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Replacing the Routine: Improve Closing and Follow-up Results

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When I am training a group of employees, I tend to ask a lot of questions. I believe the more I can understand them, the better chance I have of helping them improve their performance. I have always found it interesting that when I pose the question, “Why do you do it that way?” the response I often receive is, “That is the way it has always been done,” or “I don’t know.” Sound familiar?

We are creatures of habit, and most of us find comfort in regularity. But, is this a good thing? How much did you do today at work that was simply a repetition of yesterday? Did you drive the same route to work? Did you park in the same space and walk the same daily path? Was the order of your morning leasing office routine the same?

While we need our routines, it is also important to contrast them with something out of the ordinary every once in a while. When we choose to do something different – to walk into unknown territory – great things can happen. Problems can be solved. New ideas are born.  Musician Joe Bonamassa once said, “If I feel like things are getting into a routine, I want them to be different. I need to keep improving and keep moving forward.”

In the book, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,  author Charles Duhigg, writes about the importance of  employees changing their routines if they are going to market their brand effectively and achieve a high level of success. While this book is filled with golden nuggets for personal and professional growth, I would like to hone in on the concept of creating new habits as a way to replace a routine at work. The common saying, “old habits die hard”, is one that comes to mind as I reflect on the thousands of shopping reports I have reviewed over the years. While not every leasing professional is a fan of the shopping report, it tells a priceless story through the customer’s eyes. It must be told. Their words can expose a leasing professional in need of a change in their routine.

  • Daily leasing routines can become boring. Bored leasing professionals lose their effectiveness.   
  • There is a fine line between confidence and breaking over into too comfortable territory. When a leasing professional becomes too comfortable in their role, they can become sloppy and even disinterested in their presentation.    
  • Employees need to see things from a different perspective. This can only happen when they disrupt their comfortable routine.

In the book, Duhigg shares the following five effective steps that a person can take to replace an old routine with a new one.

  • Identify the Desired Response. Work on one thing at a time. Start small and finish big!
  • Select a Cue. Choose a location and time.
  • Design Some Carrots. Establish accountability. Track progress and celebrate wins.
  • Set up Some Sticks. Write down your goal. Share it.
  • Practice the New Routine Every Day for 30 Days.  The structural changes that underlie habits are triggered only by extended, consistent practice.

While researching, I found this humorous yet timely quote by noted author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn, “If you don’t like how things are, change it! You are not a tree.” But even a tree doesn’t stand there and complain about its current situation. It does something. If planted by a sidewalk or too close to a house, even a tree can cause change. My point is that we have great potential to cause positive change in the leasing office by replacing our ineffective routines with new ones, but we must examine the results, determine the plan of action, and take action. In his five steps to replace a routine, Duhigg presents us with a great roadmap to begin the journey.

If we dig deeper and examine the leasing process, we find that as a whole our industry falls short in two very critical sales areas; attempting to close the sale and following up with customers. Pinpointing weak sales routines in these two areas could transform your leasing results and the industry as a whole.

 

Did the Leasing Professional Attempt to Close the Sale?

Data: During Q1 2019, Ellis completed 11,906 industry shopping reports as part of their First Quarter 2019 Benchmark performance comparison. The results revealed that leasing professionals attempted to close the sale only 49% of the time. In Q4 2018, this number was 48%. Are they forgetting to ask customers to lease? Do they not know what to say? What is driving this low number?

Training and Tools: While not all property management companies have a formal sales training program, many do. Those who do not have an internal training staff, often bring in outside trainers to fill in their gaps. I am confident that closing the sale is part of their conversation. At a minimum, employees who are shopped are familiar with the questions and they understand what is required of them. Basically, they are given the answers to the test. Even at the most basic sales level, a leasing professional understands that they are there to sell something and that means attempting to close the sale. In other words, employees know what to do, yet they are not achieving the goal. Their routine isn’t working. I have watched and facilitated many role-playing sessions over the years, and you would be shocked by the number of sales people who take their presentation right to the end and then do not ask the customer to lease. They thank them and send them on their way—to the competition.

Replacing the Routine: Let’s apply Duhigg’s five steps here. If the desired response is to directly ask the customer to lease the apartment every time, we must determine what the current routine is, and then replace it with a more effective one. Talking this out can be very helpful. Sometimes the solution is so obvious that we don’t see it!

  • What is the goal of the leasing presentation?
  • What do you require to secure an apartment for move-in? Can a customer move-in to your community with no money and no approved application?
  • Is there any reason why or situation where you would not ask a qualified customer to leave a deposit and complete an application?
  • If the customer dislikes the apartment or shows signs of dislike, are you still required to ask them to lease? (Please, say yes!)
  • Do you think the customer expects you to ask for a deposit and application fee? Is paying for a service something the customer experiences every day?
  • Is there a certain point in your presentation when you do ask the customer to lease and explain the deposit and approval process? Is that point consistent or does it vary?  Do you inform the customer of what is required to lease the apartment before you even leave the office?
  • If you could choose the perfect time and place to ask the customer for the deposit, where and when would it be?

Do your leasing professionals know why they are achieving success in this area or why they are not? Many employees operate in their comfortable routines and their actions are not intentional. Whether they are successful or not, they often just keep moving forward in their same routine. I challenge you to sit down with your team and discuss this particular area of the leasing process. Use these questions as a launching pad for discussion. You might be shocked by some of their answers, but they will be very telling. These questions can act as a disrupter because they will cause a person to slow down and evaluate their current leasing routine while they consider how to replace it. This is where great things happen!

 

Did the Leasing Professional Follow-Up with the Customer?

Data: We know that few sales are made on the first contact with the customer. Following up with your customers is the most crucial and important part of your marketing strategies. In 2018, Ellis Partners in Management Solutions gathered leasing professional follow-up data on 50,218 customer contacts. Shockingly, 49% of customers were not contacted by anyone following their initial visit. One of my most favorite success stories is about how 13,000 hand-written thank you notes built a thriving business. I share this article in all of my training classes when we reach the follow-up portion of the sale. It is a powerful example of what can happen when follow-up is made a priority. You might consider distributing it to your team.

Training and Tools: Similar to asking for the deposit, the follow-up question is also in most training programs, is included on the Ellis Shopping Report, and is an important step in the leasing process. Interestingly, many companies even have a follow-up policy and yet follow-up is not consistently taking place. It is another case of an incredible missed opportunity. Why is our industry follow-up percentage so low? What does the daily follow-up routine look like in your leasing office? Why do leasing professionals not follow-up with customers? This generally boils down to two things – lack of accountability and/or lack of focus. Here are four of the most common excuses I receive from students in my training classes:

  • I don’t have time.
  • We don’t have thank you cards.
  • We are not allowed.
  • I forget.

Replacing the Routine:  After a leasing professional expresses their reasons for not following-up, I present them with general sales data such as how few sales are made on the first contact, email is the fastest and least costly method of follow-up, and mail is the least used but most emotionally impactful form of follow-up. I also share our industry follow-up trends which are collected by Ellis Partners in Management Solutions on an annual basis. Then I let them connect the dots.

Industry follow-up numbers for 2018 based on 50,218 Ellis Shopping Reports.

  • 49.2% received no follow-up after their initial visit
  • 39.6% of customers received an email after their 1st visit.
  • 28% of leasing professionals followed up by telephone.
  • 4.6% of leasing professionals followed up by mail.

When it comes to follow-up conversations, it is most beneficial to take your employees down the value road. Until they understand the value associated with doing it, they will not see a benefit to replacing their current routine (which unfortunately in many cases is no routine). Here are some questions to launch your conversations.

  • When was the last time you received a hand-written note or card in the mail? How did it make you feel?
  • Do you think most customers lease on their first visit?
  • How long will it take you to write one thank you card?
  • What is the true value of a potential resident? Let’s consider your average monthly rent and the average tenure of a resident.
  • Based on the value you just calculated, how much will you gain if they lease as a result of your follow-up contact? How much do you stand to lose?
  • What is the value of the five minutes you spent writing that thank you card?

