Phone Skills, Call Tracking & Lists
By David Fleming
I'd like to begin this month by thanking all of the people who have shown support for this column, which is written by managers, about managers, for managers. Your input is sincerely appreciated. This is intended to be used as an open forum, so if you have something you'd like to contribute, please do so. It can be a helpful hint, funny story or article on a subject pertaining to what we do. Whatever it is, send it, and we'll eventually work it in somewhere. For those of you who have sent me things, please keep in mind these articles are written months in advance, so don't think I've forgotten you. I fully intend to use the items I receive--whether in part or in full--in good time.
In past columns, I have spoken in length about particular topics. But in the interest of conveying a broader range of concepts, I'd like to borrow a style from a good friend and mentor of mine, Jim Chiswell. If you haven't yet, I recommend you read his column, "Thoughts From the Road," which appears in this magazine every other month.
As a manager, your primary goal is to rent or "sell" units, and there are many different styles of sales technique out there. My style is short and to the point. After getting the customer's name and asking a few "qualifying" questions about what he needs to store and when, and if he's ever used storage before, I get straight to the point. I tell him about the features of our facility and what I recommend for a unit size or style (10-by-15 or 10-by-20, possibly climate control). I provide enough options so he feels compelled to visit to make a decision. Finally, I discuss price. I follow this by asking when he'd like to come visit our facility. If I can't get him to commit to an appointment, I ask if he would like me to mail, fax or e-mail a brochure. Most people want some type of literature, and this gives me the perfect opportunity to get his address and telephone number, "in case this comes back to me, or the fax doesn't go through." This allows me to follow up in few days or weeks.
I know there are some people out there who don't like this abbreviated style. I assume everybody is as busy as I am, most of them just want the price anyway, and at least I'm getting the important stuff in. My wife, Tina, on the other hand, has a very different sales style. She'll chat it up with anybody about anything. People just love to talk to her. After about 10 minutes on the phone, she'll hang up with the appointment made. Sometimes you won't even hear her discussing price. The point is, no matter what your style is, you need to make the sale.
All of your advertising is designed to do one thing: get the phone to ring. Your job as a manger is to convert those calls into visits to your facility. Once there, the odds are in your favor to make the sale. If you have ever been "phone shopped," you probably know how effective--or ineffective--you are on the phone. If you haven't been mystery shopped, ask your owner or area manager to do so. There are even companies that will be happy to do it for them (for a small fee).
The phone shop is an honest, independent evaluation of your phone skills. Don't take it as criticism. Use it as a tool to become a better salesperson. If you are sitting behind the counter like I am, you have probably noticed when you are renting a lot of units, some problems seem to disappear. The boss doesn't come around as much, the requests you put in get approved, your salary increases a little (or even a lot) each year. Maybe you can work a deal where, if your closing rate stays above 66 percent, the boss will send you out to the big Las Vegas expo. Who knows? There are endless opportunities in this industry for people who can sell.
Are your phone skills improving? If you don't know for certain, you aren't tracking your closing rate. Tracking your closing rate is the single best way to know how you are doing on the phone. Simply put, your closing rate is the number of rentals divided by the number of calls in a set amount of time. For instance, 10 rentals in a week divided by 20 calls that week means you have a 50 percent closing rate for that week. The higher the number of rentals in comparison to calls, the higher the closing rate. The higher the closing rate, the better you are on the phone. The better you are on the phone, the more units you will rent. The more units you rent, the more money you make (hopefully), especially if you have some sort of bonus structure in place.
To track your closing rate, all you need to do is mark down on a sheet of paper every time you take a sales call. Then mark down every rental. Divide them at the end of the day/week/month/year to get your respective closing rate. We have a form made up so we can track how many calls we get compared to rentals, what time of day the prospect called, and what our busiest times of the week are for calls and rentals. As my mentor would say, "make a game of it." If your closing rate is high (66 percent or higher), you are winning. If your closing rate is low (below 50 percent), you may need to change your phone presentation.
Improving your closing ratio is the single best thing you can do to create more rentals out of the call volume you have. You will also be able determine if you are getting sufficient call volume. You can have a 100 percent closing rate if you are only getting one call a week and you rent to that caller. In that case, you need more call volume--which means you need to talk to the boss about marketing, but at least you'll be able to show you are doing the best you can with what you've got. The results of a high closing rate are almost immediate and, I must say, gratifying. Remember all of the problems that go away when you are renting units? Improve your closing ratio and you'll make more rentals.
The most successful people in any business write down things they need to do. They know if they don't write it down, chances are they will forget it or forget to do it. After all, they didn't get to be successful without being busy. Making a list is one of the best things you can do to work more efficiently and effectively. It will not only help free your mind from that thought once you write it down, but it will help you prioritize what to do and when.
I have several lists. My "to do" list at work currently includes:
- Raise rental rates effective month after next.
- Write "rate increase" letter and mail 30 days in advance.
- Make a list of all the units I have removed walls from to make larger units.
- Ask boss if we want to change the unit configuration in the computer or leave it as is so we can put the walls back in if need be.
- Get our brochure into my computer so we can e-mail it to people.
- Create a customer calling card.
- Clean doors in interior hall of "A" building.
- Oil locks.
- Install a timer on canopy lights.
- Replace bad timer switches on interior hallway lights.
- Write next month's column.
As you can see, it's too much to remember. This is obviously in addition to my daily duties, and I may not get to this list for a week, when I have time. I would never remember what it is I need to do without a list. And each time I look at the list, I can re-prioritize. Writing this article, for instance, just became priority No. 1 because the deadline is just around the corner. Next I'll work on the rate increase, etc. I even have a pen and paper on my nightstand because sometimes when I'm drifting off to sleep, an idea will pop into my head. This way, I can write it down to put on my list tomorrow, and fall asleep without having to worry about forgetting it, which I'll most certainly do.
My list grows and shrinks. It is a constant work in progress. Sometimes I'll get a free day, jump on my list and bang out a bunch of things. Sometimes I'll get on a tear and write down a bunch of ideas. If I read them again in few days and an idea that seemed so great doesn't anymore, I'll cross it off. Or if it seems too big for the "to do" list, maybe I'll put it on the "projects" list, which currently contains items such as:
- Newsletter. Should be viable info for our managers and customers.
- Look into creating a customer lounge area. Telephone? Phone jack for laptop for reps? Conference table? Maybe in a climate-controlled 10-by-20?
- Create an office-supplies master list for future start-ups.
By making lists, I never have a slow day. I just go to the list and pick something. I may not be as successful as some people, but I'm working on it. It's on my list.
David Fleming is a manager and manager trainer for Premier Self-Storage Inc. of Amherst, N.Y., which plans to build 20 state-of-the-art facilities over the next five years. After having managed facilities in three states over the past 10 years, Mr. Fleming now resides in a Buffalo suburb with his two children and his co-manager and wife, Tina, who will also contribute to this column. Mr. Fleming has won awards from industry publications, including the Inside Self-Storage award for Manager of the Year. To contact the Flemings, call 716.688.8000; fax 716.688.6459; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.