Today’s world is filled with technology. So much so in fact, that many people feel its making us “less human.” Families sit around dinner tables and eat with one hand while on their cell phones with the other hand. We go out into nature for vacations, yet our cell phones are in our back pocket, pinging at every email, text, or phone call. The world we live in today only barely resembles the world we lived in 30 years ago. Technology is virtually integrated into our lives each and every day. While it is making our lives easier and businesses more productive, it also creates a unique set of challenges for commercial real estate professionals, since the real estate business relies so heavily on relationships.
Selling or leasing real estate, in part, is about relationships with people which is far too often forgotten. In the fast paced and document intensive world that we do business in, it would be impossible for any of us to get business done to today’s standards without living by modern technology standards. The problem is that it is incredibly easy to get engrossed in the technological modality of communication and forget to build relationships with the people that matter.
30 years ago, if you were in the commercial real estate business in any degree, you likely were constantly in meetings, doing lunches, and talking with associates or clients in person or over the phone. Today, in 2016, you probably spend countless hours’ text messaging, emailing, and working on websites to list, market, or search properties and clients. Very little effort in today’s technology environment is spent building lasting relationships with clients and prospects. “Business is business” is the attitude of a growing majority in today’s transactional based world of commercial real estate. Few expect to give, and thus few expect to get, anything more than a technology based communication set from brokers, investors, lenders, buyers, sellers, or otherwise.
Selling or leasing real estate, in part, is about relationships with people which is far too often forgotten.
We often take for granted the amounts of money which is moved in our businesses on a daily basis. For example, this week I signed a lease worth more than $7 million in revenue over the term for one of my properties. Brokers, agents and industry representatives see this and much greater dollar volume deals happen without ever even meeting the people they are doing business with. In one sense, our business is in a physical environment. Whether its land or completed buildings, we can touch, feel, and maintain our investments and deals in a physical sense. Yet when it comes to daily communication with the people that matter most to our businesses, we all too often leave it up to emails and text messages. Speaking for myself, I enjoy and almost insist on meeting the people that I do business with, for a multitude of reasons, but especially considering the dollar amounts that are involved.
The question is, where do technology and relationships merge together to create a successful business? And how do buyers, sellers, investors, and tenants become comfortable doing big business deals without having a relationship with the people they are doing it with?
Agents and brokers have to constantly be on the “go.” Investors such as myself have to be constantly looking for the next deal. The bottom line is that we cannot ignore the technology that allows us to do our business faster and more efficiently, but we also cannot ignore the need for one-on-one relationships that are paramount to us continuing to grow our businesses. The answer lies in the technological platform that you have built, or need to build, to not only manage the fast pace and high workload volume that comes along with this business, but also one that helps to forge the relationships that really matter.
CRM, or “Customer Relationship Management” software is an old concept, but it is one that has grown and has been modernized over recent years to accommodate industry professionals who both want to be efficient with technology, but also build and keep strong relationships. The problem is, it is rarely used and it is often forgotten by professionals who are “too busy” to keep up with it, myself included. That is why I have broken down the elements of a successful business and implemented a plan to enhance every aspect of it with technology.
I am not endorsing any particular CRM software or system, but I have chosen to use Infusionsoft as my company’s parent CRM system. The system itself is incredibly complex and require copious amounts of training and understanding to use well, but once implemented correctly, it has helped me grow our business more than 200% in the last 2 years. Keep in mind, I am not a tech guru by any stretch of the imagination, so I have dedicated members of my staff that help to implement, oversee, and maintain our CRM system in a strategic way that I have designed.
Coming to grips with reality: The reality is, I am always going to get 200 emails per day that I need to look at, even if not for long. The reality is also that I will get texts, and voice messages, and other electronic communications that I have to deal with on a daily basis. But the reality for my business is that if I am not constantly meeting with people, building relationships with partners, lenders and brokers, I cannot continue to grow. So I have implemented a very simple yet profound way of using technology both to streamline my day to day business, but also to streamline my relationship management process.
The question is, where do technology and relationships merge together to create a successful business?
People often think of CRM software systems as ways to keep track of client contact information and to consolidate and distribute marketing materials to them. We use it in a little different way, to track and record communication, but also to alarm and alert me when I have not been in contact with key individuals for a certain period of time. For example, old clients, bankers, even business acquaintances can become casualties of me being too busy. So we programmed our CRM to log each bit of activity that our clients, associates, brokers, bankers, or partners have with us. If we have not had a meaningful set of communication with them in a certain, pre-specified period of time, then we make it a point to be alerted of it, and I personally pick up the phone to make a call and say “hello.” Conversely, we consistently send ongoing updates to our database of associates that are meaningful, and non-solicitation oriented through Infusionsoft, which is always personalized. That usually results in email responses, which prompt me to engage in conversation either by email, or picking up the phone, and almost effortlessly I am able to maintain important relationships without “thinking” about doing it.
Using technology in this way is incredibly valuable to those of us who deal in a high communication environment, so that our relationships do not get “lost” in cyberspace.
Keep in mind, however, that technology can never replace a friendly face, a heartfelt “hello” and cocktail after dinner. A great deal of my success can be attributed to the relationships which I have built over the years, and the daily effort that I make to forge new, strong relationships which are monitored by technology. I almost never eat lunch alone, and even if I don’t “need” to make a business trip to deal with a specific business item, I make the trip anyway so that I have face to face contact with the people I do business with. That philosophy is paramount, even though it is difficult to quantify the monetary value of it when you deal in a transactional business.
Using technology to help you maintain relationships is vital. Using technology to replace your relationships is fatal. No matter how strong your technology implementation skills are, you will never replace your friendly voice with an email, or your genuine smile with an emoji. Use technology to leverage your natural abilities, not replace them.