In a previous Natter, I promised to talk more about CRMs – and here I stick to that promise.
Following on from this excellent article by Oliver Gleave, director of Loop Software, which analysed what agents need to know about next generation CRM, I take a closer look at the main providers and what a modern CRM should include.
CRM (or customer relationship management, to give it its full name) helps a company to interact with current and potential consumers, utilising data analysis about their history with a company to ‘improve business relationships with customers’, in particular focusing on customer retention and sales growth. The technology is effectively there to build customer relationships and streamline an organisation’s processes, so they can increase sales, improve customer service and increase profitability.
Nearly every agent will have a system in place, with specific ones aimed at agents such as Reapit and new kid on the block Loop Software, as well as broader CRM providers such as Jupix, ExpertAgent and Gnomen.
Gleave himself founded Jupix in 2008. The cloud-based property software provider, which aims to unify an agency’s sales, lettings, property management, website and client accounts, all in one place, is now part of Zoopla after the huge £75 million deal to purchase Property Software Group, Jupix’s parent company, in 2016. As part of that same deal, Alto – another property software platform – was also acquired, as well as Vebra, Core, CFP, MyPropertyFile and MoveIt.
But now he has returned with a new team and product, specifically aimed at estate agents.
Reapit, meanwhile - often viewed as the largest property CRM - is used by thousands of leading estate agencies including Knight Frank, Countrywide, Savills, Winkworth, Chestertons and Marsh & Parsons.
I spoke to Gary Barker, CEO of Reapit, for his thoughts on why integration and collaboration are so important with regards to CRMs. "Agents face a tough market and are actively looking for technology to help meet their demands for more efficient growth solutions. At the core of efficient growth is a single customer database covering all customer touchpoints and relationships through their journey with an agency," he said.
"Having access to all your data in one place allows you to identify new leads, automate processes and tasks for productivity improvements, and ensure you can quickly access information and business intelligence on how your entire business is performing. In order to ensure your customer data base helps you maximise productivity and drive growth you have to capture all your customer data in one place, and that means you need to have all your software solutions working together on one integrated platform."
He added: "However, we believe the future of CRMs is not just a simple data sharing API between software products, but full integration into workflow. Reapit’s Foundation Platform as a Service is going to be a game-changer for agencies as it goes way beyond enabling you capturing your data in one place, but also allows any developer or PropTech company to build their features directly into Reapit’s CRM workflow and screens. This will dramatically speed up innovation and unleash unlimited choice for our customers to extend their customer journey management."
An agent on the rise
As regular readers will know, I like to shout out about up-and-coming agents in the Natter. I recently spoke with Jamie Gray, a former rugby player and now the co-founder of Bristol’s latest independent estate agency, to find out his reasons for launching at a time when the UK housing market is apparently at its weakest point in a decade.
We covered the launch of NEXA Bristol - which saw a group of professional rugby players turn estate agents, set up in converted shipping containers, and promise to “shake up the business” - on EAT earlier this year.
Jamie works alongside his brother Daniel, as well as Rob Higgitt, Olly Kohn and existing agent Jake Greads, in the city's Wapping Wharf area.
How did you first get into the property sector?
"Well, I actually moved back to the UK about three years ago after living in Dubai for eight years. My time in Dubai was predominantly setting up sales and marketing operations for companies. I then went on to run an estate agency for three years, which is how things began to develop."
"At the very same time, my father, my brother and I had started up a development and investment business in the UK, which specialised in student accommodation and residential development. So, coming back to the UK became the obvious move, to concentrate on this further.”
Were there any differences from operating in the Middle East to the UK?
"I was shocked actually to see just how different the UK estate agency model was to Dubai and also to the models that I’d seen in the US and Australia. I was going to viewings as an investor, and I was increasingly finding that the person turning up to do the viewing had either not even seen the property before, or they were so bogged down they lacked passion."
"After doing some digging, I was shocked to find that they were on minimal commission, so it was no wonder they were demotivated.”
Is that what inspired you to set up a business of your own?
"In a word, yes! We (my brother and I) decided to open up an agency which is more in line with international practices. We wanted to create a brand that was different, quite unique, and wasn’t just the last names of the founding partners!"
"I wanted something more quirky and non-descript to attract people who were ambitious, who enjoyed selling, and who were passionate about the sector and in turn, I wanted to remove the ceiling on what they could have earned previously.”
It sounds like your business model is really people-focused, do you think that’s important?
"Absolutely, I think a really core part of our business is our culture and that's the thing that we try and push, which I think is very different to most estate agencies. I see the business we've created as a platform for people to come in and to be able to create and grow their own personal brand."
"I think that’s key to creating a high-performance culture of motivated, passionate staff. And that’s what we really wanted - to attract and get people enthused about the sector again, whereas for a lot of people it’s been quite stifling and archaic.”
With your focus on the importance of people, how do you feel about the emergence of online agencies?
"There are challenges at both ends of the spectrum, as you are seeing more and more traditional high street agencies that are witnessing branch closures. In terms of the online model, we haven’t, or I certainly haven’t, felt threatened by this."
"I think in a way it’s forced a lot of traditional agencies to be more innovative and those agencies are likely to be the ones that customers weren’t happy with. And it’s those customers, who are likely to think: ‘I am paying a lot of money for this and I’m not happy with the service. I might as well pay less money and receive a lot less service with the online model’."
"However, I think the real problem with the online players is that all they've done is exploit a problem in the market but they haven't actually applied this solution.”
Do you have plans to expand further?
"At the moment we’re looking at opportunities in Brighton and potentially in Cardiff, Reading, Southampton and the submarkets around London and Surrey. We’ve got some fairly aggressive growth plans and I’m hoping to kick something off early next year.”
What advice do you have for others looking to start their own business?
"The first piece would be that people tell you to ‘follow your passion’ but to me it's just not that simple as it takes a lot of hard work to actually enjoy and really love what you do. Sometimes you have to go through the bad times to understand that something is actually your passion. It took a long time to build up love for what I do."
"The second, which might sound crazy to most, is to not get too hung up on the detail of a business plan. The hardest thing is taking that initial step, but rather than just updating the business plan, get yourself out there! Find your market, start a company, choose a brand and start selling yourself.”
How do you find a balance running all of these businesses?
"Well, we actually have a new baby in the house, and we opened NEXA Bristol in May, so it has been a bit crazy. My brother and I, along with some friends are running an ultramarathon in August next year, to help raise money for our friends’ cancer treatment. So, training for that and balancing everything else, has been a challenge, but it’s been very rewarding."
Thanks to Gary and Jamie for their answers. Now for an interview of my own – I sat down with property professional Chris Buckler at Zoopla’s plush offices the other day to provide my expertise (no laughing at the back) on how to nurture leads. You can give it a watch here.
Until next time…
*Nat Daniels is the Chief Executive Officer of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.