Real Estate CRM With Minimal in Mind

This step-through of how I've evolved into a really simple but effective approach to CRM, Customer Relationship Management, system isn't going to be for everyone. In fact, many may consider it too simple to be effective. So, a few basic things about me that might help to get us started right:

  • I don't send birthday cards.
  • I don't send feel-good letters for anniversaries or other dated things in my prospects' lives.
  • I don't try to track every little detail about my prospects'/contacts' lives.
  • I don't need a structured database "field" to keep and retrieve any given item of information in my system.
  • I want to spend as little time and effort as possible in the "management" part of CRM.
  • I find database maintenance and details tedious.

Now that I've shared with you why I have become a minimalist, and if you want to do several or all of those things I don't want to do, you may be able to move on and skip the rest of this article. However, if you want to be able to keep up with critical information and contact/prospect communications, this will work for you really well and for little or no money and with little management on your part.

This system is based on something I read in an Evernote tutorial, and since Evernote is half of this system, I liked what I read. Basically, CRM really involves two distinctly different activities:

  • Storage, maintenance, and retrieval of basic contact info, with "contact" meaning how I can reach out to them. These are ​the name, address, job title, employer, phone numbers and email addresses.
  • Capture, storage, maintenance and retrieval of communications and additional information traded with these contacts and prospects. This is the "relationship" part. 

You see, when I want to call, snail mail or email a contact, I need that first item. And, I'm going to show you how Gmail and one add-on service handles this quite well for me. For the second item, I'm now using Evernote with a few special tricks, and it works really well. So, let's get started.

Gmail for the Contact Half of a CRM System

business woman
RunPhoto/The Image Bank/Getty Images

This single step in this tutorial is enough for the "contact" portion of this minimalist CRM system. Before we get started, you can use Outlook, so all of you still using it can just adapt and keep the names and numbers part of the system, the "contact" stuff, in your Outlook. I left Outlook years ago, as I find the cloud and Google or Zoho to be far better solutions, but each to his own.

OK, the first half of the minimalist CRM, Customer Relationship Management, system is where I keep the information I need for "contacting" my prospects, contacts and customers. This information can include:

  • Name
  • Company & job
  • Addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Email addresses

So, the "contact" side of CRM in this system is all about making contact. It's the information I need when I want to speak to someone on the phone or email them. Gmail does a great job of getting new contacts into my system, in fact too well. Gmail has an annoying feature of placing all newly received email senders into my contacts, whether I want them there or not. In most of those cases, I only have their email address recorded in Contacts, and even if they had a signature in their email with address and other data, it won't get recorded in those fields in the Contact database.

Since Gmail is Google, the searching function in Gmail is excellent, and at any time I want, I can search on a contact's name or email address and see all of my previous email contacts with them going back in time. This part of my system works quite well, and I keep Gmail open as my primary tab in my Chrome browser. So, because most of my communication with others is through email, I can pull up previous contacts quickly with a Gmail search.

If all I wanted to keep up with was my email conversations with contacts, this might be enough for a complete system. However, there are notes, receipts, and other documents and information that I want to relate to contacts, including websites and even specific articles they may have written on the Internet. I'll be showing you how Evernote handles these other needs in an extremely efficient way in the third step. Before that though, let's take a look in the next step at a third party service that makes Google Contacts much more automated and efficient.

2 Powers Up Gmail Contact Management Prices & Plans Prices & Plans.

In the previous step I mentioned the limitation of Gmail contacts, in that only a new contact's email address is automatically saved as their contact information, even if there is an email signature with much more contact information in their email. Well, once I found, this problem was solved, and in a very automated manner. monitors your Gmail account and scans email signatures. When a new contact comes in, they are added and all of that information, be it multiple email addresses, phone numbers or other information is added into your Gmail data for that contact. We all know that one of the main time-consuming activities in CRM is keeping databases updated. Email addresses, jobs, companies and phone numbers change regularly. Either we spend time making manual changes, or our database ends up outdated the next time we need it.

