Q&A with Rex Software originally recorded by Kerfuffle.
We recently caught up with David Mintz from Kerfuffle to talk about one of the most under-utilised resources in most real estate agencies, the database. In this discussion, we explore the challenges facing agents today when it comes to data management and delve into the untapped potential sitting inside most real estate agency databases, from opportunities to better manage team reporting and coaching to database workflows that increase lead generation. So without further ado, let's dive in and learn more about how to make the most of your real estate agency database.
Today, I'm joined by my guest, Mark Hinkins, the UK sales manager for Rex CRM and Tom McCarthy, the product manager for Rex CRM.
We’re discussing what’s usually a little bit dry for some, your agency database, and making it more exciting because what you can do with your data is actually quite exciting. It’s where the missed opportunities are, where the low-hanging fruit is. You don't necessarily need new business to walk through your door in order to generate more leads and results. Because we are all of us sat on an awful lot of valuable data.
The issue that we've all got in various different CRMs is that the data is there, our staff are there, we just don't know how to make it all come together and how to actually weaponise it. So I suppose it all comes down to the power behind reporting and how we can craft the reports that we need.
So, what are the most common problems that agents face when it comes to reporting and data?
I think the number one issue with reporting for any agency, regardless of what technology they are or aren't using, is that the data quality is never really where you want it to be. This could be duplicate data, data that's not comprehensive enough, outdated information, or data that's not getting cleaned up.
To borrow a phrase that engineers use all the time, “rubbish in, rubbish out”, and I think in an estate agency context, that rings true, right?
Every agency walks into any sort of new reporting system and thinks, “Oh, I want to get great business outcomes from this. I want to use this to measure KPIs and drive business growth and prospect for new leads”, and that's usually the first brick wall they hit, right? When the data quality isn't always there it can mean people don’t really trust what they're looking at. So what ends up happening is a lot of agents just walk away disappointed, reporting dreams never realized, which is a shame.
Agents have had more than one CRM in their time and they’ve dragged data from one place to another. Whether they're meant to or not is another question. But you're right, the quality of the data we collect depends on the quality of the questions that we're asking, how diligently we're asking those questions and how we're recording it.
“the quality of the data we collect depends on the quality of the questions that we're asking, how diligently we're asking those questions and how we're recording it.”
So, what do you do when it comes to maintaining quality data and how does Rex solve that kind of issue?
You actually painted a nice picture, that with data quality, there are two types, right? There are administrative data quality problems, like, duplicates and ancient data, that sort of thing. And then there are strategic data quality issues. Say, if you historically haven't been qualifying your applicants very well or you're not getting a full picture of your past interactions with a potential client.
For the strategic data quality issues, this is where features like our Custom Fields are really, really powerful. You can get very granular and specific with how and what type of data you record when you're doing something like booking in an inspection or registering an applicant for example.
Then you're able to report on these Custom Fields. One of the greatest elements of our Custom Reporting system is that you're actually able to pull in the customer data that you've been putting into the system and report on an aggregate of that data and spin it any way you like. That helps get agencies into the flow of good strategic data practices.
It's like a chicken and egg situation, where the biggest problem with reporting is often data quality. But on the flip side, the right kind of reporting is actually really helpful in identifying where your data quality issues are. We’ve had feedback from customers who’ve said it's only by being able to pull in some really granular fields that they're able to actually see where their data gaps are, which perhaps wouldn't be very visible in a traditional sort of KPI report.
So Mark, give us some examples, of how agents can better use Custom Reports and Custom Fields. Because it sounds great, the ability to get really granular, but how would you use it and how are you going to then present that in a format that can be used by agents? Is this something that you're bringing up in the morning meeting? Does this set the agenda for the day? What are the next steps?
So, as well as the main Custom Reporting Centre that we've been talking about, we also have quick-access dashboards. At a morning meeting, you can pull up a quick-access dashboard, but if you want to dive a bit deeper into that data, you can jump into the Custom Reporting
Centre and produce either a dynamic report or a static report that can become a window into one moment in time.
So, for example, the most simple version would be, what appointments did we book yesterday? Times, evaluations, viewings, et cetera. You could surface it in one quick dynamic report that you can just click on and view every single day.
