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Contributed by  Lance Langenhoven, CCIM of The Commercial Professionals.

Over the last 6 months I have been reorganizing my operation and making some changes for the better with respect to my systems and processes. As part of the process I decided it was time to evaluate the various online CRM products for the CRE industry.

If REA were in the cloud, I would love it, but I made the decision to scrap maintaining my own servers and avoid the time and effort it would take for me to set up the internal hardware. For me it was time to make a change and take my  CRM data to the cloud.

The first step was to create a shortlist. The initial shortlist included:

KarmaCRM.com  $45 p/month; 15 users; 20K contacts

BigContacts.com $59 p/month; 5 users; unlimited contacts & data

Salesforce.com $15 p/month, per user; (iPad, Android) (not sure if they allow customization)

Zoho.com $12 p/month, per user & $15 w/ mobile access; iPhone support only; no customization

Now my second step is to start signing up to take advantage of the trial periods and test the various systems. The first application I tested was a 30 day trial of PropertyBase along with a trial of Force.com.

In the meantime, I learned of Aptotude while polling colleagues in the CCIM Linkedin group about what cloud-based CRM applications they recommended.

Aptotude $69 p/month seemed fairly high as I would start with about 3-4 users.

Two more CCIM colleagues also suggested I look at WORKetc.com as well as REThinkApp.com. My needs include tracking clients, companies, properties, and producing some additional workflow. As I am learning, there is no one product that can fit everyone and please everyone. That is why customization to some degree is important to me. For instance, renaming fields, objects and groups can go a long way to fitting into your personal preference or style.

At this point, PropertyBaseSalesforce.com and  REThinkApp have the customization aspect solved,  however, they all lock you into a 12 month contract, which I do not like. The other point is how well do the various CRM work on my Android phone and iPad tablet. Evaluating and testing is the best way for me to learn about the shortfalls or highlights of any software or SaaS applications. My analysis continues with more suggestions from CCIM colleagues with ClientLook, PlanPlus Online, Evernote, PowerBroker and even Microsoft CRM being suggested to me.

As far as Evernote, I love the product, however, I use it for remembering odd little bits of info that I would normally write on a piece of paper or simply forget. For instance…. a note about good books I should buy the next time I am stuck without anything to read (rarely the case!)… I have not thought of using it for tracking client and deal details. The one thing I do not think it will cope with and what I would like is if I put every tenant’s lease end date into it, I would want to search for those leases expiring within the next six months and give me that list of tenants. Or, search for all properties with a particular vacancy. Or, search for all prospects with a particular requirement.

For that type of requirement I am not sure Evernote can deal with it (?) and something more customizable is needed.

On the topic of PowerBroker, I am not sure why they do not put the price on the website? It says on the website that it’s “easy, pay-as-you-go monthly pricing” which is very unusual for a Salesforce.com offering… they usually push for 12-month contracts. That was puzzling.

Right now I am thinking of going to WORKetc.com – they look like they are passionate about service and continuous upgrades of their product and their clients are providing very encouraging testimonials. It is not designed specifically for commercial real estate but I will just customize and modify for my use.

Boy this is a difficult one. I have been going over this so many times now and have yet to pull the trigger on something. PowerBroker is m-t-m but more expensive than PropertyBase which is 12-month contract. PowerBroker is $49.95 for a cut-down version which is probably not worth having due to limitations and is $99.95 per user for the proper decent version.

So, if I had to choose between  PowerBroker and PropertyBase I might go with … PropertyBase.

I had a look at WORKetc.com and I don’t think it’s going to work…. it is not customizable enough.

ClientLook did not look like it had enough customization allowed…. if something is not designed for commercial real estate you need to have a pretty flexible offering so that we can “build it like we need it”. So… considering it is $40 p/user  PropertyBase @ $39 p/user comes into play. BUT… I hate the 12-month contract.  PowerBroker, also on Salesforce, has m-t-m contracts. But they are much more expensive.

Just on the phone with PowerBroker… they’re also 12-month contract. I think there was a misunderstanding when I asked whether they had m-t-m contracts… person thought I was asking if we pay m-t-m.

Yes, pretty much any Salesforce app has the same deal… 30-day free trial is what they all offer. So, the PowerBroker app also has a 30-day trial. The thing about PropertyBase is they only released their first “Commercial Real Estate” version on 31st January 2012 whereas PowerBroker (on the same Salesforce platform) has been developing their commercial real estate version for a number of years now.

