Rent units! Rent units! That’s what self-storage owners and supervisors constantly tell their facility managers. And you do need to rent units. Being a storage manager means being a salesperson, plain and simple. But how you rent those units, and sell those packing supplies, and peddle all the other things your facility offers, well, that’s up to you.
Your approach to sales might be different from someone else’s. In fact, it’s important that your style meshes with your personality or your presentation won’t feel sincere, and you’ll struggle to gain buyers’ trust. For instance, if you’re an introverted person, you aren’t likely to be extroverted when dealing with customers. That’s OK. The best advice is to use methods that feel right for your character, talents and experience.
That said, perhaps you haven’t yet settled on a comfortable sales technique, or you just want to try a fresh approach or sharpen your skills. If you’re ready to “try on” something new, following are four styles to consider. Each have been used in the self-storage industry with great success. The more you practice and try new things, the better you’ll be at renting units and selling all that other stuff. The key is to not become complacent, or you’ll never improve.
The Solutions Provider
We all know self-storage is a business of need. Customers often have challenges when it comes to choosing the right facility, unit size and amenities. Solutions-based selling works great in in this industry because it’s used when a customer has a clearly defined problem you can solve. But it isn’t just that easy. It involves asking the right questions and actively listening to your customers to get to the root of their needs, overcome any objections and help them find the best answer.
A great way to think about it is to ask yourself, “How does my self-storage operation solve my customers’ problems?” For example, do you offer a variety of unit sizes, climate-controlled spaces, extended access hours, a business center, package-acceptance service, moving and packing supplies, etc.? Do you offer other kinds of storage such as boat/RV, wine and records? Is your facility close to their home, work or college? What does your facility provide that makes it easy for customers to do business with you? Focus on those things, and sales will be a snap.
Have you ever been helped by a salesperson and afterward felt as though you could go get a drink with that person? If so, you’ve experienced the buddy sales approach. Often, the person using it doesn’t even realize the effect he has on customers. It’s just how he is.
The buddy technique can only be undertaken by self-storage managers who are naturally warm and friendly. It’s based on the notion that customers buy from people they like. The key is to show interest in the prospect and connect with him on an emotional level. Used appropriately, it’s extremely effective; but you must be genuine. People will be able to smell a “fake it” from a mile away, and then you’ll lose their trust.
A great way to start a buddy-based sales conversation is to ask the customer something like, “What’s going on in your life that you’re in need of storage?” Then, take what he says and start to build a relationship.
For self-storage managers who read about the buddy-sales approach with great anxiety, I suggest “the expert” as a sound alternative. This style is good for those who are more comfortable with knowledge than people. Perhaps being chummy with customers isn’t easy for you, but you’re very good at retaining and sharing information—kind of like Spock on “Star Trek.” Your approach is ideal for the customer who comes in the office with a printed list of questions, or even a spreadsheet in his hands. This kind of buyer typically won’t be swayed by an emotional connection.
With this approach, you must be an authority in everything storage: the height and width of the unit doors, the size of the moving carts, what fits in each size box, etc. You position yourself as a thought leader, problem-solver and subject-matter expert with extensive credibility. It does take time to learn everything, but if this is your style, you’ll be comfortable drawing from a place of knowledge. Customers will trust you, ask for advice and recommendations, and see you as an excellent resource. You’ll generate plenty of referrals, too.
A great way to approach customers as the expert would be to ask something like, “What feature is the most important to you in a self-storage facility?” This will help you understand the things they care about. There won’t be a lot of friendly chitter-chatter, and you’ll get right to the point.
A consultative selling approach is my favorite. It’s a mix of the three above. The key is to build a relationship of trust with the customer by asking questions to understand his needs. The focus is more on the buyer than on the product itself.
This method can be tricky to manage when you’re giving a property tour and trying to offer the customer valuable information about your facility’s features and benefits. However, when you take the time to create rapport with your prospect, leveraging your knowledge and experience, you also establish credibility. You’re able to appreciate what the customer requires and offer him the right storage and amenities.
As a consultant, the ability to make quick connections is vital. You need to ask the right questions and have a wealth of insight to offer. It means saying more than just “Here’s a 10-by-10 unit. You can fit a one-bedroom apartment in this space.” You need to help the prospect visualize how he’s going to move in and where he’s going to put his items. Once he can see it in his mind, you’ll lock up the sale (pun intended)!
To be an effective salesperson, you need to choose and perfect your style. Try on a few to see which fits you best—that’s how you’ll succeed. When you’re comfortable and confident in your knowledge and the product you’re selling, your customer will be, too. There’s a saying that you should dress for the job you want … That includes donning the perfect sales technique!
Rick Beal is co-founder of The Atomic Storage Group, a third-party management and consulting firm for the self-storage industry. His expertise includes business and management consulting, project management, marketing and pricing strategies. To contact him, email [email protected], or stay up-to-date with his publications and speaking engagements on LinkedIn.