Not sure what real estate CRM to choose? We get it.
It’s a huge decision — one that often involves upending your existing lead management system. If you’re going to go through the trouble of resetting your entire sales foundation, you need to know it’ll be worth it.
We're going to drop our bias at the door and help you make the best choice for you with this comprehensive (and mostly objective) buyer’s guide to real estate CRMs. We’ll cover all the most important things to consider when choosing the best real estate CRM for your business today, and what to look out for to make sure your new system can support your growth plans for tomorrow.
Let’s get started!
Table of contents
- Real Estate CRM: What Is It? (And Why You Need to Nail It)
- The Top 5 Benefits of Using a Lead Management System
- 3 Questions to Find the Right System for You
- How to Choose the Best Real Estate CRM for Your Business
- The Complete Real Estate CRM Feature Checklist
Real Estate CRM: What Is It? (And Why You Need to Nail It)
The acronym CRM stands for 'Customer Relationship Management'. You might also see it referred to as real estate ‘contact management software’, although that term seriously undersells the potential benefits, if you ask us.
Because, unlike your marketing platform or website builder, your CRM touches every aspect of your real estate business — from tracking and managing your leads, sending drip campaigns, uploading contracts, booking and managing appointments and a whole lot more.
For growth-minded real estate agents, brokers and team leaders, your CRM is where all your customer data lives. It’s where you manage all your contacts, and track your communications with each and every individual in your database.
You can think of your CRM as the single source of truth on the health of your relationships, and knowing where every individual customer stands.
And, if you work it right, it can also be your golden ticket to achieving your best client relationships and wildest business dreams for the future, too.
If you have a team, your CRM sets the tone and cadence for how they work together to deliver an unforgettable experience for your customers that leads to more closed deals and more referrals.
While front-end website and marketing systems are great for attracting and funneling leads into your database, your CRM is the single distinct part of the real estate tech stack responsible for helping you and your team transform those leads into revenue.
As the backbone of your business, you deserve a best-in-class CRM. Let’s take a closer look at the core benefits a CRM can deliver so you know exactly what to look for.
The Top 5 Benefits of Using a Real Estate CRM (a.k.a. Lead Management System)
If you’re here, you already know which CRM we believe is the best. But just because we know Follow Up Boss is an awesome sales platform for ambitious teams and solo agents, doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.
Whether you choose us or another type of CRM or lead management system, there are a few core benefits and requirements you’ll want to look out for to make sure your investment is worth it.
Benefit #1. Get lightning-fast speed to lead
Data shows that responses that come in under five minutes are 21X more likely to help qualify leads than slower responses.
With a smart real estate CRM, you’re always the first one to get back to a new prospect.
Many CRMs (ours included) deliver automated text messages to incoming leads to make sure each and every internet lead gets an almost-instantaneous response to their initial inquiry.
For example, if you look for a CRM with flexible lead routing features, you can customize what happens with leads from different sources, so you can set up routing and follow up activities that are tailored to different kinds of leads. Follow Up Boss pulls leads from over 200 different sources into one central place and automatically assigns them to the right agent using zip code, price point, seller vs. buyer lead, and more.
What to look for: A CRM that lets you distribute leads to agents in a way that fits your specific workflows and goals so you can deliver faster responses to prospects, with zero internal drama within the team.
Figure: State of sales
Benefit #2. Close more deals through automated lead nurturing
Only 27% of the leads that enter a company’s marketing funnel are “sales ready."
If you want to close cold or lukewarm leads, you need to consistently send them the right message at the right time. The best way to do this is through smart, focused lead nurturing.
But with 65% of a sales rep's time getting sucked up by non-revenue generating activities, it’s tough to carve out time every day for nurturing your database. Luckily, many CRMs include automation features that can help you nurture leads on autopilot, without having to manually text, email and dial each one.
What to look for: For the best results with automated lead nurturing, choose a CRM that makes it easy to segment your list so you can tailor your message to your prospect’s buying stage and create customized drip campaigns that build a real connection with leads.
Benefit #3. Deliver an amazing customer experience (and get more referrals)
In today’s age of chatbots, robocallers, and misspelled Starbucks lattes, it’s crucial that your CRM gives you enough customization options so that no lead feels like a number.
For example, with custom automations, you can nurture leads who take a set action on your website such as saving or viewing a property, and your CRM will automatically call, text and/or email them. Some CRMs will even allow you to take your follow up way beyond the classic ‘Happy Birthday’ email to execute hyper-relevant time-based automations like “30 days after close date”.
