What’s the most important function of a self-storage manager? Keeping the property clean? Opening the office on time? Maybe making delinquency calls? All of these are crucial, but the most important job of any storage manager is to rent units.
Storage owners spend tens of thousands of dollars each year to get potential customers to contact their facilities. They allocate time and funds to online and print advertising, referral programs, direct-mail campaigns, social media, etc. I’ve seen some amazing marketing campaigns over the last few years, but what about finishing the sale? Many owners stop the sales and training process at marketing and then wonder why revenue is less than they projected. The best marketing in the world is useless if you aren’t converting leads to paying customers.
To successfully rent units, a self-storage manager needs three things: a solid funnel for leads, great sales skills and quality follow-up practices. Let’s take a look at each.
The Sales Funnel
You can’t discuss sales without first addressing the way you get potential customers to contact your facility. First, you have to create and implement a “sales funnel.” There should be a set procedure for leading customers from a piece of marketing, such as a website, to signing a rental agreement.
For example, if you launch a direct-mail campaign in your area, how do you want prospects to respond to it? Does the mailer tell them exactly what you want them to do—view your website or landing page, call a phone number, visit your facility? Is the message created to cause an immediate reaction and a sense of urgency?
Next, is everyone who works at the facility aware of the campaign? All too often, owners or marketing consultants launch a promotion without informing staff. If you facility is offering some type of rental special or incentive and not everyone knows about it, the effort is already hampered. It’s critical to keep an eye on the sales funnel to get the results you seek.
The ability to close a sale is a skill, just like carpentry or accounting. No one is born with sales skills; they’re learned, tested and applied over time. Potential self-storage customers typically contact a storage facility by phone, e-mail or in person. Since a majority will call you, let’s work from that perspective.
A ringing phone is one of the most important sounds at a storage facility, on par with a fire alarm or siren from an emergency vehicle. In just a few minutes, you need to convince the caller to visit your property. If you can get him to make an appointment or reserve a unit, that’s even better. Following is an example of a great sales interaction, starting with what to say when you answer the phone. (You’ll want to tailor this to your company’s culture or mission.)
Manager: “Thank you for choosing XYZ Self-Storage. How may I help you?”
Customer: “I need to get some information and prices on a storage unit.”
Don’t waste this opportunity by just giving the requested details. If you simply give out a price every time the phone rings, you might as well shove all of that marketing money you spent into a furnace. Instead, be polite and pleasant, and attempt to get more information.
Manager: “My name is X. May I have your name?”
Most customers will be more than willing to move forward with the conversation. Let’s call our potential renter Sally. The idea is to get on a first name basis and become Sally’s go-to person for self-storage. Remember, you’re the expert. The average customer will have very little knowledge of the industry.
Manager: “Very nice to speak with you, Sally. May I get your phone number in case we get disconnected?”
If she answers, you now have her name and phone number. If she doesn’t want to provide her number, don’t harass her. You can attempt to get it again as the conversation progresses. The next step is to glean more details.
Manager: “Sally, you mentioned you need information on storage. What will you be storing, and how long do you think you’ll need the space?”
Asking what size unit customers need is a waste of time. Most know nothing about unit sizes. Remember, these are the same people who try to fit the contents of a 24-foot moving truck into a 5-by-10 space!
Sally may tell you she needs to store furniture, such as a mattress, couch and chair, as well as some boxes. She then says she’ll need the space for about six months while her new house is under construction. Bear in mind that, as with size, customers tend to underestimate the amount of time they’ll need self-storage.
Manager: “Sally, congratulations on your new home. How soon will you need the space?”
This will help you find out the level of need. People respond to pain more than pleasure, so if the caller’s lease is up tomorrow or he just experienced a house fire, his need might be immediate.
Sally: “I need the unit in the next day or two.”
Manager: “Sally, I can definitely help you. Let me tell you about a few things our customers love about XYZ Self-Storage.”
Now’s the time to discuss security, office hours, etc. Make sure Sally understands what makes your facility great. During your conversation, ask questions such as, “How important is security to you?” If you offer free use of a moving truck or tenant insurance, include that in your discussion as well. At this point, you can recommend a size you think will best suit Sally’s needs.
Manager: “Sally, I think our 10-by-15 will be the best fit for you. It’s $135 a month, which includes [insert features or amenities]. May I go ahead and reserve that unit for you?”
If she doesn’t want to reserve a unit over the phone, encourage her to visit your property and take a tour. Ask if you can set an appointment time that works best for her.
Of course, not every caller will commit to the sale over the phone or even agree to an appointment. This is where follow-up comes into play. While still on the phone with your prospect, try to get some contact information. A special offer can come in handy here. It can be something as simple as 10 percent off packing supplies.
Manager: “Sally, before I let you go, I’d like to e-mail you a coupon. What’s your e-mail address?”
At the end of the call, you’ll have Sally’s name and e-mail address, and possibly a phone number. This will allow you to follow up with her if she misses her appointment. Even if she didn’t commit to a site visit, she’s still a strong lead, so reach out to her no later than the next day. The ability to follow up with prospects and track your leads can be the difference between having a facility that is 65 percent or 95 percent occupied.
It’s also important to use sales scripts and make sure the selling process is uniform for all staff members. There’s a reason telemarketing companies use scripts. They keep people from “winging it” and “thinking outside the box” while keeping the process orderly.
One last piece of advice: You’ll notice there was no mention of a rental special during the call. If at all possible, sell your prospects on what’s great about your facility, not price. At the end of a call, you want potential customers to feel your product provides the best value and price is, therefore, a secondary concern. If you’re priced within your market, or even a little higher, cost won’t be an issue for most renters.
Keep things simple and process-based. This will lead to more revenue, better occupancy and happier customers.
Matthew Van Horn is vice president of Cutting Edge Self Storage Management, which specializes in facility management, feasibility studies, consulting and joint ventures. He’s also president of 3-Mile Domination, a full-service self-storage marketing and strategy company. For more information, visit www.cuttingedgeselfstorage.com and www.3miledomination.com, where you can download a free e-book.