The Great CRM White Elephant

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the CRM white elephant...Legend has it there were once great white elephants, much sought after by the Southeast Asian monarch and European hunter. Their very existence entered the realm of folklore, and people spoke in hushed tones of lost safaris seeking fame and fortune. The white elephant symbolized great power, and its possession meant the kingdom had peace and prosperity.

Some hunters tried every technology that money could buy and gave up despondently, others searched for years in vain, still others retired in anger and frustration blaming everyone but themselves. Claims of capture proved empty, and many simply concluded that in all probability the great white elephant did not exist, and everyone should probably just shuffle off and go seek something else.

And so it came to pass that the term ’white elephant’ symbolized something valuable whose usefulness was far outweighed by its cost.

In terms of quantity and depth, the real estate industry in Australia seems pretty well served with various web-based Client Relationship Management (CRM) products. In brief, a CRM should allow you to track contact with your current and prospective clients, and is really the goose that lays the golden egg (every day… if used correctly, which is ‘patiently and persistently’).

MyDesktop      Port Plus      HubOnline      Complete Data   Console      MultiArray    Box and Dice     

… and many more (I’m not trying to get an exhaustive list in here)

As my former maths teacher used to say when he handed back our papers, “these are mostly ‘much of a muchness’ ladies and gentlemen”. No doubt certain providers claim that theirs does more for less, is more intuitive, innovative, easy to use or secure. I am sure they are right in their own way. Most of these providers have been around for over ten years specializing in what they do and have worked really hard (usually without recognition or thanks) to bring these products to market, continually improving them and investing huge sums to get them right.

So I’ve been surprised to witness very few agents actually using these products as a CRM. While most offices claim to have purchased these (or a variant) in the past, fewer than ten percent of real estate agents I meet in the field or at training courses seem to be actively deploying a CRM product to help them keep in touch with their clients, send out regular enewsletters, match clients to properties and the like. Of the 30 per cent or so agency offices that seem to have a product right now, most are using it to merely host their web site and upload to various portals.

Why is this?

Is it a failure of education and support? Are reps suspicious of entering their clients into a system accessible across their office(s)? Are they too lazy to try new ideas? Scared of technology? Are there (their) needs not currently being filled? Or have the CRMs become too complex as they try to satisfy everyone (and end up putting a lot of people off)? Is it all just too hard?

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  • Peter Ricci
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 7:49 am 0Likes

    I have touched on this before. My take on this is simple, CRM Companies like spend 10’s of millions of dollars creating great platforms that are real CRM’s. We as developers always think you can just tack something onto existing software to serve customers and it never works.

    CRM today needs to be everywhere, Desktop, Mobile and Web, it also has to be intuitive to the needs of an ever mobile agent.

    I am penning an article this week on a new APP that came across my desk over weekend that actually looks pretty cool – if it works 🙂

  • Nick
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 8:04 am 0Likes

    Getting data in and out of them seems to be the biggest problem I see. A agent doesnt want to sit there filling in forms, just because the system wants them to.

    I havent looked at them too much, but they definitely could make office work a lot easier *if done right*. That last bit is the tricky bit. 🙂

  • Mark
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 10:15 am 0Likes

    I have worked with CRM products for the last 12 years or so, first as a user and then as a BDM, deploying CRM into a multitude of different companies and organisations.

    When deploying a CRM system the change management has to be perfect. If the people that deploy the product don’t do a couple of things effectively, the the product itself is ultimately a lost cause and a big waste of money.

    1. Ensure that the product provides the users with value.

    There is no point in deploying a product like this just to serve Management and their need to capture information. The information that you get out of CRM is only going to be as good as that going into it. If the product provides the users with an easier or more effective way to canvas, quote or close sales, then they are more likely to use it.

    2. Change Management.

    There is no point in providing your sales team with a product which has all the bells and whistles without first training them on how, why, when and where to use the product. If this change from old systems to new is managed effectively, then adoption will be great and the roll-out essentially a success.

    The biggest problem here is not the purchasers of the systems, be it Salesforce, Microsoft CRM or one of the industry specific ones; it’s the providers not project managing effectively and not training the users effectively. This means that word of mouth going around about these systems is that they are a big waste of money. The reason for this is that people deploy these systems not knowing what they want to get out of it once the system is in place.