Too often, leasing professionals are moving so fast in their daily routines that they do not consider the details. They feel they don’t have time to follow-up with customers until you show them they really do. Walk your employees through a math lesson. They must believe it is worth their time to do it before they become willing to replace their old routine with a new one. I wish I could tell you that training and policies were enough, but the data does not support it. Using Duhigg’s five steps, apply accountability to get the job done. Use the positive results to inspire them to keep on going!

A routine keeps us on task and keeps us moving when things are hard. It gives us space and a structure to work within, because we can almost do it with our eyes closed. Replacing a routine means changing and getting out of our comfort zone. Change does not always result in fantastic things happening, and the familiar routine is comfortable and relatively safe. However, in the end, we will never know what works better until we are willing to replace an old routine with a new one.

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training and multifamily education. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with a well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.

Stay in the Game to Succeed

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Baseball season is finally here! Our family loves to watch baseball. Both of our boys, who are proud members of Generation Z, love to play the game too. They know as we do that you must stay in the game to succeed.

Even if you are not a fan of baseball, you can’t ignore the many life lessons that are displayed daily on the diamond. Pay close attention and you will see them all play out right in front of your eyes. Obviously, not all players are born with the gift of a large stature or natural baseball acumen. Some must fight to be noticed and work harder than others if they want to make it to the top. Unfortunately, this requisite ongoing effort can cause many to give up too early.

The same is true for leasing apartments. It is definitely not a career for the faint of heart – in fact, no sales job is.  Some people come by it naturally. They have a unique ability to connect with customers and engage them in the experience while others have to work harder at it. No matter where someone falls on the leasing ability charts, it is easy to become discouraged in sales because things can change quickly. A promising start to a week can begin to spiral downhill with the word “cancellation”. It is equally as important to not claim victory on Monday when the leases start pouring in as it is to not give in to defeat when they aren’t.  Just like in the game of baseball, a great start to an inning can lead to absolutely nothing, and a bad start to an inning can lead to a great victory!

What’s most important is to teach your leasing professionals to stay in the game to succeed.

A great leasing professional is “all in” every day and at every moment, although eight hours in the leasing office can be mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. I can recall many days when I would leave the leasing office, go home, and collapse on the couch. The last thing I wanted to do was answer the phone or talk to anyone. Yet, after spending 29 years in this industry, my greatest memories and most enjoyable moments were at the leasing desk. By far, my role as a leasing professional was my most favorite position.

So how do you help your leasing professionals stay in the game? We could brainstorm a long list of ideas, but here are three quick reminders that you can share with your leasing team today.

1. You Don’t Have to Be the ‘Home Run’ Hero

This idea goes back to the fundamentals of a team. If you do your job, your team will have a greater chance of achieving success. Let’s return to the game of baseball. Advancing a runner on base or hitting a ball deep enough in the corner to score a runner will give your team a better chance of winning the game. If you step up to the plate and swing with no real purpose other than to glorify yourself, you are doomed for failure. The reality is that you are not always going to be the leasing superstar. If this is your only goal, it will be a long, lonely, and exhausting journey. In fact, the biggest heroes in the leasing office are usually the people who consistently do their job to the best of their ability regardless of what is required of them. Even if they desire more, they are always doing their job which makes them invaluable. By comparison, the person who fails to consistently do their job might not have one. In MLB baseball, they ship you back to the minor leagues or to the unemployment line.

 

Your customers aren’t looking for a hero. What they need is someone who is consistent and trustworthy. How important is consistency to the customer? Research shows that employees who perform at their “consistent level” may be what satisfies customers most.

  • Consistency allows for measurement against your competition. When a customer is deciding between your community and the one down the road, consistency can be the final determining factor. Are you always available to help them? Do you treat them the same on their third visit as you did on their first one? Are you as excited to see them on week three as you were on week one? It is difficult for your customer to measure effectiveness if what they are measuring is not performed consistently.
  • Consistency establishes your reputation. Progress requires a track record of success. If you are consistently shifting gears or setting new goals without meeting the finish line, it will be difficult to achieve success. Too often, employees don’t stay the course to achieve their objectives. They are too anxious to take on the next challenge or promotion.
  • Consistency sets your message. Customers pay as much attention to what you do as to what you say. If you convey excitement on the phone with your customer but ignore them when they walk in the door, you will damage their trust because they won’t believe your message.

According to research by McKinsey, “Since 2009, customers are valuing an “average” experience less and have even less patience for variability in delivery. In addition, companies that experience inconsistency challenges often expend unnecessary resources without actually improving the customer journey. Making additional investments to improve the customer experience without tightening the consistency of experience is just throwing good money after bad.”

 

2. Striking Out is Inevitable

Sometimes you just strike out.  Even when you prepare and do everything right, it is no guarantee of success. That is life and this is baseball.  In baseball, you can prepare, be positive, look for your opportunities, be a good teammate, work hard and do everything right, and still when the opportunity presents itself, you fail.  What baseball teaches us is that you can’t let one failure, no matter how large, stop you from pushing forward and searching for your next plate appearance. Make your adjustments because there will be a new game, with new chances for greatness coming tomorrow. Like life, winning in baseball is not guaranteed.  What is guaranteed is that if you quit and stop trying you will never experience those great moments of success. Being ready at the plate can help reduce your strike out percentage. In 2018, the top three MLB power hitters, Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, and Aaron Judge showed an average 32% strike out percentage. But they are still playing the game because they understand that failure is a part of it and they must stay in the game to succeed.

A strike out can be difficult to accept, but it is part of the game. Learn from it and get ready for the next customer walking though your door. “You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.”  – Tom Hiddleston

 

3. Sweep the Plate

How many leasing professionals have you known who gave up too soon? They didn’t achieve enough success at the leasing desk and they felt like they didn’t have anything to contribute to the team. It says a lot about character when a leasing professional can push through those bad weeks when they are tired and beat down. While it is easy to give up, baseball makes you push even when you are feeling tired and defeated. The same can be said for a day in the leasing office.

My son’s pitching coach always tells him when the pitch doesn’t end up where you want it to sweep the plate. Put your yesterdays behind you – good or bad they won’t help you perform today.  Every day is a new chance to win a game. Learn from your failures and allow them to fuel your future or you will be standing in place for years, wondering what might have been and missing out on great opportunities for growth.

Michael Jordan once said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life and this is why I succeed.” We’ve all heard stories of the overnight leasing star. They haven’t even completed their sales training and they are an instant success, but it doesn’t usually last. Let’s consider the best of the best leasing professionals. The ones who make it look so easy year after year. The truth is that what looks like an instant or overnight success is almost always preceded by years of struggle and work. There’s a long, hard road to success, but when success hits, we only see the last mile or so. While it makes for a great story line, we often ignore the miles and miles of difficulty and perseverance required to get to the top. Failure leads to success if we don’t give up too soon.

Consider the week when you toured 30 customers and no one leased. You went home feeling sorry for yourself. You walked in the next day still embracing that defeat. We are given an invaluable gift of being able to learn from our past. That past may be the very thing that gives you the future you want. Don’t quit. Don’t be defeated. Sweep the plate and keep on going.

Finally, don’t give up on your customers too soon, even the ones who say “No”.  A study from Dartnell Corp. investigated the number of times a customer was called before a salesperson waved the proverbial white flag.

  • 48 percent quit after the first contact
  • 72 percent stop after the second contact
  • 84 percent give up on a prospect after the third contact
  • 90 percent wave the white flag after the fourth contact

As Thomas A. Edison once said, “Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” I get it. Sometimes you feel like you have nothing left to give at the end of a difficult day at the leasing desk. No matter how hard you try, you keep striking out with your customers. But, if you can be consistent, accept the strike out, and sweep the plate, you can overcome any obstacle and start fresh tomorrow. The simple fact is that we aren’t perfect, and success isn’t rewarding if it is easy. Stay in the game to succeed!