This service takes care of that by making those updates and changes for us when the next email comes in from that contact. So, if they've changed their phone numbers, or if they've added numbers, you don't have to do a thing, as it will be changed for you. The image shows the three levels of service, and most of us can get by with the Premium level at $35/year. I can tell you that it's well worth it to me.

So, in these first three steps we've handled the "contact" portion of my CRM system. We have what we need when we need to email, phone or snail mail a contact, prospect or customer. And, since Gmail is a powerful tool as apps on mobile devices, both iOS and Android, you have this information with you wherever you go and whenever you need it.  You also benefit by lowering email liability.

Next we'll take a look at Evernote, a tool I've used for years and written about in detail, including its many features of value to real estate professionals.

Evernote - CRM As An Ancillary Feature

Evernote for Real Estate
Evernote for Real Estate. Jim Kimmons

I use Evernote for so many things, that trying to tell you about all of them here would take too much room. Earlier in this article I gave you a link to a previous article about 50 real estate uses for Evernote. I've also written one titled Evernote for Total Real Estate Organization, and another titled The Virtual Real Estate Office With Evernote. These will give you a detailed approach to the value of Evernote for your office, marketing and management functions.

The creators of Evernote have constantly improved the service and software and they are very responsive to requested functionality. There are also a great many third party developers and resources specifically for Evernote. One thing they haven't really promoted as a feature is CRM, Customer Relationship Management. I understand that because most people view this as a function requiring a structured database with fields of information about contacts. The more information about a contact you want to maintain, the greater the number of fields in the database. There are probably hundreds of solutions out there based on this paradigm. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I found the time and effort necessary to set up and maintain a database like that, with fields for information I rarely or never used to be a bother and not productive. Any time I spend not doing things that directly generate income, such as working with buyers and sellers or working on lead generation from my website, I consider to be largely wasted time.

So, let's think about Evernote for CRM without all of those structured fields, but still containing the information I want and need to support my direct commission-generating activities. As I work with people, whether via email, by phone or even in meetings, data is generated and information is created. This data and information is sometimes important enough to retain and locate later. If it's in emails, they'll be in Gmail, and as stated earlier, they can easily be located with Gmail searches, such as with " bedrooms." This search would turn up any emails to or from this prospect/customer that also mention bedrooms, whether they are a buyer or seller.

However, sometimes a contact describes in detail their requirements for a home they want to buy, or they are a potential seller and describing their home's features. Those emails that I know contain information I will need later are easily forwarded into Evernote as well. When I meet with someone and take notes on a pad, I can scan it easily into Evernote, and at the Premium level (only $45/year) Evernote converts and scans my writing as text. So, with pretty amazing accuracy, I can locate those notes later with an Evernote search.

When I'm browsing the Web and find something written by or about a contact, I can clip the whole page or a highlighted portion with a link directly into Evernote with a nice tool that works in every major browser. I can send any of their Tweets, Google+ or Facebook posts that could be of value later into Evernote with the same type of easy tools. I can take a photo with my Evernote smartphone app and it goes into the system, and any text in the image is converted for search later. I can type a note, or make a voice note and they go into Evernote. It even converts my voice notes to text as I speak. A PDF attachment in an email that I forward into Evernote will be scanned and the text indexed so any searches later will find the search text inside the PDF files.

Once you learn how to use Evernote and the service's great input tools, there's almost no type of information you can't get into Evernote in just seconds to a minute. Therein lies the great value of Evernote for all facets of your business. Now let's see how you can leverage these great features and tools for the other half of my minimalist CRM system, the "relationship" part.

Evernote for Real Estate CRM

Evernote Real Estate Tagging
Evernote Real Estate Tagging. Jim Kimmons

If you've not used Evernote, this isn't a training article for the basics, so you'll need to learn from their support material or several free and very valuable eBooks users have written. There is also a new Evernote for larger businesses with teams and a need to share information. Once you've figured out the basics, you'll know about Notebooks and Tags. Notebooks are the same as folders, and they work pretty much the same, giving you the ability to nest folders inside each other. Tags are pretty much what you're used to in tagging on the Web, tagging in WordPress, and they help you to find information later.