    If you are looking at deploying one of these systems, first plan the system based on what you want to achieve at the other end; be it bigger sales, faster processing or more effective marketing. Once you have this end goal in mind, plan the roll-out and don’t let the provider lose track of that end goal. If they achieve that end goal, then your CRM project will be a success.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 10:41 am 0Likes

    You are right about about White Elephants we use Zoo Property and Complete Data (which is a FileMaker application) which can’t talk to our website. Grrrrrr!

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 12:44 pm 0Likes

    CRM is a tough topic. In my experience each office and then the agents within them, all want something different from their CRM. In the real estate industry CRM is more complex because it also involves property alerts, so these CRM platforms need to hook into this data.

    The real estate providers you mentioned in your article, do the property alerts side of CRM correctly but I think they fall down in the vendor marketing component. This is where the likes of Salesforce or HighRise are much better.

  • Mac
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm 0Likes

    Realestate CRM’s have been waaay over-engineered since I can remember, (and that’s way back since the days of Macpro; and even more waaaay back before their pre-REIV ownership). C’mon, even full-time marketing managers in big corporates wouldn’t use a lot of the stuff in ‘there’.
    And I think Ryan has hit on a very important point i.e. While Real Estate CRM’s
    handle ‘multi-distribution’ and ‘alerts’ they usually don’t integrate alert data very well. Check-out Hocking Stuart’s Red First alerts system – it cost a motza because it is purpose-built and not *just* and alerts system. However, if you had it would Hubonline or Portplus integrate it into your CRM for you?! NO! I don’t think so! (Even tho you are paying ridiculous monthly fees they tell you what to do!!!
    My advice. Save some money. Get a smaller CRM you can and WILL use and who will work with you if you find other applications.
    Yep! I think there is room to move in this very crowded CRM space!

  • Peter Ricci
    Posted October 18, 2010 at 11:27 pm 0Likes

    Ryan hit on it perfectly, years ago I add a CRM for a client, then the next client wanted something different, then the next client some different, it became a nightmare for me.

    Another problem I found is vendors attempted to add it to their system to get sticky with clients or to charge them more money, to me this was the wrong philosophy.

    There are hundreds of CRM platforms out their, each with their strengths and weaknesses and you need to choose the one thats going to work for you.

    Mark is right, training is important, however just as important are rules, if you have a great system, make it LAW within your office that everyone must use it.

    Have little training sessions once a month with everyone there to showcase features and streamline productivity.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 8:40 am 0Likes

    One of the most important issues about a CRM platform is how many should there be within the one office? The answer is one! One that everybody has access to and remains the sole property of the directors of that respective business. We have been running one database since 1996 and it works brilliantly for our demographic business. If a salesperson wants to run their own private database that is fine too – as they can do that working for someone else.

    This is an absolute non-negotiable for us – and we were one of the very first agencies in Australia to set – up a proper working CRM (database) to drive the online side of the business.

    If your business wants to strive to be number one – it can only happen with one agency database.

  • George Rousos
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 11:52 am 0Likes

    Well done Robert, In my real estate training business, we use ACT 2007 as a CRM – It’s great, when we need to synchronise with other computers in the office, it does, when an email is sent, it stores this in the history section on the client profile page, when we need to do a backup, we transfer all data onto a mobile hard disk drive. I’m now arranging for a field to be placed on the contact page which assigns each customer or student with a unique ID number.

    ACT is good for regular training and support, their database product also accommodates for a broad family of add-on products that one may need for their business.

    I’m waiting for more information to come my way on ACT for Real Estate and an E-marketing program called High Impact eMail and the Real Estate Template Pack – both integrate together with Microsoft Office and achieve very good results. When I get this information, will post details on here for everybody to have.


  • Glenn Batten
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm 0Likes

    For me that list provided in the article is NOT a list of real estate crm programs at all. It is a list of real estate listing administration software with varying degrees of crm capabilities and there is a distinct difference between the two.

