A common misconception agents have about Real Estate CRMs is that some of them intentionally make it difficult to export your data. In interviews with over 30 Real Estate CRM developers, that does not ring true. It is true that some export more fields than others and some do it in more usable formats. However, how many different data fields your existing CRM will export is only half the equation. How many of those fields your new CRM will import is equally important and sooner or later you may decide to switch CRMs.
When you started in Real Estate, you did your due diligence to decide in which office you wanted to work. Are you still there, or have you moved on to a different office? Choosing a CRM can be just as, if not more difficult. Optimally you will find the right CRM the first time and you will stay with it. However, it doesn't hurt to anticipate some aspects of switching to another CRM down the road when you are purchasing your first one.
Much has been said about software vendors holding your data hostage. The reality is that that is an emotional reaction to learning too late what happens when you move from any CRM to another one. There are two kinds of data in this context. That which can usually be exported, and that which can not. What is usually exported by almost all CRMs is the contact data. That is names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Web site addresses and categories. Notes are often the most unpredictable. Most CRMs export all of the above, but you do need to check. Agent Office is an example, as it does not export categories or notes. There are two CRMs that use the Agent Office database file and extract notes and categories as well as other fields instead of using the Agent Office export, but they are exceptions.
There are many other types of data that can be exported, but are often not, which is probably where the hostage statement has its origin. Some examples are:
Calendar data – it is relatively rare that this information can be moved from one CRM to another.
Property data and notes
Transaction documentation stored within the CRM
Template content (letters, fliers, post cards and activity plans) – NOTE: Even if the content is capable of being exported, you still have to modify the merge fields in all of it. Most agents would have to do that manually, although in some cases it can be done with some kind of utility or some knowledge of database manipulation
History - not to be confused with notes - this is the record of dates and times of appointments, phone calls, mailings, etc., from the contact or the property screen.
Even if all the above types of information can be exported from your existing CRM, an equally important question is how much of it is capable of being imported to your new CRM? In a few CRMs, literally every field is capable of being exported. Unfortunately, most of that export can only be opened in a spreadsheet/database type of format, such as Excel or Access, as opposed to being able to import it into the new CRM. So yes, the information may be there in the export, but it is not of much use if it can not be imported in to the new CRM.
It is important to note that in most cases you will not be able to move historical information or e-mails associated with transactions from one CRM to another. That could turn out to be a huge disadvantage if you ever needed to defend yourself in litigation. If you switch CRMs and lose that information, a prudent step to take would be to print out transaction reports and e-mails from your existing CRM first, if that ability exists. Making it a practice to add that kind of report to your paper file for each transaction is a good idea. How much information is contained in those reports varies dramatically, but anything is better than nothing.
The vast majority of the time you will be able to import most of the contact fields into a new CRM. You want to make sure that the one you choose exports virtually all of the contact fields, making particularly sure that notes and categories are included. In addition, the more phone number, e-mail address, and Web site address fields it can export, the better. You want to make sure that when it exports those latter fields, that each field is identified. For example, if I export a phone number field that is labeled Work1, then it should export it in such a way that I will know where to put it in the new CRM. Note that phone numbers are often problematic because no two people label their phone numbers the same way in the same order. Having a systematic approach to ordering and labeling those fields from the start can be a huge help when switching to another CRM.
The bottom line is that you do want to identify what information your CRM will export and in what data format, before you purchase it because it is an important factor in choosing a CRM. That said, recognize that for the most part, only common contact fields will survive the move to another CRM. Taking appropriate measures to systematically retain the information that may be lost in a transition to another CRM in either a printed or digital file is a good business plan.