The Technology To-Do List©
Too Many Choices? With constant advances in technology, the most difficult question facing the average real estate agent today is exactly which technologies they should take advantage first, which come last, and which ones might be a waste of time altogether.
It would easy for most of us to assemble a “to-do” list of technology that we would like to start using this year. Unfortunately, that list would most likely exceed both our budget and our ability to implement.
Investing In Technology Rather than thinking about buying all the technology you need at once, you probably need to start thinking about it as an on-going investment and budget accordingly. Successful business people invest in education, marketing and technology on a continual basis. Like it or not, technology is an ever growing part of our future, and the future is not something you buy at once.
How much to invest every year is going to depend on where you are on the technology curve right now, where you want to be, and when. As a rule of thumb, I’d suggest that you budget as much on computer-related technology as you spend on your personal communications, meaning the total of your business line, cell phone and pager combined.
What To Do & When To Do It
The following lists represent the most logical order of technology implementation for most sales people. There is no set order within each group, as this will vary from person to person.
However, for the majority of agents, completion of the "A List" should occur before even considering investing in the "B List." Additionally, there is no reason to believe that you must, or even should, implement all of the following.
This is simply a ranking of what technology investments are most likely to result in increased production, and therefore yield a positive return.
The A List:
These represent the core technologies that any salesperson that takes the future seriously must fully exploit. Each of these tools are just about guaranteed to be worthwhile investments, as long as they are thoughtfully, and aggressively used.
Notebook Computer - For most salespeople, the days of needing a desktop computer are over. Today's notebooks have more than enough power to run entire businesses, and can also plug into all of the commonly desired accessories such as: monitors, keyboards, printers, scanners, back-up drives, etc. As long as you're running a Pentium III class machine (or the equivalent AMD K3) and have an "active" display, you can operate as a truly mobile professional.
Contact Management - This is the must have software for sales productivity. These are the programs that enable you to keep track of every detail regarding your prospects, sphere of influence, geographical farm and past clients. Managing thousands of contacts is amazingly simple and the ability to mass mail personalized prospecting and follow up letters is just the beginning of their power.
Palm Pilots - Now that the latest versions of Top Producer and Online Agent offer the ability to synchronize information between your computer and the Palm Operating System (OS), it’s a great time to explore the Palm series. The power of having access to every contact, appointment and to-do list in your jacket pocket cannot be underestimated. In fact, combined with the cell phone that you already own a Palm computer will truly allow you to be organized and in touch whenever you please. It’s worth noting that you don’t actually have to buy a Palm Pilot model, any personal digital assistant that uses the Palm Operating System will do.
Broadband Internet Access - Services like AOL are clearly popular among consumers, and Internet Service Provider (ISP), provide stable dial-up internet access from just about anywhere in the county. However, the fast expanding rollout of cable and DSL now makes high-speed access a highly desirable option for business uses. Even if these services are not available where live, two-way satellite access is now available for practically any location in the Untied States. The added speed of any broadband connection may not seem necessary, until you start to use them. Then, you’ll never want to access the Internet any other way! Now that these services are more competitively priced, you may be able to get high-speed access for not much more than you’re paying for dial-up access right now.
Professional E-mail - Any technology that enables salespeople to contact more prospects, while providing better follow up communication, is a valuable one indeed. The telephone, pager, fax machine voice mail and cellular phone have all been examples of how technology can improve productivity. With professional email software such as Eudora Pro or Outlook, email has the potential to rival the function of all of these devices combined. As email becomes more important to serving customers and clients, no business professional should rely on anything less than the best available email software.
A Personal Web Site - In short, web pages provide an amazing return on investment. For a fraction of the cost of a quality classified advertising budget, you can have an effective web page on the Internet. As long as you include your page's "address" in absolutely all of your marketing materials, (so that the readers of all your marketing material know how to find your web page) you really cannot fail to receive value on this kind of investment. You should not expect to make a living solely off of Internet leads, though some do. For the money, you can easily generate far more business from this investment than from any other form of advertising. However, it’s no longer sufficient to simply have a “page” on someone else’s site. You now need your own complete web site. You need one that’s professionally developed. And, you need to own your domain name. Without these key ingredients you will not truly benefit from everything that Internet marketing has to offer.
Digital Cameras - Few technologies are a satisfying to use as the digital camera. Not only does it save both time and money, but it also represents one of the few technologies that can directly impress your customers and clients as well. When you tour a prospective listing taking digital photos, and then import them into a marketing flyer right before the seller's eyes, you're building credibility in the process. And, when you e-mail a photo of your new listing to an out of town buyer, the same day the home comes to market, they're going to be impressed with you and the service you have to offer.