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

Edge2Learn Partners with Karen A. Graham Consulting, LLC to Enhance LIHTC Training Offerings

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Irving, TX – March 13, 2019. Irving-based Edge2Learn, the innovative multifamily eLearning provider that officially launched in 2018, announces its partnership with Cincinnati-based Karen A. Graham Consulting, LLC, to develop Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) training content that supplements Edge2Learn’s robust and growing library of training offerings to its multifamily client base representing over 1MM units.

“We are thrilled to welcome Karen A. Graham Consulting, LLC as our newest industry partner. We strongly believe their experience in the LIHTC training industry will help us enhance our learners’ experience in this vital training category,” remarked Edge2Learn Co-founder and CEO Joanna Ellis.

Graham, President and CEO of Karen A. Graham Consulting, adds, “We look forward to working with the Edge2Learn team to extend their existing LIHTC course library. We are excited to develop LIHTC training that honors E2L’s commitment to engaging learners through varied channels for better and longer retention.”

Edge2Learn and Karen A. Graham, LLC, together will bring engaging, memorable, and educational content to the learner to aid in comprehension and retention of this important material.

Edge2Learn is committed to providing an exceptional online learning experience, offering an extensive course library including Fair Housing training, Sexual Harassment training, Sales and Leasing training, Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) training, Customer Service training and much more.

 

About Edge2Learn
Edge2Learn is an eLearning company whose focus is the Property Management Industry and specializes in property management training. With over 30 years of experience and a commitment to increase industry excellence, we are passionate about engaging learners to maximize benefits for both companies and employees. Aligned with well-respected industry leader, Ellis, Partners in Management Solutions, the Edge2Learn platform provides a turnkey solution for clearly identified needs and opportunities. We prepare learners to deliver a superior customer experience and also reduce corporate liability risks and overall employee turnover.

 Contact: Joanna Ellis | jellis@edge2learn.com | 844.206.6742

Listen for Unexpressed Needs and Wishes to Increase Sales & Improve Customer Loyalty

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The hard reality is that your customers don’t need you in the same way they did in the past. According to a study conducted by Gartner Research, customers now wait until they are 57% through the sales process before they even place a call to your community or walk through your door. If your customers have already completed their own research, talked to their social network, visited the competition, and they are more than halfway through their purchasing decision, what do they need from you?  They need you to behave differently.

Here are three ways you can listen for unexpressed needs and wishes.

1. Thinking Like Your Customer

My oldest son turned 14 years old a few weeks ago. He had requested a Friendly’s ice cream cake for his celebration dinner. This is an annual purchase, so I knew exactly where to pick it up at our local grocery store. The ice cream cakes are located in a big freezer in the bakery department, so I didn’t need any assistance. As I pulled it out of the freezer, I noticed a display of birthday candles on the counter. I wasn’t sure if I had enough candles at home, so I picked some out and tossed them into my cart. As I was walking away, a young lady stepped out from behind the counter. She asked me if I would like her to personalize the cake. I was shocked because this large superstore which begins with the letter “W” doesn’t have a reputation for good service. Immediately, I asked her, “How much?” She replied, “There is no charge. I would be happy to write a birthday message on it for free.” It only took a few minutes, and I was heading out the door with a beautiful personalized ice cream cake. I didn’t walk in thinking I needed a personalized cake, but when she asked the question she uncovered an unrealized and unexpressed wish.

This is a perfect example of how an employee can listen for and deliver on unexpressed needs and wishes. Ironically, asking for someone to personalize my son’s cake was not something I would have thought I could ask for and therefore I wouldn’t have.  But she anticipated and delivered on something that I didn’t even realize I needed or wanted.

Several years ago, Discover Card launched their We treat you like you’d treat you advertising campaign. These humorous commercials portray a customer talking to a Discover employee who looks and sounds almost exactly the same as the customer. In the commercials, the customer relays their problem or question and is met with a helpful response. The customers and representatives then have a moment of togetherness – high fiving through the phone, laughing, celebrating together – and each ends with the narrator saying that at Discover “we treat you like you’d treat you.” It is a powerful statement about what true success looks like in the eyes of the customer.

What did the young lady at the grocery store and Discover both accomplish? They listened for unexpressed needs and wishes. They located an obvious or unrealized pain point, then provided a clear and memorable solution to that pain point.

 

2.  Coaching Rather Than Selling

It would make sense that a customer who is 57% through the sales process before they contact you or who regurgitates all the information they have already consumed during their independent research does not really need a hard sell. What they really need is a coach – someone who can guide them through those newly revealed unexpressed needs and wishes, clarify, and help them make a good purchasing decision. When you coach a customer, you are focusing on the person and not necessarily the task. What is the difference, you ask?

  • Instead of leading with answers, you sell with questions. In ways, you are challenging the customer’s thought process.
  • Instead of quickly apologizing or worrying about that external objection (the apartment is small, etc.), help your customer to overcome their internal objections so that they can arrive at their own solutions.
  • Instead of being the top problem-solver, coach your customer through the strategic use of open-ended insightful questions.
  • Focus on what they want, and not what you want. Don’t assume they know what they want. The outcome will usually fall in your favor when you approach it this way.
  • Coach them to create new and better possibilities for their home so that the close becomes the natural byproduct of the conversation.

One of the biggest mistakes leasing professionals make is that they immediately push the sales process forward without determining if there’s a fit worth pursuing. When they focus on buying versus selling, they make it about the customer and the true value the product delivers. It is simply focusing on the outcome and the relationship the customer wants rather than the results the leasing professional wants. If you haven’t read The Challenger Sale or Insight Selling, I would highly recommend either one. In a nutshell, their approach relies on uncovering an unknown problem, delivering insight, and uniquely positioning your product as the possible solution.

 

3. Engaging in Both the Selling and Buying Conversations

Did you realize that every sale involves two conversations? Interestingly, most leasing professionals are only trained on one of the two conversations – the selling conversation. This is the conversation that gets the majority of the focus in our classrooms. It is the one that takes place between the leasing professional and the customer. What we don’t listen to very often is the second conversation. This is the conversation that is taking place between the customer’s ears – the buying conversation.

Selling is an external conversation. It is based on the needs and goals often set by the leasing professional, and too often it is heavily one-sided. This is a result of a leasing professional doing more talking than listening. Natural excitement for their product can set a new team member off toward a hard sell for a customer to make a quick purchase. Think about all of the brand-new leasing professionals who are successful when they have very little experience or product knowledge. All they can lead with is their personality, and for some people that is enough! Unfortunately, a snap decision can also result in buyer’s remorse. Some people are prone to a sense of buyer’s remorse than others. In another blog post, I shared research which revealed that 80 percent of Gen-Z end up returning purchases after holiday shopping. If you haven’t heard, Gen-Z will surpass Millennials in 2019 as the largest generation, and early signs show they are about to shake things up. If they already have a natural buyer’s remorse tendency, how will they impact your leasing numbers?

If a leasing professional doesn’t engage with the customer’s internal conversation, will the customer still lease? Yes. It happens many times depending on how high the desire is for the product being offered. I wrote a blog a few years ago titled, “Stop the Stinking Thinking” which speaks to this point clearly. Sometimes a customer will say yes to leasing an apartment when we least expected it. You might be thinking, “Well, that is great!” Yet, is this the kind of purchase that will lead to long-term customer loyalty?

Buying is an internal conversation. The conversation is taking place inaudibly in the customer’s mind. Quite often, they are dealing internally with confusion, doubt, and distraction. The goal for any leasing professional should not merely be to get their customers to buy, but instead and more importantly to get them to buy into what they have to offer. This will increase customer loyalty, retention, and word-of-mouth advertising. The only way this can take place is to engage the internal buying conversation by asking thoughtful open-ended questions, listening, and then responding to their expressed and unexpressed needs and wishes.

