By Rick Kaczmarek
Whatever your involvement in the self-storage industry, you'll agree that the easiest way to improve performance at a specific property is to improve the effectiveness of the sales programs there. While volumes have been written on the topic of training employees, there are some simple steps you can follow to develop a sound training program geared to improving sales.
First, place a proper emphasis on sales within your company. Start by putting the word "sales" in the first line of everyone's job description. The owner or management company is responsible for generating traffic by getting people to walk in or telephone the property. The site management team is responsible for converting those prospects into paying customers.
To set the right tone for proper training, you need to convince your employees of the advantages of the new procedure or new product. Take the time to explain why you are implementing the change and listen to your managers. Continue the conversation until you have created "buy-in" from all of your employees.
Your commitment to training should be backed with money and time. Budget for sales training by planning to spend a set amount each quarter for training programs. How much you spend should be determined by your current sales level, your improvement goals and your investment objectives for the property.
Training is available from many sources. The very best training is face-to-face instruction. If you have employees in your organization who are exceptional in one area of sales, assign them to assist or conduct the training in that area. You can also purchase books, audio tapes and video tapes on a wide variety of training topics. You and your managers can also attend industry seminars.
Your third-party management company should regularly prepare and conduct training meetings geared to specific sales topics. Industry professionals or other management companies can be engaged to create customized training programs for your managers. These programs can run from $1,000 per employee to several times that, depending on your level of commitment. If you are spending that kind of money, make sure the program is tied to some sort of measure that will permit you to evaluate your managers' improvement.
Training topics can be broad or narrow, but training activities that involve lots of practice are most effective. Managers should practice telephone techniques by role playing with the instructors and other managers. This is also the best way to improve lease-presentation skills, adding ancillary products, and showing units. Depending on the skill level of your managers, the amount of training needed in each area of their jobs will vary. Fully competent managers are often capable of fine tuning their phone skills with a monthly telephone shopping report and a tape of the phone call. Other managers may require more individualized time outside of your formal training sessions.
In trying to improve sales skills, start small, with some basic skills, and add one skill at a time. This permits you to build the employee's confidence with a series of repeated small successes. You will find that the more attention you pay to improving sales skills, the time required to master each new skill will decrease substantially. Don't be discouraged by small setbacks. Learning new skills is a lot like a roller coaster. Think back to your early years in school and recall how some subjects came very easily to you, while others were much more difficult to master.
Your two training mantras should be, "This is a small change" and "I know you can do this." Obviously, it is important that you believe each of those statements, since managers can tell when you are insincere. The ultimate goal in training managers is to create a heightened sense of self awareness that permits them to see themselves more clearly as they engage in the sales process every day. Managers who are aware perform self evaluations and are able to identify, for example, where in the sales presentation they lost a particular sale. This condition is not unlike a world-class athlete who is able to identify exact mistakes made in competition, in order to isolate those areas for additional practice.
Once your managers have shown some improvement, don't be afraid to continue raising the bar. As individuals' abilities improve, continue to challenge them to become even better. Recognize and reward progress, but do not fall into the trap of settling for some steady level of performance until that effectiveness is as good as you can expect. While no one is perfect and it is impossible to sustain periods of 100 percent effectiveness, the goal is to sell each and every product in the best manner.
Exceptional sales people in self- storage seemingly never stop selling. They generate impressive closing ratios, improve occupancies and continue presenting additional programs, including credit-card auto-debit payment plans, customer-storage insurance, moving supplies, rental trucks, customer-referral programs and changes to policy. Delinquency problems can also be attacked through improved sales techniques.
Assemble the specific sales tools that help managers to do their jobs. A one-page telephone script is an excellent tool, along with a call-back script and scripts for various objections. Try to keep it very simple. Work with your managers to put together some quick reference guides in three-ring binders. If you have various promotional pricing programs, put them in the binder. The key is to make all of the necessary information one cannot realistically memorize available at your manager's fingertips.
Use intelligent measures to monitor the progress of your employees. Measure telephone-closing ratios (70 percent to 80 percent indicates strong sales). Other measures include in-person closing ratios, lock-sales penetrations, box-sales penetrations, insurance sales and performance in standardized "mystery shopping" programs.
Recognize and reward progress for individuals and teams, and be diligent in your pursuit of improved sales effectiveness. Continued focus on sales training is the path to the promised land of sustained profits.
Rick Kaczmarek is a self-storage management guru who focuses much of his professional energy on improving sales effectiveness. He publishes a variety of resources for everyone in the storage industry. He can be reached at (727) 785-9446; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.