When my mother was a teenager, she worked for a department store. One day, while working behind the jewelry counter, a customer asked to look at some broaches. My mom removed two from the case, and the customer asked her to put them on to get a better sense of how they appeared when worn.
The patron couldn’t decide between the two, so she asked my mother which one she liked better. The shopper went with my mother’s suggestion, paid for the broach and left the store happy. Unfortunately for my mom, the store owner watched the situation unfold and fired her because she sold the less-expensive item.
This was the late 1940s, and I would surmise that this particular sales quandary has existed since humans first started exchanging tokens for goods and services. The question at hand is whether it’s better to make the most money possible from a sale or simply meet the customer’s needs.
While there isn’t necessarily a true right or wrong answer, my sense is that businesses over time now tend to lean toward the latter. There’s a reason why Scrooge-like characters exist and why people have long hated to buy vehicles, particularly from independent used-car lots. There was long a consensus among consumers that many salespeople couldn’t be trusted to put the buyer’s best interests first.
Company’s like CarMax started changing the narrative with no-haggle policies. The price of the car is what you pay, without having to go through a song and dance about throw-ins, dealer costs, etc. Likewise, self-storage and other specialty retail and service providers have long adopted a consultative sales approach through which the answers to a series of questions leads the customer to determine the right buy for their particular situation.
For self-storage operators and managers, this is largely a question of business philosophy and ethics. As a matter of policy, do you instruct employees to push for the biggest sale, no matter the circumstances, or do you genuinely try to help the customer arrive at a unit size and any ancillary products and services that truly fit their self-storage needs?
I’ve always liked the consultative approach because it presents an opportunity for a true win-win. First, it allows managers to develop a rapport and learn something about the customer, which can pay dividends for referrals, retention and trust once the prospect becomes a paying tenant. Second, the structure of the conversation is also an opportunity to upsell by presenting opportunities the customer may not have considered, including retail items, climate control, paying more for a better unit location and so on.
Yes, there are ways to manipulate a consultative conversation to perhaps “trick” a customer into buying something they don’t really need, but if managers take a genuine approach to helping a prospect find the best solutions, you’ve got a chance to make more money from the initial sale than taking the fast-money approach of selling a larger or more expensive unit simply because it’s all you offer as available.
And, yes, sometimes this same approach will land on a less-lucrative sale than pushing for the more expensive buy. That can be OK, though, because it arguably still sets you up for supplemental sales and repeat business later. Customers who walk away from a favorable first interaction and sales experience are probably also less likely to push back against future rate increases.
As I said, there’s no true right or wrong approach. I just know which feels better to me as an agent as well as a consumer.
I don’t know if my mother did the right thing by steering the customer away from the more expensive broach, but I do believe she acted in an honest and genuine manner toward her customer. In many respects, that’s what every employer and customer should hope for, no matter what era it may be.
If you’re looking to bolster your self-storage sales approach, here are some ISS resources to help you reach your goals:
- Why Your Self-Storage Customers Dodge Signing the Dotted Line and How to Remove Their Sales Doubts
- Your Self-Storage Sales Blueprint: Creating an Effective Script for Online, Phone and In-Person Interactions
- Sales Advice for Self-Storage Managers: 4 Simple But Critical Truths
Books and Video