  • Example of Selling Conversation: Isn’t this kitchen awesome!? Look at all the space! Silence… This refrigerator can hold up to ___ items. More silence… We also offer granite countertops which is unique to our market. Still nothing from the customer… This is a self-cleaning oven, which is great. This breakfast bar can fit 3-4 barstools which is great for entertaining. Meanwhile they are having a conversation with themselves you are not hearing.
  • Example of Buying Conversation: Do you enjoy cooking? Listen. Do you spend a lot of time in your current kitchen? Listen again. What do you like or dislike about your current kitchen? Keep listening. Have you ever considered storing and displaying your large pots on the top cabinet area? Listen. Do you know that you can adjust these shelves so that your large cereal boxes and juice bottles can stand upright? Listen more. If you don’t need this small hall closet for storage, would you consider using it to hang your dress shirts to air dry?  Continue listening.

The buying conversation involves a continual process of asking questions, listening, and engaging back in conversation as you lead the customer down their purchasing journey. Remember, in the internal buying conversation the customer doesn’t always know what they want or need. It is the job of the leasing professional to present ideas, ask questions, and dig deeper to start engaging in that internal conversation.

In the age of information, customers are typically overflowing with facts they have gathered by the time they walk through your door. If 57% of the sales process is already behind you at that point, how your leasing professionals approach the remaining 43% will determine if the customer leases at your community or the one down the road. Thinking like your customer, coaching rather than selling, and engaging in the selling and buying conversations can truly help your team achieve greater success. When you listen to unexpressed needs and wishes not only will you increase sales, but you will ultimately drive higher customer loyalty.

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

4 Tips to Recruit, Train, and Retain Generation Z Talent

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Changes in technology combined with that of customer demographics and expectations are forcing businesses to move more swiftly and frequently. This closely resembles a dance, as companies are trying to stay in step with their customer’s wants and needs, including the emergence of Generation Z into adulthood and the workforce.

“Life’s a dance you learn as you go. Sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow. Don’t worry ‘bout what you don’t know. Life’s a dance you learn as you go.” – from the song Life’s a Dance by John Michael Montgomery

We could easily replace the word “life” in these song lyrics with training, marketing, managing, etc. You name it! The fact is everything we do in this industry closely resembles a dance, and that dance can take on a variety of forms. As the song reminds us, sometimes we really don’t know, and we simply learn as we go.  When the customer’s priorities shift, we must be prepared to shift with them. Let’s consider our focus on recruiting and training the Millennial generation. Our leadership, marketing, and training departments have been hyper-focused on this generation for years. Thousands of books and articles have been written about Millennials and studies have been conducted. But is it time to shift again and welcome in a new dance partner?

While we don’t intend to abandon the Millennials or other generations, our radar should be turning to Generation Z, who tend to be very different from their older siblings. Born after 1996, Gen Z will surpass Millennials in 2019 as the largest generation, and early signs show they are about to shake things up. They will soon fill your leasing offices as employees and residents.  “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”- Alan W. Watts

Many companies are already plunging, moving, and joining the Generation Z dance! Are you ready?

You may feel like you have plenty of time to move and adjust, but you don’t. The oldest members of Generation Z are currently in college. Gen Z makes up 26% of the United States population, the largest single population segment. One stark difference between Millennials and Gen Z is their view on education, and this could have a great impact on our industry.  While Millennials are the most educated generation in history, according to a  Huffington Post article many employers are predicting that more Gen Z teens, between the ages of 16 and 18 will go straight into the workforce, opting out of the traditional route of higher education, and instead finishing school online if at all. How different will they be from Millennials as they enter the workforce and consumer marketplace?

Here are 4 tips to recruit, train, and retain Generation Z Talent.

1.  FINANCES

In 2018, Raddon Research Insights analyzed the results of a national survey encompassing more than 2,500 high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to examine their attitudes towards their finances. Interestingly, while most have yet to enter the workforce, they are already earning and saving. More than two-thirds of them have either their own bank account or a joint account shared with their parents. While many of them are still in school, they hold more than 40 billion in purchasing power in the U.S.

Their view toward debt is also very different from their Millennial siblings. They don’t want to burden themselves with massive student loans. More than six in 10 Millennials (63 percent) have graduated or will graduate with student loan debt and nearly half (46.5 percent) are still paying off their student loans, according to a survey of 1,338 Millennials conducted by LendingTree.  In a 2017 study by the Center for Generational Kinetics, at least one in five Gen Z respondents said debt should be avoided at all costs. Jason Dorsey, president of the Center for Generational Kinetics shared his thoughts during an interview with MIC.com, “Generation Z is intentionally choosing to attend a less expensive college so they can graduate with less debt. No or less debt means they can enter the job force with more mobility, allowing them to take a job they really want that may pay less, because a good amount of their salary won’t be going to a college fund.” Interestingly, Generation Z members are behaving more like their grandparents and clinging to financial habits reminiscent of those born during the Great Depression, at least for now.

2.  EMPLOYEE BENEFITS

In a recent Edge2Learn blog post, we mentioned how companies are offering student loan repayment benefits to attract college-educated Millennials. This was driven by a need: the tremendous student loan debt the Millennial generation has amassed. Generation Z does not intend to follow that same road, so that might not be an attractive benefit for them. The signs are pointing to a very money-cautious generation, and benefits such as financial counseling sessions might help to build trust and loyalty with your company. Explaining the importance of saving, and then helping them to develop their plan to save for the future is a great way to attract and retain a Gen Z employee.

Generation Z may not be overly excited about the health insurance portion of your employee benefits package because they’ll still qualify for their parents’ health plan until age 26. In fact, health insurance at work is now considered a “standard” among employee benefit packages. What could be appealing is offering telemedicine programs. Being able to get instant access to a doctor’s advice and get prescriptions without losing time for a visit will be much valued by these smartphone natives, or any of us for that matter!

What might surprise you is a survey conducted by Ernst & Young which revealed that 84 percent of respondents cited “potential for career progression and growth” as one of the main reasons to work for any given employer. Generation Z are placing career growth at the top of their priority list, so professional development should be a core pillar of your company culture and recognized as a part of your employee benefits package. It should be outlined with detail rather than just fluffy marketing words. Formal mentoring programs, training programs, and reimbursement policies to cover industry courses, conferences, and seminars would all be embraced by Gen Z.

3.  COMMUNICATION

You may want to sit down for this.  A 2014 study found that 53 percent of Gen Z respondents prefer face-to-face communication over Millennials’ preference of messaging platforms and texts. In fact, they tend to be more aligned with their Generation X parents in their willingness to engage in face-to-face interactions. It is clear that this young generation wants to see your product in-person before making a purchase. This is an important message for your leasing teams. They desire to talk with someone knowledgeable about a product for a trusted review instead of solely depending on a critique posted by a random stranger. Don’t misunderstand, online reviews are still a well-used source for product information, but results of a survey by Power Reviews revealed that 70% of Gen Z consumers want access to honest product ratings and reviews while shopping in stores.

At the end of the day, they prefer communication tools that are the most effective, even if using them takes more time. This is a huge change from Millennials who seek mostly time savers. Here is one final tidbit of information and it has to do with buyers’ remorse. The National Retail Federation’s 2017 Retail Holiday Planning Playbook revealed that 80 percent of Gen Z end up returning purchases after holiday shopping. Will this extend to all of their purchasing endeavors including leasing an apartment? Only time will tell, but it is a good reminder of the importance of truly partnering with the customer, understanding their needs, and providing a solution that is best for them. Gen Z might also motivate leasing consultants to use the follow-up process to solidify their sale and head-off any buyer’s remorse.

4.  LOYALTY

The icing on the cake is that they understand things take time. Unlike Millennials, they see professional development from a more long-term standpoint. They will likely seek stepping stones towards success, even if they don’t pay out right away. Hopefully, this will lead to reduced turnover and increased tenure for companies who can provide a clear growth plan. Gen Z is also interested in working for a company they are passionate about and may accept a lower paycheck to do so. The signs show a hardworking, loyal employee who is dedicated to their investment.

