In the late aughts, I was a commercial real estate broker in a desperate search for technology to organize my business. At Marcus & Millichap, I was making hundreds of calls a week and working pretty sizable deals, and it was ridiculous to me that there was no software designed for my industry that could make my job easier. The design and functionality that existed at the time was rudimentary at best, counterproductive at worst, and nothing was in the cloud.
That’s why I created my own CRM, and eventually founded Apto. Even since then, CRE brokerage has changed quite a bit. When I last took stock in 2013, Apto was still just a baby. Barely two years old, we were still learning how to walk, keep our balance, and feed ourselves.
Fast forward to today and we’ve grown up quite a bit. If I’m being honest, we’re still more of a teenager than an adult. We’re dealing with all the fun stuff that comes with becoming a grown-up, but we’ve learned a ton.
Our original focus was organizing contacts and deals to make business more efficient. While CRM was a known entity in other industries, we had to do a bit of education about the concept in the commercial real estate world. Still, we got some traction and grew quickly.
But now, in 2018, CRM is not enough anymore. At some point we realized: it’s time to rethink CRM from the ground up. We need to focus on high-value actions—and deliver those in a modern way.
Why it’s time to move beyond CRM
It’s time to rethink CRM because CRM (on its own) sucks. We all know it. It’s a glorified but often bloated reference tool. Sometimes I really can’t believe that there are still some companies out there pushing just CRM. Because the truth is that CRM doesn’t actually help you with your workflow, and I’ve heard brokers say that it’s often a job in itself.
“The truth is that CRM doesn’t actually help you with your workflow, and I’ve heard brokers say that it’s often a job in itself.”
Simply put, continuing to focus on building a straight CRM is a mistake.
That’s why last year, we made a shift. We created the tool I’d dreamed about during my days at Marcus & Millichap–a tool to help brokers build relationships and prospect much more efficiently. In other words, it was built to help brokers turn data into action.
Even though this is the next step for CRM, in some ways it feels like we’re getting back to basics: organizing your business in a way that makes sense for CRE, helping you find and build client relationships, and assisting with deal execution. It’s just that the emphasis is on actual workflow, not just data storage.
And this all probably sounds obvious enough. We know brokers want their data and business organized in one place. But we still see dozens of different data sources on average from our new customers! The CRE world still largely tracks their business in Outlook, Excel, generic CRMs, paper, etc. We have highly inefficient habits, and yet we still rely on these outdated ways of doing things. Many in the industry “make good money” with this approach and, perhaps correctly for some, choose not to change.
Apto has chosen to invest heavily in the architecture and design to bring a broker’s business together in one place because that’s where we can make the biggest difference.
Where else has CRM failed?
Next, we’ve invested in tools to help brokers build and maintain relationships, whether it’s with a new prospect or a client from five years ago.
But here more than anywhere, CRM has failed in the past. Just looking up a contact and getting their email or phone number misses the point. And even if a CRM integrates with email and calendars and such, you’re STILL missing the bigger picture.
A broker’s network is his or her most valuable asset. Of course, no technology can replace human interaction and relationships, but it can make it easier to remember to contact people —and reach out consistently with the context you need. What’s more, it can help you find new people to prospect.
“Of course, no technology can replace human interaction and relationships, but it can make it easier to remember to contact people.”
So that’s what we did. We built a CRM without all of the bullshit and hassle…we call it Prospect & Nurture.
Next up: Deal management and execution
How do most brokers manage the work of marketing the listings and executing on the assignments they represent? It’s often just spreadsheets, or too many admins managing various tasks. These approaches are disconnected from other client engagements, making for an inefficient process and often, frankly, a poor customer experience.
Again, this is an area where we know that task management and prioritization are crucial. And we’re focused on making it all easier to deal with.
I’m in the commercial real estate world for the long haul. After working in brokerage for 10 years, I know there’s a huge opportunity for technology to help our business be better. CRM was the first step, but we’re past that now. I’m most excited about what’s next: uncovering the subtle patterns and opportunities in the broker’s business that our technology can improve and make highly efficient.