So many things in life are “settled.” They require no discussion. They’re standard, and we accept them without thinking about it. Traffic lights, for example.
Now think about your self-storage business. You have systems in place. Your point-of-sale procedures are standardized. When you process a move-in, it’s done the same way every time. When you have a late payer, you follow the procedures. You may have a few workarounds or shortcuts, but the system is set.
Now let’s look at your selling system. Ha! I wish I could use an emoji here, because it would be a smiley face with its eyes pointing in two different directions, its tongue sticking out the side of its mouth, and a contorted expression to convey, “Are you kidding me?”
OK, that was a bit harsh and perhaps unfair. Some storage companies do try to have a selling system. A few of the bigger operators at least have a sales flow and some scripting in an attempt to make sales methodical. But on the whole, many storage operators have no selling system; or if they do have one, it’s in shambles. Why does that matter? Let’s take a look.
Over the years, I’ve conducted several studies to determine self-storage operators’ selling proficiency. In one, I called hundreds of facilities—excluding those operated by the real estate investment trusts (REITs)—in about 30 markets during office hours.
Thirty percent of the time, either my call went to voicemail, the line was busy, or the phone rang 12 times with no answer and I hung up. Can you imagine if traffic lights only worked 70 percent of the time? What if your POS system only associated a payment with the correct account 70 percent of the time? Either would be unacceptable.
If someone did answer the phone, I asked, “What are your office hours?” Eight out of 10 people gave the office hours without asking a follow-up question, such as if I was calling to rent a unit. Can you imagine someone driving up to the takeout window at a fast-food restaurant, asking of the restaurant is open, and then just driving away without placing an order? The clerk would be nonplussed!
In another recent study, I looked at two markets to determine if there was any upside for local self-storage operators. Both were small to mid-size, but vibrant.
I started by looking at websites for every storage company within 10 or 15 miles. There were a lot of local and regional players as well as a few REIT-owned facilities. Many of the websites weren’t user-friendly and didn’t offer a great sales path for visitors. Some weren’t mobile-friendly. Others failed to display any pricing. None allowed for an immediate online rental. Calls to action were ho-hum. Some offered a reservation process, but it was cumbersome at best.
Then I called all of these facilities during office hours. I said, “I just need a price on a storage unit. Can you give me one?” I wanted to know if they would talk to me and try to make a sale, or if I could get off the phone quickly with only a price and no follow-up questions or actions being made.
A few of the facilities used an outsourced call center, but most rang directly to the store. Again, thirty percent of the calls went to a voicemail or rang 12 times before I hung up. If someone answered, I asked the same question, regardless of whether it was a call-center agent or store manager. On every single call, I was able to get a price and off the phone in a flash. I usually said something like, “OK, that’s all I need,” and waited for a response. Everyone I talked to let me go without so much as a shrug.
I thought I should know more, so I traveled to these markets and personally mystery-shopped 10 stores. Only five had management offices. At two of them, the offices were locked, and I wandered around the facility without finding any staff. At the other three, I walked in and did my “I just need a price” routine. It was like talking to a wall. I got prices and nothing else. No conversation. No follow-up questions. No offer of a tour.
In spite of there now being better data, software and tools available, as well as more revenue to chase and more attention on the self-storage industry, operators’ selling proficiency hasn’t improved. So the answer is yes: There’s a ton of upside in those two markets I studied, and there’s likely a ton of upside in your market, too. It lies in creating, implementing and working a selling system.
What does a selling system look like? It has to be simple so everyone can understand, learn, train, monitor and report on it. It has to take the approach that everyone who calls you or walks through your door is a buyer. It has to be structured enough so users can keep it straight in their heads, but flexible enough so it doesn’t seem too scripted or stilted.
Who’s needed to implement this system? First, you need a driver who’ll manage, push and tweak it, and then push it some more. You need a coach who’ll support and mentor staff as they learn and perfect it. Finally, you need a monitor who can track statistics, adherence and performance so you can reward those who do well and re-train or reassign those who have trouble.
An improvement of only a few points in your conversion rates is worth thousands of dollars in revenue and hundreds of thousands of dollars in asset value. Creating, maintaining and promoting a selling system is one of the most valuable activities you can do for your self-storage business.
This article is part of an ongoing series on self-storage sales. The author will present a four-hour workshop on sales skills at the Inside Self-Storage World Expo, April 10-13, in Las Vegas. For details, watch www.insideselfstorageworldexpo.com.
Tron Jordheim is business-development manager for the Store Here Self Storage third-party management platform. He’s consulted for many self-storage companies and spoken at industry events in Canada, Mexico, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Prior to joining Store Here, he spent 15 years as director of the PhoneSmart call center and chief marketing officer of StorageMart. For more information, visit www.storehere.com.