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Real Estate Customer Relationship Managers/Contact Managers
  Determining the Real Estate Contact or Customer Relationship Manager That's Right for You
There are many real estate software packages available on the market. And, all of these real estate software programs do something different. How do you determine which one is right for you? How can you determine what it is that you really need? We hope to help steer you in the right direction when selecting a real estate software program, and also share with you some creative ways of using software to promote your business. This page is designed to provide some insight in establishing and building strong business relationships with your prospects and clients, and how you can maximize your exposure to these prospects and clients.

Who Needs Contact and Customer Relationship Management Software?
Virtually every type of real estate business needs to manage clients, prospects and other contacts in order to be successful. What many real estate professionals don't realize is that a general business contact manager simply won't do the trick. The nature of the real estate industry includes tracking property details, not just personal contact information. And that means more storage space, better searching and sorting functions, and flexibility. What better way to do this than with contact and customer relationship management software that's specifically designed for the real estate industry? The next step is finding the real estate contact or customer relationship manager that's right for you.

While they may all appear the same on the surface, every real estate contact or customer relationship manager is different. And, while one may appear to excel over another, this may not be true "under the hood". It may be better put by saying that each has it's own philosophy when it comes to real estate contact and customer relationship management.

Contact Manager vs. Personal Information Manager vs. Customer Relationship Managers (CRM) - What's the Difference?
Many folks are confused by the phrases personal information manager (PIM), contact manager, and customer relationship manager (CRM). While personal information managers, contact and customer relationship managers may indeed sound like the same thing, they are completely different animals.

A personal information manager is similar to a time-managing notebooks of yore, known as day planners, like a Day Runner or Day-Timer. In a personal information manager, Day Runner, or Day-Timer, you can store contact names, schedule activities and jot down notes. Isn't that what a contact manager is, too? Well, not exactly. In a personal information manager, Day Runner, or Day-Timer, typically each piece of information, such as a name, activity, or note is stored in separate sections of the notebook. They're not "linked" together, and rightly so. A personal information manager is specifically designed for you to manage yourself personally, thus each of the items referenced have no need to be related to each other, they're related to you. Examples of personal information managers are Microsoft Outlook and Google Contacts. Often confused with contact managers, both Microsoft Outlook and Google Contacts are used by folks who would be better served by using a true contact manager. Not to say that Microsoft Outlook and Google Contacts are not good products, on the contrary, Google Contacts is an excellent personal information manager, while Microsoft Outlook is an excellent e-mail program.

Still sounds like semantics, you say? Consider this. A good contact manager ties or relates various bits of information to contacts to help make it easier for you to see what you've got scheduled for whom and when you completed what for whom, thus enabling you to establish and maintain fruitful relationships. A good contact manager also enables you to write letters to your contacts, either through some type of letter writer or via mail merge capabilities with standard word processors. Label and envelope printing should also be included, as should contact history and note pads.

So, what is Customer Relationship Management (CRM)? Nothing more than a high-falutin' term for contact management that someone came up with to try to set their software apart from the rest. After all, isn't managing customer relationships what a contact manager is already designed to do? These same folks also figured the new term enabled them to charge you a heck of a lot more money for something that had already been available for a well over a decade before they coined the phrase "customer relationship management". So, do yourself a favor, save yourself the headache of trying to wrap your head around the concept, and don't let yourself be fooled by companies touting their software as Customer Relationship Managers. Simply evaluate them for what they really are, contact managers.

Should I Be Using a Personal Information Manager, or a Contact Manager?
Admittedly, not everyone needs a contact manager. Some folks, like students, or people who simply run errands, may not necessarily need to link activities, histories and notes with particular contact names; they just need to keep themselves organized and manage their own schedules. On the other hand, real estate professionals need to keep all information related to contacts together; personal information, property details, financial data, legal information, etc., - so they can quickly and easily stay on top of business essentials such as scheduling phone calls and meetings with contacts, maintain smooth transaction processes for their clients, and keep track of everything they need to know about their contacts and their contacts' properties, which in turn helps them establish and preserve valuable business relationships. This justifies not only addressing the differences between contact and customer relationship managers but also the differences between contact managers and real estate contact managers.

Contact Management Software Differences
All contact managers are different, and many serve different functions. If you've shopped, you already know that there are many contact managers available on the market to choose from, yet they are all different. ACT! by Sage is much different from products such as LeadCommander, Goldmine, TeleMagic, and Sharkware. In fact, contact managers themselves fall into several different categories. You might prefer to think of it as different contact management philosophies.