The B List:
The next tier of technology investments may add just as much productivity as the "A-List" but generally not until you've fully integrated the items on the previous list into your business activities. Technology is like most other aspects of life in that learning to walk before you run will usually make you a faster in the end.
Presentation Software - More and more of today's real estate professionals are successfully taking their technology into the field. Armed with a notebook computer and the real estate presentation software available from either Top Producer or by using Microsoft’s Power Point program, any agent can easily create outstanding presentations for their buyers and sellers. The value to the agent is that both of these software packages come with over a dozen top-quality presentations that can be easily customized. This drastically reduces the amount of time required to prepare for client appointments and makes a professional statement that cannot be matched by paper alone.
Portable Printers - If you're going to go portable with your technology, then a portable printer is an eventual must-have purchase. While showing buyers and seller property flyers and MLS searches in their living room is a great use of technology to enhance customer service, nothing matches the lasting professional impression made by actually printing color copies to leave behind. When you realize that a good portable printer can be had for under $300 and that that these units really are portable, it doesn't take much calculation to realize their true value to today's mobile professionals.
Scanners - In terms of creating the "paperless office" the scanner cannot be beat. Keep in mind that it’s actually the document management software included with your scanner that really helps you get organized and become more productive. To begin cutting the ties to paper and files, consider scanning a copy of all of your standard listing and sales forms. Combined with a portable printer you can truly become a more mobile professional.
Financial Analysis - Most agents seem to shy away from offering financial advice, instead simply referring financial inquiries to a loan officer. Unfortunately, this runs counter to growing consumer demands for one-stop shopping and expert advice from all of their business contacts. While no one is saying that agents need to become mortgage underwriters, having accurate answers to all of your consumer's questions and offering unbiased and expert advice certainly goes a long way towards adding value to your services, and creating satisfied customers. The financial software programs from Top Producer can make the task of financial counseling extremely simple, effective and accurate. If any agent doubts the value of adding such software to your current arsenal, simply consider the proposition from the customer's perspective. What buyer wouldn't want to know the real financial differences between choosing a fixed-rate or an adjustable rate loan? Who wouldn't want to understand the true impact of paying discount points? How could your buyer not be impressed by a simple, yet accurate, demonstration of the long-term impact of making small additional principal payments on a monthly basis? Finally, the real question is how will the buyer feel about the professionalism and value of the person who can provide them with this valuable information?
The C List:
The last grouping of technologies all have value, but are below the "A" and "B" lists in terms of what they can add to the typical real estate agents income, productivity and time savings. This is not to say that you should avoid these technologies, just that they should not be addressed until you have fully exploited the more important, and productive, technologies above.
Desk Top Publishing - One of the biggest technology traps that seems to ensnare real estate agents is Desktop Publishing, (DTP) software. Whether you're considering PageMaker, MS Publisher or another DTP program, you probably shouldn’t, unless you’re a truly advanced technology user. Few agents are competent graphic artists, and fewer still can spare the precious hours needed to become competent in creating effective marketing pieces. Given that many real estate software programs come with ready to use marketing templates for flyers, brochures, postcards and even door-hangers, you likely don't need standalone DTP software.
Mapping & Demographics - One of the great benefits of the computer age is the ability to purchase electronic information. Every day the availability of software for mapping, demographics, school information, and public records increases. While all of these categories lend themselves to providing greater customer service and personal efficiency, they do not represent products that provide the immediate return on investment that most real estate agents are looking for. Additionally, these types of information can often be found on the Internet, and for free.
Digital Camcorders - While the promise of affordable, all digital motion photography is coming, it’s not yet a “price productive” technology. If you want to create your own digital multi-media, take a look at the Dazzle Digital Video Creator from Dazzle Multimedia instead. For under $250 you can create computerized video files from your existing camcorder or VHS player and then use these clips for distribution via CD ROM, email or for download from your personal website.
Web-Enabled Phones - While the commercials make these new tools seem both practical and nearly indispensable, the fact is that there’s only so much you can read on the small screens that come with these units. Just imagine that you’re trying to read this entire article on a cell phone display and I think you’ll get the point. In addition, the current technology only allows for communicating at about 10K - less than a fourth of the speed that even dial-up Internet users enjoy. While they may have many uses for business people in general, and certainly represent the future, the typical real estate agent doesn’t need to invest in this technology, yet.
As you plan your new year, whether for yourself or your associates, I sincerely hope that you will reflect on the above to-do list in order to determine how effectively you are using technology, and to set realistic goals for implementing newer technologies into the future.
On a final note, regardless of where you are on the technology curve, realize that the shift to technology for enhanced productivity and production is an on-going process and that without effective training, results will typically be marginal.
The content of this article is based on my seminar:Stephen M. Canale
Preparing Professionals for Competition in Tomorrow's Marketplace