It's time for Microsoft to improve Outlook for the 1,000,000 Realtors (and other salespeople) in the U.S. who have been waiting patiently for years!
Personally, I have tried no less than 20 different types of Real Estate Productivity Software. I have been using them since we all used DOS computer programs. I started with Howard and Friends, then moved to Agent Online and have been on and off Top Producer over the years (both desktop and online products). While many of these programs do a good job with Real Estate (or sales) productivity, none of them hold a candle to Outlook when it comes to email and calendar management.
I hoped that Google might be the answer to our problems as they seem to change things swiftly and move fast to fill markets that are dying for solutions. However, my wonderful new Sprint EVO (Android) won't even sync Tasks with Outlook (why is Google anti-Task anyway?). Even my Palm Pre synced Tasks (and their categories!).
Let's face it, Outlook is phenomenal when it comes to managing email. I can convert an email into a Task or Appointment in a split second. I can drag and drop and file it, archive it, move to a personal folder, you name it. I can share my Calendar with my staff (through my Exchange Server), we can share Contacts and delegate each other to complete Tasks in a multitude of ways. I can complete Mail Merges that send a personal email message to hundreds of my Contacts in a matter of seconds. I absolutely love Outlook. (I will take a moment and say that Google's handling of Calendars is far superior to Outlook, just to be fair).
BUT, a Realtor (salesperson's) efficiency depends on Marketing Plans. For instance, every time my Real Estate Team lists a home for sale, we have a Marketing Plan with over 40 different tasks on it. While some of the Tasks in the Plan are done in the first few days, many need to be scheduled in the future based on the Listing Date. We have a similar Marketing Plan for new Buyers and Sellers we meet and Closings (once a property we sell goes under contract). It is imperative in all these cases that we complete Tasks on a given date based on the Entry Date, Listing Date, Contract Date, Inspection Date or Closing Date. This is the #1 deficiency in Outlook in my opinion.
Now, there are approximately 100 "add-ons" you can add to Outlook that do some or most of this. My experience has been that each one has challenges working with Outlook. Some use additional file folders that don't show up easily in Outlook (or don't work correctly on your Phone). Some work for a while, then Outlook does an upgrade and then the product doesn't work. Most of the time, when you contact the customer service of the product you are using they say it's Outlook's fault. You contact Microsoft and they say it's the other product's fault or they don't guarantee any "add-on" will actually work with Outlook.
However, let's say you do find one that you think works pretty well. That is great if you are an individual Realtor (salesperson). What happens when you are ready to become a Team or just want to hire an administrative assistant? This is where my use of Top Producer comes in. Top Producer does an excellent job of allowing you to use a Marketing Plan with multiple Tasks assigned to multiple people and you can base the Tasks on several different "Trigger" dates. However, that is about the only redeeming quality to Top Producer. Its handling of email, calendar and its platform leave a lot to be desired. Also, while you can "Assign" Tasks in Outlook, it is really not an efficient way for a Team to handle the delegation of Tasks. Most of Outlook's competition that works well in a Team environment does a much better job of Task delegation between teammates.
Some Realtors (salespeople) decide to use another program in conjunction with Outlook. For instance, you might use Top Producer or Wise Agent for your Marketing Plans and Outlook for everything else. But, you end up with two sets of Contacts, Tasks and Calendar you have to maintain.
I know what you are thinking at this point, "my program SYNC's with Outlook". And, many programs out there on the market do SYNC with Outlook in some fashion. I have literally tried about 20, and here is what I have learned. You better have a really good Backup of all your Outlook data. That's right. There isn't a program on the market I have found that can actually SYNC with Outlook on any consistent basis and my data always ends up in a mess. Either my Contact categories get changed for each Contact or eliminated, or hieroglyphics are added to each Contact in the Notes section. The Tasks and Calendar are also almost always a disaster. In the past, I have spent hours re-creating my Outlook data, and to this date I still have "**" next to some of my Contacts in Outlook because I finally gave up trying to get all my data back to the way it was originally. Nowadays, we Backup everything first before we try a new "Add-on" or "SYNC" program.
In summation, here is what I am asking from Microsoft in their next upgrade of Outlook.
- I want to be able to launch a Marketing Plan (a predetermined set of Tasks) based on specific Trigger Dates (i.e.: Contract Date, Listing Date, Closing Date). In otherwords, Task 1 will be scheduled 1 day after the Contract Date, Task 2 will be scheduled 3 days after the Contract Date, etc.
- I want to be able to launch that Marketing Plan and have the Tasks automatically assigned to different people on my Team through my Exchange Server.
- I want to be able to see how my Team is doing with their assigned Tasks.
- I want all this to work in the main "Tasks" folder. I don't want to use a sub-folder or some new "Tasks" folder, because that never works. Or, feel free to create a "Projects" folder and we will put it all in there!
- I would like to be able to overlay my Team's Calendar on mine (like you can do with Google).
I really don't think that is asking too much. What do you think?