If you thought Millennials had a strong desire to have their ideas heard, you haven’t seen anything yet! Gen Z wants a voice at the table. They envision a workplace that is less about age and more about ideas and contributions. Studies have revealed that the perfect work environment for Generation Z might be a blend of the Generation X and Millennial workplace. They prefer a balance of group and independent work, and they seek a workspace that allows them to have privacy while still giving them space to work together as a team.

You might find your Generation Z employees to be more loyal than Millennials, but job hopping could still be a problem. A study by Adecco Staffing USA revealed that 83% of today’s students believe that three years or less is the appropriate amount of time to spend at their first job. By providing effective and frequent training, as well as professional development opportunities, employers can help Gen Z find a niche within the company and maintain a high level of engagement to best retain this very talented generation.

Your employee’s priorities will soon shift as more members of Generation Z enter the workforce. Is your company culture a good match for the Gen Z employee? Are you prepared to plunge, move, and dance with them?

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

Know and Grow Your Millennial Employees (What a Wonderful Workplace it Would Be…)

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In the memorable words of James Cooke, “What a wonderful world it would be….” As I listen to these lyrics, I feel an instant re-connection to a subject that has always been near and dear to my heart. Why can’t all property managers have a training mindset? What a wonderful workplace it would be!  Some of the best managers I have ever worked for or known had a mindset focused on growth, connecting, leading, training and inspiring.  It looked right. It sounded right. It felt right. When it all comes together, it plays like a well-written song sung in full harmony, not to mention being music to the ears of the millennial.

You are a trainer, so you understand my point. You always seem to have your finger on the heartbeat of the onsite employees. Because you were the first person they encountered in their new hire training class, your relationship is one of trust, understanding, and encouragement. You tend to network with other trainers and seek outside advice. You are always looking for new ways to advance your training program and understand your internal customer. You strive to know and grow employees. You tend to have your hands in all areas – training, marketing, employee benefits, recruiting, retention, and more. This is especially true when it comes to your millennial employees. You are a good match for millennials because surveys reveal that millennials want to see individualized focus and attention on their personal career path. The biggest challenge you face is passing your same knowledge, hopes, and goals down to the one who will lead the millennial employee daily – the property manager.

Many trainers have walked in your shoes and understand the disconnect that often takes place when the employee leaves training and goes to work. Millennial employees are working for a manager who doesn’t always have a “trainer” mindset. While it is unlikely that you hire new managers, you probably train them. So embrace those few face-to-face classroom opportunities to encourage your managers to know and grow their employees, especially the millennials.

1.  KNOW. To be in the know means to be widely informed. Managers focus so much on knowing their external customer, yet spend very little time on their internal customer. The first customer in the leasing office is the internal one and many of those fall into the millennial category. Katie Locke, Director of Training and Possibilities at Red Carpet Learning shared these thoughts in an article focused on improving internal customer service, “If you have to focus on just one area this year in order to improve your business, focus on your internal customers. Your biggest assets are your employees. Truly engage them in your business and culture. and provide a company they are proud to work for and you will see business growth and a rise in productivity.” Do your managers know that by 2025, millennials are expected to make up 75% of the workforce? Knowing is directly related to training because it is about being informed, knowing your customer.  If your managers are not informed about their audience, how can they train, lead, or retain them?  What motivates a millennial? Why do they care so much about this, or that? Why don’t they stay longer? Why do they appear to be entitled?  Here are a few points to share in your next face-to-face manager meeting.

 

Do you KNOW that the majority of your millennial employees don’t intend to retire with your company?

The average millennial stays with their employer two years. In comparison, the average tenure for Baby Boomers is seven years and five years for Gen X employees. One of the primary reasons millennials are more likely to job hop is because they are not willing to stick around if they do not believe they are receiving any personal benefit or growth. Interestingly, many of the challenges managers face with millennials stem from their lack of truly understanding their goals, meaning they don’t know this generation. While each person is unique, they do have certain generational tendencies.

According to a study conducted by Bentley University, 67% of millennials have a goal of starting their own business and only 13% have an interest in climbing the corporate ladder to become CEO/President of the company. This represents a sharp contrast from what has been common in our industry for so many years. In many cases the position you offer is viewed as a stepping stone for them. What caused the flip? Is it really about their loyalty, or is it about ours? Fred Tuffile, Director of Bentley’s Entrepreneurial Studies program, remarked, “Millennials are eager to make their own pathways because they suspect the traditional ones may lead nowhere. Millennials see chaos, distrust of management, breaking of contracts and bad news associated with business. They’ve watched their relatives get fired and their peers sit in cubicles and they think, ‘There has to be a better way’.”

At their core, millennials want to grow in their skills and knowledge, and they want freedom to change career paths within their own company. They see change as a growth opportunity. If managers can create this type of environment, these employees will stay longer. Consider all the career paths that exist within the leasing office, regionally, and in your corporate leadership. They don’t only want to be limited to opportunities within a leasing office in a particular region and in a particular state. Are your managers always pushing them down the promotion road or just hoping they will stay put?

 

Do you KNOW that millennials desire feedback more frequently, but they won’t ask for it?

You most likely do know this, but is it being acted on in the leasing office? While my generation and the previous ones were content to wait for the six month or annual review, millennials want instant feedback. Capturing this enthusiasm is vital, yet it can be challenging for the hands-off manager. The good news is that millennials’ idea of ongoing feedback isn’t necessarily a formal one. It doesn’t have to be listed in a policy and procedures manual to take place. A daily habit of passing along lightweight signals of positive and negative sentiment will go a long way with them.

In an interview with the New York Times, Jeff Lawson, chief executive of Twilio had this to say about millennials and feedback, “They enjoy constant feedback because they always want to be learning and growing. They’re not looking for constant praise, but rather they want to ‘keep score’ on how they’re doing in all aspects of their career. They never want to have a surprise.” It all makes sense when you consider that millennials grew up with the Internet, which offers instant gratification and quick feedback, and by extension they expect the same at work. Do your managers know this? Are they responding or complaining?

 

Do you KNOW that the #1 preferred employee benefit for college-educated millennials is student loan repayment?

While this isn’t directly related to training, it is a golden nugget that can be shared with your upper management if it hasn’t already been considered. What millennials value most is their independence and freedom. Student debt stifles their freedom. Adopting such a program in your company sends a message to them that you know they have taken on a real burden to obtain their education and that you don’t want them to hold onto it until deep into their 40s. According to a 2016 Millennial Benefits Preferences study conducted by FC Consulting, millennials will stay at a job 36% longer when offered a student loan repayment program, and when two equal jobs are presented, 85% will choose the one offering such a program. This same study revealed that college-educated millennials prefer student loan repayment programs 2-12X more than other perks including 401 (K) and health insurance. Wow! This benefit affords companies a powerful advantage for recruiting college-educated talent over their competitors. They care about the NOW, so pass on the KNOW!

 

2. GROW. To grow means to develop. As a trainer, you understand this concept well. At work, it is essential to challenge and stretch yourself often. Growth has the potential of making you better at your job, and it can make you feel more fulfilled both in and out of the workplace.  An impressive 87% of millennials rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job, far more than the 69% of non-millennials who said the same in a 2016 Gallup report. How well are your managers growing their teams?

 

Do your managers help millennials GROW and do something big?

In the 2018 Deloitte Millennial survey, only 28 percent of surveyed millennials reported feeling that their current place of work was fully utilizing their skills. It is important for managers to be aware of millennial employees’ ambitions and talents from the get-go. Are they artistic? Are they creative? What skills do they bring from their previous work experiences? What leadership roles did they hold in college? Managers should be eager to learn about and demonstrate ways they can utilize these skills to help millennials realize their full potential and ‘do something big’ at work! I remember years ago recruiting an internal group of marketing-minded employees to work on some company projects. To my surprise, one of the ladies in the group had been instrumental in the development of the 1980s “We’ll Leave the Light On For You,” campaign for Motel 6. What a gem she was to have on the team! She helped us accomplish some big goals. Do your managers truly know the talent that exists on their teams? Encourage them to explore their employee inventory, which reaches far beyond the resume.

