This is a longer post, one that encompasses Salesforce and Apto concepts, in addition to tips and examples. It’s not just a quick “tips” post, but has important information that hopefully will help you so be patient and read.
I’ve seen many brokers get frustrated with CRM – in fact I’ve seen many clients in every conceivable industry over the years throw up their hands and say – “this is too complicated” or “it takes too much time!”
As a Salesforce consultant with over 20 years of CRM experience and one who has been implementing and training people in Salesforce since the early days of 2001 (yea I’m not kidding) I’ve seen many frustrations, user revolts and project failures.
One CRE Broker who called me recently was so frustrated with their CRM (he wasn’t using Apto at the time) and said, “I really don’t want to use… [my CRM] anymore, it’s confusing and my data is messed up, but I want to do more marketing.” They were clearly frustrated with the mechanics of their CRM, but recognized in the highly competitive CRE business he needed to have a digital marketing strategy. He wanted to work hard, but just as important, he wanted to work smart.
I’m here to tell you that working smart includes a solid CRM strategy.
CRM works–given the right strategy and commitment. There are dozens of successful CRM companies. Salesforce which Apto is built on grows every year, (in an ultra competitive and robust CRM market) and has thousands of customers with a great story to tell (and the data to back it up) and then there are the other customers with the not so good stories.
You don’t need to be one of the others who feels you are failing with their CRM. Follow a few simple rules and your chances of success will markedly increase!
There are dozens of solutions, hundreds really, and many with an application specifically for CRE. PropertyBase (also built on Salesforce for Real Estate) and then Hubspot, SugarCRM, Zoho, Infusionsoft, Insightly, Hatchbuck, Pipedrive all targeting the SMB or Enterprise and on and on. I’ve worked with many.
I’m also here to tell you that if you chose Apto, you made the right call – stick with it and follow me. I’m also going to tell you it takes commitment.
Ready to get started?
1. Have a strategy – A “strategy” does not have to be a treatise. It doesn’t even really need to be a strategy in the classic sense.
A CRM strategy doesn’t have to be complicated. It can simply be a clear understanding of your business and process with a list of realistic priorities or features that you need.
In addition to prioritized features, understanding the data you have and that you need to acquire, training and the KPIs (or metrics) that you want to measure and report on is important.
The priorities should be realistic. e.g. I want to integrate email marketing, social media and start 3 campaigns in the first month is probably not realistic. The priorities should have timelines that establish priority and goals. Based on the priorities you come up with, if you choose to use a consultant, they will be able to formulate a simple budget based on your priorities.
2. Log in every day – I know this sounds trite, but if you don’t log in how will you learn?
You will not learn Apto or any other CRM by just reading posts like this one. You need to explore and find the features that work for you now—and grow from there.
There is a universal truth with CRM that clients or users who don’t log in will not succeed. There’s a saying too, “if it’s not in Salesforce [Apto] it doesn’t exist!” In the beginning, using each day to explore different objects (these are your tabs like Contacts and Companies), and familiarize yourself with the fields before adding thousands of records is a good way to start.
Manually adding records to start using Apto each day is a good way to increase your familiarity with how objects and fields are related before importing data. Starting with the most fundamental records e.g. Contacts, Companies and Properties, you should be able to see how you can create relationships between the records to make sense of the solution. Think of manually adding records to Apto like doing math. Before using a calculator, understanding the math concepts is critical to your understanding on how to solve a problem.
I’m a big proponent of learning by doing as well as formal training—they are both important.
3. Start small – Keep it simple at first and grow. Salesforce has well over 1000 features in its standard configuration, but it is further built out with Apto being fully customized for CRE. This is both a positive and a negative. On the one hand, to succeed at CRM it needs to be customized for your business and industry, but on the other hand the more complex it is, the more user adoption can decrease—especially if you are not trained.
Apto comes loaded with features and functionality with the standard and custom objects (again these are your tabs like Properties and Comps) and each standard and custom object has dozens of custom fields–it can get very overwhelming fast.
Don’t feel compelled right away to try and use everything. Do simple customization by removing objects (tabs) from your screen and removing fields you are not using from the pages.
Obviously too, some brokers will specialize in areas like investment properties and may not need reams of specific tenant contact data, but need more comp data while some brokers may not need (or want) to manage comp data inside Apto initially, especially if the firm provides this. It all depends on your business need.
Focus on a few things and do them well then move to something else.
4. Commit to training – I know some users and brokers dislike user training. It’s time consuming and takes commitment and we all appreciate that time is money. Training however is not just time or money well spent but it will save you time and money by getting things right the first time and preventing costly mistakes. More broadly, increasing your knowledge of how to automate process and having the right data, in the right place and at the right time will streamline your business process and help you close more business.
You chose to be in the CRE business for a variety of reasons, including perhaps working independently or essentially being your own boss. Commitment to training takes your personal commitment or your chances of success go down measurably.
Training needs to be part of a successful CRM strategy and plan.
Training is best accomplished throughout the implementation or after major pieces or features are implemented. i.e. Taking a step back from implementing to learn and use the features before moving to the next priority is critical to success. Training is ongoing. Do not underestimate the value of this.