When I did have a 30-day trial for PropertyBase (a few months ago) it was so residential focused that pretty much none of it was of any use to me. I don’t know how much they’ve added since then but it’s all new. I might have to do another trial to see what they’ve done for the commercial real estate market.

PowerBroker definitely does not “look sexy” if you look at their website vs  PropertyBase’s website…. it looks like it was built in the late 90’s and not updated since then. BUT… I think they just might be a better solution due to having worked on it for longer. I will sign up for a 30-day trail of PowerBroker and check it out.

– signed up for PowerBroker 30-day trial and immediately received a login / pwd and I am able to get in and play around.
– signed up for the PropertyBase 30-day trial and they say they will get back to me “because good things come to those who wait”. Well, I hope they are right!
Well, I signed up for a PropertyBase trial and a PowerBroker trial on the same day within 10 minutes of each other. PowerBroker immediately gave me access to the system. PropertyBase said “good things come to those who wait” and didn’t give me access… instead promising to get in touch.

Well, it is 3 days later and I still have not heard from PropertyBase

So, scores so far:
PowerBroker: 1
PropertyBase: 0

Ok, this is getting interesting….PowerBroker today called me to see how my initial experience with their system is going & asked if they can help in any way.

Yet, I have still to hear from PropertyBase regarding my new signup with them. I am surprised as I would have liked to have seen their new commercial setup because when I looked at it before it was all residential. So… so far unable to even play with PropertyBase’s new commercial templates and setup.

So, scores so far:

Round 1: PowerBroker 1, PropertyBase 0 [easy signup vs no signup]
Round 2: PowerBroker 1, PropertyBase 0 [following up after the signup]

We’ll see how this plays out between these two SalesForce providers…

I have not specifically investigated REthink. But, they look fairly solid on their website at least but I wonder if they are not another PropertyBase i.e. a provider that started out with a big focus on the residential market and are now suddenly also switching to capture the commercial market? I do not know but quite a few of their screen shots show residential homes.

This contrasts with PowerBroker (another SalesForce app) that has been on SalesForce for many years now so their product is more “tried and tested” and they do not do residential support at all.. 100% commercial real estate.

As to the competition between PropertyBase and PowerBroker – I signed up for both trials within 10 minutes of each other a week ago now and have yet to hear from PropertyBase. Unbelievable lack of follow-up. Maybe they are not using Salesforce! 🙂

Anyway, my PowerBroker demo is going very well…. (by the way, they are also priced at $49 p/mth per user so the same price as REthink.

So, I have Salesforce on my Android phone, my iPad and my laptop. Everything is automatically synced and the mobile app and the iPad app are really nice to work with.

Salesforce’s import tool must be one of the best I have ever seen. So solid, so robust and so intuitive… worked like a dream to get my data imported. I could not believe how easy it was. Shows that they have got some really good programmers working on it.

Tweaking the setup to have my own particular fields, naming conventions and so on is also fairly simple but I am an ex-programmer so you might not think the same way once you try it.

I have also had numerous requests to the PowerBroker support team and they have responded very quickly and were very helpful on email or by phone.

So, score so far:

Round 1: PowerBroker 1, PropertyBase 0 [easy signup vs no signup]
Round 2: PowerBroker 1, PropertyBase 0 [following up after the signup]
Round 3: PowerBroker 1, PropertyBase 0 [support exists & they are helpful –  PropertyBase, still no word from them]

I really do not know what is going on with PropertyBase… it is very surprising. Anyway, hope this helps.

I am going with PowerBroker for Salesforce. The product is very solid and has been developed for commercial real estate for many years and is thus very developed vs. PropertyBase which was developed for residential real estate and then very recently (i.e. a few months ago) adapted for commercial real estate. So, they just have not had the time to develop all the features that are included with PowerBroker.

The Salesforce application is obviously the same underneath and it works very well…. I like it. It is available pretty much on anything you can use to access the internet. Also, you can completely customize it to suite what you do.

Now a colleague points out to me that the home offices for the Aptotude CRM is in the Woodlands (4747 Research Forest Drive, Suite 180-222, The Woodlands, TX 77381, Ph. (713) 489-3120) which is right near me. Since this company is so close, I better check it out!

I cannot believe the Aptotude office is less than 2 miles from my home! But, it looks like an office in a local retail shopping center which does not have any office space as far as I know… strange. Anyway, I put in a call to them to see if I can go and visit them and they can demonstrate their product to me in person. One thing, it is $10 more than PowerBroker it looks like @ $69 per person.

