When it comes to building software for commercial real estate brokers, you have to consider what you’re up against.
Commercial real estate is notoriously lagging when it comes to technology adoption. Excel, email, and maybe an old contact management system are still king. And they're king because they work (albeit in a 1998 kind of way). This makes the challenge of building something brokers want to use all the more difficult. If you’ve been successful in making money with these older systems, why change?
Don’t get me wrong—some brokers have changed. There are those who have adopted a more modern CRM as their primary technology platform. The problem, though, is that many CRMs are still limited to basic data organization and management. Those are important benefits, but they’re not actual activities that drive sales.
In other words, you don’t “organize and manage” your way to new deals; you win deals. And you win them through action, not management.
Data: The typical broker setup
Let’s have the data conversation first. I’ve worked with enough brokers to understand how this works. Property data is generally maintained in one of three ways:
- Personal database (spreadsheets and/or CRM)
- Internal company database (custom-built system with limited access to data)
- Third-party data providers (you know the names...)
And then contact and company data are maintained in email or a contact management system, while deals are managed in a spreadsheet and/or a desktop folder. Maybe Dropbox.
As familiar as this may seem, it’s not hard to see that it’s not the best way to prospect and work deals. When you’re toggling between multiple and disparate windows, tabs, data sources, and technology interfaces, it’s easy to lose track of some key detail or simply lose your focus.
Now, I won’t go so far as to suggest that Apto or any other CRE tech company can provide a simplified data utopia. However, we’ve done a lot of thinking about how data should be organized, and moreover why it should be organized. This leads you data’s ultimate purpose—to be used.
Workflow: Why you’re tracking data to begin with
Think for a minute about why you’re bothering to track a contact, a property, or a deal. Is it to manage them? To store them? To organize them? Some CRMs do that and only that. But ultimately, you’re tracking a contact to connect with them and turn them into a client. You’re tracking a property so you can eventually buy, sell, or lease on behalf of a client. And you’re tracking various stages of the deal to facilitate the transaction between the two.
So while there’s a management component, what ends up making you money is the action you take. And the culmination of those actions in your daily life as a broker amounts to a lot of work! The systems you use to execute this work should save you as much time as possible.
Traditional CRM or the email and Excel strategy simply weren’t built for this. Sure, you can make them work, but you can also use a box for a desk and a waste basket as a chair (a setup I’m sure you wouldn’t openly share with the clients your trying to do business with).
Data + workflow: Compare these two systems
All this to say, when it comes to tools to make you a better broker, your data should be organized the way you think and applied the way you work. Because what good is our data if we can’t use it? What good is a workflow if you don’t have the data to fuel it?
You can see what I mean by considering this scenario: Your pipeline is a little on the slim side so you reach out to owners or tenants in your market to start generating new business.
System #1: Email, spreadsheets, and websites
You put Outlook on one screen and Excel on the other and pull up a browser with your CRE data provider(s), LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Google all on individual tabs. Then you scan your contacts to figure out a strategy and filter in Excel to execute.
You pick up your phone and call the first contact in your spreadsheet. During the call, you find yourself switching between the various windows and tabs as you try and navigate the conversation.
You then record the notes in your Excel spreadsheet or on the Outlook contact notes, create a follow-up task, and update your spreadsheet with new information about a property or lease.
You move on to the next contact, which means you open a whole new set of tabs and websites for that individual.
System #2: Workflow-centric software
You pull up your software system and open a contact list or pull one from a map with a simple filter. You click in and immediately see a contact dashboard that includes activity history, open tasks, a list of properties they own or lease, a feed of news stories that relate to their properties, and an aggregated view of their online social media profiles.
You pick up the phone and call the first contact in your list. During the call you stay focused on the one screen in front of you, and are able to keep the conversation centered on the value you’re able to provide as a broker who knows the market cold.
You record your notes and add a follow-up in a form that lives on the same screen as all the information that helped you have a successful call.
Lastly, with the click of a button you’re on to the next contact with all the relevant information automatically pulled up.
The winner is clear...
Digest that for a minute. Which system makes use of all the data about each contact in the context of the work you’re performing? The answer is obvious. The first one may give you all the data, but misses the workflow, in effect making the data less actionable. It also just takes a lot more time.
When the data is contextually aligned with the reasons you use it, and the software provides tools to act on it and easily produce logical outcomes (like in the second setup), you can become much more efficient.
All this to say, this is what we’ve been doing at Apto for the past year. And if you’re not yet an Apto customer, we’d love to tell you a little more about our software and how it puts your data and the optimal workflow together.