What to look for: Look for a CRM that enables you to set up customized drip campaigns that are triggered by specific actions a lead takes, such as filling in a form on your website or even viewing a certain listing.
With a modern real estate CRM you can easily set up automated drip emails to trigger automatically for new leads or even for keeping in touch with other people in your database like your SOI, referrals or past clients.
Benefit #4. Cut the back-and-forth with seamless team collaboration
Nothing’s worse than an endless team email chain when you’re already knee deep in transactions.
By keeping all your contacts and communications in one central location, a CRM keeps everything organized and consistent — anytime you need something, you, your agents, admin, or transaction coordinator will know exactly where to find it, without even having to ask.
Instead of defaulting to siloed email and Excel-based workflows, your CRM gives you a single source of truth for your team’s communication and conversion history with each and every contact in your database.
What to look for: Shared calendars, @mentions and simple team chat features that make it easy to share all the info your team needs in order to deliver a stellar customer experience.
Benefit #5. Use your CRM as a lead tracking solution
You never know when a quiet lead will come back to life. But with the right CRM, you don’t need to block an entire day for trying to re-engage “dead” leads.
In Follow Up Boss, we use a smart Tracking Pixel that gives you detailed info on each lead: What campaign they came from, which listings they viewed and when they’re looking at your site.
With a CRM that includes lead tracking features you can:
- Call your most active leads first
- Pinpoint old leads that started searching again
- See who's online now
You’ll also know the exact neighborhoods and price ranges a lead is interested in so you can walk into every conversation with a game plan. Plus, you can build drip emails, text messages and action plans tailored to the properties they viewed.
What to look for: A tool with a pixel or other behavior-based lead tracking function to help make sure you’re showing up at exactly the right moment in your prospect’s real estate journey.
3 Questions to Find the Right System for You
Ok. We now know that a CRM is a game-changer for your business.
So what's the catch?
The biggest problem with real estate CRMs is that there are a ton of them out there.
We're all for the open market, but the sheer amount of CRMs makes it tough to know which one is right for you. And nothing's worse than wasting money on a system you just don't use.
So, should you go with cheap and cheerful (even if it is a little tough to navigate)? Or fork out the big bucks for a system with all the bells and whistles?
Here are three simple questions to help guide you to your own best answer.
#1. What are my automation needs based on my business today?
There are CRMs and tech tools that can help you automate your entire real estate business from A to Z. That's one of the reasons most agents make the mistake of overspending on tech when they first start to pick up steam in their business.
For example, if you're primarily working your SOI and past clients, you might only need a simple all-in-one tool to help you send drip campaigns and mailers. On the other hand, if you're rapidly scaling your lead sources, team and business, you might get better ROI with an open system that offers both contact management and team collaboration features.
#2. What are my needs based on my business six months from now?
If you're ready to take things to the next level by investing in paid internet leads and growing a team, you may need a more sophisticated tool that gives you advanced tracking and data reporting on your best lead sources and most productive team members.
The right CRM should immediately free up at least an hour of your time each day, while giving you the tools you need to support the next step in your business — whether that's investing in Facebook ads, setting up your drip campaign or hiring your first buyer agent.
#3. Do my agents and I actually like our current lead management system?
If you and your agents aren’t updating your database like you should be, chances are your CRM simply isn’t easy to use. And life's too short to run your business on a system you don't love.
A user-friendly CRM with great UX will make it easy (even enjoyable!) to keep your database up-to-date, without ever having to pause and think about what goes where.
Here's what Austin-based broker Ryan Rodenbeck has to say about the importance of keeping it simple when choosing a CRM.
“I have used a lot of CRMs out there, experimenting with every type of system from the overly complicated to the over-priced.”I’ve never had a CRM that is just kind of perfect. There’s a rival company that I really look up to and their agents were like ‘We’re using Salesforce and it’s intimidating.’ As a tech nerd, I’d probably be all over it but as a team leader, you want something that agents can plug into but still has great features. Follow Up Boss has done all of that for us.”
By selecting a CRM his agents actually like using, Ryan can onboard team members faster and with fewer headaches. It’s a lot less painful to make important changes, too.
For example, when Ryan decided to switch his lead distribution strategy from Round Robin to First to Claim, he did it in a click of a button.
Whether it’s Follow Up Boss or another lead management platform, make sure you choose a system that can grow and evolve with your business.