I am not a fan of Notebooks, though I have many of them in Evernote. I get frustrated with trying to decide where to file something. A tutorial that got me onto Evernote for CRM suggested a single notebook called "CRM" or "Customers," or something like that. All of your CRM stuff can go into that notebook, with tagging to get the hard work done. I started out following that suggestion but found that the extra step to place things into that special notebook was getting forgotten or skipped when I was in a hurry. The fact is that it really doesn't change how I find information later, so I'll concentrate on tagging here.

Base Customer Record Tag

Remember that I said in the Gmail section that the contact information is there when I need it to get in touch with a contact. That's great, but it's even better if it's also in Evernote. Either I can just forward over an email with all of their contact info in it, or I can copy and paste it into Evernote. The key here is to tag this one record with the single purpose of recording contact info as "base." So, a new buyer prospect emails me with questions, and I get his contact info, phones, email, etc. in an email and pass it along to Evernote, but I make sure to tag it with "base." This is how I can always find these numbers and addresses in Evernote simply by searching on their name and "base" for tags. If you don't like "base," use "info" or something else, just be consistent.

Names for Tags

It's true that emails I forward into Evernote and also notes I take may have the full name of the contact/prospect/customer in them, but I've tried to make tagging with their name, as in tag "sam smith" a habit. It just takes a couple of seconds, and then I will never have trouble bringing up everything related to Sam Smith in Evernote. So, first consider tagging with their name, as there isn't a better way, and everything is related to a person with a name in CRM.

Status or Interest for Tags

If a person is a buyer prospect, I tag them "buyer." The same goes for seller prospects, clients, appraisers, surveyor, title, inspector, etc. You can see where this is going. When I want to search for an appraiser, using the tag will bring up everything on all of them, but using other keywords with it in the search will narrow the results. If I don't know their name, I could search for "appraiser" tag with "clientname" if it's a past transaction. There are many ways to narrow a search to get what you want for results. Keep in mind that, just like Gmail, results default to newest entries at the top.

Matching Prospects and Properties

I work with a real estate agent who pushes the limits with systems like this, and he wants to keep a record of hip pocket listings in an affluent area. These owners might want to sell if the right buyer comes along, and buyers have a difficult time locating properties that meet their criteria in his area. So, he obviously has the address of a property in every note either as a tag or just in the text or title. However, he can also tag them with his own coded price range tag, and even other tags like "ocean view," etc. He has compiled data on a significant number of these "might sell" properties.

Now, when he gets a buyer prospect, of course they're tagged with "buyer." They can also get the same coded price range or special requirements. When he's working his Evernote CRM system, a simple search "buyer" and "price range" and/or "ocean view" will turn up both the prospect and any homes that might meet their needs. It will literally turn up buyers and properties that could be matched up for deals.

However, he's even going further with this system. Once he's shown a buyer a property or information about a property and they decide it's not for them, he can add a tag to that property like "declined buyer name." Or, if they're thinking about it, maybe it's on their shorter list, the tag becomes something like "considering buyer name." These tags go on the property "Base" record. Now when he's trying to match a buyer with properties, he can see quickly which have already been removed from their list of possibles.

The System

Set up your tagging any way you want, but keep it as simple as possible so that you don't forget your tags and you stay consistent. Now you can pull up records of communication with contacts, clips from their websites, things you've found about them on the Web, and anything else you've clipped about them. You can take photos of their home with your smart phone and send them into Evernote with the address as the title. You can save documents by dragging them into Evernote, or forward them in as email attachments, and just adding the tag to the title of the email with "#" in front of it, as in #their name, will get it tagged for later.

The value of using Evernote for CRM lies in the many different ways in which you can get information into Evernote. So, virtually everything from a receipt for cutting keys for a listing to a photo of a prospect seller's home from the street can be there and easily found with a simple search. I'm only touching on the main points, and working with Evernote I'm sure that you'll find even more value for your business.