Monitoring Managers' Phone Performance

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Storage is a simple business, but it's not an easy one. The steps are straightforward. First, you get the phone to ring. Once people call, you try and get them to come in and visit. Next, you get those who visit to sign a rental agreement. Finally, you get those who rent from you to stay forever and tell all of their friends.

Incoming phone calls are a crucial piece of the storage-marketing puzzle. Given how crucial these phone calls are, it is critical to have some means to measure their success. The key measurement is how many calls are converted into visits.

If you get 200 calls a month and convince 100 of those callers to come in and visit, you're closing ratio is 50 percent. Is that a good number? For years I've heard the average storage facility converts about half of its phone prospects into visitors. This figure has become widely accepted but, honestly, very few people keep accurate records in this industry. I recently had one owner tell me one of her managers "refuses" to keep track of these numbers. My response to her regarding the manager can't be publicly repeated.

Rather than fixating on being "average," your time is better spent trying to improve your closing ratio--whatever it is and no matter what level at which you begin. The best way to improve manager performance on the phone is to monitor calls. The problem with most monitoring services, however, is they measure the wrong things. I've heard countless stories of how a certain manager scores famously well when shopped by the monitoring service, yet the facility's occupancy remains stagnant or even goes down. If a manager scores well when called by a monitoring service, the facility's numbers should reflect this performance. If that isn't the case, you are clearly assessing the wrong criteria.

Manager Resistance

Many managers will interpret phone-skills monitoring as your lack of trust in them, but it's all in how you sell them on the idea. If you have hired the right manager, he should be anxious to improve. Make it clear to your managers that you're not trying to play the "gotcha" game. Instead, explain how a well-trained third party can provide you both some great ideas on increasing closing ratios. Frame it this way, and you should be able to get just about any good manager to agree.

Legal Issues of Monitoring

I'm not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. I do know you need to inform your employees they are being monitored on the phone. Make them sign a consent form that agrees to the monitoring. If they aren't willing, why are they working for you? If you don't follow these procedures, you could end up working for your manager after the lawsuit that may follow.

Five Crucial Items to Measure

Highlighting Your USP. The first item that should be measured when monitoring employees' phone performance is whether they highlight your facility's unique selling position (USP) to potential renters. If a person is calling around to facilities, we know they need storage. It is also true many people who call are doing so for the first time, so they need to be educated. Your managers need to let people know what makes your facility different. Not only do you want them to know what you have that's unique, you want to show them why the feature is indispensable.

Disclosing Price Before the USP. Any phone call where a manager gives out the price of a unit before giving out the USP is a failure. You cannot allow managers to lose sight of the importance of this issue. If you're using a monitoring service, make sure it has this item on its list.

During seminars, I always ask owners whether they think their managers will give me the price of a unit over the phone without any other information. Most say, "Call my manager--he/she will never let you get away with just getting the price!" In every case, I've been able to make the call with a very hurried voice and get the price without the USP.

Offering an Incentive to Visit. To increase the number of calls turned into visits, you'll need to consider offering incentives. In most cases, if you can get people to visit your facility, they will rent a unit. How much would you be willing to pay if you could increase the percentage of people who visit your facility by 10 percent? Don't offer incentives unless you have to; but in most markets, you'll want to consider it.

What do you offer? Something with high perceived value but low cost. The cost of getting the phone to ring can be extremely high depending on your market. In the Los Angeles area, for example, the cost of each phone call can be upward from $87. So if an incentive is needed to get people in to visit, then so be it. You can try different incentives to see which ones work and are the most cost-effective. Mention of the incentive should be another important item on the phone-monitoring checklist.

Establishing Rapport and Gathering Information. Everything else being equal, people buy from people they like. It is, therefore, essential your manager not only be perceived as competent, but also a nice person. This is a tough skill to teach, but it's not tough to judge when monitoring phone calls.

Rapport is built with prospects by asking questions and finding some common personal ground. One way for a manager to make conversation is to talk about what the prospect will be storing. Most phone-monitoring services give points when a manager is able to assess the correct size unit for a prospect through phone conversation. Although important, it is less important than many think. In fact, one out of three times a manager will quote a size for a potential renter, only to find out he has drastically underestimated the person's needs. The most important thing is to monitor the manager's ability to build rapport and gather information.

Closing for the Visit. In every sales situation, the close is crucial. If a manager isn't striving to get the prospect to visit, he is on the wrong track. Make sure your manager invites prospects to visit your facility. If you can get them to visit, you can get them to rent. Without a visit, it's impossible.

To close effectively, the manager must determine the kind of person to whom he is speaking. In nearly every case, it's important to get the prospect to commit to visiting on a certain date and time. It is also important the manager convey a sense of urgency. If there's no urgency, there is less likelihood of a sale.

These are the top five items to monitor on the phone. There are others of less importance that should still be monitored, but without these five basics, the rest don't matter.

Two Ways to Monitor

There are two ways to evaluate your managers. You can monitor them yourself or pay a company that specializes in this service to do it for you. Use caution when hiring outside services. They frequently try to make you feel good by giving your managers high marks for irrelevent criteria. If your manager gets great marks from a service and occupancy rates don't rise, change your monitoring-service provider.

If you choose to monitor employees yourself, you'll need help. Using your own voice to call your facility will not yield accurate data. Instead, have someone else do the calling for you or invest in one of several sophisticated devices that will realistically alter your voice. (You can check the Internet for such devices, though good ones are fairly expensive.) Have whomever makes your calls ask your manager a list of questions you provide. Make sure you have him record the calls.

Every manager, no matter how good, needs to be monitored. Even Tiger Woods has his coach, Butch Harmon, monitor his swing on a daily basis. If the best golfer in the world can use feedback on his swing, even the best manager in the world can use some feedback. Using some intelligent fine tuning, even the best can get a bit better.

Fred Gleeck is a self-storage profit- maximization consultant who helps owners/operators during all phases of the business, from feasibility studies to creating an ongoing marketing plan. Mr. Gleeck is the author of Secrets of Self Storage Marketing Success--Revealed! as well as the producer of the only professional training videos on self-storage marketing. To receive a copy of his Seven-Day Self-Storage Marketing Course and storage marketing tips, send an e-mail to tips@selfstoragesuccess.com. For more information, call 800.FGLEECK; e-mail fgleeck@aol.com.

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