 

Do you encourage your managers to GROW the soft skills in their millennial workforce rather than complain they are lacking?

By virtue of having been raised on technology, millennials are the most tech-savvy generation the world has ever seen in the workplace. As a result, this growing portion of the workforce is drawn to STEM careers. While they can boast about their hard technical skills, when it comes to soft skills, millennials fall short. We learned timeliness, professionalism, networking, leadership, communication, and basic business etiquette early on in our lives. We displayed them at work and expected them from others. To millennials, soft skills might seem somewhat antiquated. What’s the big deal if they are five minutes late to work? Why do they have to dress professionally instead of however they are comfortable? No matter how much technology exists, soft skills continue to be in high demand.

Below are a few of the most important soft skills to have in the workplace according to Mike Steinerd, Indeed’s Director of Recruiting:

  • Acting as a team player and displaying strong leadership skills when necessary.
  • Being flexible., as those who can adapt to any situation are dependable no matter what’s thrown at them.
  • Effectively communicating, including articulating oneself well, being a good listener, and using appropriate body language.
  • Problem-solving and resourcefulness, which are critical when unexpected issues inevitably arise.
  • Accepting feedback gracefully and applying that feedback to foster professional growth.

Mentoring this generation and growing these skills might be more important that it was for any previous generation. If you want to grow your millennial employees, you must inspire the “trainer” in your managers to get the job done. They should be seeking daily opportunities to grow soft skills.

While they have certain generational tendencies, millennials are all different and should be treated as unique individuals. Consider what Christian Brucculeri, CEO of Snaps, says of millennials, “The same basic principles apply to the millennial generation as to any other age group. Some people are inspired, excited, hardworking, humble and curious. Some are entitled, unfocused and political. Not everyone is great!” There are so many opportunities to know and grow your millennial employees. You understand this very well. Consider yourself the messenger of information to those who recruit, lead, train, and manage this talented generation. What a wonderful workplace it would be if our leasing offices were filled with training-minded managers just like you – a team of leaders who are always seeking to know and grow.

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

Influence: The Key to Overcoming “Responsibility Without Authority”

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For a property manager the recipe to achieving results is having the necessary authority and resources to perform the job in harmony with the job description, to accomplish the objectives set by the management and/or owner. Too often, I interact with managers who operate like they are no more than an entry level employee with a fancy title. While a title with the look of authority might be appealing to some people because it often means less risk and work, it can cause great strain on the expectations of their customers – internal and external. Being given responsibility without authority can often breed a sense of helplessness and frustration for the manager and those around them but rarely a sense of empowerment.  The outcomes are easy to predict.

  1. They will assume the authority without approval.
  2. They will shrug the responsibility.
  3. They will be at the mercy of the customer by doing whatever they can to appease them.

Unfortunately, this design is very common in our industry and in many retail businesses. A property manager is expected to help customers, solve issues, and make them “happy”. But if the situation veers from the common, they must move the problem and the decision up the chain of command – district manager, regional manager, etc. This is frustrating for employees and can be infuriating for customers. The customer experience often takes a quick nosedive.

A recent experience with our family inspired this blog post. While on our fall break, we planned a fun day to a local entertainment venue which bills itself as “THE destination for FUN”. When we arrived, the special that was posted on their website was not what I had been led to believe it was, so I began inquiring about our options. Since this was a weekday, the nearly 75,000 sq. ft. building was practically empty.  I asked the employee at the front desk what type of packages they offered in addition to the one we had seen. Her response was, “None—it’s not summer!” I continued to drive the conversation by asking her how much it would cost to play the 2-3 activities that were most appealing to our boys. Her response was, “We don’t have a combined option.” It was all a la carte. The result would have been $30 for 30 minutes of entertainment. During our conversation, an individual with a nametag that read “Manager” kept walking by without making any comments. Clearly frustrated, I respectfully proceeded to share my disappointment with the employee, who stood unapologetically behind the counter. Her best response was that the corporate office made all decisions and that she had no authority. Sadly, she never brought her manager into the conversation, so I can only assume the manager, who continued to pass by us, was only a manager in title. He had no authority either. I couldn’t help but think of the missed opportunities:

A small discount could have gone a long way. The Ritz Carleton $2,000 gold standard, which I have referenced in many of my training classes, was on my mind. They empower employees to spend up to $2,000 to solve customer problems without asking for a manager. While this $2,000 is reflective of a customer spending $250,000 with the Ritz over their lifetime, the concept can still apply to any business. A five-dollar discount or extended play time would have gone a long way in our situation.

The lack of any employee initiative was most glaring overall. We left their facility and found another option where the manager offered us a discount package, attentive service, fantastic food, and a full day of fun!

It is likely that your customers are having similar experiences with your employees as they move from one community and from one problem to another. It is also unlikely that “I need to contact my district/regional manager for approval” or “You need to call the corporate office” will leave the conversation anytime soon. Without a complete organizational or procedural change, the best way to overcome this challenge is to teach managers to use influence to overcome responsibility without authority.  Here are two essential and easy ways to increase influence.

1.  Build Trust

There is nothing more important than trust. Trust is not an action. It is a belief that you have the customer’s best interest at heart and the confidence that you have the ability to help them. The more trust people have in you the higher your influence.  As a result, you are in a better position to lead them in the direction that is best for them.

In The Trusted Executive the author tells us, “the world is ready for a different breed of executive; a leader with transformational trust-building skills. If you want to anticipate and take the lead, if you want to be a pioneer in the 21st-century boardroom and deliver outstanding results, inspiring relationships, and build a cast-iron reputation for trustworthiness then you need to develop trust building habits.”

How can your managers build trust and turn around a situation similar to the one we recently had?

  • Ask questions and listen. Don’t repeat what you can’t do. Every customer interaction should be a conversation, not a sales pitch. You should spend at least half of every customer interaction listening. The questions should effectively lead them to answers and not back to the problem. Listen.
  • Be genuine. My recent unpleasant experience is not an uncommon one. At some point you have probably had an unpleasant experience with a manager or salesperson. Maybe you walked in feeling sold and walked away feeling unappreciated or even worse manipulated. Being genuine just means caring and being yourself. It means focusing less on others’ perceptions of you and more about getting to know them and letting them get to know you. Teach your managers to keep it real because their customers are more likely to trust them as a person than the company as a business.
  • Be empathetic. If you want people around you to value having a relationship with you, you must truly believe that relationship building is important. This means being empathetic rather than policy driven. The goal is to find and present the value that you are able offer to the customer versus what you cannot do for them.
  • Build a bridge (not a corporate wall). People are drawn to those who show true interest in them. Curiosity about people is a crucial element of relationship building. Caring about others’ wants and needs gives you the opportunity to learn new things, make new connections, and build bridges. Sometimes these bridges lead them to your product and sometimes they don’t. In the end, they will remember that you cared and they will trust you.

An unknown author once said, “Trust is a HUGE word. It either makes something or destroys it.” Teach your managers how to build trust and they will increase their influence with their customers regardless of their level of decision making authority.

 2.  Take Action

Too often, managers get a good idea or see how something can be done better, but they don’t act on it. They miss out on an opportunity to set ideas into motion and to increase their influence with customers. I really would have appreciated a few good ideas from the employees at our fall outing venue. It wouldn’t have mattered if they were ideas about options within their facility or even recommending me somewhere else. Instead, we received a ‘see you later’ message. Taking action is where all momentum comes from. Even in the absence of true authority, a manager can take action on good ideas. Sir Arthur C. Clarke, author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, believed, “New ideas pass through three periods: 1) It can’t be done. 2) It probably can be done but it’s not worth doing. 3) I knew it was a good idea all along!”

