CRE brokerage seems to be the most immune to tech innovations tending to be more of “a business of relationships” rather than of technological advances. Nevertheless, commercial real estate technology is steadily gaining popularity among agents due to its apparent benefits. In this post, Wes Snow, Co-Founder & President at Ascendix Technologies will share his insights about fundamental digital shifts in PropTech, new norms of the CRE niche due to COVID-19, and why it’s worth investing in commercial real estate software.
Meet the Author:
Having successfully reconciled 24 years of CRM consulting experience and 15 of CRE tech expertise, entered Duke Long’s Top 150 Commercial Real Estate People list as a recognized commercial real estate technology leader from 2017 to 2019. Wes is a frequent guest of podcasts and webinars where he shares his tips and best practices on customer relationship management (CRM) and modern technologies.
✍️Reach Out to Wes Snow
Evolution of Commercial Real Estate Technology: Going from a Notepad to a Full-Fledged CRM & Collaboration Portal for CRE Brokers
When I first entered into the commercial real estate space selling technology, I received the following in a response to my question relating to the types of tools brokers were using to manage their business:
- Yellow Notepad on desktop
- ACT/Contact management tools (infrequently)
You might be surprised that the answers are the same 15 years later. While one of Ascendix Technologies’ leaders, I make time to have no less than 40 conversations a month with brokers throughout the country to keep me plugged into new trends and behaviors that can be used as input into our evolving product roadmap.
Here is a brief overview of some of my findings on the journey Ascendix is on to be a change agent for the commercial real estate brokerage industry…
Traditional Toolset of Commercial Real Estate Brokers
Apart from the good memory, intuition, and the gut feeling for hot deals that are an inevitable “characteristics toolkit” of a successful agent, brokers also use the following tools to prosper:
✓ Spreadsheets, address books, and text editors
Even in this advanced state of technology, many brokers still rely on simple tools like Excel spreadsheets, Outlook address books, documents stored in shared network file folders, yellow Notepads on the desktop as well as simple recall from their memory to manage their everyday business activities.
This results in a great deal of duplicated effort and a true lost opportunity of leveraging the data as it is strewn across multiple sources, not centralized, and not readily accessible through any kind of querying or searching.
Moreover, for those working in groups or teams, the ability to share this information across them is greatly reduced. Thus, it requires reliance on water cooler conversations and email threads to communicate effectively.
✓ CoStar and Loopnet subscriptions
Subscriptions to data services like CoStar and Loopnet are great for obtaining rich market data but do not contain facilities to track the relationships like prospective tenants/investors and corresponding deal flow.
Many brokers are relegated to exporting the data from CoStar/Loopnet into Excel spreadsheets for one-time usage stored in some random folder on their network or a hard drive.
✓ Mobile devices
Mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are being used, in general, only as tools to access rudimentary contact address books and email.
For the more progressive group, we’re seeing LinkedIn as a business source for key decision-maker identification and connection.
Sound familiar? Let’s jump on our time machine to see what new commercial real estate technology realms have opened for brokers in 15 years.
But What Has Changed in 15 Years?
Progress drives the world and technology moves in giant leaps to keep up with the modern demands for speed, convenience, and versatility. The commercial real estate industry is no exception and got rapidly involved in the digitalization race. What can recent commercial real estate technology advances offer brokers?
◈ Technology evolution and availability of more powerful tools
The marketplace for commercial real estate technology offerings has grown and matured increasing the number of options to choose from and the affordability of some really powerful tools. In the past, only those with deep pocketbooks and technical acumen would be able to successfully deploy tools that could drive a sustainable impact.
The elusive pursuit of tools that are powerful yet “easy to use” is now being accommodated with advanced platforms representing decades of innovative research on intuitive user interface design.
At minimum, a commercial real estate CRM centralizes all the relationships with various constituents like prospective tenants, existing tenants, investors, brokers, owners of property, and the communication that the broker has with each of them.