    The problem with CRM in real estate is that not many people really and truly understand it. Software companies sprout massive CRM claims because their program can do a bulk email or set a reminder for an appointment.

    Similarly agents believe that you just have to start the software up and enter the clients information and you are using a CRM when you send them an email.

    Most agents believe that CRM is a software but really its a system or a strategy.

    The software providers stated do at best (and some do it poorly) provide a framework for you to build a CRM system onto. It still requires a substantial investment in time to set the system up both through the software, other systems and procedures and then training.

    A few years back I asked one of those providers in the list who I consider to have a great framework to build a CRM system on as an initial building block how many of their clients actually used their software to its capabilities with regard to CRM. The answer was 5 or 6. The vast majority of their clients did not utilise the CRM capacity they are provided beyond the occasional email.

    On a strictly CRM level software like ACT and SalesForce are far far superior than what we are offered as integrated with our administration software.

    The problem with them is that they dont interact with the administration of running an agency so it requires far more manual control and every time a person has to change the status their is potential for problems.

    So the list of contact activities scheduled for an appraisal client is different once you convert it to a listing. With ACT you have to manually change this as it does not integrate with your listing administration but in a good Real Estate CRM solution the program should automatically change it when you upgrade the appraisal to a listing.

    IMHO software companies should be using API’s to build integration with something like SalesForce and leaving the CRM to it. Unfortunately many software providers try to be all things to everybody and end up being ok with everything rather than being brilliant at one thing.

  • Mac
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 6:00 pm 0Likes

    CRM MUST also be online! (‘Cloud’ is the only way to go).

    The early alerts / Red First alert system of Hocking Stuart is also a MUST now too. i.e. You MUST collect as many qualified prospects as possible AND manage them without agents needing to ‘touch’ them. Until now, the existing systems didn’t provide all the features this has. However, there is a BRAND new system that is easily integrated into existing tech providers’ CRM’s.

  • George Rousos
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 7:12 pm 0Likes


    I’m glad you said all that because that’s exactly what was just thinking aswell.

    The programs listed in the article may have CRM functionality, but they are not a full blown CRM database solution like ACT or Sales Force. The list of products mentioned in the article wouldn’t have the built in capabilities for storing customer complaint issues and the mechanism fields for co-ordinating and implementing customer service strategies.

    With Sage ACT!, you can achieve maximum productivity so you have time to focus your attention on business-critical activities, provide a better customer experience because you understand the intricate needs of their contacts,and make informed decisions to advance your business.

  • George Rousos
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm 0Likes

    Sorry, intricate needs of your contacts !

  • Mac
    Posted October 20, 2010 at 12:47 pm 0Likes

    Glenn, “MHO software companies should be using API

  • George Rousos
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 5:10 pm 0Likes

    Hi All,

    Regarding ACT! For Real Estate, I have received confirmation today – it is available in Australia. If you are interested in purchasing this product, you need to purchase the standard ACT! via Act Today. Once you have purchased the product,they can provide the databases which come with ACT! For Real Estate.

    If you are interested in ACT! For Real Estate, please contact 1300 656 916, they will organise the purchase and the support etc. etc.

  • Mac
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 6:02 pm 0Likes

    George, what do these things (Salesforce & Act) cost, please? (We all know Hubonline, Portplus, BoxnDice etc are around $450 pmth!!! (Too much when 1/10 is used by 90% of users!)


  • George Rousos
    Posted October 21, 2010 at 9:09 pm 0Likes

    Mac, we had a consultant come out to our office to discuss what our needs were – he then went away, took out what ever fields we didn’t need and made the necessary modifications to suit our requirements.The database components are already built in, so nothing is being built from scratch,it’s more about the design and placement of fields.

    From memory, we purchased 2 licences which were around $800.00, the preparation, setup, training and installation costs together from memory, was around $3,200.00 – so lets say all up $4000.00.

    There are no monthly fees or charges when using ACT,only the training or phone support which is charged at $160.00hr. In the last 12 months, we’ve only had to ring them twice and were lucky to be on the phone for no more than 20 minutes.

  • Mac
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:10 am 0Likes

    Sounds really interesting, George. Which ‘uploader’ do you use for your website listings management and distribution to the portals and how much do they cost?


