We’ve all heard the preaching about how to best improve your sales process: neat and clean facility, good phone skills, ability to “think on your feet,” role-playing, clearly articulating features and benefits, nice office setup ... This checklist could go on and on.
If implemented or followed, each item should help streamline our sales process. But what I believe to be one of the most critical aspects of customer relations and, in turn, effective sales is understanding of the customer.
I’ve generated a few laughs over the years by comparing our sales trenches to the funeral industry; the parallels simply cannot be ignored. Our managers, though not regularly clad in dark suits, deal with a variety of negative emotions in their customers―from messy divorces, to financial struggles and job loss, kids moving back home, elderly parents moving in with their families, and even death. The ability of the manager to relate with that array of emotions is crucial in your self-storage operation.
Understanding Your Customer
Owners, you have the opportunity to implement a culture in your business that helps people. It begins with how you relate with your employees, how you treat others, and the personal principles you live out in your daily life. It’s said that character is not defined by how you treat those you look up to, but how you treat those looking up to you. As the CEO of your company, strive to implement a culture of serving others, relating well to people, leading with character, and helping those around you.
Will it translate to profit? Absolutely. Keeping your employees happy, honoring you and modeling your business philosophy should translate to happier customers, more referrals and a more viable business. Most owners are behind the curve on implementing a strong, stable customer-service philosophy. Your stock will rise, so to speak, if you set the tone for your business.
Store managers need to know that when the next person walks through the door, it’s likely not the happiest day of his life. The demand for storage is often born out of a particularly stressful or emotional life event. There are many managers who clearly do not like their jobs. They’re unhappy, bored or underpaid, so they don’t do their best when it comes to customer service.
Some refer to themselves as “property managers,” but the guy talking to the customer should be a salesperson most of the time. His job is 80 percent customer service.
Regardless of the title you use, the facility manager should focus on providing a high level of service to the customer. He is in the unique position of having all the tools required to meet the customer’s needs. Remember, people don’t lose sleep at night with excitement about going to rent a storage space. They may lose sleep because of money, time, health or anxiety, but going to rent a storage unit, no matter how flashy your sales presentation, is a demand born out of some stressful life event.
Put a New Spin on Sales
When you buy into the idea that your business services a regular and stable demand brought on by certain life events (good and bad), it should give a new flavor to your business model. It should provide a satisfaction in making the dreaded sales or prospecting calls, clearly stating your value proposition, discussing options with customers and articulating the benefits your store offers.
No matter our position in this industry—owner, manager, part-time staff—we are in the service business. Not everyone buys into that concept. Just visit the other stores in your market. Count the managers who stand up when you enter their office. Count the ones who smile. And count the ones who look like they’d rather be doing something else. Where you can sharpen your sales edge is in auditing your sales philosophy. Do you take orders for storage, or do you identify, address and fill customer needs?
In this age of automation, there has been a mass exodus of personal service in business. But as storage owners and managers, we have the opportunity with every new day to bring it back and reap the benefits from a clientele demanding a personal touch. That high level of service is especially critical in our industry. The customer may be walking through your doors already stressed, angry, defeated or just in a generally bad mood.
You may not have the newest site, the flashiest security display or the scrolling reader board. But you can easily have the best customer service by taking a new look at your customer and finding creative ways to meet his needs. It’s through that relationship in which your business sells, collects and profits.
What makes our industry so stable is the demand generated by those unavoidable life events. I challenge you to look hard at your company’s philosophy and strive to look for those needs in your customers. When you meet those demands with a smile and provide your customer with great service, you’ll begin to see the benefits in the short and long term.
Benjamin K. Burkhart is owner of BKB Properties and StorageStudy.com, a full-service self-storage consulting and resources firm. He works with developers around the country in assessing site feasibility, market strength, marketing strategies, financial analysis, profit enhancement, site design and deal structure. To reach him, call 804.598.8742; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.storagestudy.com.