The terms “marketing” and “sales” have different connotations, and they are sometimes convoluted in people’s minds. The dictionary defines marketing as “the business activity of presenting products or services to potential customers in such a way as to make them eager to buy.” Sales is defined as “the exchanging of goods or services for an agreed amount of money.” To simplify our understanding of these concepts, marketing is everything you do to put your product or service in front of a customer, and sales is everything you do to close the deal.
In the end, it boils down to communication, which can be a big problem for businesses. Anytime you convey an idea or concept, the listener interprets it from his own perspective, which is colored by his cultural, linguistic, educational and social experience. The question is how to effectively communicate messages about your offering to make it enticing to the greatest pool of prospects.
I asked Dr. Frank Jaster, a professor of communications at Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business, to describe communications as he would to his class of businesspeople in the school’s MBA program. He said, “Communications is the strategy, structure, substance and style you choose that enables a person to make a decision in your favor.” To define the components:
- Strategy is your plan to understand a customer’s needs and expectations by asking yourself three key questions: What does this person know? What does he want to know? What does he need to know to make a good decision?
- Structure is the organization of the information you share.
- Substance is the facts, data and information meaningful to the decision-making process.
- Style is the manner and context in which you present the information.
Assuming you accept the above definitions of marketing, sales and communication, how do you, as a self-storage owner or manager, express the value of records storage to customers in terms of their needs and expectations? Let’s answer that question based on Jaster’s four pillars.
What do your customers know? They probably have little or no knowledge of the value of off-site storage and the outsourced management of their business records. It’s usually the last thing on a small-business owner’s mind until there’s a problem (i.e., an audit, litigation or employee theft).
What do your customers want to know? They want to know how the records-storage service can save them money, today and in the future. They also want to know it can save them hassle and offer protection from liability.
What do your customers need to know to make good decisions for their businesses? They need to know why records have real and tangible value and, most of all, that outsourcing records management is less expensive than managing the files themselves. They need to understand this is serious business, and many companies have not survived audits, litigation and embezzlement. They need to appreciate that sound record-keeping practices are simple and easy, but they require a method. You have what they need and can provide it at a lower cost than what they already spend on a regular basis.
The structure that communicates records storage must be simple, clearly stated and unambiguous. Generally, it requires a script, a pitch book and an IBS (initial benefit statement) crafted to get a customer’s attention.
The substance of your communication must be clear and meaningful yet simple. The IBS should hit customers square between the eyes. Use persuasive questions such as, “Did you know we offer a service that could save your business 50 percent or more of its record-keeping costs?” Once you have caught their attention, display the cost and benefit in a simple graphical form with a standardized cost-benefit analysis. Your small-business packages (discussed in detail in the September 2004 issue of this magazine) are designed to cost less than a self-storage unit but ensure very high profitability to the storage owner.
Always be professional, competent and courteous, but never miss an opportunity for a sale. Never sound canned or scripted. Your salespeople or telemarketers must be well-trained and understand the value of the service for the prospect (saving money and time), the owner (long-term revenue) and themselves (a sales commission).
We all communicate every single day, but less than 20 percent of what we say is heard or understood by our listeners. If this is true, your approach to communicating your records-storage service must be thorough, well-rehearsed and directed at the heart of a client’s “pain.” You must develop an easy, user-friendly communication method that does the “magic” of saving the client money while enhancing your revenue. That’s why more and more self-storage operators are attracted to this ancillary service. It’s not magic, just the simple logic of renting cubic instead of square feet.
Cary F. McGovern is the principal of FileMan Records Management, which offers full-service assistance for commercial records-storage startups and sales training in commercial records-management operations. For help with feasibility determination, operational implementation or marketing support, call 877.FILEMAN; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.fileman.com.