Then you can really dive into the historic data. As an example, how many of our valuations did we not get instructed on immediately, say within 2 to 4 weeks, but came back around for a second valuation and we did an instruction on. This data is something that should be really, really important to agents because it's showing the opportunities that they are actually taking control of and following up on. Whereas in most systems that data would go dead and an agent would try and pull up a list six months from now of valuations they didn't win, when actually we haven't been actively nurturing that data. We've just let it sit cold and we're picking up the phone for an extremely transactional phone call to be like, “Hey, we did a valuation six months ago. You didn't instruct us. Do you want another?”.
“This data is something that should be really, really important to agents because it's showing the opportunities they’re actually taking control of and following up on.”
I mean, you can only manage what you can measure. We've been repeating that for as long as I can remember. But the truth is, we are sometimes lazy when it comes to managing data. Having it now at a glance and being able to run a dynamic report gives you the ability to just hit that button, and run the report based on the same criteria at any point in time going forward. So if I wanted to know the number of valuations that we'd typically not instructed the first time around, that's there forever isn't it? Which is useful if you get into a bit of a pattern in those morning meetings and we want to concentrate on improving one key parameter, then that's the way to do it.
Yeah, 100% And kind of the way this system operates is very process driven.
So hypothetically, if you did a valuation and a vendor had said to you, “look, we're not going to instruct you now, we just want an idea of how much our property’s worth. Give us a call in 12 months”. Like I said, in most systems, that's just going to go completely cold. But the processes in Rex enable you to nurture that prospective vendor over the next three, six, nine, 12 months. And the reporting functionality will be able to give you a clear summary of how well your processes are operating and enable you to then iterate on those processes so that you can move the needle on that metric, which if you're moving your valuations instructed within 12 months from that, say, 40% to 45%, it doesn't seem like a huge amount, but the volume that goes into that is a significant amount of potential additional fees.
Yeah, the power of marginal gains are never more true than in today's market. Sometimes the challenges are that you can't necessarily just bump productivity from, say, 40% to 60% overnight. I'd take 5% any day of the week. So, even a 1% incremental improvement has been proven to really stack up in terms of results.
I suppose that enables and empowers your team members to go out there and do their job and smash it, but really as managers as well. Then if we've got a larger team, maybe you're looking after more than one branch and you need that visibility. And this really helps to give you that oversight of individual KPIs as well. So you've got activity data that you can manage in order to do your job, but then you've got management data that allow you to build and grow a company.
“You can’t just bump productivity from 40% to 60% overnight… the power of marginal gains are never more true than in today’s market”
Yeah, and it's that split that very much defines how we looked at the recent release of Custom Reporting. We have the management layer, who in a very traditional reporting sense, want to be able to easily manage KPIs week on week. We spoke to dozens of managers and a lot of the feedback was around wanting to have those in-the-moment coaching opportunities. As a manager, a lot of them, particularly in smaller agencies, want to be able to have the conversations and performance discussions.
What we then realised is that agents and users on the ground, who are entering data in the system, really love using these not so much as a report, but almost like action lists. Like their own window into the system. They've got a lot of tools at their disposal to be able to personalise and customise what data is being shown. And so, they're using a lot of these custom reports for day-to-day operations.
It's almost like people are personalising their own little mini CRM experiences from within the application. And that's not what you traditionally think of when you think of reporting, right? When you think of reporting, you think of, OK, you're generating some PDF and you're printing it out and sending it to some exec somewhere.
You used an interesting word, which was “coach”. Just as your customers need nurturing and your data needs nurturing, the greatest asset that we all have are the people within our business, and we need to be able to nurture them as well. And frankly, if you don't know what they need from you, you're never going to be able to do that.
“the greatest asset that we all have are the people within our business, and we need to be able to nurture them as well.”
Yeah, what we see is a lot of managers create the reports they use for KPI management, and then they'll share it around the agency as a link to look at every week. Everyone can see the same thing and that becomes really powerful. It can be a very motivating driver. People get credit for their hard work.
It's worth pointing out that you guys are extremely well-known and well-tested in Australia, obviously, where you originated from. And I often say, when we want to know what we're going to be doing here in the UK in three years' time, we look at what Australia is doing today. It's a little bit ahead of the curve in terms of nurturing clientele and keeping on top of that data.