  • Mac
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 10:11 am 0Likes

    Ps George, might sound silly, but I am assuming ACT is online in ‘the Cloud’ (?)

  • George Rousos
    Posted October 25, 2010 at 9:56 pm 0Likes

    Mac, Act is a CRM software solution used effectively by 2.8 million users, including individual professionals, small business owners, and anyone who regularly works with contacts.

    As for

  • Shane Dale
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 1:10 pm 0Likes

    Glenn and Robert are the most accurate with their insights – CRM is a mindset – a strategy which must be instilled into the office by the will of the management.

    If it isnt done as profoundly as that – then it wont work.

    Usually though – most offices will benefit drastically from a few pseudo CRM like functions – such as an internal email alert system – which should also announce open times and auction times reminders as well, and recent sales.

    Buyer matching to new properties and so forth. But that takes a modest amount of organisation and discipline – which is surprisingly rare from my observations. However I can also empathise with principals – salesmen are notoriously tech and form averse – herding cats!

    In short – CRM is not shortcut to wealth as a CRM provider – I also wrote deployed and trained a full CRM workflow for hundreds of agents, but there are easier paths to success than trying to lead the proverbial horse to water. Yet providers are constantly inunated with requests for CRM, that never get used once deployed.

    I do believe ANY enterprise would be seriously benefitted and enhanced by the sensible use of a CRM and workflow management system, but its not easy, change is often opposed by staff, either directly or indirectly.

    So wether you use a cheap or expensive product – the size of the benefit is mostly determined by the will of the principal in ensuring its integration into the office.

  • Tatiana Mijalica
    Posted October 26, 2010 at 4:02 pm 0Likes

    Personally, I think it comes down to lack of training. Implementing a system is one thing, but implementing it to its full potential is something that requires time and effort.

    My experience is that all CRM providers come in for a few hours of initial training, then charge silly $$ per hour thereafter. Stop charging for the training and you will create long term, happier customers.

    The things that would need to happen are not just related to properties and data maintenance, but also loading in and scheduling of letters, processes and mail outs.

    The process of setting up a CRM properly should take min 1week, with a full time CRM consultant on the ground, in the office, managing the process.

    A few case studies of what has worked in the past for other agents might also be helpful, a 3 monthly review process of the usage of the CRM with additional training provided on unused components or even just a simple cheat sheet for the sales team to use.

    These are very basic things that have not been implemented by anyone, I stand corrected if someone has, I have not seen it yet.

    Also, after all these years, there is still not one CRM that also caters for commercial, property management, trust accounting across sales and rentals.

  • John
    Posted October 27, 2010 at 4:30 am 0Likes

    The fundamental problem is that CRM’s are process driven systems but real estate agents are not process driven creatures.

    That is why almost every CRM implementation in a real estate agency is doomed to failure, unless you have PA’s to do hard work for you.

  • Wayno
    Posted October 27, 2010 at 9:21 am 0Likes

    Hi Guys
    I just can’t help feeling that Robert has it all sussed out after all the years he has been studying this. So I will be guided by his comments and experience.

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted October 27, 2010 at 12:47 pm 0Likes

    CRM’s are still a very long way from being anywhere near to perfect. For example I would love to see a CRM that is synced to Outlook so when an electronic diary entry is made for a property inspection – purchaser or vendor it is automatically entered into the CRM.

    The less arduous the manual labour required the better the system. Maybe there is a system that does this – I’m yet to see it.

  • Trevor Bragg
    Posted October 28, 2010 at 1:19 pm 0Likes

    Hi Robert,

    I would be happy to show you our CRM solution anytime but would not be confident in winning you over to our web solution.

    The same offer is available to all posters on this blog.

    I’m confident you would be very surprised at what we have developed.

    It cant hurt to have a look!


  • Wayno
    Posted October 29, 2010 at 9:59 am 0Likes

    I have been reading a bit about wordpress to lead as a crm. it looks like it may be on the right track, simple but effective. Any comments on this one?

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted October 30, 2010 at 9:10 am 0Likes

    Trevor – thanks although I have no plans to change as all I want is the respective developers to move with the times.

