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Real Estate CRMs and Lead Management: Where Is The Integration Automation?

I’ve been reviewing dozens of CRMs over the past year for projects within my own team as well as others’ businesses. The majority of these discussions include a fairly simple question: Will this CRM automatically import/update itself with the leads I get from various sources?

Traditional CRMs are great for managing your “customers”, which is what they were designed for. It’s striking how many haven’t gotten past that point, though. Most real estate agents and teams that I know are generating leads through their own websites, company websites, and marketing portals. These leads aren’t customers yet, and they don’t warrant a salesperson taking the time to input each one individually into a CRM.

It seems that every CRM would have a system to automatically import its users’ leads from outside sources, but surprisingly few do. Exporting a list of contacts from the source and manually importing them to your CRM doesn’t count.

At a minimum, having a custom email address that salespeople can cc when they receive new leads should be available. This can direct new leads to the CRM and add them to the contacts database without user input, but I still find that the majority of CRMs don’t have this functionality.

It’s not just the small companies, either. Some of the largest and most expensive CRMs require a boatload of integration work, upgraded modules and add-ons, and customization to make this relatively simple process work.

Ideally, a CRM should be working proactively with every new lead generation source in the industry that seems to be gaining market share. Find the lead source company, figure out how you can make the process of getting their leads out of their system and into yours easier, and advertise your ability to do so.

If a CRM is looking to the future of serving the real estate agent population, this is a huge area to focus on. Organizing and simplifying the process of lead-contact-followup is something that busy sales people are willing to pay for.

There are a few companies who are doing this now, but some sort of API or set of standards that allows lead generation companies and CRM companies to design their import/export functions to work with any other vendor would be a huge boon to making the process simpler going forward. The technical knowledge necessary here is far above my pay grade, but an intermediary conduit that brings any lead source into communication with any CRM accepting that kind of data might just blow the lead management industry wide open.

About Sam DeBord

Sam DeBord is a former management consultant and web developer who writes for for Inman News and REALTOR® Magazine. He is Managing Broker for Seattle Homes Group with Coldwell Banker Danforth, and 2016 President-Elect of Seattle King County REALTORS®. His team sells Seattle homes, condos, and Bellevue homes.

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  • will 2014 be the year someone solves the CRM problem?

    it didn’t happen in 2011.. http://geekestateblog.com/will-someone-please-solve-the-crm-problem-in-2011/

    or 2012, or 2013..

    • LOL. So you’re saying my thought process is 3 yrs behind yours?

      • haha. I didn’t say that 😉

      • quick13

        Sounds like you need the marketing automation step between the external RE lead generators & CRM. Marketo, Eloqua, Silverpop, Hubspot, MailChip, etc.

  • Sep Niakan

    FollowupBoss seems to be on the right path with this. Although it is very much lacking as a full CRM solution and also its automated lead routing functionality is lacking. I hope that it will continue to go that route.

    • I’ve heard good things about FUB. The pricing seems a bit steep for a limited CRM, but the auto import is a nice feature.

  • I don’t see any easy solutions to this. I have a team with 3 other agents. We have our 30,000+ leads in 11 different databases for our team, and none of them are connected.

    The first big issue is the way Outlook handles contacts. If Outlook contacts were easy to share would reduce our client databases to 5, so that would be a good start.

    Some things are just not connected. For example, we use SendGrid for our Watch List emails, Happy Grasshopper for our drips, and my custom Website has a backend client database, as does our Real Geeks Website, and none of these databases are connected, and they really are not designed to be easily connected.

    Using FollowupBoss would take us from 11 to 12 databases, so not really a solution for us, although I also have heard good things about it.

    • That’s quite a web, Bryn. It would drive me bonkers, but if you can control it, good work. I’d love to find something easier.

      • Sam, I would love to find something easier too, but unfortunately I don’t think it exists. If an agent wants to use various tools to conduct business, their leads will be some what separated.

        There is some integration going on, for example, our Real Geeks Website and our custom Website automatically subscribe new leads to Happy Grasshopper / Position Me.

        However, if we want to find out what that lead is up to we really need to check both systems. If the lead unsubscribes from one, it is not carried over to the other system.

        The reality is there is not one system out there that is good enough to do everything for us, so we utilize a different tool for our Email, or lead database, our drip campaigns, etc.

        • Well, at least you’re integrating it better than many would. We’re always looking for the silver bullet but it doesn’t seem to exist yet.

  • We connected our CRM to our lead generation efforts 5 years ago, but it was a totally custom build, and no one seemed to understand the value but me at the time.

    But now I can track leads from click to close, and have it built to include the source, the keyword used(if search related lead), the page that the lead was generated from, and much more. In this way I have been able to effectively scale camapigns as appropriate because I know exactly how much each costs, how many leads and sales resulted.

