Phone Sales 101

How much easier is it to sell to someone who seems to be on the same wavelength as you? Not only are these people easier customers to work with, but you often find that you genuinely like them. It’s like driving down the main street with nothing but green lights ahead! In real life however there are occasions where the person on the other end of the phone just doesn’t seem to respond to what you are saying.

When a customer calls and enquires about storage we have a limited amount of time to establish a relationship with the customer.

You are the expert in the Self Storage business. You are also the businesses representative to the customers you speak with. Each time a customer calls, it is important to begin by gathering info and establishing a relationship with YOUR customer. Customers don’t like to be “sold” they like to “buy”. You are building a relationship based on mutual respect. Think about the last time you were “sold” to. You probably felt high pressure or that you got taken advantage of. Nobody likes that feeling. So in order to do this effectively you need to ask YOUR customer high value questions that are necessary in effective phone selling.

If you are in sync with your customer you are questioning, learning and then becoming part of the purchase decision. This makes you a partner with YOUR customer. Customers will rely on you for information and you will be able to rely on them for sales you can close over the phone. When you understand the way questions can help your sales calls then each time you use one you will feel more secure in the outcome. Your goal is to get your customer singing off the same page as you. They need to see the value of storing with you. How do you do that? By using a specific process of qualifying that builds rapport, establishes your credibility and maximizes your opportunities for closing the sale.

Answer by first putting a smile in your voice so that you sound friendly. This is a very important point because it allows you to control the tone of the message and the call. “I’m happy to tell you what we have, but do you mind if I ask you a few quick questions first?” Emphasize the word couple or quick so they know it’s not a lengthy process.

When you ask YOUR customer questions your goal is to get their attention and in turn help them make a decision to rent. There are a number of reasons to ask good questions to YOUR customer.
• You establish your credibility as a storage expert.
• Uncover your customer’s real needs.
• Deepen your customer relationships.
• Lay out the foundation for how you are going to present your business as the solution.
• They help gather info about a customer’s situation.
• They establish trust.
• They also guide the customer’s thinking towards your service.

When you ask YOUR customer questions it helps establish credibility. The customer doesn’t know who you are and they are potentially trusting you with their belongings. By asking these questions we show our customers empathy and care for what they have. Asking these questions needs to be done early and correctly in the conversation. By asking these questions you help set yourself apart from other storage facilities they might have called. The secret to get the customer responding is to begin with easy broad nonthreatening questions to put them at ease.
• Can you tell me what items you plan on storing?
• When do you need to store?

Finally remember to never interrupt your customers after asking a question, even if there is silence on the phone. Respect YOUR customer’s communication style and resist the urge to either answer the question or prompt an answer.

Use the tongue trick to stay quiet. Just gently place your tongue behind your front teeth. Let it serve you as a reminder to be quiet until the customer is finished speaking.

Often we get in the habit of “feature dump” where we know we need to say 5 things and come hell or high water we are going to say these 5 things. When we answer the phone we represent the businesses products and service. Sometimes we get so excited we feel like we have to throw out every neat feature and include a cherry on top! Customers today are over this unwelcome barrage of verbiage. A presentation in which we listen and respond with the feature and benefit that is important to the customer will go a long way toward getting the person to buy.
• While you are listening you should ask yourself some questions
• Is this customer receptive?
• Is this customer too busy to talk?
• Does this customer sound stressed?
• Is this customer multitasking?
If you have a customer who you know is actively doing something else or are too busy to talk, you need to take the cues and shorten what you have to say. If you have a customer who is actively participating in the conversation and you are forming the” partnership” respond to those cues.

I feel one of our challenges is that we don’t fully listen to the customer. Below are some possible reasons why:
• We have never been formally taught how to listen
• We have short attention spans
• We multitask while on the phone
• We begin to steamroll
• We regurgitate the product info
• We are so intent with our next bullet point we disregard the customers reaction
Our job on the phone is to listen to the customer. When we listen, we build better relationships, know more about the customer’s needs and close more sales.

Customers respond to stories that give them past history or emphasize success. Try remembering stories that emphasize a customer who has had this same situation. Let them know that we have successfully helped people in their situation. What you want to let the customer know is “you are smart like our other customers, so you will want to use our storage in just the same way.”

You will not have the customer with you at the close unless you have them during your entire call. As long as you are talking away, rattling off a list, you are not guiding the sales conversation and taking control of the call. You may in fact be delivering a solo performance to an audience that has already checked out. Unless you keep YOUR customer involved by asking questions throughout the call you won’t know what to zero in on.

The lack of two way involvement makes the close for so many of us a shot in the dark, an unsupported guess, with all the stress and uncertainty that guessing creates. The customer isn’t going to interrupt your and say “excuse me I’d like to rent now….will you please shut up!”

