Developing an effective sales strategy is tricky at the best of times, but in an industry like mine – self storage – it’s compounded by the fact that our core service is selling empty space. Our storage can be used for virtually anything but this is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to selling it.
On the one hand, our potential customer base covers a large variety of people – students, people moving house, tradesmen, entrepreneurs and small businesses to name but a few. On the other, when our product is essentially fresh air and our targets potentially anyone, a significant amount of preparation and effort is required to focus our strategy, tailor our pitches and close deals.
Although it’s an extreme example, the plight of a “fresh air” salesman like me is one shared by salespeople in other industries: when you’ve got a product or service that’s difficult to differentiate from the competition, how do you influence the customer’s decision to buy via any other factor than price?
What we’ve found works best is thorough persona research and a real understanding of who you're selling to. Whilst this might sound like sales 101, it requires research, preparation and investment from your team to pull off successfully.
Customer base expansion
Whether you’re just starting out or have been doing business for years, the best companies periodically review their customer base. Understanding who your customers are is key to selling to them. However, opportunities are often missed because companies only look at their existing customers. You should also research the following:
· Your competitors’ customers – finding out why people buy from them and not from you helps identify shortcomings in your offering or the way it’s being presented.
· Your business customers’ competitors – they have similar needs so could they also benefit from your offering?
· Missed leads in your sales pipeline – these people were initially interested in buying from you, what went wrong?
· Lapsed customers haven’t made a purchase recently – what’s different between them and your regulars? How can you address this?
· Lost customers – they were once loyal, why did they leave and how can you prevent this happening again?
Proper persona development
You can combine the information on your potential customer base with basic research on your actual customers to develop tour business’s personas. Try answering questions like:
· What’s their average age?
· What’s their marital status?
· What’s their income?
· What’s their job description? e.g. job and sector
· What transport do they use? e.g. type of car, no car, public transport
· Best way to contact them? e.g. direct mail, email, social media
· What’s their appearance e.g. smart, trendy, casual
· Characteristics e.g. quiet, trendy, confident, personable
· Background on them as a person e.g. privately educated, likes gardening, goes on family holidays
This information enables you to build your personas and helps your staff recognise them and cater for them as and when they encounter them. Combining this data with additional customer information you have on file, customer surveys and feedback on customers from staff will help you build the personas - ultimately the more in-depth they are the more you'll benefit. For example, getting the basics right and understanding things like the best ways to contact them really makes a difference to outbound sales success rates.
With stores all over the country, we’ve naturally found certain areas do the majority of their business with just one or two of our personas: for example, our branch in Wembley is much more suitable for local businesses whereas our Kingston-Upon-Thames unit has a residential/domestic customer portfolio. Because we've done that research we can tailor our marketing and sales approach accordingly. Armed with up-to-date persona research, the store manager might not join the Kingston-Upon-Thames Chamber of Commerce Group but may instead focus attention on residential events. Developing good personas enables you to equate sales and marketing effort with revenue. If one persona type is worth a lot more to your business then it's obvious where attention should be focussed.
This doesn't mean our Kingston-Upon-Thames store ignores the other persona groups however. Like any aspiring sales team we'll always be looking for new opportunities and 'triggers'. A trigger could be two local businesses merging or a local employer taking on more employees in a short amount of time. These are signs of growth and indicate a possible need for office rental, storage services etc. It's not hard to understand how your service, regardless of what you're selling, can use triggers to increase revenue.
Once you’ve developed and identified your personas then the next step is the sales pitch. How do you differentiate an identical offering on anything other than price? The answer is not to just talk about what you offer, but the lifestyle/business advantages that come with it. They will have a picture in their head of the space – so we adapt the pitch as we get to know them. A local competitor may be a few pounds cheaper but if you paint the better picture then you're more likely to make the sale. This isn't rocket science and is arguably an age old technique but help the local corner shop owner understand how flexible storage could help them improve stock rotation and increase sales, or the busy mum appreciate what they could do with the space created by storing baby bits out of the house, and you'll be more likely to convert that prospect. From a marketing perspective these stories are case studies: advice from your customers' peers that'll convince your prospects you're the right supplier to deal with. By selling potential rather than space, my sales teams are able to close more deals.
While the advice above may seem obvious, it’s amazing how many sales teams I’ve encountered throughout my career who aren’t getting the basics right – persona development and lifestyle selling will help you increase the effectiveness of your sales strategy – get it right and you can sell anything, even fresh air!
Carlos Sousa is Head of Sales at Access Self Storage, a provider of self storage solutions for business and personal use. Access works closely with over 6000 UK small businesses, providing services including storage, office space, call answering, mailboxes and vehicle parking.