The self-storage industry has boomed over the past several years. As competition escalates and facilities adopt the same features and benefits, it’s critical for owners and managers to focus on the basics of phone and face-to-face sales.
Selling is a creative process, more of an art than a science. When it comes to sales, you must keep an open mind and be ready to change your approach whenever necessary. This article discusses the art of mastering sales, setting goals, and the different types of salespeople. It also addresses the importance of knowing your customer, product and competition. Finally, it walks you through the five essential steps of the sales process. If you can successfully implement these techniques, the results will be very rewarding.
Setting Sales Goals
The goal of any sales relationship is to help the customer feel comfortable with you, your company and your product. Warmth and genuine caring will usually put most people at ease and create an overriding atmosphere that will make the sale. These things are more important than all facility features and sales gimmicks put together. Customers appreciate the energy and sincerity that go into this sort of presentation.
Like any new endeavor, the techniques presented in this article may feel awkward at first. But with practice they will feel more natural and, eventually, you’ll use them with ease. At their highest state of development, they become tools that are used almost unconsciously in the process of making contact with the customer. The keys to successfully becoming a true professional in self-storage leasing are:
- Sincere caring for the customer
- Knowledge of good sales tools
- A commitment to being successful
- High energy and enthusiasm
- Constant practice and creativity
Superior salesmanship isn’t something you’re born with; it’s an art that is learned. Successful, effective salespeople have certain traits they develop over time. So, what are they?
First, a good salesperson possesses a perpetual positive attitude and enthusiasm. Customers want to deal with an upbeat professional, and these traits naturally lead them to the sale. A strong salesperson must also have unyielding confidence in the company he serves, the product he sells and himself. The person who believes he is the best, works for the best and offers the best will win the customer time and again.
Next, a successful salesperson uses exciting presentation skills. His ability to communicate is as important as the product or service he represents. It’s important to create an atmosphere in which prospects want to buy. Customers don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy. Great salespeople create a buying atmosphere with questions, ideas and answers that stimulate the prospect. And they deliver superior service.
Finally, an effective salesperson has the desire to excel. This personal characteristic is evident to others by the enthusiasm he exhibits for what he does. There’s no prize in sales for second place (a missed rental), so there’s no sense in striving for second best. A superior salesperson believes he deserves to be in first place.
Types of Salespeople
A sale is the art of negotiating an exchange of goods or services for money. Again, salespeople are not born, they are trained, and there are three basic types:
First there is the clerk or “order taker” who merely puts in his time, writes up whatever the customer wants and settles for minimum success. This type is essential in the business, but probably not the one an owner would want at a facility he is trying to fill. This salesperson may be better suited for a stable, mature property.
Next there is the pushy type, the one who takes charge and crams his product down the customer’s throat like a used-car salesman. This person will usually make excuses for why the customer didn’t sign the lease, summing it up with “It wasn’t me!” He could be a detriment to the success of a self-storage facility. Sure he may be able to close deals, but he typically will not properly qualify the customer, which may lead to a shorter than average lease period.
The best type of salesperson, the one an owner should want at his facility, is one who is conscientious. This type understands the steps of selling storage, uses them wisely, and reaps the rewards without offending customers. This person sets records in leasing and consistently makes gains in occupancy, enabling the owner to maximize rental rates. If you’re an owner or hiring manager, make sure you are hiring wisely by including this sales type.
Knowing the Customer
Who is the self-storage customer? What does he want? A storage prospect is someone looking for a convenient place to store, one where he feels his belongings will be in good care. A customer may call, visit the site, or find it through advertising or another promotional venue. Your job as salesperson is to effectively communicate to the customer that he will find what he needs at your facility.
Most facilities are very similar in the eye of the consumer. Although developers spend a lot of time designing them, few are truly distinctive to the untrained eye. The features many operators promote are “sizzle” or “eye candy” desired and appreciated only by a few. That being said, you should be conscious of renter’s needs and how the facility’s features and benefits directly meet them.
Knowing the Product
Product knowledge is the key to any sale. As salesperson, you are the company’s front line, and prospective tenants rely on you to be the expert about the property. As a professional, you must be prepared and knowledgeable. You must also be well-informed about the market and competition in the area. This will enable you to sell against competing products.
You must also know your facility inside and out, including basic information such as site layout and unit mix, all the way down to which units can handle a truck with a trailer and those that cannot. You also have to be well-versed in the features of the overall facility as well as the physical characteristics of the individual units.
