Where to begin? Well, this company really began when my brokerage team started looking for a better commercial real estate CRM.
We started with Simple Remote...no longer in business. Then onto Realhound—lots of great ideas but buggy and poorly supported. REA? Check. REThink? Check. Truth is that we were a tad picky, but the functionality and design we desired seemed to us to be something any commercial real estate CRM should have.
The challenges we encountered
Niche Product Type. Let's face it. CRMs for CRE are a specialty product. REA has been the bellwether for decades and rightfully so, but many others have fared poorly. Realhound has been teetering and others have left the market. Without big software shops designing products in the space, the tech has been in many cases error-ridden, feature-lite, clunky, and short-lived.
Mobility. We weren't even aware of what "cloud" meant at the time but we knew desktop CRMs were a pain. Multiple licenses for your home and work computers, no access on the road, major data sync issues; good luck if you run a large team or office across multiple locations.
Flexibility. CRM after CRM didn't fit our business process, which is what drove the endless search. What we didn't realize until much later was how many different approaches to commercial real estate brokerage exist. Users had been cramming their business models into rigid software for years; resulting in much frustration. How many of us have used fields labeled for other items to track additional sales comps, buyer, or tenant criteria?
Simplicity & Design. There is clearly a trend towards simplicity in the software world (thanks, Steve Jobs). As to be expected after a decade of software design, in which aesthetics and ease of use were overlooked in favor of over-the-top bells and whistles; most of which added little value to overall functionality. The commercial real estate CRM space fared no different.
CRM + Pipeline Management. What did you do about multiple sale comps for a property? Properties trade more than once during a broker's career, yet most CRE CRM’s aren’t designed to accept multiple comps. Other examples abound. How about tracking your pipeline, commissions, and your clients? Spreadsheets, sticky notes, legal pads? We used them all; add in your browser for a variety of resources, throw in the resource-hog desktop CRM, plus an underwriting tool. Lastly, mix in a document generator and a packaging solution. It made for a major navigation and usability problem. Unfortunately, the existing options in the marketplace were too limited (and still largely are) if you needed to track all of that with ease.
So, how do you solve the issues?
We started by researching a platform to leverage. There are plenty of options—Zoho, Sugar, Google Apps, etc.—but we decided on Force.com (Salesforce) for a variety of reasons. It partially, if not completely, solved a lot of the issues noted above, and fixed a substantial list of deficiencies we weren't even aware of the time:
- Complex Hierarchy Development
- True Scalability
- Complete Sharing and Permission Settings
- Platform Integration
- Reporting & Analytics
- Website Integration
That list is by no means complete; CRE Tech was clearly way behind.
The financial crisis provided a little bit of free time. We used that time to solve a major pain point by building what we needed to efficiently run our brokerage team. We added a full pipeline tracking system, real commission tracking, and a lot of other I-didn't-realize-you-were-missing-in-my-life features that just seemed obvious.
Force.com solved the R&D budget problem. They release major updates two or three times a year, crowdsource their innovations & updates, maintain one of the largest R&D budgets of any CRM companies, and consistently acquire new technologies to make the platform better.
Mobility was easily leveraged into every kind of app. Personally, I've moved on to the Android platform...the honeymoon wore off with Apple after they became more style, less substance (different conversation, different day). Additionally, we solved the other problems with the cloud-based solution.
Flexibility was a breeze with the ability to change layouts, create new fields & objects, rename most fields & tab names, and the integration ability of the Force.com API along with the plug-and-play Appexchange, we now had almost all of our technology in one application (We're still working on rounding out the rest or partnering with the right apps). And Force.com looks and feels fantastic.
We now had the 800 lb. CRM gorilla coupled with a thorough commercial real estate
application that solved the market problems...
Then we realized what we had. And Apto was born.
So, are you interested in learning what Apto can do for you and your team?