    • That’s really the way to do it, Joe. Most agents don’t have the time, strategy, patience, or money to do a custom solution. Congrats.

      • Thanks! Luckily my CEO understands the importance of having someone full time to put things in place and do things agents don’t have the time or expertise to do themselves.

    • Joe, that sounds really good for the leads coming from your Website, but what percentage of your agents use this for their own leads?
      I know when I was with your competitor Coldwell Banker, they had a similar system to what you are speaking about, but all the agents I knew kept their own leads in their own system, not the company’s system. After all, if you leave the company, no sense having your x-company calling all your leads.
      We viewed company generated leads much differently from our own leads. One reason too was Coldwell took a much larger percentage of the commission if it was a company lead vs. our lead.
      Does Prudential force agents to put their leads into your system? If not I would think it would be similar to Coldwell, where each agent uses some type of CRM on their own that is not connected to your system.

  • Hi Sam, IXACT Contact will automatically capture all of the web leads you receive via email directly into the system (regardless of the source of the lead, such as Zillow, Trulia, Wolfnet, etc.).

    • And kudos to IXACT for leading that charge, Matthew, more should follow.

    • sarabonert

      IXACT is actively coding to the Zillow Lead API now. So soon you’ll be able to log into your ZIllow profile, and just tell us to send your leads there (in addition to still receiving via email).

  • A few months ago, Top Producer integrated FIveStreet into their CRM. This allows for practically any lead generating site/source to pull your leads directly into your TP CRM. A true One Stop Shop. And the big difference between FiveStreet and FUB is it’s automatic texting capabilities with your new leads. (P.S. For those that don’t know me, I work for realtor.com / Top Producer, so any questions – feel free to ask!)

    • We’ve gotten a number of lead sources automatically importing to Top Producer CRM with an email cc. Fivestreet is a nice upgrade to add more functionality and tools for making contact.

    • daly

      Hi Suzanne, i would like to use your CRM in Dubai and i wanted to know if it was well adapted for this market.
      Thanks in Advance

  • strugglinginvestor

    I’ve been developing my own CMS system for my real estate investing business and have been looking for the best way to solve this issue. What i’m zeroing in on is to capture emails that get sent to me from my lead gathering websites. (if anyone has any experience with this contact me please). That seems to be the best universal solution because your email account will be the funnel and your system just collects them as they “drip out”.

    • That really is the starting point, but when you get a few dozen leads/day from a handful of different sources, you need a bit more automation in the process.

  • I see that there is a ton of activity from the readers who share the same pain about lack of CRM/lead generation integration. I’m a broker, investor, and software geek. Since my background is in commercial real estate, I’m working with commercial brokers here in Austin to build out a super-simple CRM to tackle the top 5 pain points I’ve identified after interviewing dozens of brokers. I wanted to ask all of you about the lead management issue. I haven’t had that one come up while doing interviews in the commercial space, so I’m wondering if this is just a residential broker issue or if I just completely missed this. Frankly, I’d be more than happy to solve this while we build out our product.

    Are there commercial brokers that are feeling this pain?

  • sarabonert

    Sara from Zillow here. I’ve been working with CRM vendors on a lead API program for the last few months where agents can log into their profile, select which CRM they use, and we’ll automatically send leads straight into that system. We’ve got about 15 companies live now and handful of other who are working on it. So far mutual clients of the CRM vendor and ours love it.

    In talking with a lot of CRM companies, I’m surprised how many were parsing our lead emails. This is a great and easy first step to doing what you are describing. But it isn’t particular stable, because if Zillow changes the smallest thing on the email format, we can break the parser. And we have no idea who all is parsing to warn them about a change. So this API is a much better solution.

    Happy to help other CRM companies get started with the API, sarab@zillow.com (it’s free, haha)

    • Great info, Sara. That’s really the proactive way that we’d hope CRM providers would work with lead providers. We’ve had some success with Top Producer working with a lot of different lead generation companies as well.

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  • I just switched to Contactually. So far, so good.

  • RealtorMT

    I just want a system of basic emails to be sent to leads to keep in contact with them. I set the emails for 6 months of contact and then add leads as they come and the will start to get the campaign. Are there some good systems that do this?

  • Quin RealtyJuggler

    I agree – I think the whole idea of an API interface is really overthinking things. RealtyJuggler has an “Email Feed” email address that is unique to every client, that each client can use with all of their lead-generating websites. RealtyJuggler parses those leads, and creates Prospect records – and of course echos an email to the agent letting them know that they have a new lead. There is a draft standard for the format of those lead emails, available at: http://emailfeed.org/ but RealtyJuggler already works with all the website providers. But it would be nice if everyone followed a standard so that agents wouldn’t have to think about things like this. Sure, we work with Zillow (hi Sara!) but unless and until there is a common API standard, a standard for lead emails seems like the smart way to go.

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