What customers actually want – Building better customer relationship to gain stronger profits

Selling self storage

In this industry, I walk amongst giants of the selling world. Sellers of self storage, sellers of facilities, and sellers of services and products supporting the self storage industry. In many ways, I feel somewhat duplicitous holding myself out as having anything to share with members about selling.

However, selling is only one half of the sales equation. In every sales transaction there is not only a seller, but also a consumer, or a buyer.  And buying is something I am very experienced in. Indeed we all are.  We are engaged in the act of consuming and buying every day – a coffee on the way to a meeting, a present for a friend, a sandwich for lunch, dinner out, a movie ticket. Even when we are not handing over cash we are still consuming items daily which are the result of a previous purchase, and will result in the depletion of that consumable and lead to the need for further purchases – food, petrol, electricity and telephone calls. As we are all consumers, flipping the sales perspective around to see it from the perspective of the buyer should be easy for every sales person. Yet it would seem that many ‘sellers’ forget what it feels like to be a consumer as soon as they put their sales hat on.

What do consumers want?

In a recent Australian survey of small business owners, participants were asked what they thought their customers wanted. The number one response was “the best price”. Interestingly, when consumers were queried as to what they want from a commercial transaction, “best price” was identified as being the fourth most important need. The three top responses were:

  • honesty in the transaction;
  • suitability of product/service to need; and
  • good value.

Honesty

Honesty in the transaction is a fascinating top response. But, as we are bombarded with extravagant and frequently unbelievable commercial messages from the moment we open our email or facebook accounts in the morning, until we turn the television off at night, this is an understandable desire in a commercial transaction.

Customers want to be told what to genuinely expect from the product or service. When you are selling, be realistic about what you can do for customers. Don’t make claims about what your product or service can do if you know it can’t.

This does not mean the sales process needs to sound like a legal disclaimer. When selling a product it might mean being honest about the limitations of the item – is that model cheap because it is about to be superseded and the company is going to phase out maintenance? In self storage, ‘honesty’ in selling might mean replying accurately and truthfully to a question about flooding in your area or security features of your facility.

Perhaps sales persons engage in dishonest answers because they are scared about the response they will incite in their customers. But this is short sighted. A customer who experiences honesty in a sales transaction – even where that involves the sales person revealing a flaw or issue with the product – may buy the product anyway. But a customer who experiences dishonesty in the sales transaction and is left with a disappointing product will become your worst marketing nightmare. Reflect for a moment – the last time a sales person sold you something which broke immediately or you saw for half the price somewhere else, how many people did you complain to about it?

Suitability of product/service to need

Like honesty, claiming a product or service is suitable for a customer’s needs just to get the sale when you know in fact it is not, will only result in negative backlash for your business. By promising something to a buyer that cannot be delivered you are building in guaranteed negative experience into the transaction. Avoid making the promise, and you avoid the inevitable breach of the promise – hence you also avoid what is guaranteed to be a negative and possibly damaging customer engagement.

The last demand study indicated that almost 30% of self storage facility customers are repeat customers at that same facility. If your customer has a negative experience at your facility, you can be almost certain they will not be a repeat customer. Give every customer a negative sales experience and there goes 30% of your potential customer base.

Value

Value is not price. Value is what a person perceives as a fair price to pay for the service or product they are purchasing. It is a positive sign that consumers rate value as more important than the cheapest price.

The lesson for the self storage industry is that customers are prepared to pay for goods and service that meet their needs. If your facility is in the location the storer wants, or offers security features the storer feels are important, these elements will weigh more heavily in choice of facility than just the price.

Why are you in business?

Unless you operate a charity, your objective for being in business is to sell products and services to bring in revenue and make a profit. You are not in business to get your clients to like you.  But we need to sell in a way that does not overlook the needs of the consumer. Give some consideration to what a customer actually wants – as opposed to what you might think they need  –  and build better customer relationships to grow stronger profits.

Simone Hill

SSAA CEO & Australian Legal Counsel

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