Martin admitted to members attending the recent Members? Meeting to not liking advertising as a means of gaining business. So, he took members through ten ways of winning business that will not cost anything ? but a bit of thought and work...
Martin asked his audience to recall those first few weeks when they set up their first self-storage activity, but have now perhaps lost that passion - that zeal - that really makes the difference and causes the business to fly. He suggested that of the ten referral processes members should consider three to formally introduce, develop and systematically apply in their businesses.
As Martin said: "If you have no formal referral systems currently in your business you are losing an enormous opportunity." As to which three of the ten referral systems members opted for was up to them; they knew their business better than him. However, he maintained that in all probability between 25% and 40% of a self-storage companies business comes from referrals.
If it is less than 25% then referrals can be far more valuable to you, if it is more than 40%, there is danger that you are dependent on word-of-mouth recommendation. The referral system should be part of each persons daily activity, and not something that you get round to doing at five to five on every fourth Friday - if there's time!
Martin spoke about "delighted customers" rather than simply "satisfied customers - and he suggested encouraging customers to write to the company, if they had been delighted with the service. You would then reply: "Thank you so much for those comments, would you mind very much putting it in writing so that I can share it with the team". In fact, you are intending to laminate it and put in the "happy file" in the foyer of your self-storage unit to assure customers that they don't have to believe you, they can actually see with their own eyes, what other people already think of you.
How many people actually visit your storage unit" Who are the final decision makers" They may just be checking it out to see that it is up to standard and suitable for their treasured possession, so the occasional judicious additional photo copy in the happy file might just make the difference. The happy file isn't necessarily going to be read very often, but it is one of those additional forms of manipulative reassurance that the customer has come to the right place.
If however, it is a new facility and you have no letters, Martin suggested producing some. Not letters from customers, but case studies. Indications as to what may have happened elsewhere. "We sorted out a situation for somebody as result of the high level of outbreak of crimes on marinas. Now, six out of ten people use us in preference to leaving their valuable kit on board, or at home" was an example he gave.
If a certain proportion of your customers are prepared to introduce your business and your reputation to friends and neighbours the multiplier works and it works very quickly. If people visiting you, just to check you out, talk about you as the result of a "happy file", then there is another calculation as well. It is about accessibility, affordability, plus reassurance, and you are helping those customers to make the right decision".
What goes round comes around
Another referral system Martin calls: "What goes round comes round". "For instance, a customer says: "Oh yes, that company helped us two years ago when we were splitting up". That is a favourable impression, and they are more likely to use you again". Is there is a lifetime of leverage from one customer acting as an unpaid sales person on your behalf" If so it's worth spending a little time with them and for them.
It might be preferable to issue those nice safe reassuring words that "you are looking forward to them coming back again", on the expectation that 70% of moves are within a ten or 15 mile radius. I would far prefer to return to the location in which I've already been delighted with the service, even though it is five miles out of my way. You are not so mature an industry as to have a storage unit on every door step or five miles away from each other.
If three people from a particular road are already using you, then it may be appropriate to ask them to promote your services. It may be even worthwhile doing a doorstep drop of direct mail or letters. It might even be more worthwhile giving a knock on a door in those areas where you know you are leaning on an open door. There are already three or four people that know you and love you. Make it easy for them. Give them something, it might only be a business card, it may be an A5 sheet of paper so that they can file it away knowing that when they need you, you're accessible and affordable.
No one gets away
No one should ever get away in business, according to Martin. "I'm suggesting that you make a point of contacting past customers and suggesting a solution to what they may have as a storage requirement." It is likely to be responded to by the answer "yes, that is exactly what I was thinking", rather than you waiting for them to come through the door. If 10% of moves are local they are still a client of yours. If not, may I suggest that you are big enough and influential enough to collaborate amongst each other.
Far better to promote the Association standard if the move is 250 miles away, rather than remain silent and competitive. Martin said he was sure members were collaborating with their local estate agents, not just talking to them, but putting forward persuasive proposals. This might be by persuading an estate agency to point out to one its customers that if they want the asking price for their property, they should consider removing some of the clutter, and he knew just the self-store where they could take temporary storage for six weeks. If they did that the estate agent might be able to get an extra "6,000 for the property.
One doesn't have to be a trained accountant, to put a smile on that prospective vendor's face. Six weeks at GBP30 for self-storage for an extra GBP6,000 for the sale of the house, that is the proposition! You might even be prepared to do a deal: "If your house isn't sold within six weeks we'll continue to store your furniture, at a discount, until it is", suggested Martin.
Any time, any place, anywhere
Martin set the scene: "Hello Fred, what do you do"? - "I operate a facility which gets people out of trouble whenever they have a storage problem. I'm able to provide this at any time day or night, if you have a requirement, here is my card."
Can you say with hand on our hearts that every member of your team is equipped to provide a business card, any time of the day or night. If not, we are not systematically applying our referral systems, if we are, then you are already applying this one". Try rehearsing in private to be perfect in public, suggested Martin. There are a number of situations in which a business has special features, but are they described and portrayed to prospective customers as advantages and benefits"
If there are two of you in the business, do you regularly sell to each other" And then just check out that the wording, the phraseology and everything else, has been appropriately dealt with.
In your industry you must regularly make sure that everybody involved in the business is looking for opportunities. I was talking to the security guard at Port Solent, a marina in Portsmouth Harbour, and he said there had been a spate of burglaries on boats "That's an opportunity!" Two phone calls and the chances are you have six new customers. In fact talk to the commodore of the yacht club and you'll probably double it.
Do they really mean no?