Marry that up with properties, listings with those properties, marketing activities conducted for those listings, inquiries related to the listings, and deal flow in a CRM tool and it ends up becoming a real asset for the broker. See what our commercial real estate technology solutions can do to help you power up your business.
Investment sales brokers have had access to tools like deal rooms to communicate with prospective investors about sharing financials, exchanging documents, and interacting in more efficient ways.
We’re now seeing tools relating to tenant rep and landlord rep making more efficient transaction of business with those parties and moving away from the dependency on emails and attachments therein (see collaboration rooms in our new Marketspace offering) or watch a short overview below.
◈ Fundamental change in the way business is being done based on external factors like COVID-19
When the pandemic hit, some companies were better prepared than others to adapt to the fundamental changes required to support day-to-day commerce. This is true for both internal and external systems and workflows. Phone systems, software applications, and the support of internal group meetings immediately needed to be re-thought.
By definition, social distancing reduced or eliminated face-to-face meetings with clients and prospects increasing the drag on getting deals done. While competitive pressures were already at play, the pandemic has accelerated the need for brokers and brokerages to look at areas where inefficiencies exist.
While many brokers retreated to safety and reduced any kind of spend, others with more progressive thought made shrewd investments in technologies like CRM that in the past seemed like “nice-to-haves” or luxuries rather than a required toolset for their brokerage.
◈ Increased availability of market data
Increased access to information for the buyer and/or tenant is putting increasing pressure on the broker to maintain a position of relevance in the commercial real estate transaction. They are very well-informed and their expectations for how they want to be serviced are high based on technology enablement in other areas of their professional and personal lives.
Selected Use Cases: How Your Brokerage Can Enhance Day-to-Day Activities via CRM Platform
I talk to commercial brokers every day. Many of them are so busy they hardly have time to talk to me about how to leverage their time better and become more efficient, thus kicking the proverbial can down the road.
While it is true that used improperly or implemented in a hap-hazard way, technology can turn you into a very unproductive individual, there are many who have implemented technology to help them work smarter, not harder.
You don’t have to evolve to full-scale automation to get some practical value and quick return on your investment of time and money in a properly deployed CRM solution. Here are a handful of examples outlining the value of commercial real estate technology for a broker:
Manage and measure all phases of your brokerage
There is a limit on how much you can retain, remember, and eventually act on by yourself which ultimately translates into a virtual ceiling in growing your brokerage without bringing on other resources. Whether those other “resources” are people, improved systems or a combination of both is completely up to you.
Remove administrative time-sucking activities from your day so you can go back to selling. Reporting tools like Ascendix Search combined with automated workflows can supercharge your day and service levels by having technology do for you what would otherwise have taken hours to do manually.
No one likes to enter data into systems even if they know it will benefit them. Automated processes can facilitate the creation of records in a CRM system like the automatic assignment of marketing tasks related to a listing, the creation of a lease comp once a deal is closed and the capture of inquiries from your website directly into the CRM system.
Take your business wherever you go — top producers in commercial real estate are constantly on the move meeting with clients and prospects but that shouldn’t keep them from their support systems. Today’s commercial real estate CRM offerings like AscendixRE provide state of the art mobile options allowing you to have your entire brokerage in your pocket with iPhone and Android options for phones and tablets. Learn more about AscendixRE app for mobile apps. ?
Harness the data you already possess in tools like Outlook to work for you and bring a more intelligent perspective to your relationships. Tight and intuitive integrations with Outlook and Gmail ensure that you have a complete historical picture of the relationship with all your constituents capturing inbound/outbound emails along with calendared items inside your CRM system. Check how Outlook can be integrated with AscendixRE.
If you are connecting with numbers of people necessary to expand your business, you are invariably going to run out of brainpower to remember the details of the conversations you had last week, much less last month or last quarter.
Developing a discipline of tracking those notes in a CRM system can elevate your game and help to produce results at a scale thought impossible by those still using manual means and simple recall.
The first step in effective prospecting is capturing reliable and accurate data about the contacts in your target market. While it may start with an abbreviated set of details like a phone number and email, as you continue to converse with these contacts and learn more about them, you want to track important decision-able details in a way that will be useful to you in the future.
