Selling records-storage and management services requires an understanding of your product and the needs of your customer. There are proven ways to "sell" records-management services that have been used by the industry for decades. This column discusses the methods, skills and tools required to perform productive selling.
Three Principal Methods
The Survey Method
The most effective method for selling records-management services is a systems-sales approach called "selling the survey." Almost all business-systems-related sales companies, such as Xerox and IBM, use the survey method to understand the customer requirements and uncover additional sales opportunities. The survey method moves your prospect one step closer to becoming a customer. Using this approach gets the customer to invest their valuable time with you and allows you a first-hand opportunity to view their actual circumstances.
The survey method is, by far, the most expensive of the three methods since it requires both time and commitment. It is also the best method to use for larger accounts. The time that you spend with the customer will generate additional sales opportunities that are hidden without the survey. The survey process should be very tightly designed. In most cases, a survey can take less than a couple of hours. It should include three parts: the questionnaire, the walk-about and the interview.
The Fast-Start Educational Event
This method has proven to be a launching pad for large numbers of prospects to be moved very quickly through the sales cycle to the survey and the proposal process all at once. Typically, this event is planned and implemented over a six-week period. It includes a formal invitation, a detailed event brochure and a telemarketing push just before the event. Typically we can achieve 50 percent or more attendance at the event and 50 percent or more surveys from attendees. It is important that this be a tightly directed and produced event to insure maximum results. Nothing can get more prospects to the survey process faster than the fast-start educational event.
When used effectively, telemarketing can deliver small, highly profitable accounts to you with a modest amount of sales expense. Do not fall into the trap of using techniques designed for hard-sell product sales. Telemarketing must be professionally designed for records-management sales. Scripting must be tightly managed using a professional, trained telemarketing staff or your own personnel who are skilled in using the approach. The results of professional telemarketing sales are quite dramatic.
The Sales Cycle
Remember, sales and marketing always have cost related to them. The costs include sales materials, supplies and, especially, your time. In professional records management, "the sales cycle" can be as long as six months from first contact to closure. You should do everything possible to shorten the sales cycle.
Let's take a look at the typical sales cycle. It is generally true to say that the sales cycle is similar regardless of the sales approach or methods used. Only the time frame is different.
Rating Your Prospects
The potential businesses in your area are "suspects" until they are converted to the "prospect" status. You may believe that a business or professional firm is a prospect, but some key factor may keep them from being a real prospect. Our first task is to uncover the prospects from the suspect list. In order to do so, we must understand what makes one a prospect.
A prospect usually is a business that understands the need for records-management services. Understanding the need may be as simple as having had a problem with a law suit or a tax audit and not finding the important files. Others customers need to be reminded about their record-keeping responsibility. The fast-start educational event usually works well to educate large groups of prospects all at once.
Once a suspect has been moved to the prospect category, the second step is to rate the "value" of the prospect to your business. There are many ways to rate the value of a prospect. The simplest is by storage size. Another is by retrieval requirements. A third is by evaluating the overall records-management requirements of the business. For the purpose of this article we will focus on size or storage volume. In traditional records storage1, there are at least three levels of size to consider:
- Large professional firms or corporate accounts with more than 2,000 cartons.
- Moderate accounts with fewer than 2,000 but more than 500 cartons.
- Small prospects with 500 or fewer cartons.
In non-traditional records management, you probably can group prospects into three primary classifications: large, small and "under the minimum charge." Once an account goes over a couple of thousand cartons, it becomes much more price sensitive, and you may get into competitive battles with the giants. Smaller accounts under 2,000 boxes are more likely to be concerned with service and relationship.
A large account to a self-storage operator or non-traditional records-storage company could measure between 500 to 2,000 cartons. This should be your primary target account. A small account of under 500 boxes can be very profitable since they have not yet reached a size that requires more diligence on the prospect's part. These accounts generally have a higher profit rate than the large accounts and may require more services, since the customer is less likely to assign a full-time person in the role of records manager. It is usually a job assigned to a support-services manager as an additional task that is more trouble than it is worth. They are usually happy to outsource it.
An account that is "under the minimum" may be your best and most profitable market. These are customers that have low storage volume. I typically recommend a storage minimum of between $25 and $50. This best number should be less than the rental fee of your smallest storage unit. An example of this would be $30 per month, if a customer has 50 1.2-cubic-foot boxes at a contract rate of 35 cents per cubic foot. This example would equal $21 per month, but since it is below your minimum, it would be raised to $30. Using this example, you would yield 70 cents per cube. These accounts are also the most likely to be attracted to non-traditional providers like you, since they are not the primary targets of the major commercial-records centers, such as Iron Mountain, Pierce-Lehey and others.
In next month's column, we will address other important factors related to selling records-management services in a self-storage environment.
1 In past columns we have discussed traditional vs. non-traditional records management. Traditional refers to the older model that uses warehouse space with high ceilings. Typical start-up cost could be hundreds of thousands of dollars with a break even point of two to five years.
Regular columnist Cary F. McGovern is a certified records manager and owner of File Managers Inc., a records-management consulting firm that also provides outsourcing services, file-room management and litigation support services for the legal industry. For more information about records management, contact Mr. McGovern at File Managers Inc., P.O. Box 1178, Abita Springs, LA 70420; phone (504) 871-0092; fax (504) 893-1751; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Web: www.fileman.com.