How can a manager overcome the notion of responsibility without authority by taking action? How do we avoid the “It can’t be done” mentality?

  • Never Accept the Status Quo. People who do things the way they have always been done will in the best case get the same results. Managers should be constantly searching for new solutions and more effective approaches to solving customer problems. Encourage them to make a “new idea” contribution weekly. No idea is too small.
  • Consider Every Opportunity. Opportunities are hidden everywhere, and people who see them are the ones who prosper. Teach them to make a habit of constantly asking themselves, “What opportunities for growth can I carve out of this situation?”, “How can we avoid this situation next time?”, or “What changes could I recommend to my supervisor?” Teach them to seek out new opportunities for change.
  • Speak Up and Act. Consider the millions of amazing ideas that went nowhere because no one knew about them. Encourage managers to identify problem areas, research solutions, and push their recommendations up the corporate ladder. Taking this approach now will reduce the need to push problems up the corporate ladder later when they are standing knee deep in the trench and face-to-face with the customer.

Think about your own daily experiences with brands, sales people, and managers. The frustration level you feel when they lack the decision-making authority to help you solve a seemingly simple problem can be off the charts. It is all too familiar. You address the situation with the sales person. They send you to the manager. The manager can’t approve the change, so they defer it to someone further up the corporate food chain.  In a study by customer service platform Zendesk, the single biggest driver of negative customer experiences was having to explain a problem to multiple people in the hope that one of them had the power to help.

This problem is not going away anytime soon, so place your focus on influence: the key to overcoming responsibility without authority.

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Phrases Leasing Professionals Should Remove from Customer Conversations

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The language we use in customer conversations impacts our ability to engage them and build trust in the relationship. Did you know that nearly 70% of customers stopped doing business with a company because they felt they were treated rudely or with indifference? According to a 2017 American Express Customer Service Barometer survey, Americans tell an average of 15 people about a poor service experience, versus the 11 people they will tell about a good experience. What we do, as well as what we say and how we say it all matter.  Every word we choose can trigger a feeling or emotion, and it is our job to carefully select our words to maximize the impact of our message.

Here are 3 phrases Leasing Professionals should remove from customer conversations.

1. I’m Sorry

I cringe when I hear a Leasing Professional combine the two words “I’m sorry” with a smug facial expression.  “I’m sorry” is commonly referred to as an empty apology. I call it a non-apology. Apologizing to customers is important, but the two-word phrase “I’m sorry” can come across as insincere when there is no context, helpful words, or action that comes with it. I know it’s hard to appear genuine when you don’t always truly feel sorry. Think about it. In most instances, you are apologizing for something you had no control over in the first place. In our industry, the “I’m sorry” phrase tends to rear its head when markets are strong and availability is tight. “Do you have any two-bedroom apartments available?” “No, I’m sorry. We’re full!” Quite often, this is said in a prideful tone (who wouldn’t be proud of 100% occupancy!) which unknowingly makes matters even worse. Good for me… sorry for you.

Recently, I had an unfavorable experience while booking a hotel room for a weekend girls’ retreat. The rate showed $149 per night online, and two hours later it wouldn’t let me book my room. When I refreshed my screen, it had increased to $300. I called the hotel directly and explained the situation. Every time I would share my frustration, all I would hear was “I am sorry.” There were no options offered. No referrals were made. I felt certain it was accompanied with a smug face on the other side of the phone and it made me feel like my call was unappreciated. While I understand that rates fluctuate, I wanted to hear more from her. I needed her to go beyond the non-apology. Unfortunately, as fantastic as the accommodations are at this hotel, I would never consider staying there based on this one experience with one person. And I am not alone. According to a survey by Right Now and Harris Interactive, 82% of respondents admitted that they stopped doing business with an organization due to one poor customer experience.

Try some alternatives like this to the non-apology “I’m sorry”.

  • I am sorry this happened because I am not able to control the rates. If I were you, I would be very frustrated as well. You could check back after 4pm when the system updates again, or I could recommend another option for you in the area that could work.
  • I am sorry because this has happened to other customers in the past, and I understand how you feel. Based on my experience there is a 50/50 chance the rates will go back down. Do you want to give it some time? If not, have you looked at any other hotels in our area? I would recommend XX which is very similar to our facility and has great ratings.
  • I am sorry because I cannot undo that negative experience with the online booking site for you. I can make a couple of suggestions. If your date is flexible, you could revisit the calendar and prices. If not, I could recommend another option in our area in your price range with similar accommodations.

Instead of dishing out seemingly insincere apologies, Leasing Professionals should identify the reason they are sorry. The customer is much more likely to accept your apology if they believe you truly understand their struggle and are willing to help you find a solution. We often apologize for problems we didn’t directly cause, but when we are the person acting as the face of the company we are where the blame falls. Teach your employees to apologize on behalf of your team and company. When they acknowledge where things went wrong on their end, even if it’s something that seems insignificant, they have the potential of turning the experience around.

2. I Am Going to Be Honest with You

Did you know that criminal investigators listen for the word “honestly” as a tip-off that their subjects are lying? Leasing Professionals use this phrase with good intentions because they either think it is an effective sales technique or it has just become habit. Unfortunately, in most cases, it has the opposite effect from the one they intended. If you say you are going to be honest, does that mean you haven’t been honest up until this point?  I used to work with a person who would use this phrase with practically every customer. “I am going to be honest with you; this is the last one available.” “I am going to be honest with you; we don’t usually offer this kind of deal.” “I am going to be honest with you; someone else is also interested in this apartment.” This phrase will quickly plant doubt in the customer’s mind about whether what you are saying is true or not.

Leasing Professionals should drop this phrase from their sales conversation and speak with brevity and clarity. To build trust early on, you should be transparent and present the customer with the facts, all the facts and only the facts. The goal is to add value to the conversation and the phrase “I am going to be honest with you” adds no value.

3. I Don’t Know

When Leasing Professionals find themselves in a situation where they don’t know the answer to a customer’s question, they often respond with “I don’t know…” and then you can hear crickets chirping in the lingering silence. We’ve all been there! Don’t get me wrong. There are many situations in sales and business when the words “I don’t know” can be used in a positive and powerful way, but when a customer stumps your Leasing Professional with a question while touring the apartment and their only response is “I don’t know” it works against them. Rather than always turning to “I don’t know” as a default, Leasing Professionals should prepare themselves with some more detailed and powerful responses.

  • Customer: What are the dimensions of this bedroom?” Leasing Professional: “I am not sure, but I have a tape measure, so let’s measure it.” (Tip: Take a measuring tape on your property tours!)
  • Customer: “Will you be offering any specials next month?” Leasing Professional: “Great question. While I can’t forecast that far out, I can make a note to call you, if that happens.”
  • Customer: “Do you know what stores will be opening in the new shopping center across the street?” Leasing Professional: “That is a timely question because I am currently gathering that market information. Would you like me to call you tomorrow with those answers?”

Nothing can fluster even the most imperturbable Leasing Professional like being asked a question to which they don’t know the answer. By replacing “I don’t know” with something substantive, a Leasing Professional will build trust in the relationship and increase their value in the eyes of the customer. It is easy to say “I don’t know” because it requires no thought, action, or effort. As Calvin Coolidge once said, “All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”  Filling in the “I don’t know” will take some work. When you practice this as part of role-playing with your team, it becomes a fantastic opportunity to apply knowledge and practice sales skills.

The daily interactions between a Leasing Professional and their customers are fragile. If they use the right words, the relationship will blossom. If they use the wrong words, the relationship could quickly wilt. Even when they don’t intend to be rude or uncaring, some phrases or tones come across that way. It is often the little things we do that make the biggest differences, such as choosing the right word or phrase.