You could scribble down the lease requirements for a prospective tenant on a Notepad or an Excel spreadsheet or you could “profile” their requirements in fields such as lease expiration dates, square footage requirements, and market and submarket preferences outlined in the graphic below.
Example of a New Preference Building in AscendixRE CRM
This structured tracking of data pays dividends in the future when you have a need to mine the database for a list of targeted prospects suitable for a new listing that you’ve uncovered. You can spend time frustrated skimming through a Notepad or Excel spreadsheet or alternatively perform a simple search on your well-organized database to come up with this very targeted marketing list.
The graphic below shows a search facility where the user is entering in “criteria” for matching records in which to place phone calls or follow up emails.
Example of Preference Search and Filtration
As relationships evolve over time, there is a moment where you need to “elevate” the tracking of that relationship, separating it from the general pool of other prospects and suspect relationships.
These relationships represent revenue-producing opportunities that deserve and require a higher touch and frequency of contact, also driving the need to track additional information that may not be known earlier. Details such as the dollar value of the relationship, the timing of the transaction and probability of close come into clearer focus.
Tracking these in a semi-formal way is introducing the real risk of correspondence and follow up falling through the cracks. This is especially true for those who are focused on the substantial growth of their brokerage and are tracking a larger number of deals. At the end of the day, it’s all about measuring numbers and ratios in sales.
Here is how AscendixRE can you manage your deals:
Know how many leads you need so as to have the appropriate number convert to prospects. Those prospects have a historical conversion rate that needs to be factored in so you manage the appropriate number of deals to meet and, hopefully, exceed your production goals for the year.
Knowing that you are not going to close everything you pursue as a deal, you need to make sure you have enough deals in your “ongoing” pipeline. Simply put, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. How are you measuring your numbers?
Example of Data Representation in a Commercial Real Estate CRM AscendixRE
Marketing Plan Management / Automation — automated workflows can facilitate the scheduling and execution of marketing tasks related to listings to have a well-organized plan for bringing a listing to market. Moreover, this discipline in tracking a marketing plan facilitates future reporting to the owner giving them visibility into the progress of the marketing strategy.
Inquiry Tracking — whether it be through forms on your public-facing website, inbound emails or phone calls, or when your marketing plan starts to take root and generating leads, inquiries can be tracked against the listing for further qualification to hopefully mature into real deal flow. Watch a short presentation on how AscendixRE can assist you with managing your Lease & Sale Inquiries. ?
Deal Tracking — for the inquiries that are qualified, you can elevate them into deals that show up on your forecast for projecting revenues and cash flow not only for the brokerage. Moreover, since all of this data is stored in one centralized system, owner reports are able to be generated with a click of a button.
Lease Listing Report Example
Lease / Sale Comp Management
As you obtain comps from data services or through your own research departments, storing them in your centralized CRM system designed specifically for commercial real estate provides you a real data mining asset to produce reports for your clients showing your command of the market.
Look at a video describing how to manage and track leases with AscendixRE — a commercial real estate CRM tool.
The Key Takeaway
Of course, the above-mentioned practices are just a tip of the limitless benefits of modern CRE software that is constantly evolving.
Commercial real estate technology and PropTech as a whole is only going to be stronger polished with innovations like AI and Machine Learning, Augmented and Virtual Reality, Big Data, and others. These enhancements will bring the industry to a totally new level of conducting business and make companies even more resistant to market crises and unexpected conditions like pandemics.
Start leveraging new technology advances right now to be ahead of the competition and quickly adjust to marketing changes in a new reality. Ascendix Technologies is one of the leading commercial real estate technology companies in the CRM and custom software development space that’s offering a comprehensive set of products and services designed specifically for brokers.
We offer the following CRE – related services:
And here is what our clients are saying about us on Clutch.co – IT services review platform. Get in touch with us to find more about AscendixRE CRM perks for your brokerage or share with us your idea of commercial real estate technology solution!