We always need to ask for the sale. If we have taken the time to create this partnership with the customer and not ask for the sale, then why did we even answer the phone?
• It sounds like we have the storage solution for you. Would you like to put a deposit down on that?
• Based on what you told me it looks like we have a great match…can we start…
• “To secure a XXX we will need a deposit of xxx will that work for you?”
Make sure at the end that you sincerely thank YOUR customer for their business. Let them know that they are of value and they matter to you as people…make it personal.

By Rick Beal
Rick Beal is part owner of Cubes Self Storage. He’s involved in the company’s leadership, marketing, planning and training. Rick resides in Salt Lake City Utah and is a board member of the Utah Self Storage Association. He’s motto is “storage is a business of inches not miles.”
Cubes Self Storage – Salt Lake City, USA.

9 New Ways to Engage Your Customers via SMS (Tipsheet)

As previously discussed, SMS is quickly becoming the next must-have tool in your arsenal for keeping in touch with your customers… but with communications going out to different customers, on different days, for different things – how can you get a handle on customer communications?
StorMan’s automation engine, called Daily Processing, knows exactly what needs to get sent to whom, and when. By harnessing this power, we can increase customer engagement using SMS with little extra effort… in fact, zero extra effort, once it’s been setup.

Let’s take a look at some of the times that we can send an SMS to our customers…

Over 90% of people read a text message within the first three minutes of receiving it – proving that SMS is a great tool for engaging with your customers. (MobileSQUARED survey)

Next stop automation station
Keep your brand front-of-mind by engaging with your customers for important business communications such as when the customer is late, to welcome them upon arrival – or even when their credit card on file is due to expire.

Here are some examples that you could setup to send automatically when particular triggers are met…

    • Move In / Arrival: StorMan lets you schedule an SMS X days before, or after, a move in. You could use this communication to welcome a new customer to your marina of self storage facility, you could provide last-minute information a day or so before they are due to arrive, or remind them of a particular document that they might need to bring with them – just to name a few!
    • During the course of their stay: Ensure you have correct contact details by messaging the customer 6 months into their stay to check that their contact details are still up to date.
    • Move Out / Departure: Why not that the customer for their business upon move-out / departure? It might also be worth sending a link to a quick 5-question survey to ask what the customer liked, what you could have done better & whether they’d recommend your business to a friend. After all, if you don’t ask – you won’t know. Exit surveys are a fantastic way to gauge customer feedback and get customers to do the selling for you.
    • Credit Card Expiry: If you process customer credit cards in StorMan, then you’ll have a record of the credit card expiry date in StorMan. Unless you update it before it expires, the payment will decline – so this is an important step to ensure you have the latest details on file at all times. Sending an SMS X days prior to the credit card expiry date is a great way to reminder customers to keep their payment details up to date. But don’t send your SMS too early; most credit card providers don’t send out new cards until about 7 – 10 business days before the expiry.
    • When an invoice falls due: This communication works wonders! Customers often forget about invoices (particularly if you send them too far in advance of the due-by date), lose them – or their spam filters accidentally junk them. By sending them an SMS a day or two before the due date, you can really tighten up that arrears process and lock that payment reminder firmly into the customer’s mind.
    • Late payment: This one works wonders, too! If your customer forgets to pay their invoice, why not send them a friendly reminder via SMS? Remind them of their impending lockout, or of an impending late fee. You’ll be surprised how quickly most customers pay after receiving this reminder SMS. Sending this message is a small price to pay in the overall scheme of things when it comes to chasing arrears. Of course, the power & intelligence behind StorMan’s automation engine means that only customers who are late will ever receive this text message.

To keep reading and download this free tip sheet, and view an example of SMS download code that you can ‘copy’ straight into StorMan, go to

By Andy (Customer Experience & Marketing Manager, StorMan Software)

Annual Performance Reviews and Appraisals – still relevant?

The annual performance review and appraisal (APR) – where staff are required to complete a questionnaire outlining how they have performed over the past twelve months, what they felt was their best and worst work, and where they want to be in five years – has been part of the corporate landscape for decades. Yet last year David Arkell, head of human resources for Australia and New Zealand GE, a company recognised as an early adopter and champion of APRs, declared the performance review system ‘dead’. And with companies like NAB, Microsoft, Adobe, Motorola, Deloitte and Accenture announcing their decision to scrap the APR process, perhaps the time is ripe for considering whether this version of feedback and reflection is still relevant.

APR are expensive, time consuming and anxiety causing exercises. In my experience APRs involve a manager and an employee awkwardly sitting in an office scrambling to think of things to talk about to validate the gravity of the meeting. Each person feels they are somehow in a combative interchange, and generally in the weeks leading up to the meeting each will have thought of examples to support ‘their side’ of the conversation – where the staff member wants to be paid more they will produce evidence of exceptional work, while the manager often wants to get the staff to do more work for less, and may look for and overplay examples of underperformance to bargaining down a bonus payment or salary increases.