So with that in mind, what are the next steps if they want to explore how they could possibly start to make the best use of the data that they've got in their systems?
I'd say that we know that in the average CRM, 91% of contacts have not been touched in the last six months. They're not being contacted by the agency. So within that 91% of data are homeowners who are about to instruct your competitors.
“In the average CRM, 91% of contacts have not been touched in the last six months… and within those contacts are homeowners who are about to instruct your competitors.”
What Rex enables you to do is surface that data and have it at the forefront of the entire customer journey. We have process tools called ‘Tracks’ within the Rex CRM system that essentially enable you to do general follow-up with contacts in the database in bulk, very, very efficiently.
Every single contact in the database should have some form of nurturing journey because unless they've said to the agent “do not ever contact us again”, or unless they've died, there's probably a reason for some material of some form to be put in front of them. Whether it’s a current tenant to turn them into a potential buyer with your agency, or someone who's just bought their first home and completed on it two days ago and you want to make sure that they are using your mortgage provider in 18 months time when they come to renew their fixed mortgage. You want to make sure that they’re going to be selling with you in three, four or five years' time when they upgrade to their next family home. That's the best use of data within the system.
There's a general obsession with constantly getting new data in rather than actually leveraging what already exists. And it's way, way easier to go into the archives of your CRM and pick out good data than it is to be consistently pushing for more and more data.
“You want to make sure that they’re going to be selling with you in three, four or five years' time when they upgrade to their next family home. That's the best use of data within the system.”
There's a nervousness, isn't there, amongst agents? The same hesitancy that we all have over prospecting is that we don't want to go back and have an awkward conversation with somebody that we've fallen out of touch with and we've neglected. We know we should have been in touch. So we leave it and we leave it and we leave it. And we often think that the newest data is the less awkward data to handle because you've had a legitimate reason to have contact with me as an agency over the last three months. Most agents tend to write off the old data and that's probably the richest mine of data if you can get into it. Agents need to get to grips with that.
Absolutely, I think my advice to those agents is that you can kind of ease into it. First of all, I think your average past client would be flattered if you called them out of the blue to see how they're doing. Particularly if it's from a previous owner of a successful sale, that's just really good service.
The other thing I'd say is that prospecting conversations don't necessarily always need to start with a phone call. If you're utilising Tracks in Rex, for example, a lot of that long-term follow-up can be, via estimates, an email. So you can still keep the channels of communication open without necessarily repeatedly calling the person up and forcing a conversation. Then that empowers them to reach out to you and engage at the level that they feel comfortable with.
“prospecting conversations don't necessarily always need to start with a phone call.”
Right, I think there's this kind of nightmare people have about, “Oh, god. Prospect in the database?” It's like, here's a list of 200 12-year-old contacts. Just start calling!
And you absolutely don't have to approach it that way. That's a real brute-force way to do it. That's where a lot of the automation and nurturing tools in Rex can be very useful and you can be very selective with how you do it. Just because they're old, it doesn't always mean cold.
Part of it is having a system that lets you pretty easily sift through a really old bunch of potential leads to understand which ones you are most likely to have a positive conversation with.
And it's great that you've got those different Tracks that you can sort of reignite that conversation with. You can start to ask them questions or feed them information so you can gauge how they react and you can say, well, actually, you know, we’re getting really high engagement from Mark on this. I'm going to put him up into my set of potentials. And then you work towards being able to have possibly a more open telephone conversation about your situation.
The more you do it, the easier it gets because you optimise away the approaches that lead to awkward conversations.
Absolutely. So an example would be, we know that a lot of the time when a buyer moves into a property, an agent then just doesn't really have a huge amount of contact with them. And if you've got a whole list of buyers who you've sold to from four to eight years ago, for example, it is going to be a little bit of a weird conversation to pick up the phone and be like, hey, we sold you four years ago. How's everything going in the property? But a fairly directive email, which is titled something along the lines of “This is how much the Torbay property market has increased in value in the last four years” it's probably something that's going to spark their attention and then lead to opening that door. You’re able to see within Rex how many times they've opened that email, what links they've clicked on, how they've engaged and then that dictates the next level of follow-up. Is that again going to be an email or is this your opportunity to pick up the phone and say, “Hey, I saw you had a look at that email about six times? Is there anything behind that or are you just really keen on seeing, how much equity you can get in your property?