    Wayno – we have made quite a few changes to our Word Press back – end (through Ryan) and the changes are great. Such as search by price which was not there before – more changes are on the way. Hopefully over time Word Press will become our key CRM. Now I just need to figure out how we can sync Outlook to Word Press 🙂

  • Ryan O'Grady
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 7:43 am 0Likes

    Wayno, that plugin should be fine to remit the contact data back into SalesForce (there are a few out there liek this). The only issue is that it would not remit property data, you would need to build something for this. We’re working on a similar solution at the moment to remit real estate data to SalesForce.

    George, I was chatting to a client on Monday who uses ACT and said it is great. Sounds like you might be onto something here!

  • Wayno
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 9:10 am 0Likes

    Hi Ryan
    I think when you start looking at CRM a lot of people want a lot of things in it. I believe in the KISS principle, keep it simple stupid. I think that it won’t be long and someone is going to stumble onto something that will make wordpress a complete CRM.

  • Wayno
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 9:52 am 0Likes

    Hi Robert
    To be able to work in sync with outlook, would it be better if you looked at entering the appointment in the CRM and then you had an option to import it to outlook? just a thought

  • Robert Simeon
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 9:55 am 0Likes

    Wayno – I agree with being patient with WordPress as I too are watching developments with great interest. It makes more sense that way given clients feed off our website content so it is just a natural progression that the back – end drives the feeding frenzy and makes life much more simple.

    I can see markeing and listing presentations being sent out online to prospective vendors in WordPress.

    WordPress – opinions of value being sent out online set in your individual branding in WordPress.

    WordPress is a new business and thus scrathing the surface. If it researches and develops their many niche and demographic markets it could very well become a onestop shop for agencies – at long last.

  • Charlie
    Posted November 3, 2010 at 10:51 pm 0Likes

    Wow – this is just some of the best discussion on any topic I have ever heard on B2. Thanks to all contributors, I have learned a great deal from your comments.

    My take aways are there is general agreement with the premise of my post, although some argue that the CRMs I floated are not CRMs at all (!).

    Overall the following seem to be important:

    1. Solving the ‘getting client data in’ problem (initial resistance from reps on this one can kill it at birth)

    2. Needs top down support, champion and follow through, good change management from within the company, commitment from whole team (so they probably need to be engaged in the decision making process of ‘which CRM?’)

    3. CRM provider has to provide first class training and support (not just when they are flogging it, ongoing and forever)

    4. Web-based, so it synchs with listings on the web, Outlook calendar, alerts… and can be accessed from anywhere (the cloud; using internet as a platform)

    5. Keep it simple – CRMs get way over complicated too quickly

    I think whatever system agents use, these are good guidelines. Now, who’s going to build it?!

    [cue sudden stampede of providers claiming they already have it]

  • Wayno
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 1:52 pm 0Likes

    Ok this is what I can not figure out, the contact form on wordpress is pretty basic. How can you get your subscribers to be able to subscribe to certain catergories, e.g. Latest Listings only or newsletter only as the way I see it once they subscribe they receive a notification everytime you do something on your blog. WordPress is good but it just goes to show how much improvement there is to go and how big it will get once these new plug ins come along to create a huge and simple CRM, will be interesting the articles and comments that will be on here in 12 months time.

  • George Rousos
    Posted November 4, 2010 at 2:06 pm 0Likes

    Thanks Ryan,

    ACT is really good for both contact management and real estate marketing, but for anybody who has a real estate business in NSW, one of the requirements under the Commissioner for Fair Trading’s supervision guidelines – is that a Licensee must maintain documented complaint handling procedures. These procedures shall include a process that ensures that all complaints about staff behaviour towards consumers, and the agency’s responses to those complaints, are recorded and retained. A seperate record of the handling of financial complaints must be kept. The good news is, that ACT has the application and functionality needed to meet these requirements.

    I would also be interested to find out if ACT for Real Estate can do what Robert mentioned – I know there have been many improvements with Outlook integration since the release of ACT 2006 and they are always coming up with add-on solutions for other reasons to.

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