The competitiveness of today’s self-storage industry has forced us into the same realm as retail business—which relies heavily on marketing and sales—to fill our facilities. These days, self-storage companies spend tens of thousands of dollars per month, not only on Yellow Pages advertising, but on radio and television. All this is designed to do one thing: get the phone to ring. But after all of that money and effort, it is still up to somebody to handle the call in a professional manner and convince the caller this is the facility he should choose.
The primary role of a self-storage manager is that of a salesperson. Consider the top three reasons people choose a facility:
1. Convenience/Location—The majority of customers (90 percent) pick three to five ads out of the phonebook and call them based on where they are located.
2. Security—Not to be understated in this category is perceived trustworthiness. When it comes to security, most of the competition is pretty evenly matched as far as features are concerned. Most have computer-controlled gate access, fencing, lighting and video surveillance. Therefore, it is the person behind the counter who makes the prospect feel a particular facility can meet his needs better than others.
3. Price—This is actually third on the list, and if you’ve done your homework, you know what your competition is charging. Since the playing field is usually pretty level in this category, it can only be the person who does the better job selling who gets the customer.
Nobody is inherently born with all the skills, knowledge, professionalism and communication talent necessary to handle phone sales in an efficient, effective manner and produce desired results. It takes education and practice. To educate yourself in telephone-sales techniques, you need to understand the five basic steps of the phone sale.
Step 1—The Greeting
Step 2—The Inquiry
You cannot properly advise someone as to how you can best fill their need for storage without determining when, why and even how long they need it. The inquiry is not only necessary for determining the customer’s needs, it allows you to control the flow of the conversation by asking questions and leading the discussion away from the subject of price. Often, Q&A will allow you to begin building a relationship. It will also alert you to the customer’s primary concerns. You can then address those areas first and put them to rest.
Once you know the customer’s needs and primary concerns, you can tell him about the features your facility offers and how they benefit the customer (meet his needs, address his concerns). If you have done this well, the price of the recommended unit will come across as a value, not an expense.
Step 4—The Appointment
The object of the sales presentation is to get the prospect to visit your facility. Once there, the odds are in your favor (90 percent) that he will rent from you. The next logical step is for him to come in and determine for himself what size and style unit will best meet his needs. To get a firm appointment, it helps to create a sense of urgency. And it is OK to ask for the appointment. Our industry is need-driven—the prospect needs storage or he wouldn’t have called you. One final note: Be sure to give him directions and landmarks to your store. This not only confirms he knows where you are located, but gives you the opportunity to steer him away from the competition.
Step 5—The Close
End the call by asking if there are any further questions. This ensures you have addressed all the prospect’s concerns and don’t leave anything for your competitor to answer. Offering to forward a brochure or some literature not only shows you are going the extra mile to help, but gives you a reason to get the person’s information, which can then be used to follow up in a few days. Finally, giving him the name of your facility while thanking him for his call, is a proven method of solidifying your facility in his mind: “Thank you, Mr. Jones, for calling ABC Self Storage.”
Once you understand these steps, you can create a phone script, which will help you consistently achieve the maximum impact of your sales presentation. It will also help keep track of the important points you need to cover to be most effective in obtaining your goal: to realize the value of that call! You need to sell prospects on using your facility over others. You can do this by outselling your competitors on the phone.
The Mystery Shop
“Mystery shopping” is when you call a competing facility as a prospective renter to get an understanding of the manager’s phone skills, what specials the facility is offering, what features it has, and even its prices. Once you have an idea how “good” your competitors are, you can compare them to your operation by mystery shopping your own managers.
This should be done by an independent, third-party company for reasons of maintaining objectivity. These companies can supply you an audio tape of the conversation, as well as a previously agreed score sheet that details via a point-rating system the strengths and weaknesses of the call. They will even outline what the individual needs to do to strengthen the sales presentation—all for between $25 to $50 per “shop.” If you think that is too much to spend on training for better sales presentations, consider what is at stake.
To figure out the cost of the average prospect call (which is very different from its value), divide your total advertising and marketing dollars for a given period of time by the total number of calls in the same period. For instance, if a facility spends $500 on a mailer one particular month and receives 50 calls, each call costs $10. This is money paid in advance. It is spent and gone whether the manager decides to answer the phone or not.
The value of the prospect call is what is at stake in your phone-sales presentation. It depends on whether you convince the customer to rent from you. It is determined by taking the average unit rental rate and multiplying it by the average length of stay. If the average rental rate is $75 and the average length of stay is 13 months, the value of the call is $975. This is what is at stake during every sales call.
It is expensive and difficult to get customers to call you. You must capitalize on the finite number of people who actually need storage at any given time. You cannot increase call volume at will by spending more money, regardless how well you do on the phone. It is easier and more cost-effective to increase the number of calls you convert to rentals by improving your sales skills and raising your closing ratio. In fact, the amount of call volume you do not convert to rentals becomes a tremendous missed opportunity.
For example, let’s say you received 50 calls one month. Statistically speaking, only 88 percent represent valid business—that is, only 44 of those callers will actually rent from someone. If you achieved an average closing ratio (35 percent is the national), you only closed 15 of them, leaving 29 potential rentals on the table. At $975 each, you’ve missed $28,275 for the month, or $339,300 per year. That’s a lot of missed opportunity. Perfect the phone-sales presentation, close more calls, and reap greater profits.
David Fleming is the director of operations for North State Storage LLC of North Carolina, which acquires and manages properties throughout the southeast region of the United States. Mr. Fleming provides operational consulting, training and auditing services to the self-storage industry as well as third-party management. He can be reached at 919.313.2764; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.