How to Choose the Best Real Estate CRM for Your Business
Once you know what you really want for your business, you're ready to start weighing your options for the CRM features that can take you there.
As we said before, there are technology tools to help you with literally every aspect of your real estate business. We've broken it down into three general types of CRMs, that all fall under one of two core categories: open system or all-in-one.
Open Systems vs. All-in-One
No matter which CRM you’re considering for your real estate business, it can likely be defined as either an all-in-one system (meaning it handles everything from your lead gen, marketing, CRM, and even transaction management) or an open system (one that integrates with the best tools for each independent business function).
When you're just starting out, it's fine to use a single system for generating leads, sending drip campaigns, and handling contact management. But as your business grows, you'll want to keep that level of centralization without getting locked in with any one specific tool or tech company.
In order to achieve both the centralization and flexibility your business needs, look for a tool with an open API.
A CRM with an open API can easily integrate with your other systems to automatically pull in all your leads and make sure every last one gets nurtured and measured via a robust set of features and functions, including:
- Stages of lead cycle
- Leads most likely to respond
- Automated email drips
- Built-in dialer
- Text messaging
- Follow up reminders
- Deal reporting
- Team reporting
If you're just starting out, there are a number of low cost CRMs that can help you track your leads. Many of these cost less than $100 per year and usually come with a generous free trial of up to six months.
These tools can be great in the beginning, when you just need a place to grow your budding database. In the future, you'll be able to afford a tool with great UI. But at this point, it doesn't really matter how pretty your tool is. It just needs to be simple and easy to use.
Here are some of the leading CRMs in this category:
- Streak CRM for Real Estate
Or, if you want something even more straightforward, there are also plenty of great project management tools that can be used as a CRM, including:
If you decide to opt for a CRM over a project management tool, it's also important to note that not all CRMs are real estate CRMs.
Many agents start out using a general tool or CRM because it's well-known, well-loved, and in some cases, very affordable or even free. That's totally fine in the beginning. But as the referrals start rolling in, it becomes very difficult to juggle ALL the tasks in your business as a one-person show.
Best for: Newer agents who need a streamlined lead management tool on a budget.
All-In-One Real Estate CRMs
If you're a.) reaching your sending limit every month, b.) thinking of hiring a VA or c.) wondering if you're ever going to see your family again, it's time for an upgrade. At this stage in the game, you're going to want to swap out your homegrown system for a true blue real estate CRM that can take important tasks off your plate.
An all-in-one real estate CRM can handle things like lead gen and capture, real estate-specific drip campaigns, advanced SOI marketing, mailers and more.
Some of the leading CRMs in this category include:
- Wise Agent
- Sierra Interactive
- Boomtown ROI
- Real Geeks
Be aware that, by definition, all-in-ones are also lead gen tools which means that with this category of CRM, you can usually expect to spend more depending on your marketing goals.
Best for: Agents who are regularly closing more than 5 transactions per month and need to automate lead gen, marketing and follow up from one central place.
Dedicated Real Estate CRMs
Growing pains are real. As you gain more and more momentum in your business, your needs are going to change and evolve.
When you reach a point in your business where you have way more work than you can handle, it will pay back tenfold to give your team the tools they need to get more done, faster. At this point, juggling backend logins and switching between systems will hurt your team's productivity and put you at risk of losing leads.
Dedicated CRMs help you organize all your leads in one place (regardless of source) and automatically distribute leads to agents. Some CRMs (including Follow Up Boss) offer additional features like agent tracking and deal reporting to give you the complete picture of what and who is making (and losing) money within your team.
Here are some of the top real estate CRMs for teams:
- Follow Up Boss
- Top Producer
At this level, it's also important to think about protecting your team's focus. There shouldn't be 1,000 different ways to accomplish one simple task within your CRM. That’s why at Follow Up Boss, we prioritized simple, user-friendly design and an open API from day one.
Best for: Growing teams and solo agents who have a systems-mindset and want more control over the tools they use.
Finally, there’s the big-name CRMs we’ve all heard of.
While these systems are undoubtedly some of the most robust and sophisticated CRMs out there, they also come jam-packed with expensive enterprise features that most real estate teams simply don’t need.
Some of the top corporate CRMs are:
- Microsoft Dynamics 365
- Oracle CRM On Demand
Corporate CRMs have a feature for pretty much any sales task you can think of. But because they were built for organizations of over 1,000 employees, this functionality often feels overly complicated and can actually prevent agents from consistently working their databases.
