The 3 Rules of Cross-Cultural Selling in Self-Storage

When it comes to improving their sales, self-storage operators need to consider their customers’ cultural backgrounds. Follow these three rules to elevate your cross-cultural selling skills.

We live in a world of many cultures. A “culture” is a social group of which a person feels a part, whether based on heritage, race, gender, class or interest.

Think about the cultures you serve as part of your self-storage operation. I use the word “serve” here intentionally because ours is a service-oriented business. You build your company by providing great service. Part of that is treating customers the way they expect and deserve.

Everyone, no matter which culture they belong to—or the culture you think they belong to based on the way they look, act, talk or dress—wants the same basic things. They want to be understood by others and treated with respect. They don’t want their time or money wasted. If your fallback behaviors and policies ensure customers are handled per these standards, you’ll be ahead of the game.

You’d think this would be easy, but it isn’t. Many companies create policies and encourage behaviors that go against these values. Don’t let yours be one of them. If you want higher conversion rates, customers who are willing to pay a premium to rent with you, lots of referral business, and tenants who are more tolerant of rent increases, you’ll need to increase your cultural proficiency—the ability to interact effectively with people different from yourself. This may be the most valuable set of behaviors you and your company develop.

There are three simple rules to attain excellent cultural proficiency. Let’s explore them below.

1. Don’t Be an Idiot

That sounds harsh, but the reality is businesses often give such poor customer service or have such weak systems in place that their frontline employees come off like fools. This is true of many self-storage operations. In fact, it’s so prevalent that when customers contact you, they have their guard up and assume you’re an idiot, too.

Your challenge in the first few seconds of your interaction with a customer is to show him you’re not an imbecile. You can see the point at which he realizes he’s speaking to a real person with some empathy and manners. He’ll take a sigh of relief and relax. Make this moment happen for your prospects and your conversion rates will grow. Find a way to pass the “idiot hurdle” and you’ll win.

2. Assume Everyone Is Smarter Than You

If you have trouble with this one, you need to take a long period of self-reflection to discover why. Face it: You have no idea who will show up in your office. The lady in the sloppy t-shirt and dirty jeans might be a neurosurgeon who just finished cleaning out her garage. The old gray-haired man with the thick accent might be a retired university professor who has been to 27 countries helping local engineering firms create earthquake-resistant buildings. The kid in the saggy jeans and backward ball cap may have just developed the next search-engine app that will eventually replace Google.

Assume every customer is smarter than you. Treat him with respect. Show him you’re there to serve him and make the hassle out of a move, organization project or other life change. When you look at positive self-storage reviews online, you’ll see almost all of them are about how well the customer was treated and how kind and helpful the employees were.

Assuming everyone you deal with is smarter than you will protect you from whatever bias you might hold. We all make some cultural assumptions; but any prejudice we have mustn’t impact our cultural proficiency. Poor proficiency in this area is very bad for business.

3. Show Everyone You ‘Get’ a Little Something About Them

Having good cultural proficiency allows you to build large and solid referral networks within a culture. Showing you “get” a little something about a person will not only encourage him to do business with you but to refer others to you as well.

The town I live in is home to the University of Missouri, which has had close ties with educational institutions in South Korea for many years. Thus, there’s a robust community of Koreans here. Many are graduate students, teaching assistants, medical students and so on.

I once ran a bottled-water delivery dealership. It was important for us to find referral networks to build our business, so I learned things about the Korean culture that could be easily be used by my delivery drivers and salespeople to create a good relationship with these customers.

First, many Koreans enjoy tea. Tap water in this town doesn’t make good tea. When demonstrating how to use the bottle cooler, we made sure to mention how good tea turns out when using our water. Second, Koreans generally remove their shoes at the front door rather than wear them in the house. When entering the home of a Korean customer, we also kicked off our shoes at the door. These two simple actions, coupled with not being idiots and treating the customers like they were smarter than we were, created a powerful and long-lasting referral network and excellent profit.

Find something you share with your customers. If a Harley Davidson owner shows up to store his motorcycle with you, show that you appreciate or understand the motorcycle-riding culture. You might say how much you love the sound of a Harley. You might relate a story about an experience you had on a motorcycle. You might talk about other customers who store their bikes with you and why your facility is so good for storing these prized possessions.

If someone shows up with a kayak on the roof of his car, talk about being out on a river or a lake, or the joy of being so close to the water. You can do this. It’s easy.

As you show people you’re not an idiot and treat them like smart people, they’ll reveal something about themselves with which you can relate. Of course, you must be careful not say something insensitive about a person’s perceived culture; but you’ve already shown you’re not an idiot, so I’m not worried.

When you take a culturally proficient approach to your self-storage sales, your interactions with customers will be more enjoyable, and you’ll feel happier. Plus, your rental conversion rates and net operating income will soar.

This article is part of an ongoing series on self-storage sales. The author will present a four-hour workshop on sales skills at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo, April 10-13, in Las Vegas. For details, watch

Tron Jordheim is business-development manager for the Store Here Self Storage third-party management platform. He’s consulted for many self-storage companies and spoken at industry events in Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to joining Store Here, he spent 15 years as director of the PhoneSmart call center and chief marketing officer of StorageMart. For more information, visit or

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