-time charge of $300 or more plus annual upgrades.

This can be a sticking point for many agents, especially those who are struggling. I hear it all the time – “But I can’t afford $35/month for a contact management system!”

$35/month.

Yes, times are tough. Budgets are tight. Every dollar coming into the household (or not, as the case may be) must be accounted for and spent wisely. I understand that and frankly, I’m impressed with agents who don’t just jump on a bandwagon to spend spend spend just ‘cause someone told them they should.

BUT

Two things.

First, you should never purchase a system, tool or program that you don’t believe will not cover its cost, either in hard dollars or by saving you time (with which you can go out and earn some hard dollars). I will never recommend that you purchase anything for your business that won’t, at the very least, pay for itself (assuming you use it), with the goal, of course, being that it pays for itself many times over.

Second (brace yourself, this might sting a little), you are in business for yourself. You are self-employed. You made the leap of faith into selling real estate knowing (hopefully) that you would no longer be protected by that regular-salaried, benefits-included, vacations-paid J  O  B you left. Selling real estate professionally is not a hobby. It’s not (hopefully) a side gig that you do because you have a little spare time. It’s your career; it’s your profession. And it’s up to YOU and YOU only to invest in the tools you need to be successful. And if you’re at the point where $35/month breaks the budget, it might be time to re-evaluate whether or not you’re doing the right thing by you and your family by being self-employed at this time.

That said, if you spend $35/month for a contact management system, will you automatically be successful? No, of course not.  Especially if you don’t use it! Do you HAVE to have Contact Management to survive as a real estate agent? Again, no, not at all. But if you bite the bullet and invest in yourself and your business by committing to a good contact management system, it will change your professional life.

And you should fully expect it to pay for itself, many times over.

How so?

There are two general ways a contact management system pays for itself. The first is by managing your conTACTS and the second by managing your conTRACTS.

Managing Your Contacts

A good contact manager should enable you to create and maintain a database of everyone you know, obviously. But it’s what you do with that database that will make you money.

What can you do with your database to make money?

You can remember and acknowledge birthdays of the people you know. You can print out a list of those in your social network and ask two people from that list to lunch every week. You’ll have a handy place to enter the contact information of new people you meet and add them to your go-to-lunch-or-coffee activities or send them your monthly mass-email and annual calendar. You can take notes on conversations you’ve had with friends and acquaintances and set a reminder to follow-up with them in a week or two to “see how it went” (whatever the “it” is).

Simple simple stuff! Yet, without a contact manager, even a rudimentary one, most of these easy, friendly, stay-in-touch activities simply won’t get done. And it’s highly likely you’ll forget all about 90% of the people you’re meeting out there in the world…and they’ll forget about you. A year goes by… and two… and three… and then you wake up one morning and realize you’ve lost thousands of dollars in commissions because you lost touch with most of the people you know, and never followed-up with all those people you’ve met. You didn’t mean to, of course, but without a contact manager, it’s tough to do even a marginally good job of keeping track of those Very Important People In Your Life who can send you business.

If you don’t have (and use) a contact manager, I’ll bet you’ve lost over $10,000 in potential paychecks every year you’ve been a real estate agent. Probably more.

Managing Your Contracts

The second way a contact management system will pay for itself is by helping you stay on top of your transactions – that is – conTRACT management. And this will pay for itself in multiple ways as well!

When you’re on top of your business, your clients are being well-taken care of – and they will notice! When you do the things you promised to do when you promised to do them; when you contact your client with updates before they have to contact you; when you head off problems before they even arise; when you always appear to be on top of their transaction – you’ll have yourself one (or a dozen) impressed client(s) who will be delighted to spread the word of your impressiveness to the world.

But what’s really sweet about having and using good conTRACT management is that you won’t drop the ball – at least – not nearly as much as you might without it. When you have fully customized checklists and action plans keeping you on track, things don’t slip through the cracks. And when things don’t slip through the cracks, you don’t have to open your checkbook to fix problems nearly as often. For example, once I got to pay for a thorough housecleaning on my listing after the seller moved out because he “forgot” to do it. So, my Listing-Under-Contract checklist now includes “Verify that seller has arranged cleaning after move-out.”

Another time, I got to write a check because I hadn’t verified that the HOA fee advertised in the MLS was correct… and it wasn’t. We didn’t find out until we were all sitting at the closing table and my buyer was, to put it mildly, annoyed. The listing agent (who made the error) wouldn’t ‘fess up to his mistake, so it fell to me to make things all better. Which I did, to the tune of over $500. Now, right there on my Buyer-Under-Contract checklist is a line that says “Verify the HOA Fee.”

So, the moral of these stories is to assure you that if you commit to using a contact management system in your business, it will pay for itself. Over and over. I promise.

Article: So, What Contact Management System Do I Recommend?

So, the burning question! Which system do I recommend…?

Well, I’ll tell you what I use and therefore, feel comfortable recommending. It’s not the only option, obviously; there are gazillions of (well, maybe a Ixactfew dozen) real-estate-specific contact managers, and I’m sure some of them are fabulous (and I’m equally certain that some of them aren’t).

I’m using and loving IXACT Contact. It’s a Canadian company, but I haven’t found anything in it that makes it “foreign” for USA’ers. It does exactly what I want it to do, exactly how I want it to do it, without much muss, fuss or extensive learning curve.

What I like about IXACT Contact (well, one of the many things) is that it does a lot of things without doing A LOT of things if that makes sense. No, it probably doesn’t, so allow me to explain.

Anyone who has used Top Producer is aware of its steep learning curve. But once you’ve mastered the program, you probably love it because TP will do almost ANYTHING you can think of, if you can just figure out how to make it do it. But that’s a big IF for most users. A huge IF. And many new Top Producer users throw up their hands in frustration after a few hours of messing with the program and kick themselves for agreeing to a one year contract on a program they don’t understand.

Well, IXACT is what I call “Top Producer OFF Steroids.” It does a lot of things, but not so many things that you can’t figure out how to do the basics. As a former Top Producer power user, I do get a little befuddled occasionally with IXACT because it doesn’t do some obscure thing I want it to do, but I’m realizing that’s part of the beauty of it.

Anyway, I’ve gotten rave reviews from the agents I’ve sent to IXACT Contact, so I feel pretty good recommending it to anyone who doesn’t yet have a contact management solution they’re happy with.

It’s $35/month (no set-up fee or contract required – woo hoo!). If you’d like to get the Friend of SWS 60-day trial (as opposed to the “regular” 35-day one they offer standardly), just go here. First year agents can extend that 60 days to six months – just contact me for details!

Interested in seeing how IXACT can work for you? Click HERE for a show-n-tell video demonstrating the various features of the system.

MORE Contact Management Videos for Your Viewing Enjoyment
Using Your Contact Management System to SOI with SOUL
The Joy of Transaction Checklists
My Contacts Are Loaded… Now What?
Using the Task Feature to SWS
IXACT Contact Now Offers Free Agent Websites!