Real estate brokers, agents and Realtors work hard for their money. They probably would work even harder if they could cut down on all the paperwork and marketing that has to be done just to stay ahead of the competition.

Paperwork is a necessity of the business — a lot of it is due to regulations.

Marketing is a different issue entirely. How much or how little a broker does is entirely up to him or her. There’s a lot of work to marketing, which is why many in the real estate industry outsource this part of the business to customer relationship managers and use contact management systems.

There are dominant players in the customer relationship management (CRM) business, and there are smaller, niche players. I’m sure they all are useful, or these companies wouldn’t be in business today.

But one company in the scrum recently caught my eye because of an innovative add-on that’s accessible to all its clients for free.

No cost is always good in my eyes. However, for people in the industry, free ranks only as not bad. Even better would be something that is quick and easy to use. This product appears to be both, which is why I decided to see what it was all about.

The product is a hands-off e-newsletter, which is a new offering of Toronto-based IXACT Contact, a unit of Morris Marketing Group, a real estate marketing firm that’s also based in Toronto.

One problem Realtors face is that they often have contact information scattered across many different parts of their business — on their phone, on their computer, even on pieces of paper. The solution has been a consolidated database to store and manage prospecting and client information.

This has become a competitive field, although not every broker finds the whole business satisfying. The two key issues are ease and limitations. Real estate agents are not programmers. They learn the technology that does what they need. Anything too complicated gets ignored. The complaint about many CRMs is that the software is difficult to learn and cumbersome.

"There are so many programs out there and they are so complicated to use," said Laura Dumais, a sales representative with Sutton Group Incentive Realty Inc. in Barrie, Ontario (Canada). "I just wanted something that was going to be manageable, straightforward and fit with what I was doing."

Dumais has been an IXACT customer for about three years.

Secondly, CRM software is often limited. A Realtor might pay for a system to handle contacts, another for email marketing and even a third outsource provider for physical mailings.

IXACT’s contact management system could have ended up like anyone else’s, but it added two innovations: a platform for email campaign reporting (data management), and the one that caught my eye, a professionally designed and written monthly e-newsletter, complete, ready to use and automatically mailed.

I checked in with Matthew Collis, IXACT’s sales and marketing manager, to see what it was all about.

"The big pain for Realtors is they know they have to keep in touch and they have to stay online with people so these former clients, when they want to do a home transaction again, will remember the Realtor," Collis said. "But, a lot of times the Realtors are so busy and have so much coming at them, keeping in touch falls by the wayside."

To avoid that, IXACT, on April 30, introduced as part of its basic CRM services an e-newsletter solution.

"We design and write a professional e-newsletter," Collis said. "It’s written by a real estate marketing expert and designed to position the Realtor as an expert in the field. The client gets the newsletter monthly."

The newsletter consists of useful articles that homeowners might find interesting. For example, one article might be about remodeling the kitchen, or assessing the value of a home, or how to hire the right contractor.

For the Realtor, this is a set-and-forget deal. They choose their contact list and when they think the e-newsletter should be sent. After that, IXACT does the rest.

Other features allow clients to create their own full-graphical emails or upload HTML email templates; add their own custom-designed email header and signature; send personalized mass emails individually addressed to every recipient; and provide the ability to promote individual Just Listed and Just Sold listings using a variety of templates.

So, is anyone using the new feature?

Until he started using IXACT, Jorge Branca, a sales representative and accredited buyer representative at Century 21 Leading Edge Realty Inc. in Toronto, was a serial CRM user. He contracted with one company and then another. Then he found IXACT, which he likes.

As for the e-newsletter feature, Branca gives it two thumbs up.

"Although IXACT produced a very good e-newsletter, up until recently even with it I had to remind myself, ‘OK, Jorge, today is the first day of the month, time to send the newsletter. Click it and let them know it’s all right to send.’ Now I don’t have to do that anymore because my clients have a check next to their name indicating they want to receive the newsletter. I only have to set it up once and that’s it; the newsletter gets sent every month."

As yet, Dumais is not making use of the new feature.

"I have simplified the way I make contact with my clients," she said. "They get a paper newsletter from me because I try not to do a lot of emailing."

Branca sees the e-newsletter concept differently. "That’s one less task for me. I don’t have to remember when to send anymore," he said. "In this business, the less tasks you have, the better for you because you have more free time to get more clients, which is really important."

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