Inside Self-Storage Magazine 10/2001: Prospect in a Pickle?

Prospect in a Pickle?

By Harley Rolfe

Your prospect is in a pickle. He believes you can get him out of it, but you're not sure you need to know much about his particular problem. That's just wrong. His predicament is your ticket to offering him a meaningful sales proposal. The more you know about his situation, the better your proposition can be.

Your mission as a marketer is to deliver appeals that sing for every kind of user. But there's a catch. While your product is the same for everyone, each different class or kind of user wants storage for a distinctive purpose. That's an anomaly: identical product for all, yet dissimilar benefits. It is unlikely there is one "song" that will work for all prospects. What is significant to one is irrelevant to the others. That's our challenge and opportunity, and is at the core of thinking like a marketer.

You're Not Serious?!

I can hear it now: "Are you kidding? You mean I need a different appeal for each kind of user? That may mean 20 different messages!" Let's hope so. I hope you do have a large number of potential prospect "pickles" to which you can respond. It's a fact: You cannot entice a lawyer with the same angle you use with a new family moving into town, so don't try. It won't work. Why should it? They are totally separate market segments.

Keep in mind, people generally volunteer themselves into their particular segment. Whether they're moving to a new home or leaving the area, people are vitally interested in the success of whatever task they have at hand. It makes them quite responsive to appeals based on their specific group. You get their attention when you focus your sales approach directly on their current problems or projects.

You will appeal to a given segment by claiming you understand its specific problem and have a solution to it. Be sure you live up to that promise. You have raised your prospect's expectations for a reason--you want him to stop regarding you as a commodity. If he does, he knows instinctively he will pay a premium. To abandon his tendency to choose the cheapest option, he requires you know something specific about his situation and help him in ways the facility down the street cannot. Accomplish this, and you will have made yourself a choice of one for that segment. This is one of the classic marketing ploys for subduing the effects of commodity price competition.

All Segments Are Not Created Equal

The marketer hopes for several characteristics among the various market segments. The characteristics of a useful segment include:

  • The segment should be sizeable and significant enough to justify spending time and, perhaps, money to reach it.
  • There should be some form of media available to reach the segment. (It is frustrating to develop an appropriate message for a particular group and have no practical way to deliver it.)
  • There should be some method available to track the overall growth of the segment and determine what percentage of your market it represents.
  • There should be structured distribution of individual members. Why? Read on.

Not all important segments feature all of these characteristics. It's just easier for you if they do. What is key is to identify your good segments, then figure out how to solve for the other supporting elements. That's why I suggest you start with your current tenants to determine which uses/problems have already gravitated in your direction. Your tenants--current and past--have individually evaluated their own situation and found in your favor. It's best you find out why.

Unstructured vs. Structured Segments

Generally speaking, economics limit the use of general media in self-storage (TV, newspapers, radio, etc.). The larger the city, the truer this becomes. The thing we hope for as we develop an organized approach to marketing is to discover structured segments. Here's why:

Unstructured segments are those that appear at random. There is no way to identify the next guy who will decide his garage is too stuffed and it's time to move the "big toys" to storage. You don't know who or where these guys are, but you know they're out there. If you want to reach that segment, you're stuck with general media. Much of the formation of your marketing program will be determining how or whether to tolerate general media costs when you have a salient message to deliver.

Now check out this little vignette as an example of structured segments: There are a number of small retailers in a nearby shopping mall. At present, many use some of their high-priced space for storage rather than sales. They could increase their income per square foot if they could just free up that storage space. Boy, do you have a deal for them! Trot right down to one of those stores and give it your proposition. Once you get one store on board, you'll have a testimonial you can use in some direct-mail pieces to the others.

For example, first determine how much space each store in the mall is using for storage. Then compose an individualized direct-mail piece showing your interest and knowledge about each of them. That's not junk mail--that's useful data, particular to those prospects. After you have softened them up, you can move in for the close. When you discover a segment that is structured, you have a distinct marketing advantage.

The finer you can break down your facility's segments, the more likely you are to uncover the structured ones. And they're worth looking for. Using directed media requires more knowledge, but allows you to deliver a deadlier message and avoid the general media rat race.

Classes of Characteristics

Segments have two general classes of characteristics: those relating to their desirability to the self-storage operator and application characteristics. Preferred unit size would be one of the former, as well as payment habits and length of stay. In examining existing tenants, you already have this information. These help you to sift through the segments you have discovered in your facility and decide which to pursue in the public.

The other set of characteristics is applications-oriented. Here you need to know what kind of activity or business you are dealing with plus its specific application for self-storage. It is not enough to know lawyers are using self-storage without also knowing how and why they use it. Identify the use or problem being solved for each segment. The self-storage industry is blessed with having appealed to so many categories of users over the years. Your job is to capitalize on what your tenants can tell you about why they're spending money with you each month.

Most self-storage operators become interested in marketing because of concern about destructive price competition. That can only only occur when several suppliers are seen as "the same" by prospects. Your goal is to seem different from the others. You can attack price competition by making yourself a single source for each segment. If you can't have one big monopoly, how about 20 smaller ones? This will be accomplished when you understand the pickle your prospect is in--then help him to get out of it.

Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career includes executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at 208.463.9039. Further information can also be found in Mr. Rolfe's book, Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.

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