Selling in a Competitive Marketplace
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Brad North
Posted on: 07/01/2002



 
As the self-storage industry continues to grow, evolve and become more competitive, we must recognize the importance of having an effective sales program. Today's customer is calling an average of four to five stores before deciding where to store his belongings. He has more choices and is making a much more informed decision. This being the case, ask yourself, "What impression is my store leaving my customers?"

The average store is converting fewer than 35 percent of its callers to renters. In other words, the average store is renting to only one out of every three prospects who call on the phone. However, more than 90 percent of customers who visit a store will rent a unit. This illustrates the importance of maximizing each incoming call. If we can set an appointment for the customer to visit, we will more than likely rent the unit. If we can improve our caller-to-renter conversion ratio and develop a more effective sales program, we can continue to raise our profits in an increasingly competitive market.

Measuring Results

If your sales program were a recipe, it would need four key ingredients to make you a success in your market: using a measurement system, knowing your competition so you can actively differentiate yourself, creating an atmosphere for higher productivity, and developing and implementing a highly effective sales presentation.

To create an effective sales program, you must put in place a system with which to measure results--the effectiveness of your phone sales, for example. There are professional shopping services that can be used to "mystery call" a store. These provide an evaluation and audio record of the call, which is a great tool for measuring its effectiveness. It is important everyone involved in the selling process, even part-time employees, be a part of this evaluation, as it will help develop the overall consistency of the sales presentation.

A customer log can be used to track each caller and what was discussed. It is a great tool for tracking weekly and monthly sales activity and can be used as a method of follow-up and prospecting for future customer rentals. It can also be used for scheduling appointments and measuring various components of the sales process, such as month-to-date conversion ratios, month-to-date rentals, month-to-date phone activity, month-to-date walk-ins, etc. In addition, the log can be used to measure the effectiveness of the advertising and marketing programs by tracking how customers found out about the store. These are just a couple of examples of how the sales program can be enhanced by having a system in place to measure results.

Differentiation

Selling in a competitive marketplace is about differentiating yourself from your competition and providing prospective customers a better understanding of what sets you apart. Knowing your competition is one of the most effective ways you can sell against it. You must know your competitors better than they know themselves.

If you really know the competition in your market area, you can create your sales presentation to emphasize your advantages. If you are the only store to offer alarmed units and security cameras in your area, it's important to incorporate these features into your presentation. This is an "organizational uniqueness" you have over the competition, and it can and should be used to build additional value for your store. The more you know about your competition, the more confident you will become in selling your particular features. Start shopping your competitors on a consistent basis to truly understand your advantages.

The Right Environment

Creating an atmosphere for higher productivity is also necessary to implement an effective sales program. This can be accomplished via a bonus program. Do you have one? What does it look like?

To be effective, a bonus plan must be designed for participation from all members of the team. Properly implemented, the plan can create more of a cohesive team atmosphere, help everyone buy in to the sales program, and set an expectation for acceptable and exceptional performance. Essentially, you create an opportunity to set goals and raise the standard for high performance. If implemented correctly, a bonus program can create an atmosphere for higher productivity, which will strengthen the overall sales program.

Six Selling Steps

Development of an effective sales presentation can occur only when all of the other elements of the sales program have been implemented. If presented effectively, the following six steps can be the key to maximizing profits:

1. The greeting

2. The inquiry

3. Building value

4. Setting the appointment

5. Closing

6. The demonstration

The greeting. How are you greeting customers now? The way you initially treat a customer can make the difference between whether he rents from you or a competitor. It's important to be warm and friendly so he will open up during the phone conversation. This will help to establish a rapport with the customer as you continue to build trust throughout the sales presentation.

If you thank the customer for "choosing" your store, you have already assumed the rental--for example, "Good morning, thank you for choosing ABC Self Storage. How may I help you?" If you hold off on giving your name during the greeting, you create the opportunity to provide it during the inquiry and ask for the customer's in return. This will allow you to continue building rapport by using his name throughout the conversation.

The inquiry. The inquiry will set the stage for the rest of the sales presentation. This step becomes much easier once you have established a rapport with the customer because the inquiry is designed to discover his needs. For example, you might ask the customer "What will you be storing? How many rooms of furniture will you be storing? Is there anything coming out of a garage or basement? Will there be any boxes going into storage? Can the boxes be stacked on top of one another?" It is imperative to ask probing questions during the inquiry. The only way to satisfy a customer's need is to know what that need is.

Building value. After building trust and rapport, it's time to build value and educate the customer about all the wonderful features and benefits your store has to offer. If he asks for the price of a storage unit right away, it is important to overcome this and not give out price until after you have built the value of your store. If you know your competition, you can build your presentation to include your advantages.

It's also important to incorporate into your presentation features and benefits that address the customers particular needs. For example, if you know the customer will be storing sensitive files he will need to access on a regular basis, it is important to emphasize security and ease of access. It would also be important to point out the cleanliness and dryness of the facility. In essence, you customize your presentation to fit the specific needs of the customer.

Setting the appointment. If you have done an effective job greeting, inquiring and building value, you have earned the right to make an appointment. After all, the ultimate goal of the sales presentation is to get the customer to visit the store. The more effective the presentation, the easier it is to set the appointment.

Always find a way to create a sense of urgency. For example, if you are in the busiest time of the year for rentals, let the customer know you cannot guarantee a 10-by-20 will be available next week as you only have a couple available at this time. Then let him know you have an opportunity to meet with him that afternoon. The offer to set the appointment in addition to creating urgency will give the customer a reason to visit the store right away. The more appointments you make, the more rentals you secure.

Closing. Always remember to close the call in a professional manner. Thank the customer for calling the store, and confirm the date and time of the appointment. This will reinforce your store's name and help hold the customer more accountable for the scheduled meeting.

If a customer will not make an appointment, always find a reason to create a link with him. You might say, "John, I realize you are just pricing around and need to discuss this with your wife. If you give me your address, I will mail you a brochure with additional information about ABC Self Storage. I will mail this out today and follow up with you in a couple of days to see if you have any additional questions." The customer will be impressed with your attention to detail and appreciate the extra information to help make his decision. This will also give you the opportunity to call the customer back and, most important, set the appointment.

The demonstration. Finally, it is important to always demonstrate a storage unit when a customer visits the store. If he is a walk-in and has had no other contact with the store, the sales presentation must be used to educate and build value. Once you have him excited about your store, give him a private tour. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate all the wonderful features and benefits you discussed in the office or over the phone. Demonstrate the storage unit last, which will give you the opportunity to confirm the rental.

In this competitive marketplace, your sales program and presentation can and should be used to set you apart from the competition. Invest in making them as effective as possible. One without the other greatly diminishes the overall effectiveness of each. We can follow recommended telephone techniques, but unless we understand and implement all of the other elements of the sales program, we are merely going through the motions.

Brad North is founder of Advantage Business Consulting and specializes in sales and marketing training to the self-storage industry. His sales-training video and workbook, "Maximize the Moment," is a valuable resource to help managers take their sales programs to a higher level. Mr. North also offers comprehensive onsite sales training to self-storage facilities. For more information, call 513.229.0400 or visit www.advantagebusinessconsulting.com.