By Marc Goodin
A self-storage manager’s most important duty is sales. If you think your responsibility is to educate your customers and give them a price, you’re living in the past. The time for product-focused sales is long gone. Potential tenants know a lot about self-storage. They’ve rented it before, driven by many properties, reviewed your website and read all about it online. Teaching them about your product is no longer necessary in most cases and won’t close most sales.
Welcome to the new world of customer-concentric sales! It’s time to move away from presenting your facility’s features and benefits. You now want to recognize and understand customers’ wants and needs—and then fulfill them. Consumers don’t just want self-storage; they want you to solve their pain or business issues and provide a good value.
The first step toward mastering this new sales approach is to improve your ability to comprehend customer needs. The second step is to build trust with them so they hear and understand your solutions to their problems. If a prospect doesn’t see the value in your offering, or if his only perception between you and competitors is pricing, you didn’t do a good job as a salesperson. Your job is to create value. Simply regurgitating your marketing brochure doesn’t accomplish this.
Here are some tips and examples to help you implement a customer-centric sales technique and progress from being a mere cashier or customer-service agent to being a stellar sales agent.
The Value of Persuasion
For many years, I was able to build my small self-storage empire on the foundation of great marketing. I even wrote a book on the topic. Over time, however, I noticed that some poorly maintained facilities stayed consistently full while some premier properties did not. The difference was often a manager who knew his business, who understood people and knew how to sell.
A couple of months ago, I stopped by a poorly maintained storage property in Florida. Long before I opened the front door, I rejected the facility based on what I could see. Dead plants and cigarette butts blighted the garden. I was greeted by a dusty old sign and faded parking stripes. There wasn’t a column between unit doors that wasn’t banged, rusted and dented all over. When I was taken by the manager for a tour to see his last 10-by-20 climate-controlled unit, I couldn’t believe how much dust was on the walls.
That said, this 700-unit facility was full, despite the conditions and competing against a premier self-storage facility on the same road. How can this be? It’s simple. The manager understood people and how to sell self-storage. By the time the tour was over, I was ready to rent because I really liked and trusted the manager.
So what was his secret? He listened. While he led the conversation, he only talked about 20 percent of the time. He asked the right questions. He built trust with his confidence, knowledge and presence. Early in our conversation, he asked when I needed to rent and politely insisted I look at a unit (“Follow me, and we’ll find just the right size for you.”). After showing me the space, he said, “Let’s go back to the office and get one in your name.” No matter what concern I had, he was prepared to overcome it and ask for the rental again and again.
It’s no longer enough to have a beautiful, premier facility and a good manager behind the front desk. While marketing and customer service are important, it’s clear a sales-capable manager has the potential to double or even triple a facility’s profit.
Shifting From Service to Sales
So how do we go from offering superb customer service to closing more sales? We make it mandatory. First, we hire and advertise for sales managers. Before an interview, we e-mail them a copy of our phone and walk-in sales scripts and let them know they have to use them on a regular basis. We actually role play during the interview using the scripts. If an applicant can’t easily read the scripts with a smile and positive energy, then he’s not the right person for the job. You need to hire a friendly, positive, go-getter salesperson, ready to learn and train for the other duties.
Next, it’s important to recognize there’s a monster profit difference between various manager types. In fact, there are three types. Here are their typical characteristics:
- Cashiers: Check out customers fast and courteously—when they’re ready or want to buy.
- Customer-service agents: Provide tenants with the info they request and help them enjoy the process.
- Sales agents: Exhibit the qualities of a cashier and customer-service agent but also possess the sales knowledge, personality and ability to provide prospects with that “just right feeling” and turn a “maybe” or “no” into a “yes.” This manager isn’t willing to accept “no” or “just looking” as an answer. Sales agents really dig deep to understand what a customer needs and has the confidence not only to share and offer products and services but to promote them with a smile and zeal.