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The Self-Storage Sales and Marketing Process: From Funnel to Flywheel

While many self-storage operators have taken a funnel approach to their sales and marketing in the past, it’s time to retire this method. The flywheel technique keeps the focus on the customer and feeds business momentum.

September 2018 marked the end of an era for many marketers, one that can be punctuated by this quote from Alexander Graham Bell, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” What the heck am I talking about? The major shift in how we, as self-storage marketers, salespeople and facility operators need to approach our customer sales cycle—a move from the funnel to the flywheel.

A funnel is a tube or pipe that’s wide at the top and narrow at the bottom, used for guiding a substance into or out of a small opening. Conversely, a flywheel is a large rotating wheel used to maintain momentum and smooth engine operation. How do they relate to self-storage marketing and sales? Let’s explore how the paradigms work, how they differ, and why you need to embrace the flywheel in your self-storage operation.

Time to Retire the Funnel

Besides being useful in kitchens and chem labs, a funnel is also a sales strategy. Why do marketing and sales teams embrace it? It offers a clear visual of the customer journey, representing the phases through which a company moves buyers toward a purchase.

Traditionally, the sales funnel has been broken into four stages: awareness (at the wide mouth), interest, decision and action (at the bottom). In some cases, loyalty and advocacy may be added to the bottom. In others, the bottom is simply “rinse and repeat”—start the process over with another potential customer.

The top is wide and represents awareness or potential new leads. In this stage, the customer might visit your website, read your blog or complete a form to find out more information. This is the “getting to know you” stage.

The funnel narrows as customers enter the interest stage. Now, they might download a coupon or reserve a storage unit. They’re on the verge of becoming a paying customer. If the drop-off at this level is high, we call it a “low conversion rate.” We might think we need to test a new sales process, lower our prices or potentially replace underperforming managers. The truth is only a small percentage of prospects will pass through to the action stage.

In the funnel, your company teams are also siloed. Marketing works to attract leads, sales works to turn leads into paying customers, and service or support works to maintain those relationships. That’s generally where the customer experience stops. Often, companies will drop a prospect right back through the funnel because that’s the only process they have in place. But does that really make for the best customer experience?

The funnel loses energy. Many customers come in, many filter out. Very few emerge as paying tenants; and when they do, we don’t make them part of the process to gain others. There’s very little room left for repeat business or advocacy. For these reasons, there’s recently been a lot of discussion about whether the sales funnel is an adequate representation of the customer journey in an evolving marketplace. Hence, the flywheel concept is catching on.

Say Hello to the Flywheel

Is your company losing or gaining momentum? Much as an engine needs a flywheel to generate energy, companies need one to gather and disperse the power of their loyal customers. In a sales flywheel, the customer is at the center, and everything revolves around his experience. Unlike a funnel where the customer falls out the bottom, the customer in a flywheel never falls out of the loop.

The flywheel represents a circular process, one where customers fuel growth. It’s a process in which your team works together to attract, maintain and continually engage with clients. In this environment, your marketing and operational strategies need to work hand-in-hand to put the customer at the center of everything you do. Let’s take a closer look at the stages in this technique.

Attract. This is when customers interact with your business for the first time. Attraction happens when they’re drawn to your brand through relevant and engaging content such as:

  • Your website
  • Your social media pages
  • Company reviews and testimonials

Engage. Engagement occurs by creating meaningful, empathetic relationships with customers. You need to understand their motivations, needs and pain points on an intuitive level, and you want to make the decision-making process as easy as possible. Engagement will most likely occur on each customer’s preferred channel:

  • Blogs containing helpful how-tos
  • Social media polls
  • Educational articles
  • Podcasts and videos
  • Live chat
  • Text messages

Delight. Delighting customers means giving them the most pleasant, comfortable experience possible, one that’ll make them excited to promote your brand. Giving customers joy and turns them into brand advocates. Think about how you can please them through these experiences:

  • A smooth move-in process
  • A referral or rewards programs
  • Regular check-ins
  • High-quality customer support
  • Recognition of their successes

Watch for Friction

There’s a caveat: A flywheel does experience friction from time to time, which can slow momentum. There are four common reasons for this:

  • A difficult onboarding process: How difficult do you make it for customers to find the right storage space, reserve that space and move in?
  • A lack of customer education in what your product is and how it will serve them: Are you educating your customers on what type of storage they need or letting them choose for themselves?
  • Misalignment between the customer and the sales process: Is your marketing strategy representative of your in-store service? Is your manager listening and solving customer problems?
  • Misalignment of goals between customer service and the customer: Once a customer moves in, again, is the manager listening to and helping him?

It’s critical that the customer, your marketing team and your operations staff be on the same page. A complete understanding between the three is key to ensure and increase the flywheel’s circular momentum.

The sales funnel has served its purpose for a long time. To some, it still does. Whether you prefer a more traditional sales and marketing approach or a more innovative process, what matters most is that you’re tracking the source of your customers, giving them what they want, and providing them with an experience that’ll result in their advocacy and your growth.

Christina Alvino is the owner of FineView Marketing, which specializes in working with small and mid-sized self-storage operators. She has served as an executive-level marketing leader in the storage industry since 2011. Prior to launching FineView, she worked in marketing and operations for several large self-storage operators including Great Value Storage, Guardian Storage and LockTite Storage. For more information, call 724.413.6195; e-mail [email protected]; visit

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