If you do not train (or even log in) like anything else you just won’t get good at it.
I go through training exercises frequently with Salesforce to keep fresh and learn new and better ways to do things every time! In my personal life I train for triathlons. My swimming is the weaker link of the 3 stages, and sometimes I avoid it because I’m not as good at it, but with some coaching it makes it more enjoyable and makes me better. Which leads to our next tip…
5. Train with a coach or collaborate with other brokers – Get a coach–someone who knows Apto. This can be another broker, or an assigned Super or Power User in the company. It can also be a user group that you establish to train and collaborate with others.
Your initial coach can simply be watching Apto videos in order to educate yourself and asking another broker about their experience with the same. Bear in mind another broker who knows Apto may have a different set of priorities, or business focus but it’s still a good idea.
However you train, you should not and do not have to go it alone.
Some brokers may also want to share an Apto instance where each, of course, has their own logins and separate data silos and reports. Collaborating has many benefits including lowering the overall cost of training and implementation.
Collaborating or training with others saves you time because many issues that come up are shared concerns or problems that you may not have recognized yet. You get the benefit of addressing problems before they are problems for you.
The process of collaboration or group training allows for information to be disseminated, shared and learned. Another broker’s use case can help in understanding your own problem and a simple misunderstanding of how to use Apto can be avoided.
Some may think collaborating leads to a competitive disadvantage because you don’t want to risk sharing your secret sauce. This is a different subject that I won’t try to elaborate on here, except to say, I can certainly appreciate the concern, but see it differently. Your competitive advantage is you, your data, clients, business relationships, industry knowledge and many other things. Sharing knowledge of Apto does not undermine or risk these fundamental facts and it can help you too.
6. Upload basic data first – Data issues is one of the three biggest reasons leading to decreasing adoption rates and CRM project failure. The other two we’ve already touched on; the implementation is too complex or not configured to your business and lack of training.
Quality data that is imported and mapped correctly to the objects that are related (or connected) is vitally important. Some data problems I continually see for example, is property data that has not been connected to its owners and tenants i.e. you just have a list of properties with no relationships attached. In addition, company, contact or property data that has been acquired over the years in unstructured text fields (e.g. an address or sq. feet in a description field). Duplicate data is another problem.
The data model in Apto is very robust. This is the advantage it has over much simpler CRM solutions for CRE.
With many custom objects in Apto that can substantially increase the value of your data, it can be difficult for the untrained user who has hundreds or thousands of contacts, companies, properties and comp data to get it matched or associated to the appropriate relationships.
There are many nuances to getting your data imported right. Start with a subset of data, understand and refer to steps to import it, test it, and then replicate this with a larger data set.
You can also choose to import data into a sandbox first to test, but we won’t get into sandbox development or usage now.
Most importantly, if you don’t feel confident or haven’t been trained use a consultant to get it done correctly—it will save you time, money and aggravation in the short and long run.
7. Use Contact Groups – Apto comes with a very simple and valuable feature to segment your data.
Contact Groups are easy to set up to enable different calling or marketing campaigns and will help you see the progress you’re making adding and organizing your data.
Which leads to the next tip…
By using Prospect and Nurture you can easily add contacts based on the Group or the Property relationships (like the owners) and organize your prospect or call list to boost your efficiency and start adding value to your data.
9. Track (at least) the basic elements of a Deal – While Apto has many stages to tracking a deal, in order to embrace the entire process flow it will require you to touch many different features of Apto. This process may seem overwrought or excessive at first. If for fear and by trial and error, tracking your deal through the entire process is significantly increasing your learning curve and and you’re getting frustrated—step back.
Track the basic elements of the deal that are highest priority first then build from there.
For example, if you’re just starting out in the business, prospecting and building your property data may be most important. Tracking contracts might come later. Each step in tracking a deal has numerous objects and fields (refer to Tip 3) and some may not be as important to your business or process right now. I am not at all advocating that you never fully utilize the Apto Deal process. Rather start slow in order to accrete value now and learn—then build.
Better to start small than to not track any aspect of your deal flow. Like the old saying goes Rome was not built in a day!
With Apto you can more easily customize to your business by removing objects, fields or processes rather than having to build them from scratch. That is a huge benefit to using Apto over other simpler solutions—adding by subtracting.
10. Don’t give up – Commitment is the foundation to any successful strategy. If things are not working out as planned, it doesn’t necessarily mean your strategy is bad. It may mean you simply need to make some adjustments or get a little help. Sometimes you need some encouragement and a pep talk helps. Go to your coach or user group.
Take the time to assess when you started your Apto project, what you have accomplished vs. your priorities, and where you have possibly veered off the course—and correct.
To correct, ask yourself, have you logged in and trained? Have you been realistic? Are you eating up your time and budget because of time spent on other areas that were not part of the plan or anticipated? Is your coach helping you and if not, why? Discuss it.
Talk to your coach, consultant, super-user, user group or Apto and get some advice. If you have none of these and your reading this now, find that resource that can help you get back on track.
It’s never too late to get back on course and be productive with Apto. An honest assessment and talking to your coach is a simple step that you can take in the right direction to increase your success with Apto and make more money.