For example, ACT!, the contact manager by Sage, focuses its efforts on helping its user maintain one-on-one relationships with clients. Although ACT! is used in a variety of markets, many ACT! users might possibly benefit more from a product like Goldmine. Unlike ACT!, Goldmine caters to companies who employ what is known as workgroup or project contact management. Goldmine's type of contact management is based upon several people at one company working with one or more people at another company on the same project. And, that involves multiple contact schedule coordination, timelines, and other functions that ACT! doesn't provide. On the other hand, someone who needs simple one-on-one contact management should acquire ACT!, and not GoldMine.

Now, if you're in a large enterprise that does a significant amount of telemarketing, utilizes multiple computer platforms, such as Windows and Unix for example, and have the need and resources to develop a customized application based on a generic contact manager, TeleMagic is a product worth taking a look at. Designed to be an open-architecture powerhouse, TeleMagic is great for add-on developers, and those who require routine data exchange among various computer platforms.

Generic vs. Real Estate Contact and Customer Relationship Managers
Generic contact managers typically include provisions for tracking contact names, addresses, phone numbers, future and past activities, and accommodations for maintaining miscellaneous data. The most important piece of each record is the contact itself. Thus, features and functions in the generic contact manager center around the contact. Conversely, in the real estate market, a contact's property is as important as the contact itself. For example, a generic contact manager allows you to mail-merge letters using the contact's name and addresses, whereas a real estate contact manager should also allow you to mail to the occupant at an absentee owned property, perhaps to target the renter of the property.

Searching and sorting is also an important aspect to consider. Again, because the generic contact manager focuses on the contact, typically searches and sorts can only be performed on key contact fields. And, if the they do permit searching of extraneous fields, it is often of a limited nature, and results are not returned as quickly. On the other hand, a good real estate contact or customer relationship manager would enable you to search and sort data virtually any way you want. For example, you could find all owner occupied properties that have at least 3 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, are at least 2000 sq. ft. in size, are priced between $800,000 and $1,000,000, and are within the 94086 zip code, but NOT on Main Street. As a real estate professional, flexibility like this would enable you to be more efficient.

Data exchange in the real estate industry is also very important. A good real estate contact manager should allow importing and exporting of data so that cooperative businesses can perform in tandem. For example, a Realtor could provide added value to a client by setting the client up with a mortgage broker. Wouldn't it be even more beneficial to all parties if the Realtor could simply "transfer" the client's data directly to the mortgage broker? You bet!

What about interaction with other software programs? Whether the other programs are real estate or generic software programs, you must admit that it would be nice to be able to blend property data from your contact or customer relationship manager with a listing flyer created in a word processor or graphics program, wouldn't it? Or, how about printing address information directly on pre-printed mailers, eliminating the need for labels and envelopes?

Speaking of labels and envelopes...real estate professionals are a group that typically employs heavy mailing campaigns. Wouldn't it be nice if a contact or customer relationship manager took that into consideration? The ability to print postal barcodes for accelerated delivery, and/or the ability to sort mailers for bulk mailing discounts would be beneficial.

Ironically, while a generic contact manager just doesn't cut it when used for real estate purposes, a contact manager designed for real estate purposes can indeed be of great benefit to general business professionals. Imagine if your business was a health club, catalog distributor, or electronics store. Wouldn't it be nice to target-market homeowners with a certain income level before you target others? After all, if they're property owners, chances are high that they already passed a credit check, have an income, and are stable. In fact, you could use the real estate contact manager's enhanced searching capabilities to drill down to find contacts of a certain income bracket!

Real Estate Contact and Customer Relationship Manager Differences
Don't forget that therr are several contact and customer relationship managers for real estate available on the market to choose from, as well, and each have their own focus. Products include LeadCommander, Top Producer, Quantum Leap Power Prospecting, Professional Prospecting, Powermate Agent Business Builder, Super Contact, Agent 2000, Agent Pro, Realty 2000, Farm 2000, Howard & Friends, and Trans Act. It's easy to see why users are often confused with such a variety of real estate contact managers on the market. But things aren't always as they appear.