Many problems have been identified with the APR process. In some instances, companies use the reviews to rank their employees (either publically or privately) against one another. Known as forced ranking, this the system championed by Jack Welch of GE in the 1980s and reflects the shoulder pad wearing, big hair style, aggressive Wall Street approach to business and career progression of that decade. The workers in the top 20% were rewarded, the middle 70% were average workers and got nothing, and the bottom 10% got fired. The concept of rewarding workers and letting go under performers in itself is not unreasonable, but the criteria used to arrive at those rankings and the methods for rewarding the top players have, over time, become viewed as inadequate and counter productive.

APRs are almost always linked to remuneration changes – both up and down – and bonuses. Many critics observe that reviews generally only reflect upon recent work rather than the entire twelve month period. This is because human inability to recall in detail much beyond the previous 6-8 weeks means generally speaking it is only the work and attitudes during the most recent past period that form the basis of any review. Hence anything achieved by a staff member ten months ago will play little part in the assessment. Put in a more Machiavellian way, as an employee I only need to lean in for the two months leading up to my annual review.

APRs are expensive. The Washington Post recently reported that management firm CEB, a company that employs 10,000 people, spends $US35 million ($47 million) a year on APRs – that’s $3500 US per person – on the interview and assessment process alone. This figure excluded any increase to salary or costs of disciplinary action resulting from the assessment.

Comparing staff to one another, or assessing all staff for their work contribution via the same set of specific, possibly restrictive criteria is likely to result in an outcome which demoralises a team, rather than motivates. If one employee sees praise (and a raise) heaped on another staff member for work done in a particular area, yet cannot engage in the same way due to the parameters of their own position in the company or job criteria (a criteria they must ensure they can demonstrate they have met when they have their next annual review), an APR may leave staff feeling disengaged with both their job and the company.

By their nature APRs are an individual process, rather than a group one. If I’m an average employee working in a company where salary increase or bonus are directly linked to APRs, I know I need to meet the goals and criteria spelled out in last year’s annual review. I’m unlikely to waste time helping a colleague on a project which does not directly relate to these goals. APRs may encouraging staff to focus on individual goals rather than overall group or company goals that would provide for a stronger business in the long run.

Fascinatingly neuroscience research shows conversations about remuneration and bonuses provoke a “fight or flight” reaction among employees, making them much less receptive and responsive to coaching. Hence employees who are underperforming will not improve where discussion about the need to improve is linked to a potential reduction in pay or bonus. On the flipside, a good employee who needs to meet a fixed criteria to receive increased remuneration, is unlikely to be initiative in their approach to work – keep your head down and keep ticking those boxes!

Perhaps most relevant of all, is the fact that the idea of the APR was first developed in the 1960s during a time when the typing pool reigned supreme, there was no such thing as a fax let alone internet, and snail mail, telegram and telephone were the only means of communicating. Many people worked for the same companies all their lives, gradually progressing up the ranks as experience, skill and, more often than not, age permitted. Under those conditions, having annual corporate goals, and an annual review of where everyone was sitting in the context of those goals was appropriate. The review was undertaken by the employee’s direct manager – not the HR department, as became the preferred option from the 1980s onwards – and away everyone went for the next twelve months.

Much has changed over the past fifty years. We live in a much more agile environment, facing the development of new technologies and work challenges at a blistering pace. Business disruptions can come and go in a period of three months. What was a company’s biggest challenge in June may be forgotten by the New Year. Considered this way, only providing feedback on staff performance annually seems nonsensical.

Exacerbating the speed of change is the increased participation in the workforce by younger staff of a generation where feedback is an integral daily experience in their life. The term helicopter parenting was invented for the Gen Y/Millennium generations, and they have been coached and appraised from infancy by parents, teachers, instructors and coaches. Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, and the myriad other social media platforms are purely about feedback – getting likes, reposts and comments are literally the core purpose of using these services. Without fairly constant feedback from their employers, these generations literary have no idea how they are tracking. The idea of waiting for their annual review, and hence going twelve months without feedback in the workplace, would for many be crippling. For those who find this need for constant feedback unnecessary, it is important to remember that regardless of your personal beliefs, it is a real need for a large proportion of today’s workforce – and it is unlikely to change just because you don’t like it.

Technology is keeping pace with these demands. enables employees to solicit feedback on their performance from peers, past colleagues and even clients. The service allows them to get back an anonymous report with feedback on their performance. The site boasts that it takes two minutes to set up a request, with feedback within two days. And note – recruiters and potential employers can use Checkster to screen potential new staff.
But it’s not just the youngsters of our workforce. Even LinkedIn, the social media platform used by professionals across all generations – where a staggering 37% of users are over the age of 50 – encourages and ranks participants on endorsements received from their peers.
Feedback is without a doubt important for moral, to keep staff on track and working towards unified goals. Feedback may also be legally necessary where that feedback is negative. Should a staff member’s underperformance be so bad that they are terminated, employers will need to demonstrate feedback was given to staff about the concerns. Without evidence of feedback, a wrongful termination may be brought against the company.

