June 11, 2008

3 Min Read
Self-Storage Learns Sales Lessons From the Military

Sales is about figuring out how to make the buying process less complicated but more attractive, streamlined and frequent. Sometimes it requires a lot of tweaking to current practices and fundamental shifts in strategy.

There’s an old military adage that says, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” In other words, the best planning only lasts until the barrage begins; then anything can happen. This is why the U.S. Marines spend so much time in training—to ensure everyone up and down the chain of command can improvise to achieve the ultimate goal, while only corporals and sergeants have decision-making power.

There's another old saying that has more to do with personal conflicts. It’s one I learned while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., where kids liked to talk tough: “Everyone talks big until they get punched in the mouth.” What can we learn from all this?

Lead and They Will Follow

Your sales strategies and day-to-day practices may satisfy all the basic rules of selling and may be comfortable for you and your staff, but the world is changing with every passing minute and, unless you have a way to anticipate, evaluate and adjust, you will be left behind. So each change should be carefully considered. Sometimes a minor adjustment will take as much effort, staff buy-in and time to complete as a major one. That's why most initiatives, instructions and constructive criticisms seem to fall on deaf ears.

It’s not that people don’t hear what you're saying, trust your judgment or want to follow your lead. They’re just busy doing all the tasks they do every day to run their lives and jobs. Most things we do come automatically from training. We don’t always think about how or why, we just do them. This is why the Marines spend so much time on training. They want a predictable response to unpredictable situations.

You need to spend far more time and effort on implementing and executing tweaks and shifts than you think are necessary. You must change people’s trained behaviors. This also means you must change the way they think and feel about the task, strategy and situation you are reconfiguring.

Giving Command

If you can’t get your staff members to ask 100 percent of the people walking into the store if they need to buy any boxes or supplies today, how do you expect to get them to make a major shift in sales strategy? The answer: training ... and more training.

But sometimes even changes of minor proportions are difficult to implement. What then? One strategy that leans toward success is to have someone other than you own the project. Pick a responsible staff member and give him ownership.

This is the person who should be responsible for moving the project forward from concept to completion, as if raising a puppy. It’s necessary to start small and go through all the steps needed to house train the puppy, get basic obedience in place and then develop it into a great family member. In the same way, a new project needs to be nurtured and raised to become just another part of standard day-to-day operating procedures, routines and habits.

Make sure to assign the task to someone who can rally the troops. The person is charged with shepherding the project from concept to completion, providing scheduled updates and progress reports, getting the whole team to pitch in.

Allow your commander significant time to train his troops and follow through with the plan of action. When the battle is won, congratulate your commander and troops, and give yourself a pat on the back for turning another sales strategy into success.

Tron Jordheim is the director of PhoneSmart, an offsite sales force that helps storage owners rent to more people through its call center, secret-shopping service, sales-training and Internet-lead-generation services. Mr. Jordheim is also a member of the National Speakers Association. You can read what he is up to at www.selfstorageblog.com; e-mail [email protected].

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