Well, they are on SalesForce which is actually the product that does the Google apps and all that stuff. So, any one of PropertyBasePowerBrokerAptotude, etc. all offer exactly the same basic options regarding emails, calendars, contacts, Google apps, etc. it is not them really offering it, it is part of Salesforce… all they are really doing is building some additional templates and modules that deal specifically with a market that they want to sell to and then they sell that as a complete product.

I met with the guys from Aptotude today…I was very impressed with their product. In fact, I think it is better than PowerBroker!

We looked at Aptotude and then I loaded up PowerBroker and we went through the different screens and compared and commented and they showed me the differences between the PowerBroker product and theirs. I believe they win.

A fundamentally different approach that in the long run is more scalable and flexible. PowerBroker offers a bunch of different types of properties in one form with many objects, Aptotude breaks things up into a few more categories and then sets up the forms with just the objects required by that category.

So… I can not believe this but I think I am going to have to shift to Apto! All that work that I have invested up to now. But, for the long run it looks like the place to be for me. Another plus is the guys are right here in my town which is also good.

It is $10 more per month than PowerBroker which is a bit of an additional cost but they do offer a 10% discount if you pay a year in advance. So… then it is not that big a difference anymore.

I think the order of commercial real estate CRM’s offered on the Salesforce platform, these are my rankings:
1. Aptotude
2. PowerBroker
3. PropertyBase

Just after meeting the guys from Apto I saw REthink as well and signed up for it too. But, they give such a short trial that you hardly have time to check it out.

Then, instead of giving me access to my trial to Aptotude right away as was promised, I only received it a week after my post so I lost time trying to evaluate it.

In the week after my post my trial to PowerBroker expired!! I was pretty devastated that I did not have access to all my data and listings and notes that I had come to rely on which was when I realized how much I had come to depend on  PowerBroker in a short month. I asked them to extend my trial by a week so that I could check out REthink and they did but I have only until the 22nd of June to make a final decision.

I called up REthink and they are offering new clients the product for $39 p/mth if you pay ahead for 12 months. It is a 12-month contract anyway so it is worth doing that.

PowerBroker is $49 p/mth. Aptotude is $69 p/mth but you get 10% off if you pay 12 months in advance.

REthink has a nice “comp” feature where it shows other properties nearby when you are looking at a particular property but all the data comes from your own database. So, if you do not have much it will not show much. So… powerful idea but depends on you to give it power.

At the end of the day what I need most (core requirements) are:
– a way for our team to store contacts that are accessible across all hardware options
– online not on our own hardware
– place for storing property info
– place for storing company info
– place for storing prospect requirements
– customizable fields, forms, etc.

I think PowerBrokerREthink and Aptotude all do that. They have some differences in the way they implement a few things but when I go back to my core requirements I think they are all very much on a par. So, then the decision is more one of price.

Aptotude is actually the most expensive. I have not had much time to play with  REthink and I do not know if I want to go through porting all my data and listings into their format to save $10 p/mth for the next year…. the time taken to get that working is worth more than $120!!

So, after all my searching and testing I think I might end up staying with PowerBroker just because I have so much data and time invested in it. If I had to start again I might have gone with REthink because of the low price offer (apparently until end of June).

If price was not an issue I would have gone to Aptotude.

I hope that helps.

Quality rankings:
– Aptotude
– PowerBroker and REthink
– PropertyBase

Current June 2012 Pricing:
– REthink $39 p/mth
– PowerBroker $49 p/mth
– PropertyBase $49 p/mth (but apparently they upsell you mobile access)
– Aptotude $69 p/mth

Yes, I did look at ClientLook as well but for me it did not have enough customization options and it was also not designed for commercial real estate. So, for a monthly price of $40 I would rather pay $49 less 10% (for annual payment) for PowerBroker [that’s what I eventually signed up for].
When I looked at PropertyBase a few months back it was very deficient in commercial fields and forms. They are primarily a residential focused group that are now trying to get the commercial prospects as well (since about March of 2012). So, they are playing catch-up to the groups that have been doing commercial real estate software for years.

REthink easily beats PropertyBase.

In the end of all of this research I went with PowerBroker because I had invested a lot of time in it already and the price difference between it and REthink was very minor.

I am happy so far with PowerBroker… I paid for full 12 months up front to get a 10% discount.

The moral of the story is: It is vital to weigh your CRM alternatives and personal needs. We are all different and have a variety of styles. The great news is that there are many great CRE CRM choices, therefore testing the systems is the real way to make your own personal CRE CRM decision!
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