I recently watched a rerun of the TV show “Cheers” in which a door-to-door suit salesman was really playing to his stereotype. He talked smooth and fast, using a high-pressure approach. He was constantly closing! But though his methods seemed a bit extreme, he was clearly well-rehearsed and polished.
Self-storage managers don’t want to come across to customers like an oily “used-car salesman,” but there’s something to be said for being practiced. Sales is like a sport. You can read hundreds of books and visualize every word and move, but that doesn’t mean you can execute. You need experience. You have to develop your skills. If you don’t actively practice your sales technique, you won’t succeed.
Making sales is about presenting the offerings that meet your customer’s needs. When I shop for a car, I intentionally interrupt the salesperson to see if he’s just delivering a speech or really understands the vehicle. If someone asks you a question mid-sentence and it throws you off, he’ll know you’re just regurgitating a script, like a robot. That isn’t what customers want. They want someone genuine with whom they can interact and get the information they need to make a purchase decision.
To improve your sales pitch and technique, I strongly encourage you to role play. After all, self-storage customers can do and say the most confounding things. No matter how much you prepare, there’s always the chance something will give you pause. Role playing will help you minimize the unknowns. It’s also an exercise that creates confidence.
Role playing can be uncomfortable for some people, but when done correctly, it can also be a great educational tool and a lot of fun. Traditionally, you start by having a trainer or supervisor pretend to be the prospective customer, while a staff member does the sales presentation. This can be done over the counter or on the phone. In fact, both are recommended.
The goal is to practice common and unusual scenarios that come up in interactions with customers. Here are the four keys to a productive sales-practice session.
1. Limit the Focus
The session should be short and specific. Discuss how to offer tenant insurance or how to direct the customer to the proper unit size. Don’t try role play the entire rental process! For one thing, it’s difficult to keep everyone’s attention that long. You can also only absorb so much feedback in one sitting. Receiving too many corrections can also be depressing and a turn-off, which defeats the whole purpose of the exercise. Keep it brief, focused and constructive.
2. Reverse Roles
Each participant should eventually play both roles: manager and customer. When you play the customer, listen to the manager’s sales technique and provide feedback. When you play the manager, you’ll accept constructive criticism, too.
Remember, this is about practice, not perfection. Everyone has a different style. The goal is to demonstrate how to be professional and productive. Trainers should encourage participants to put their own stamp on it. We don’t want clones or robots in self-storage. We want people who are prepared to knowledgably and sincerely discuss the features and benefits of doing business with our company.
3. Change the Environment
You can do role play anywhere, but vary the environment from time to time. You might use the management office, or a conference room or even an empty unit. Maybe you’ll go offsite.
You want to limit distractions to allow for better focus at first, and later practice dealing with distractions. To be excellent at sales, you need to get used to stressful situations. At my company, we do most of our exercises in the main office. Sometimes the phone rings or a client comes in. When this occurs, we incorporate it into the training. It’s part of the job! To become proficient at multi-tasking, you need to practice.
4. Make It Fun
The most important factor to role playing is fun. If you’re playing the customer and the manager asks what size unit you’ll need, tell him it needs to be large enough to store your life-size Brontosaurus skeleton. Keeping things light will make the exercise more enjoyable. Plus, when managers learn to laugh with their tenants, customer satisfaction and online ratings tend to go sky high. That’s what we really want—happy, paying tenants.
You don’t need to be aggressive or sneaky to be a great salesperson, but you do need practice and experience. So, set up some role-play sessions. Keep them short and specific. Try out both roles (manager and customer) as well as some different environments. Finally, keep it light and entertaining. You’d be surprised what just a little exercise will do!
Gary Edmonds has been the owner, manager, janitor and lawnmower at Pike County Storage in Pittsfield, Ill., since 1999. He and his wife, Diane, also own All-Star Mini Storage and Puro Mini Storage in Peoria, Ill., and U-Store-It in Macomb, Ill. With a background in banking, financial services and construction, Gary strives to be surrounded by people who are smarter than he is. He can be reached at [email protected].