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.
Renters don’t simply want self-storage. They want passion, understanding, love, surprises, kindness and appreciation. When I get the opportunity to work in one of my facilities with my managers, I always answer the phone. Most of the time, I can rent the unit over the phone; but if I can’t, I don’t simply suggest the person come visit. With enthusiasm, I say, “You really need to visit us to see how we’re different. We are without a doubt the best value in the area! We’re cleaner, nicer and always smiling. We have the best guarantee in the business. In fact, I guarantee I will make you happy and you’ll be glad you came!”
Customers tell me they have to come to the facility just to see if what I just told them is true. Try it a dozen times, and you’ll see it brings in extra-happy customers who otherwise never would have stopped by because your prices were higher than the guy down the street. Part of a good sales plan is setting your prices as the highest in your market.
Convert by Building Trust
People tend to want to take shortcuts and get right down to selling techniques, but strategies don’t work on their own. The difference between renting to many prospects vs. nearly all of them comes down to a combination of earned trust, a smile, asking for the rental, and using sound selling theories to properly present yourself and your business. I could provide several specific tactics, but I don’t want to limit you. Instead, I’m going to leave that to the many sales-skills books available and instead share two general insights to how to start your switch from customer-service agent to sales agent:
Insight 1: Improve your initial customer greeting. Research shows people decide if they like you within seven seconds of meeting, so it’s imperative to make a strong first impression. Show you care by immediately standing when a customer arrives, and then walk in front of the counter to greet him. With positive body language, including a smile, enthusiastic tone, open arms, sustained eye contact and a forward lean, shake the customer’s hand as you greet him. Give your name and get his.
If you take just one item away from this article, let it be the realization that you don’t call your prospects by their names often enough. Repeat a customer’s name several times while you have him engaged. Research shows that people feel validated when someone refers to them by name during a conversation.
Insight 2: Start treating all prospects as if they’re your mom (and expect the sale). Good sales people treat every prospect like their parent or best friend. Chances are you aren’t afraid to ask your mom questions or offer reassurance. So relax. You know she loves and trusts you, so you don’t have to rely on the “typical selling routine” in which you cough up everything you know about self-storage and why she needs to rent today. If storage is right for her, she’ll rent. If not, you won’t have wasted her time or yours trying to convince her against her will.
You also know your competitors would never take as good care of your mom as you. You’d never let her rent down the street, so assume the rental every step of the way.
While you’re at it, insist that mom buy a disc lock so you can show her how the door latch works and ensure her belongings are well-protected. You assume the lock sale by holding up a pair of scissors and a lock, and simply ask if she would like you to cut open the lock. You also shouldn’t let her buy just one or two boxes at a time. Explain that it takes 30 boxes to pack a house, and sell her two 10-packs to ensure she gets the best deal.
Similarly, you wouldn’t ask mom if she wants to go on automatic payment because she might not understand and is likely to decline (as most people do). Instead—with love—explain how all your customers enjoy saving time and money (no late payments) through your automatic credit-card payment plan. While she’s completing or signing the lease and has a pen in her hand, slip the authorization form in front of her and show here where to sign. Finally, don’t forget to thank her for her business and carry the boxes out to her car even if she tells you she doesn’t need help.
Invite the world to see how your self-storage business is different, and then demonstrate those points of value from the second they arrive. When you take the time to become a selling expert, you’ll become an authority and rent at premium rates like never before.Marc Goodin is president of Storage Authority Franchising and the owner of three self-storage facilities that he personally designed, built and manages. He’s been helping others in the industry for more than 25 years. To reach him, call 860.830.6764 or e-mail [email protected]. You can also purchase his books on facility development and marketing in the Inside Self-Storage Store.