“You’re able to see within Rex how many times they've opened that email, and what links they've clicked on, how they've engaged and then that dictates the next level of follow-up.”
Yeah, I think it's the soft approach that’s is going to pique somebody's interest. And I don't think you're going to get that many messages back where people say, hey, listen, don't ever contact me again because, let's face it, it's our national obsession, who's going to be prime minister this week and what is the value of my house? That's, that's all we care about.
If you bump into an estate agent, the first question I have is what is the market like in my area? People do genuinely want to know. And you can start putting that data in front of them and you can keep in regular contact with them. A lot of agents miss this opportunity. They don't know they're not in contact with an audience of people that they maybe sold a house to six, or seven years ago. And the statistics show that those people go on to instruct somebody else when it comes to selling their next house, but you can drastically bring that down. If you keep in contact with them, you'll be doing something that pretty much every other agent in the UK isn't doing. We're not particularly great at having keep-in-touch policies and I suppose this kind of reporting allows you to stay on top of that and identify it.
“If you keep in contact, you'll be doing something that pretty much every other agent in the UK isn't doing.”
So those agencies that are looking at making that change, what are the next steps? We've got lots of questions. Data migration is going to come into it as well, I'm sure that's one of the commonly asked questions.
Yeah, although we said earlier that a lot of data isn’t being touched in the last few years, agents obviously are extremely protective of their data. Understandably, it has a big value to them.
We’ve now migrated agents over from, I think every major estate agency CRM in the UK, so we have examples of having done that and are confident with the data that we'll be able to bring across.
We'd start by having a qualifying phone call because essentially Rex isn't going to work for everyone. I don't think there is one CRM that fits every agency in the UK. It's kind of the beauty of why some are so different. But once we've done that, we'll jump on a Zoom call and run through a demo based on what they're wanting to achieve in their agency over the next 6 to 12 months. Is it growth? Is it process efficiency? Is it anything else that is causing a huge issue? Are they pivoting the model that they're running? And we'll run through the functionality and the overarching themes of the system and see whether it's a good fit. And then we can look to have them on board within three to four weeks.
Wow OK, that's pretty quick.
So, who as an agent does fit that profile? Who would work with Rex a lot better? Is it a particular kind of agent or agency in terms of approach, or is it more of a broad church?
What we found is that there's a mix of agencies who are using it right from three user agencies, where it's maybe two headline agents and an app, and right up to a 200-branch agency that's using Rex.
I'd say, with self-employed or partner model agencies, what we've found is that the additional level of service that some of them offer, the stay-in-touch policy functionality within Rex lends itself really, really well to that. And so we have some of the biggest names in that model on board with Rex.
And we're also finding on top of that, the average fee of the agents that we have on board is significantly higher than what would be the average fee. Across the UK, we have some agents whose bare minimum fees are 2.5% in areas where their competitors are struggling to get 1%. It’s very service driven and those who are looking to be relationship focussed rather than just transactional are the ones who are significantly benefiting.
“we're also finding the average fee of the agents that we have on board is significantly higher than what would be the average”
But that's not to say we've pigeonholed ourselves into that element. We do also have a huge number of traditional branch agencies who are tech-focused, they benefit a lot from functionality within the system. We're finding that by releasing functionality and new features very frequently, our customers are saying that this is making a meaningful change to how they operate.
We've been throwing around the word ‘custom’ a lot. Custom reports, custom fields. We've invested very heavily into this idea of personalising the product. And that's part of the reason why we've been able to appeal to a lot of different agency types. The customisation and configurability in Rex is second to none. Our clients really value that aspect of the system above anything else, because it lets them work the way they want.
“The customisation and configurability in Rex is second to none. Our clients really value that aspect of the system above anything else, because it lets them work the way they want.”
Well, it sounds superb and I highly recommend agents get on top of their data and start to explore that with you guys.
Thank you so much for your time today, gents.