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Keep Up With Contacts

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Considering the huge number of day-to-day tasks that real estate professionals have on their plate, it’s not unusual to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind attitude toward contact management. But if you’re not staying in touch with your customer base and sphere of influence, you can bet that your competition is.

Michael Halpin, sales associate with Coldwell Banker Property Showcase in DeLand, credits Microsoft’s Outlook software with helping him ensure that his valuable contacts don’t slip through the cracks.

A number of programs are on the market but Halpin opted to use Outlook, which came bundled with his Office 2007 program, instead of one of the higher-end Web-based solutions because “it’s inexpensive and user friendly. I can access my data even if I don’t have an Internet connection,” he says. “And I’ve always got my laptop with me, so [my contacts are] basically at my fingertips.”

Here are five benefits that Halpin derives from contact management:

1. Organize Easily
“When I want to find a contact I don’t have to rifle through a card file,” Halpin says. “All I do is type in part of the name, and it will find a list of all matching names. In less than two seconds I can identify the person I want to contact.”

2. Apply Categories
Another aspect of Outlook that Halpin enjoys is the ability to categorize his contacts. “It lets you assign multiple categories to each name,” he says. “For example, if someone is a buyer and a seller, you can send an open house invitation to all your prospective buyers, and that particular seller will get it as well.  Multiple categories allow you to really get dynamic.”

3. Set up Reminders
“Within Outlook, you have a calendar and task function that will set up reminders for you,” Halpin says. “Whenever you turn on your computer, it says, ‘Hello. You need to do a mail-out today.’ Once you’re done, you can close it down and ask it to stop reminding you.”

The program allows him to set up recurring tasks and appointments. “You can set up reminders for [periods] as short as a day or as long as never-ending,” he says. “The program will remind you until you tell it to stop.”

4. Program Compatibility
Halpin says that practically every other software program he uses is compatible with Outlook. For example, he uses a business card scanner that lets him scan in someone’s business card and sync it with Outlook, where it’s added to his contact management database.
“Microsoft Office comes with everything else that I use in my business, such as the Excel program that I use to create spreadsheets for sellers (and for buyers if it’s applicable),” he adds. “I’ve also developed  listing presentations using Microsoft’s PowerPoint program.”

5. Integrate E-mail
The program also lets Halpin set up as many folders as he wants. “For instance, instead of the standard Inbox, Outbox and Sent Items, I can create a folder for brand-new prospect e-mails to revisit every week to see whether I followed up or not. It lets me set up rules that automatically feed incoming e-mails from various sources into specific folders. I’m basically skimming the cream off all those e-mails, and when I have down time I go in and work on them. I have 152 e-mails in my Inbox right now that I haven’t read, but I know those aren’t time-sensitive messages or leads. [The program] keeps me from losing important e-mails. My e-mail and my Web site are designed as working tools for me—they’re not secondary. I check my e-mail 20 times a day. I’m always in front of it if I can be.” Outlook also notifies his cell phone each time he gets a new e-mail.

Halpin forwards all his e-mail messages from his company account at Coldwellbanker.com into Outlook.

“I use what’s called a POP account to make temporary contact with the server and instantly transfer all the e-mails to my laptop,” says Halpin. “Once that connection and transfer is done, I don’t have to be connected to the Internet anymore but I can read all my e-mails. No matter if I’m away from a wireless connection, when I respond to e-mails with Outlook, it will store them in the Outbox until I hook up to an Internet connection. Then it will send them out.

“The other benefit to the POP account is that I can … right click on any e-mail that I receive and add it to my contacts. All I have to do is tell [the program] what name I want to put in, press ‘Save,’ and it’s placed into my list for contacts. It’s convenient and time effective. That’s what it’s all about: doing the laborious task as quickly as possible so that you can spend the quality time making money.”

6. Share Your Calendar
Halpin finds it handy to share access to calendars. “If you’re working in a team format and want to set meetings and schedule conference room times, for example, you can leave the calendar open for all parties involved,” says Halpin.

“Without owning the most expensive technology, I’m making myself more productive and more responsive to my customers than probably 90 percent of my competition,” Halpin concludes.  

This column, designed to offer examples of how salespeople and brokers are using technology in their offices, won first place in the 2006 Best Column category from the Florida Magazine Association. The column is for general information only. Opinions expressed here don’t necessarily reflect an endorsement of the views by Florida Realtor magazine or the Florida Association of REALTORS®  (FAR).