I Love Leasing Blog

"Teeing up qualified prospects" by Lisa Benson Multihousing Pro Magazine


Technological progress has impacted the multifamily industry over the years, but today's emerging mechanizations could forever revise the way apartment owners and property managers count their leasing successes and gauge the effectiveness of their marketing dollars.The marketplace also is hesitantly trying out new customer relationship management (CRM) technologies for life-cycle consumer management in the hopes they will increase profitability and competitiveness. These all-encompassing communications management suites offer both single and bundled solutions.

When researching these contact management offerings, one quickly realizes there are a lot of details to wade through, understand and compare. Most of the products' providers are more than willing to facilitate RFP efforts with prepared questionnaires and educational materials to help ensure that purchasing decisions match executive goals and business practices.

But nuances in this nascent field can be as subtle as are the variations in lead-tracking management for short-term consumers looking for strong closing ratios, like apartment developers or owners who are repositioning assets.

CRM applications typically are designed for operators of stable portfolios seeking to improve or manage tenured resident relationships. The challenge to comprehend these discrepancies is compounded by bias within our ranks.

While those familiar with applied and industrial sciences might welcome technology that promises to at the least increase ROI, some industry insiders see an uphill battle for anything truly disruptive.

Though property managers see the benefit of improved data handling and its associated transparency of on-site contact management, resistance to automation is prevalent among those who project the displacement of leasing jobs with the advancement of these sophisticated robotic systems.

Ester Bonardi, Senior Director-Marketing Strategy at Yardi Systems explains the hesitation, "Agent lead tracking systems should be a complete CRM, but unlike other industries, leasing professionals are not familiar with the benefits of this type of tool. The challenging dynamics of this sector (necessitates) that it must be simple enough to be adopted, but robust enough to manage the life cycle of the lease."

Becca Wilson, founder of Spherexx, a tenured provider of custom software for the multifamily industry, says there could be many reasons for limited adoption.

"Many of the large property management software systems bundle both lead management and CRM platforms into their service offering," she said.

She believes only the small group of "best of breed" solutions that offer real time bi-directional integration should be considered by any property management company that questions whether they are providing the best leasing tools for their leasing teams.

"Every owner and operator must have lead tracking software in place at every single apartment community. It's one of the most insightful and affordable asset management tools you can implement," said Wilson.

In some cases, even best of breed solutions are overlooked simply because they offer prescribed, prepared modules that are incorporated into the main financial services platform, a service the client already is 'paying' for.

Lead Tracking Management and the newly emerging CRM platforms had humble beginnings in the late 1980's with printed apartment marketing books that used custom phone numbers for prospect tracking. These morphed into simple contact forms collection with the Dot-com era websites. A few decades ago, companies like CallSource and Who's Calling improved management oversight by offering multi-phone number references enhanced with central reporting that allowed management members to know exactly which media sources delivered the most qualified consumers.

Each iteration of telephony, integrated data mining and the inclusion of call center services brought generational improvements and elevated product competencies within the property management software sector and its inherent data bank.

The various providers of Lead Management services, now integrated with voice over IP controls and deep detail reporting, worked closely with the financial services sector to create automated integrated tracking platforms. Companies like Lead to Lease, purchased by RealPage, and Lead Tracking Services, purchased by Yardi, helped to set the standard for sophisticated marketing applications and were the key source for oversight of lease origination.

Lease Tracking Management continues to be a core informational business service at the heart of leasing offices across the nation. At its most basic standard, any good lead management strategy consists of tracking ad sources, capturing and qualifying leads and nurturing leads into residents.

"Lead management strategies are nothing new, but now more than ever, companies are scrambling to find better lead management tools to improve ROI on their marketing spend. But they are looking for affordable lead management solutions that offer easy integration without disruption to their existing business," said Clint Reeves, VP of Operations and Marketing at Rent Dynamics, a market upstart that recently deployed its intuitive and interactive prospect interviewing tool, the Digital Lead Card, which incorporates a systematic approach to phone and email follow-up practices.

Other players in this tight-knit space include a CRM platform and mobile application from independently operated LeaseHawk and specific product lines from large financial services providers like the Yardi Pop-Card and RealPage's Lead to Lease-an elemental component of LeaseStar.

All four of these product offerings provide integrated reporting supported by live agents within an optional call center environment.

Jarom Johnson at Wasatch Management explains the need for call center services embedded with Lead Tracking management. "Like the rest of the industry, we weren't answering 30 percent of phone calls, and we didn't realize this was happening."

As a purchaser of the Rent Dynamics platform, Johnson finds that call center services integrated with the data management offerings facilitate his ability to expand functional tracking data into action items on-site. Recently, call center services migrated into the budgets of management operators as a result the Internet's 24/7 leasing capabilities and a need to quickly respond to consumers looking for an apartment. "A genuinely unique prospect leasing experience is the result of an applied qualified lead management program. Today, we can leverage that technology to make that experience the best in our industry," said Johnson, who continues to justify the benefits of the bundled solution.