Unless you have a large, enterprise-level team, it will usually make more sense to go for an open, dedicated real estate CRM that you can customize and integrate with the other systems your business runs on.
Best for: Enterprise-level teams.
The Complete Real Estate CRM Feature Checklist
Now that you know about the types of CRMs out there — and what a truly stellar platform can help you accomplish — you're ready to knuckle down and start your search!
Here's a quick rundown of some of the most important (and overlooked!) features to consider when selecting your CRM.
It's impossible to overstate the importance of user friendliness — especially if you have a team.
Your agents need to feel good about using your CRM, otherwise the deals just won't get done.
As broker Ryan Rodenback puts it, “If you can identify tools that your agents will actually use in their day-to-day workflows, you can rest easy knowing you’ve made the right investment.”
When evaluating a CRM for your business, study the website for screenshots and demo videos. Is the system easy to understand?
Once you've narrowed down your top 2 to 3 choices, schedule a demo to get your questions answered one-on-one and make sure you and your team will feel comfortable using it.
Of course, it goes without saying that your CRM should work seamlessly with mobile apps for both iPhone and Android.
How much of a learning curve can you handle?
A free trial is a great way to test not only the CRM itself, but also the customer support that comes with it.
Every new tool will take some time to learn. Use your trial to make sure you and your team can get the answers you need, when you need them.
If you're thinking about using Follow Up Boss for your CRM, you should know that we take Customer Support very seriously. You can learn more about how we make the CRM transition as easy and effective as possible right here.
We also offer a large library of support resources including on-demand workshops, step-by-step video guides, and help documents to help you and your team get the most out of your investment.
(And if you’re really serious about kicking it into high gear, try out the Boss Method for consistent lead follow up and conversions.)
No matter which way you cut it, your ability to pick up the phone will always be directly correlated to your success in this business.
Look for a CRM that will automatically dial every lead on your priority list, back to back, so you can power through your prospecting with drive and consistency. Even a small thing, like stopping to hang up and dial yet another seven digits, can drain precious time away from your most powerful daily tasks.
At Follow Up Boss, we’ve built one of the industry’s most powerful dialers. "Using calling lists, I can make 40 phone calls in 15 minutes. It's a thing of beauty," says Ryan Fitzgerald, Realtor/Owner, Raleigh Realty.
Automation and Personalization
Automation is great, but sometimes you need that personal touch that only a living, breathing human can deliver.
Does the CRM in question provide you with the flexibility to automate and personalize where needed?
Check to see the integrations available. With tools like Zapier in the mix, most CRMs will be able to take you to the level of automation you want. Just be careful not to overdo it. You probably don't want to be sending out emails that feel like a template.
Reporting and Analytics
As your business grows, it becomes easier and easier for money and opportunities to fall through the cracks. That’s why it’s so important to have accurate information about your business. Metrics like time to close, leads by source, cost per lead, and more can provide crucial insight to help you make more strategic decisions.
Look for a CRM that has advanced tracking and reporting to help you create a bulletproof lead management system and hold agents accountable for the leads you're giving them. A particularly powerful way to use your data is with a leaderboard, which can increase competitiveness among your team and help motivate them to even better performance.
How you get optimal value for your money has everything to do with where you are in your business. What's the best fit for your business today and for the next 1 to 2 years?
A free or low-cost CRM is absolutely the way to go when you're starting out. But when you're juggling multiple escrows each month, you can buy back your time and make more money by investing in a Solo Agent or Team CRM.
And for teams calling a variety of leads coming in from MLS sites, internet lead sources, expireds, FSBOs, and more — you can save a ton of money by using one CRM as your central lead management system and dialer.
To get an accurate view of value for money, take an objective look at the cost and time pressures in your business and really think through how (and if) the CRM can alleviate these for you. If you’ve already got a sales platform in place but are considering an upgrade, we have some great tips on how to accurately calculate the ROI of your CRM and evaluate its worth to your business.
One final note on costs: CRM pricing should ALWAYS be transparent. If you can't find a price on their website, you probably can't afford it.
Is Follow Up Boss Right for You?
The customers we serve best at Follow Up Boss are ambitious solo agents and teams who are relentlessly focused on lead ROI.
With our open, fully integratable platform, we help our users close more deals faster, hold their agents accountable, and prevent profitable opportunities from slipping through the cracks.
If you’re ready to get your entire team focused and on track to close more leads in less time, check us out. You can start today with a 14-day trial, totally free.