Regular feedback up the line to management is also needed or great ideas and opportunities may be overlooked. Making time for regular dialogue with staff may bring previously unconsidered projects or concepts to the attention of managers. Feedback also makes everyone feel like they are on the same team, not working away on a solo project unrelated to other employees or overall company goals.

So even if APRs may no longer be relevant in today’s workplace, let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Coaching staff and providing feedback on performance is crucial for a homogenous, productive workplace. Some work places have moved to short weekly informal catch ups, one on one between staff and their direct manger. This might take as little as five minutes, be literally what are you doing, what are you priorities, any ideas or projects I should know about?

Exceptionally successfully Australian software company Atlassian, has replaced APRs with a form of employee feedback known colloquially as “weekly one-on-ones with a twist”. Essentially the company enables weekly catch-up between managers and employees whereby three weeks each month the meeting is about what the employee is working on and if they need any help or guidance. Once every four weeks, the catch-up is dedicated to a particular topic designated by the company leaders. Examples given are that the managers asks staff what they love about their job, or to outline what barriers they encounters in their job and how the manager can help remove them, or the discussion might be about where the employee wants to progress to in the company or in their career.

Others workplaces, including Melbourne HR firm wattsnextHR, have made the Friday afternoon wind down ritual compulsory, using the time to facilitate informal feedback from staff and allowing for improvements and adjustments to company directions as a result. The aim for both companies is purely to increase the level of personalised feedback.

The aim for establishing productive feedback is to ensure problems in a business – be they cultural, operational, with personnel or otherwise – are identified early and solutions can be established. Feedback may also take the form of conveying ‘big ideas’ or suggested pathways for company development. How your business does this will depend on the size of your workplace, the nature of your business and the physical location of staff.

Feedback should always be related to tasks and performance. Set a task for an employee who completes it on time and in an efficient manner? Tell them as soon as the task is done. Give negative feedback and witness that staff member address the issues you raised? Comment to the employee that you have noticed the improvement as soon as you observe it. Regular and meaningful feedback linked to tasks and performance and given in a timely manner is less time consuming, less expensive and far more productive than an APR. Hate giving positive feedback and feel it’s not your job to coach employees? I don’t want to be the one to tell you, but perhaps management may not be for you!

Simone Hill

Customer Service Relationships

Providing great service is all about developing a relationship with your customers. It’s about treating your customers as though they are your partners at work. It’s about getting them to fall in love with you so they don’t want to go anywhere else.

A relationship is about two people relying on each other and supporting each other to help them reach their goals. It’s about having a bond and rapport. I think these words describe the sort of relationships we should have with our customers.

Where is your relationship at?
So how would you describe the relationships you have with your customers? There are 5 stages to a long-term relationship.

  • Acquaintances – Met once or twice but don’t know each other
  • Friends – The ‘getting to know you’ stage
  • Dating – Starting to form a relationship but early days
  • Engaged – Getting ready to commit
  • Married – Committed with long-term prospects

Statistics tell us that dealing with an existing customer is 6 times easier than dealing with a new one so it only makes sense to ‘get married’ to as many customers as you can. Life on the customer dating ‘merry go round’ might seem exciting but it does get tiring after a while! The idea is to have customers at all stages of the relationship cycle because you never know when you might get dumped!

Healthy relationships
Ok, so you don’t want to get dumped. So what is it you need to do to ensure your customer relationships are healthy? There are 4 key areas to look at:

Both parties feel valued and their needs are met

A good relationship isn’t a one way street, there needs to be some balance. It doesn’t work if you take their money but don’t deliver, and equally you don’t want them to take your services without paying. Also, watch out for being too desperate or clingy…it drives customers away.

Show how you feel
Let them know you appreciate their business by sending them a card, a small gift or samples of your products. Don’t take it for granted that they know you value them. Like other relationships, it’s often only when the other party is about to leave that we tell them how important they are. Unfortunately by then, the damage is already done.

Open communication
A customer-supplier relationship needs open channels of communication to ensure that little things are resolved before they turn into big issues. Make sure you listen, give and receive feedback regularly and generally keep them informed.

Spend time together
Like all relationships, getting to know your customers involves spending time with them. Don’t just communicate by email or letter. Get out of the office and visit them, buy them a coffee, have a tour of their business. Spend time getting to know their needs and you will have a customer for life. The relationship you have with your customers will make the difference between outstanding success and mediocre performance.

Karen Schmidt
Karen Schmidt is an award-winning professional speaker, workshop leader and author who creates fresh workplace attitudes that help people and organisations grow –

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