Are your customers really saying no? Do they mean it? It may simply mean they want more information from you. We certainly noticed in our experience as consumers that whenever a member of a selling team in a retail shop says the dreaded phrase "Can I help you"" the answer is usually "No - just looking". I'm asking you to overhear and possibly record the responses that members of your team are giving to customers to see whether the word "No" is met with a response.
Is it actually challenged and a member of your team then attempts to find out what the problem may be, or what other information a customer may require. If you are able to overcome the problem, the chances are you can meet the customer's requirement in terms of accessibility, affordability, trust, security and you've got another customer. That customer is not a "30 a week customer, it is a "3000 customer for the lifetime in which that customer remains in the locality.
On the downside, if the customer isn't happy and doesn't buy your service they may say to others: "Oh yes, I tried them and they weren't very helpful", because word of mouth referrals are happening, whether we like it or not. Are they positive and supportive of your business or are they working against you"
All publicity is good publicity
Case studies and happy file letters may, said Martin, be used for publicity. He suggests using them as an article for the local newspaper. Write an article about the way in which your self-storage facility can help customers in your locality. Give them three questions to answer, multiple choice options. And twelve words in which they state that self-storage will solve the problem for them and have that published as a competition. The chances are you might get 60 to 100 responses. And you'll get the same 60 to 100 enquiries for the self-storage facility.
Recruit unpaid sales agencies
Martin recommended using customers as sales agents. "Use your existing customers to sell for you, because it is conceivable that they can tell more friends. If, as is likely, you have particular hot-spots in town, where there is a continuing requirement of business, and you have three or four households that are regularly using you, then write back and thank them when you find that they have been referring customers to you. As a general rule of thumb you ask every customer and every enquirer: "Where did you find out about us"" in a positive, supportive way. They may reply: "Oh, actually Mrs Jones from 13 Acacia Avenue told us about you, she was very pleased how you sorted out such and such."
What is your next reflex action? Write to Mrs Jones and say thank you. It only has to be a letter or even a phone call and say: "I thought I would just pick up the phone and say a sincere thank you because Mrs Llewellyn from number 17 came in today and she said you had sent her. But don't worry, we are not small, we are still happy to have another six or eight customers who you already know, because you know what we are capable of doing and rest assured we will continue to do it, especially for the people you know". As a consequence that golden chain is being maintained and developed claimed Martin. "And as a result you can say to Mrs Jones: "It seems that some 300 people know you and you have said good things about us. May we offer, with our compliments, a free storage facility for three months, whenever you require it".
That will maintain Mrs. Jones's momentum, in fact she will probably start spending money on stamps in order to write to friends and the likelihood of her taking up her storage offer is fairly remote! I wouldn't suggest you doing it when you are at 70% occupancy. I would suggest you doing it when are 15% or 20% when you need an additional free referral.
Why not think about people leaving things outside over winter as potential customers suggested Martin. Expensive barbeques, patio furniture, swings ornaments, etc, which could be better looked after in ideal conditions so that they are ready for use the moment the sun shines next spring.
Where are they now?
"Don't spray and pray, focus on selected targets. I don't suggest you do leaflet drops indiscriminately, but look at where there is the likelihood of customers that want your services most," said Martin.
He suggested that self-storage already exists because of three factors: the geography - where are they? It might be a particular district of town. Demography - who are they? Singles, socially aspirational individuals who are on the up or perhaps separated. In all cases there is an opportunity to provide something for them. Perhaps you provide access for 24 hours, perhaps you don't, but then you provide a helpline for 24 hours, which sounds as though you provide access! Perception is reality. It is what your customers want from you, or imagine you are doing rather than the actual result and usage.
Martin suggested informal surveys. If you can get half a dozen customers who are prepared to have a chat with you, ask them: "OK, what do you think of us" What can we do better? What would you like us to do differently? How may we provide you with better service when you want us next time?"
And if you haven't got half a dozen customers at any one time, my suggestion is to invite two groups of customers, with whom you can sit down and talk through what is possible. Martin's next suggestion carried a higher risk, is uncomfortable, but well worth doing and that is to trawl through the records for the customers that have complained, invite them to meet you and take their gripes on the chin.
The irony is if you diffuse those negative situations from those complaining customers who suffered apparently, and you give them the opportunity to tell you how to run your business better, they'll become life-time champions of your business again.
If you leave the complaining customer loose in your locality they are a cancer. They are destroying your reputation. Far better to invite them into the body of your business in order to diffuse the situation and send them out happy. Then they will say: "I had a problem with XYZ Company, but they sorted it out." And as a result they will reassure other prospective customers to use you. It will develop your reputation, because without referrals you are leaving it to chance.
A solution to say "yes" to
There are customers who you think should be using your service, but they haven't woken up to it. People lay up boats in October each year. People move house from April to June and probably market it from March to May, so go with the flow recommends Martin. Promote those situations just ahead of the time. Make sure that whatever feature you are offering is described comparatively as an advantage and actually means something to the customer in terms of a benefit. In that way they will see situation far quicker and as a result will say yes to you, while keeping it simple. Give them something it is easy to say yes to rather than complex. I'm suggesting if you can provide simple solutions for customers to say yes to, you are making the offer easy for the customer to say yes.
I would suggest that you have, what I call "Ours is a Policy of Continuing Improvement". Review it every year and knock out the least productive, and take a small risk with what you think to be the next potentially productive. That way you are likely to remain refreshed and your customers will continue to be working for you.
Having set some of these things in place, they can almost take care of themselves, with a little bit of systematic help from you. Make it a day-to-day habit as opposed to something you get round to every fourth Friday if there is time.
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