As a matter of fact, Top Producer, Quantum Leap Power Prospecting, Professional Prospecting, Powermate Agent Business Builder, Super Contact, Agent 2000, Agent Pro, Realty 2000, Howard & Friends, and Farm 2000 aren't really contact managers at all! While each package does include limited contact management tools, these products bill themselves as all-in-one real estate software. On the other hand, Trans Act bills itself as, and in fact is, a real estate contact manager. LeadCommander is a lead-generation contact and customer relationship manager that incorporates farming, prospecting, marketing and follow-up in its design. Of course, the all-in-one products like Top Producer, Quantum Leap Power Prospecting, Professional Prospecting, Powermate Agent Business Builder, Super Contact, Agent 2000, Agent Pro, Realty 2000, Howard & Friends and Farm 2000 may cost more and will generally have a steeper learning curve. Potential users might also want to consider whether or not they really need all the features offered in these products, or if those features are just going to be confusing. That's not to say that Top Producer, Quantum Leap Power Prospecting, Professional Prospecting, Powermate Agent Business Builder, Super Contact, Agent 2000, Agent Pro, Realty 2000, Howard & Freinds and Farm 2000 are bad real estate software products, either. We're merely stating that you should try to evaluate your needs carefully before selecting a product.

For example, do you already have other programs that include many of the same features offered in the product you're considering? In other words, did Microsoft Office or a similar suite come with your computer? If so, then you already have a great presentation software, word processor, financial calculator, quote generator and flyer creation program. All you need is a good real estate contact manager that is flexible enough to work in conjunction with your existing programs. Also consider that if you still decide to acquire an all-encompassing program, you may find yourself in the position of also having to learn their word processors, presentation software, etc. because their data may be proprietary, and may not work with your Microsoft Office, which you may already know how to use.

Now, if you're looking for a product to help teach you the ropes as a Realtor, Top Producer might be a good choice. However, if you've already established your own method of doing business, but need a good real estate contact and customer relationship manager with marketing functions that can help you build your client and prospect base, your dollar would be better spent on LeadCommander. In fact, LeadCommander is designed to be flexible, so you can use your LeadCommander data with other programs such as spreadsheets, word processors, graphics programs, and even other databases. If you already have all the business you need, and truly need only contact management, then Trans Act may meet your needs.

Web-based Contact and Customer Relationship Managers
Web-based contact managers typically require that your contact data be housed on a third-party's specially designed remote access server for a monthly fee, and access to your data is gained through an internet web browser on your computer. While the concept of a web-based contact manager initially sounds exciting, you might want to consider practical limitations. For example, from time to time, routers on the world wide web go down for a number of reasons, and you have no control if the router is maintained by your internet service provider, telephone, or cable company. Or, the company that hosts your database can experience a problem or be performing maintenance on their servers at a time when you need access to your data. You won't be able to access your system or your data until issues like these have been resolved. This can be devastating if connectivity is interrupted at a crucial point, for example, if you require access to contact information during the closing of a deal, or when trying to put a critical issue to bed. It is at times like these that the web-based database concept becomes similar to the wonderful-sounding theory of the "paperless office".

If being able to access your database remotely is an attractive feature, you might want to instead consider a contact or customer relationship management system that enables you to easily host your database yourself at your home or office. In this type of configuration, you experience the benefits of remote access when you need it, but in the event of a connectivity issue you can at least call and ask someone at home or the office to look something up for you, or you can go back home or to the office and access your data yourself. And, since a third-party company with special equipment is not required, there would be no monthly hosting fees!

If, on the other hand, money is not a limiting factor, you can maintain your own hosting server and have access to a solid internet connection with alternate connectivity methods should your main conduit to the internet go down, then a web-based contact manager could be a viable option.

Other Contact Manager Considerations
To help you further determine what you need in a contact manager for real estate purposes, here are other things you might want to consider.

Where will your contacts come from? Do you actively market your wares? If so, how? Do you advertise in the media, or is your marketing done via targeted mailings, or telemarketing? What do you do to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns? And, once you do establish contacts, how do you cultivate those relationships? Could your business benefit from referrals? Do you need a contact manager for real estate that can interface or share data with other software programs?

The Bottom Line
Along with the standard contact management features like activity scheduling, history and note pads, and mail-merge functions, a good real estate contact manager should include lead-generation, prospecting and marketing tools, the ability to search, sort and group contacts any way you want, and be flexible enough to interface with external programs like word processors, spreadsheets, and even other databases. If you settle for less now, you'll be sorry later. After all, many of these functions are what most users need and use most, whether they realize it or not.

DataBasix Technologies' Philosophy
Here at DataBasix Technologies, we believe that lead generation, effective contact management and close customer relationships are the keys to success for any company. After all, without bona fide leads, where are you going to get the contacts to manage? And, once you have the contacts, how can you expect to achieve success if you can't establish and build upon mutually beneficial relationships?

The DataBasix Technologies product line provides you with the solutions to all of these needs. In fact, we believe so highly in our products that we actually use them internally in our own day-to-day business. How many companies do you know that can demonstrate a commitment like that?
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