Agents are only ever as good as their database, hence the importance of ensuring that yours is in tip top condition.
As international property coach Josh Phegan says: “The best in the business realise that your business is your database, and its health has a direct relationship to the health of your business.”
But he acknowledges the challenges involved in database management, particularly for established firms with large volumes of data across multiple sources.
“With such a high number of contacts from various lead sources, it’s a real challenge to keep up with the pace of change,” he adds.
Many agents operate databases online and increasingly via mobile phones and iPads, as well as through old-fashioned index card systems.
West-London based agency Northfields is a case in point. The firm had no less than seven legacy databases before drafting in London-based leading agency software provider, Eurolink, to help overhaul and consolidate its systems and processes.
Nick Devonport, Northfields’ managing director, explains: “We wanted one database, as we were putting the same data into seven different systems, which were a by-product of our growth.”
Where to start
So, where should you start in building an invaluable database for your business?
First, you need to have a clear goal. “You’ve got to define what you’re aiming for,” says Devonport.
Northfields aims to help customers for the life of their moving journey, which meant creating a system that enabled staff to offer customers a long-term service rather than short-term sales support, to help the firm retain their business.
Devonport says: “The property industry is all about the here and now, with agents more concerned about getting customers to an offer stage and then to a sale and then moving on to the next customer.
“But customers come in to do a range of things, which could be to buy, rent, and let as well as sell, and if you life plan with somebody you can find out what they really want.”
Having identified your goal, you then need to segment your customers according to their needs.
Phegan says: “The categories that sit inside your database are the most important thing.”
He advises agents to use 10 categories:
- Buyers: every buyer from every lead source.
- Buyer hit list: every buyer who has moved to the next stage in the sales process (for example, they have taken a copy of a contract, made a second appointment, made an offer or bid on something at auction.
- Potential seller: anyone who owns in the area you service.
- Market appraisal: anyone you have had face-to-face contact with from your potential seller list.
- Seller hit list: those from your market appraisal list that have now moved to green and are ready to go to market.
- Current clients: current vendors.
- Past clients bought: anyone who has bought from you in the area you service.
- Past clients sold: anyone who has sold through you in the area you service.
- Landlords: property owners or those who live in your area.
- Key referrers: people who refer you business.
“The key thing is that you contact customers when they need you,” says Devonport. “Agents need to facilitate the aspirational goals that customers have.”
Of course, this relies on appointing a software provider that offers a single contact database, like Eurolink’s Veco system.
It also relies on staff accurately recording customers’ aforementioned life plans on the agency’s database. It is therefore essential that staff learn to input data correctly, which Phegan says can be achieved through the appointment of extra staff to concentrate on the task at hand.
But software automation can also help, particularly for agents without the budgets to recruit extra staff.
Choosing the right database, which automates key tasks, is therefore essential.
As well as enabling agents to easily undertake the prospecting of potential clients thanks to a range of newly-installed features, Veco also enables agencies to send automated alerts. These can be created to remind staff to, for example, contact customers at specific times of the year, based on their previously discussed life plans.
Secure an experienced project management
A good project manager can help you to coordinate and manage each of these project stages.
Northfields drafted in seasoned project manager, Eurolink, to help consolidate its databases in May after conducting a beauty parade of technology providers.
Eurolink was an obvious choice because of the provider’s ability and willingness to tailor Veco to fit Northfields’ requirements.
Arianna Louis, client director at Eurolink, says: “We offer a multi-discipline database that can manage sellers, landlords and estates in one system, which enables knowledge sharing and transparency, as well as the ability for agents to look at their overall database and filter customers by certain criteria, rather than having to manage an endless list.”
Following a thorough consultative process with Louis, which enabled Northfields to perfect every aspect of its database strategy, the agency moved on to the next key stage of its project: data transfer.
Agents can choose to either review, update and transfer the data on their existing databases or start afresh. Northfields used both approaches.
Devonport explains: “We did a lot of data cleansing with our lettings business and transferred the data, but we started again with sales, although we’ve retained the data so we can tap into it if we want to.”
This, he adds, not only optimised the accuracy of the firm’s new database, but created an opportunity for its staff to re-engage with, and re-qualify, customers, old and new.
The project took just two months to undertake, which Devonport attributes to Eurolink’s unfaltering support along with Northfields’ clear goals and comprehensive staff training programme.
This included online videos, which detailed, for example, how to register applicants, for staff to watch in their own time, as well as a communications campaign that detailed every aspect of the project for staff, so that they were prepared for the forthcoming changes.
“The major benefits of consolidating our database is that we now have one database and one customer file for each person, which makes the customer experience a lot more fluid,” Devonport adds.
The availability of Veco in real-time via agents’ handheld devices and iPads enhances this fluidity.
- Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve.
- Consider how best to segment and categorise your customers.
- Appoint the right software provider to take care of the right systems and processes, based on the needs of your business and not its products and services.
- Prepare staff for change.
- Appoint system champions, who can encourage colleagues to buy in to the change and appreciate the merits of the system.
- Ensure that you have the right staff in place to exploit the capabilities of your new software system through comprehensive training.
- Identify staff who may need extra support to be able to use the system.
- Consider whether data cleansing or starting afresh is more appropriate for your business.
- Evaluate the success of your implementation project.
- Identify areas for improvement and development.