There is a seismic shift coming in the sophistication of websites and software, and how they interact. The two sides of your systems are about to talk to each other with a much greater degree of sophistication than ever before. This article explores what’s about to happen and why, though if you’re more comfortable brewing a cup of tea and watching this as a video, then pop on over to our Connect Seminar video (whizz forward to the segment on software integration, starting around minute 17).
First, let’s examine the current state of play
In the early days of the web, most agents’ websites were built as a spin off by their software provider or by a local web-design company. The sites were relatively simple back then both by design sophistication, and also in the functionality they offered.
Over recent years, property website specialists (like Homeflow) have become more and more sophisticated in the capability of the websites they produce. Websites are also becoming a more important, arguably foundational, part of an agency’s marketing mix too. They’re starting to generate a greater proportion of your customer leads, and they’re beginning to accumulate considerable data on your customers’ search requirements.
In parallel with this, the days of buying your website from your software company are receding, which is common sense if you think about it:
Firstly, building websites and providing agency software are two areas of expertise that require different skill sets. Companies which are great at front end websites are not focussed on building agency management software systems; the businesses which specialise in going deep and wide in back office software rarely have the skill set or consumer marketing focus to be specialists at websites – it’s just a different field of expertise. Taking an add-on product simply isn’t adequate if you’re looking for excellence, SEO performance and intelligence from your website. If you are going to demand the best possible overall set up, you have to select the best of breed website specialist, and the best in class software supplier for your needs.
Secondly, you probably want to avoid being too locked in with any one supplier. If you choose to change either your website or your software system for whatever reason, then if you have taken both services from the same company you’ll need to change both systems at the same time: this can be risky, and is a much tougher challenge.
However, the rapid evolution in the capabilities of a leading agency website has left us with a gap between the systems; the hands on the left of the diagram above represent this.
Your software system passes your property data up to your website – that’s standard stuff. This property data can be synchronised in real time, with up to 40% of agents achieving real time data nowadays, moving away from the old website approach of having data delivered to the website in an overnight property data feed. If you’re really lucky, you’ll find ways to push the leads back from the website into your back office system where you need them – though unfortunately the vast majority of agents are not yet achieving this yet. And that’s where it ends really, currently. There are no real attempts to pass more intelligence back from your website into your software system, and there’s certainly nobody we’ve met (with the notable exceptions below) that are pushing the information the other way, from your software system into the front end website…
The certainty of the future:
As the world gets more digital, it’s becoming a business imperative, and a market expectation, to act intelligently. Your website is now the foundation that sits at the very centre of your marketing activity, underpinning all of the work your marketing team does.
And your site is arguably your biggest single touch point with customers (vendors as well as applicants), including branch walk-ins; it might be second to the telephone, but not a lot else. That site is getting more intelligent – accumulating more names, email addresses, vendor leads, viewing requests. It’s gathering registrations with search profiles, saving them, asking for email alerts, etc. But you aren’t getting all you can out of that intelligence if it stays locked up in your website. Where you really want it is in your call queue, which is driven by your back office system.
Homeflow is looking for a world in which nobody can so much as breathe on the front end of your website without your branch team knowing about it. If you’re talking to Mary when she walks into branch, we’d like you to be aware that she’s looked at 23 Acacia Drive no less than 9 times on your website. She’s also bookmarked 42 New Road too, by the way. That’s intelligence your branch team can use when talking to her.
And it works the other way around, too. When David and Michelle walk into your branch, and sit down with your negotiator to discuss their house-hunting, you want to be able to press a button in your software system as they leave the door to create a website account for them. You want to insert the two properties you discussed with them into their account automatically. And you want to have the system generate them an email, in your branding, thanking them for their visit, inviting them to click a button to enter your site, with all of their search profile information already set up for them. They’ll probably get that on their mobile these days, but your site works seamlessly on a phone now, right? They’re going to be so impressed with your slick, super simple, fully joined up marketing system, that they’ll call you back to invite you over to value their house, too: you’ve won their trust for months in that one simple action. You’re creating more touch points, and the repeat visits to your website from driving them deeper into the account, including using the email alert system, ensure your SEO increases and is better than the agent down the road.
This is standard fare in the insurance industry, the airline sector, and banking. You wouldn’t dream of calling British Airways to talk about your flight booking next weekend, and not have them seamlessly aware of your passenger names, and current seat allocation. And you wouldn’t call your bank, and not expect them to know about the online transfer you made yesterday on your phone. This kind of integration and sophistication is coming crashing into our world like a train on rails. It can also come to your business.
Ok, so how do I make this happen?
Very few agents are achieving this yet. In fact it’s only really the major corporates and a small handful of businesses, like Foxtons, who build their own holistic full-stack Web-CRM-software systems in house, who get there at the moment. However, rest assured, the fact that this stuff is coming to our world is as certain as gravity. And you want to be on the right side of the trend – to get advantage before your competitors. Our aim is to bring it into reach of every agency group, including independent single office agencies.
To this end, Homeflow has developed an open standard “API” for this full people data exchange with the various software partners we work with. We’ve written a full description of the kinds of interactions that Homeflow People Exchange (HFPE) supports. But the standard is not ours, we want it to be owned by our software partners and Homeflow. It’s been worked up in combination with four of those partners so far, and there’s still scope to shape it further yet. If you are a software group and you want to get involved in defining the standard and integrating with us, we’d love to hear from you.
That said, we are are now completely committed to building the integration with three of the bigger software groups already. So, it’s becoming standard functionality on Homeflow websites with these two groups. If you’re an agency client and you want to know more about when it’s going to be possible on your software system, please just give us a call.