Self-storage operators are frequently challenged by customer objections during the initial sales process and throughout the rental stay. There are several ways you can overcome these protests. You simply need knowledge and confidence in yourself and your product!
Make It Personal
Your first meeting with a prospect can frame the sales process and your future relationship with the customer. When someone walks into your facility to rent a unit, treat him as if he’s already one of your tenants. Give him 100 percent of your attention and be genuine. Think about your own experience as a consumer and what makes you happy when shopping for products and services. Ask for his name and use it during the conversation. This makes the visit much more personal and creates a rapport.
Listen, and ask questions. Find out if he’s used self-storage before and how he felt about the experience. This will tell you right away what he expects from you. It’ll also help you direct the conversation to what’s important. His concerns may include security, flooding, pests, break-ins and facility access, to name a few. Whatever’s important to your prospect, address it first and put him at ease.
Know the Competition
You can’t overcome sales objections if you don’t know what you’re up against in your market. To effectively handle pricing objections, you must know what competitors are offering and charging. I’ve visited many facilities over the years, and it’s fun! Get out and visit!
You don’t have to be sneaky about it. I walk right in with goodies in hand, introduce myself and let the facility manager take over. Most managers are proud of their office and the job they’re doing and will talk about it. Make note of the benefits you offer and they don’t as well as things they’re doing that you may want to implement.
Focus on Value
Never try to price match competitors who are inferior. It’s OK to have a higher rental rate when you sell your facility’s value. To avoid price objections, you must not only tell the customer about your property features, you need to explain their benefits. Remember, you’re the expert. Here are some examples:
- We offer temperature-controlled units, which helps protect your valuables against extreme temperatures.
- We have wide drive aisles that allow you to turn around easily in a large vehicle.
- We have controlled gate access, and each tenant is assigned a private gate code. We know who’s on the property and when.
- Our high ceilings allow you to stack items and fit more into your space.
- We offer a month-to-month contract that allows you to control how long you stay. There’s no long-term commitment.
What if there’s still an objection about price? There are several things you can do to close the sale. Start by asking how long the customer plans to stay. If he says three months, offer a special price for only that period. We all know customers stay longer than they plan, but offering a three-month discount gets him to sign the lease. Afterward, the rent moves to the standard price. Just make sure you communicate this clearly.
You can also use incentives such as free locks, gift cards, lottery tickets or a tank of gas. We’ve had great success with “happy hour” rental rates on slow days of the week. Perhaps you offer a free lock or waive the administration fee every Tuesday between 2 p.m. and closing.
Just remember it’s OK to let the customer walk out. One thing I’ve learned over the years is if price is the only thing that matters to a person, sometimes you have to let him walk right over to your competitor. A seasoned manager will almost always recognize someone who’ll bring delinquency and difficulties. Yes, we want the business, but we also want customers who pay their rent on time and don’t cause problems.
Know and Communicate the Rules
To overcome customer objections, you need to be educated about your facility policies and rental agreement. This will help you be confident. If you’re not familiar with your rules, you won’t be able to effectively communicate them to new renters.
First, know your state laws. These change often, so it’s important to be current on what’s happening in your region. You also need to understand your lease so you can explain it to customers if and when questions arise. You should also be able to clearly explain your site rules. These are in place to protect everyone, especially tenants. They should cover things that might not be in your contract, such as:
- Leave hallways clear.
- Never block another tenant’s unit door.
- Smoking is prohibited except in designated areas.
- Never leave building doors propped open.
Airlines charge bag fees, hotels charge resort fees and utility companies charge convenience fees for online payments. In storage, the admin fee is a one-time, non-refundable fee charged at the time of move-in. Ranging from $10 to $25, it’s used to offset the cost of setting up a new customer account and typically replaces a security deposit. Once you explain the reason for the fee, your customer will understand it’s simply the cost of doing business. Some facilities offer a free lock as compensation, which is a great way to guarantee your customer is using an approved lock.
Now, let’s talk about late fees. We all have tenants who want to argue about them. While some facility operators are inclined to waive them to keep the peace, doing so only enables customers to pay late. If you charge a late fee the first time a tenant is late, he’ll know you mean business.
Late fees are simply non-negotiable. Spell this out clearly to the tenant at the time of rental. Utilities, credit card merchants and lenders don’t waive late fees, and you shouldn’t either.
This is the same for lien fees. It costs money for to follow default procedures. We have to send letters, inventory units, advertise, post photos online, and share our profit with online-auction companies or auctioneers. These fees should be passed on to the tenant. Explaining this upfront will, hopefully, lead to fewer objections later.
Be Smart About Rent Increases
A storage facility’s expenses go up every year, including things like taxes, insurance, maintenance and payroll. Managers can make or break the success of rental increases, so it’s important to understand the need for them and how to respond to pushback.
It’s common to get objections from tenants when you raise the rent. They’re not going to call and thank you. However, there are things you can do to avoid backlash:
- Be consistent and make small adjustments annually. Tenants will be less likely to argue about a small amount they can expect regularly. Even if it’s only a $3 increase, it makes a difference to your bottom line.
- Don’t increase all tenants at the same time. Stagger increases to avoid mass move-outs.
- Stay on top of facility maintenance. If you ask for a rent increase while getting behind on property upkeep, your tenants are more likely to push back.
- Provide great service from the beginning and they’ll be more understanding and gracious about the need to increase rent.
Protect Their Stuff
One way to mitigate future problems is to help tenants protect their belongings. Understand and clearly explain your facility’s insurance requirements. Know the insurance laws of your state and make sure you’re compliant. Clarify why insurance is a benefit and not just an extra cost. Let them know there are programs with little or no deductible, making it a great second layer of protection and a complement to a homeowner’s insurance policy.
Keep pictures in your office to show what can happen to a facility during a natural disaster. We’ve all heard stories about fires, hurricanes, tornadoes, even break-ins and what happened to customers who had no insurance: They lost all their valuables with no compensation.
The No. 1 thing you can do to overcome customer objections is to simply be excellent. Here are some general tips:
- Prompt, courteous service beats any other strategy. Remember, it’s all about your customer.
- Always be clear and communicative with customers.
- Go above and beyond customer expectations by offering beverages, snacks, free Wi-Fi, and the use of dollies or carts. Host contests with prizes or host a customer-appreciation day. Send a hand-written note to thank them for their patronage.
- Resolve issues quickly and return phone calls promptly. If you don’t have an answer about a problem, communicate that you’re working on it and will have one soon. Think about how angry you get if an issue isn’t resolved.
- Follow up with tenants during their stay. Ask if they have any questions or concerns and reiterate your availability to them if anything should come up.
- Be there at move-out. Call and confirm the date and go over vacate procedures.
With the right training and education, you can overcome objections in almost any situation. Go above and beyond and provide the best service in the industry. It’s really that simple.
Stephanie Tharpe is the senior vice president of operations for A+ Storage of Tennessee LLC, which operates five facilities in Tennessee. She’s also vice president of the board for the Tennessee Self Storage Association, which named her the Tennessee Manager of the Year in 2012. She has been a featured speaker, roundtable leader and panelist at several national and state association conferences. She’s also been a moderator for Self-Storage Talk, the industry’s largest online community, since 2009. For more information, call 615.288.2162; visit www.aplustorage.com.