Below are other items you must know for effective sales:
- Dimensions of each unit type
- How to place furniture and stored items for maximum efficiency (storage tips)
- Storage-space availability
- Rent rates and deposit/ administrative fees
- Facility policies
- Facility features and benefits
- Current Promotions
The competition is any facility a qualified prospect could rent from instead of yours. You must know the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ products as much as your own. For example, you should be knowledgeable about their rent structure and unit types, access hours, current promotions and other facility features.
The most important thing to know about the competition is the quality of their management (sales force). You can determine this by mystery shopping the competing sites, posing as a customer. This will allow you to hear the sales presentation they deliver, which will help you overcome objections when customers mention they have been to see your competitor.
Five Steps to Selling Self-Storage
Below are the five steps to successfully selling self-storage. When used properly, they will help you convert more prospects into tenants.
1. Greet the prospect.In self-storage, your first contact with the prospective customer is generally on the phone. He may not know anything about your facility, so it’s essential that the person handling the call can paint a great picture of the site.
First, answer the phone with a standardized greeting that includes your name as well as the facility name and location, for example, “Thank you for choosing ABC Self-Storage on Main Street. This is Brian. How may I help you?” These items are very important to mention in the opening statement.
Next, remember to smile when talking on the phone. Believe it or not, a customer can hear it! By smiling, you’ll offer a more personal atmosphere and enable the caller to open up more. Always be polite, understanding and knowledgeable. Most customers need self-storage during a transition in their lives, positive or negative. It’s important they believe the product being offered will suit their needs perfectly.
The customer will usually start the conversation with something like, “I need to know how much your storage spaces are.” This is where you should take control. Immediately begin to qualify the customer and determine his needs. This will allow you to start building the rapport that is essential to the sale.
2. Qualify the customer.Before answering any questions about price, as the caller a counter question such as, “Have you ever rented a storage space before?” This gives you control and lets you know whether to cater the presentation for a seasoned or a first-time renter. It not only saves time but allows you to structure your presentation to the caller and make it more effective.
If the caller is a first-time storage user, make the sales presentation very informative, pointing out the key features that set your facility apart from the others. If the customer has rented before, find out where. If it was from your company/facility, determine the correct unit size and go to straight to the close. If the caller rented from a competitor, point out the key differences and between the facilities, highlighting the benefits of your own.
3. Demonstrate the product.The facility is the product you are selling. When dealing with first-time renters, point out all the site’s features and related benefits. For example, the customer may not know you have resident managers or that computerized access allows him to come and go 24/7. Point out the brick construction of the buildings and the gabled roofs. Let him know you patrol the site regularly. Inform him of the many different unit sizes you offer.
If the customer is a seasoned renter, point out why he should rent from you and not the competition. Often, a customer will choose a site because of the salesperson’s personality and willingness to help. If you have a product the customer wants and you are helpful and polite, the customer will generally rent from you.
4. Overcome any objections.The most common objections you’ll hear from customers are that your price is too high or the competition is offering a promotion. Here are some ways to overcome these arguments and regain control of the sales presentation.
If the objection relates to price, tell the customer his goods are much too valuable to risk storing them just anywhere. Reiterate the site’s features and benefits that warrant the higher rental rate. Remind him of your various unit sizes and willingness to help.
If your customer is being tempted by a competitor’s special, draw attention to the ways in which your facility might save him money elsewhere. This is where knowledge of the competition is essential. For example, perhaps your facility does not charge an administrative fee while your competitor’s does. Focus on any other feature that sets you apart, such as 24-hour access or optional tenant insurance.
5. Close the sale.The last and most important step in the sales process is the close. If you’re not going to ask for the business, why waste your time doing a presentation? That’s like baking a cake and not eating it simply a waste!
First, ask a closing question such as, “When would be a good time for you to pay us a visit?” You can even offer to hold a certain unit size for the customer with his permission. Keep in mind the goal is not to rent a unit over the phone, but to get the customer to come to the site. When you ask a closing question and the customer answers, there’s a binding agreement in place, and he will be more inclined to follow through. Remember never to ask a question to which the answer could be “no.”
When inviting the customer to the facility, get a commitment for a date and time. This is important because you want to be prepared. Always get a name so you can identify the customer when he arrives.
In essence, these sales steps can be tailored to fit any organization. They don’t have to be used in order, but a close must be initiated in every situation. The close is the step that will make or break the sale. Again, failing to close the sale is like building a house without a roof all the work for nothing.
Brian Byrd is the vice president of sales and marketing for Wichita, Kan.-based Landvest Corp., which specializes in third-party management, sales and marketing training, and feasibility studies for the self-storage industry. For more information, call 316.634.6510.