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8 Ways to Identify a Superior Database

These days a database is the backbone of your business, so the strength of your database is paramount to your business productivity, growth and success. Many real estate agents find it difficult to assess the merits of one database against another.

Eddie Lynch shares eight factors to apply to your database decision-making.

These days a database is the backbone of your business, so the strength of your database is paramount to your business productivity, growth and success. Many real estate agents find it difficult to assess the merits of one database against another. Eddie Lynch shares eight factors to apply to your database decision-making.

Duplicate entries create confusion and cause issues with your daily processes. Many databases aren’t intuitive enough to remind a user that a client is already listed in the database.

A real estate database can be many things to many offices. However, it is important to realise that it is much more than just “matching buyers” to properties and vice versa. You need to carefully analyse your office’s needs and find a solution that works with you to achieve your goals. Not all databases are created equal. Some are easy to use, and some are more complex. Some are expensive and some are cheap… why is that? If you are planning on implementing a new database into your office, do your homework.

To help with your information search, I will share with you eight items you must lock down before committing your time and hard earned dollars into a new real estate database.

1. The database should be developed specifically for the Australian real estate market. Many agents are relying on American based software which contains terminology and fields which are not applicable in Australia. The Australian market is quite different to real estate markets all over the world and hence, the software must take this into consideration. Many agents are using Microsoft Excel to store client data and dodge these compatibility issues. Whilst Excel is easy and simple to use, there is limited allowance for merging with SMS, e-newsletters or hard copy letters. Excel can be hard to query and it is easy to delete or lose data. The reality is Excel is a spreadsheet application – not a database. Furthermore, databases built in-house can only go so far. There comes a time where your in-house developer or in some cases family friend who has “done a course” can no longer support the database and develop it which may be limiting your potential e.g. they can’t cater for uploads to the major real estate portals, design e-newsletter templates or track campaign billing among other things.

2. The database should be available online.
When your database is available online you can access your data from anywhere! When your software is based online there is no need to load software. Sending off e-marketing is far easier using an online database over the conventional and dated desktop options. Operating online allows for easy integration with mobile devices (iPhone, iPad etc). A big advantage is that upgrades are easy to perform and can happen automatically – no need for patches or complicated upgrades. It really is a “no brainer”.

3. The database must strive for single data entry.
Duplicate entries create confusion and cause issues with your daily processes. Many databases aren’t intuitive enough to remind a user that a client is already listed in the database (e.g. one client could be entered three times as “John Smith”, “J.Smith” and “John Smithe”).

Clients should have different client types e.g. it is common for a client to be both a vendor and landlord at the same time and a landlord can be a prospective purchaser. The database must allow for all of these scenarios whilst maintaining only one entry for each client.

Properties should only be entered once. If you were to use your database correctly the property would be entered as an appraisal, then listed and sold/settled and eventually archived or re-listed at some point in the future. There is no logical reason for having to re-enter the property again. If you are forced to enter the property details again, then you need to re-assess the logic of your database. The database should upload your properties to not only your website but also all the major real estate portals saving double, triple, (or more?) data entry and opportunity for costly error.

4. The database has to be easy to use!
If you don’t understand how to use your database you will not use it. What is even more frustrating, your staff will not use it. If sales people cannot use it you are wasting your money. When making your decision, make sure you organise a presentation from all the major real estate databases and compare for yourself.

Test the range of databases by checking how easy it is to:
1.) Add a buyer and their feedback at an inspection
2.) Add an appraisal and follow-up tasks
3.) Enter multiple open for inspections
4.) Create a vendor feedback report with all of the buyers’ feedback

5. The database should have an inbuilt diary and task management.
As an agent, you should see all of your appointments and activities for the day on the home screen. This will keep you focused on what you are there to do – follow up prospective clients and list and sell properties. As you know, follow-up is so important when trying to generate new business or close sales. By not having those reminders visible on the home page of your database, you increase the likelihood of forgetting follow-up phone calls or e-mails which ultimately leads to missed opportunities. Trails or “business rules” are integral to a real estate database. The ability to pre-set reminders, letters, SMS and e-marketing tasks are vital if you want a streamlined work flow. Automation is the key. By setting the trail and following the tasks you increase the likelihood of sales or conversions and decrease the likelihood of those “hello… I haven’t heard from you in a while” themed phone calls.

6. The database must include e-marketing applications!
It is quicker and easier to send SMS, e-newsletters (e-brochures), e-magazines and e-mails through the database than relying on imports or exports of data to third party providers who only do half the job. A good real estate database will have all e-marketing applications built into the single program. The e-marketing and specifically e-newsletters should all lead traffic back to your agency website. If you are still sending e-newsletters as attachments (e.g. PDF format) then you are well behind the leaders in this area. Also, a good database will keep a record of all communication sent to prospects and clients against the client’s file along with statistics, open rates etc. Agents need to be able to quickly find any correspondence that might be referred to in their conversations with clients.

7. The database must be able to work for all departments in your real estate office.
Many databases only deal with the residential sales department. Tenants and landlords are clients of the office and should be included in regular e-marketing and hard copy mail outs. It is easier and cheaper to do business with existing or past clients than try to find new ones.
Tenants are prospective first home buyers and landlords are always looking for quality investment properties. Don’t ignore them because they are looked after by the rental department. Many real estate offices also have a commercial department. The database should allow for commercial property categories e.g. “retail” and provide the same tools for this department as it would for the residential sales department.

8. The database must be supported by a credible and trustworthy supplier.
It is extremely difficult to adapt an “off the shelf” database product to a real estate agency. So take that database back to Office Works and seek out an experienced real estate software provider who knows the workings of a real estate office.

Look at what is behind the supplier. You must be asking the following questions before employing a database solution:
a.) Who are the owners of the business and have they ever worked in real estate?
b.) How big is their support team and what are their support hours?
c.) Where are their offices located… or do they (gulp) work from home?
d.) “Do they have “real” people picking up the phone or do you have to press 1, then 2, and then hold # for support?”
e.) What about redundancy; how is the data backed up?
f.) Do programmers dictate the work flow of the database or is it designed by an agent who knows the industry?
g.) Who are their established clients and can you talk to these clients to see how the system is working in their offices?
h.) What training is included and what training options do you have when staff turnover?
i.) How much do they commit to research and development and what is the next big product due for release?

Not all providers are the same. Some have just cropped up whereas others have been working in the industry for decades. You only have to scratch the surface to find out what is really behind these database services.

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