 

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

5 Did You Knows to Inspire Your Team to Follow Up

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It’s amazing how few leasing professionals make the time to follow up with their potential customers. So, let me get right to the point. Customer follow-up is a massive problem across the property management industry. Out of 48,935 shopping reports conducted by Ellis Partners in Management Solutions in 2017, 50.2% of potential customers never received any follow up contact after their initial visit with a leasing professional. Why is this happening? We know there are companies that teach follow-up in their training classes. In fact, some have written follow-up policies and step-by-step systems in place. Yet, it is still not taking place. The response I usually receive from leasing professionals is that they simply don’t have time. Yet, when we break it down, it usually works out to be 2-3 minutes to write a quick thank you card, place a phone call or draft an email.

There is a common saying in sales that goes, “The fortune is in the follow up.” If your average rent is $700 and your average resident stay is 18 months, the total value of that resident is $12,600. Divide that by 3 minutes and that works out to be $4,200 for every minute spent on follow-up. Who wouldn’t like to make $4,200 per minute? That is certainly not small change! Leasing professionals are quick to say that they don’t have time to follow up. But more likely the failure to follow up is not really about time at all but rather one of these reasons: 1) they feel it is pushy or intrusive; 2) they make false assumptions about the prospect’s leasing decision; 3) it is not a priority or on their daily radar; or 4) there is no accountability system in place.

So, how do you overcome these obstacles? When the training and policies aren’t working, you inspire them to be memorable in a big way by opening their eyes to the facts and by presenting them with some really good reasons to follow up with EVERY customer. Use these 5 Did You Know’s to inspire your team to follow up.

1. Did you know that only 2% of sales occur on the first visit?

Studies reveal that only 2% of sales occur when a salesperson and customer meet for the first time. Those who do open their checkbook quickly tend to have already done most of their homework and walk in with leasing on their mind. If a leasing professional comes across as knowledgeable and trustworthy, then they may choose to lease. The remaining 98% of qualified customers can be closed by engaging in ongoing dialog and building up trust in the relationship. This takes time. It takes effort. It begins with follow up!

2. Did you know that 8% of salespeople close 80% of sales?

I can’t tell you how many times I have personally shopped for a product, provided my information, and never heard back from the salesperson ever again. It happens all of the time! There is research that suggests only 20 percent of all sales leads are followed up on. That means that 80 percent never receive a follow-up call, email or thank you card.  The research also tells us that those 8% of salespeople follow-up at least 5 times with the customer before they agree to purchase.  Even if we bring that number down to 2 or 3 follow up contacts for our industry, few make it happen. If they make that first attempt, too many quit too early. The bottom line is approximately 92% of our leasing professionals give up too early on the customer and only 8% are truly achieving consistent success at the leasing desk.

3. Did you know that customers are more likely to lease from someone they trust?

All things being equal, people will do business with and refer business to those people they know, like, and trust. All your marketing and time is wasted if your customers don’t trust you to do what you say you’re going to do. Did you tell them that you have their best interest in mind? Did you tell them that your goal was to help them find the perfect home? Did you tell them that your service was heads above the competition?  Following up with customers is a great way to prove your intentions. If you tell your customer all of these things and they never hear from you after they walk out the leasing door, they won’t believe you and they won’t trust you. Ultimately you are saying, “You are only important to me when you are conveniently standing in front of me.” This makes it really easy for them to consider your competitors.

Building trust takes time and a lot of hard work, but it is well worth it. According to a Concerto Marketing Group and Research Now survey, when customers trust a brand, 83 percent will recommend you to others and 82 percent will remain loyal.

4. Did you know that following up is a sign of gratitude?

Whether your customer does or doesn’t lease on the first visit, following up becomes the most important step in the leasing process. Did they take time out of their busy schedule to visit you? Did you learning something new about your product that you didn’t know? Did they mention a friend they might refer? Think about the last time someone expressed gratitude or appreciation towards you.  Was it in person, on the phone, via email, or maybe you received an unexpected thank you card?

When was the last time you received an authentic hand written thank you card or letter? According to the U.S. Postal Service’s annual survey, the average home only received a personal letter once every seven weeks in 2010, down from once every two weeks in 1987. Where do you think that number is now? Think about the impact of this small act of gratitude. If you want to be memorable in a big way, send a hand-written thank you card! Showing gratitude through follow-up creates a stronger relationship, and by nurturing that relationship you are increasing the odds the customer will lease or refer a friend or family member.

5. Did you know numbers don’t lie?

  • 35-50% of sales go to the business that responds first. [Source: InsideSales.com]
  • 63% of people requesting information on your company today will not purchase for at least three months – and 20% will take more than 12 months to buy. [Source: Marketing Donut]
  • 50% of customers are qualified but not yet ready to buy when they make the first contact. [Source: Gleanster Research]

As you can see, following up with customers is a necessary part of the sales process. There is absolutely no way around it. Contrary to popular belief, the leasing process doesn’t end at the close and thank you for visiting!

Creating and using a follow-up system is a guaranteed way to lease more apartments.  In fact, with only 49.8% of all leasing professionals making contact after the first visit, you will not only lease more but you will stand out amongst your competitors.  In a market with heavy competition, a leasing professional can be memorable in a BIG way by simply following up with every customer.

 

 

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Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

3 Ways to Boost Sales Confidence at the Leasing Desk

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Confidence plays a significant role in the leasing process. It is nearly impossible to persuade a customer to purchase your product and service unless your leasing professional believes in them, too—including his or her own abilities. The assumption is often made that if someone has chosen sales for their profession, they are “naturally” confident. Not true. I have met many leasing professionals who do not display confidence in their leasing presentation, and it is clearly reflected in their results. Interestingly, the ones who are often the least confident are the employees who didn’t actively choose sales as their career, but rather fell into it by default. Confidence is one of the most important sales skills worth developing. But let’s face it, it can be challenging to stay confident when customers tell you “no” over and over again. It is no secret that the role of leasing professional requires mental toughness to withstand the good and the not so good weeks. Leasing professionals who lack confidence will always struggle to close sales, build rapport with customers, and demonstrate the value of their product and services.

Here are 3 ways to boost sales confidence at the leasing desk and achieve success:  

1. Prepare them for rejection

Rejection on the leasing floor can be tough, but it is going to happen sooner than later. It can immobilize leasing professionals and affect their motivation and performance.  One of the best ways to prepare leasing professionals for rejection is to teach them to expect it and how to process it. Not every customer is going to want or need the product they offer. Many customers will say no. Many will say yes. The balance won’t always work in their favor. While you want them to focus on those who will say yes, they need to know how to react to those who have said no.  When the rejection comes, teach them to prepare and practice a few good responses.

“I think that you have to believe in your destiny; that you will succeed, you will meet a lot of rejection and it is not always a straight path, there will be detours – so enjoy the view.” -Michael York, Actor

Every leasing professional should be given the tools to construct words, phrases, and responses to “no” to redirect or reframe the conversation with their customer. Exploring the difference between a rejection and an objection and role-playing multiple scenarios in a classroom is a great way to build confidence in your leasing professionals. Remind them that the customer who says no today can quickly become a valuable customer tomorrow simply because conditions have changed in the person’s life. Prepare them for rejection and encourage them to enjoy the view.

 

2. Teach them to resist the comfort zone—take risks

When leasing professionals feel stress or experience failure, they have a tendency to return to their comfort zone which is quite often a lower level of performance. Encourage employees to spend time in the awkward and uncomfortable zone until it becomes their new level of comfort.  This is where new confidence is born! In his best-selling autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut, Jack Welch writes, “Self-confidence is what I’ve looked for and tried to build in every executive who has ever worked with me. Confidence gives you courage and extends your reach.” I love the concept of teaching leasing professionals to extend their reach! This begins by asking questions. How can they adjust their presentation to improve customer engagement? How can they vary the tour in the apartment? How can they quietly close the sale at least 5X during the tour? How can they follow up with customers in a unique way? What can they do differently next time? This would make for another great activity for a formal leasing training or workshop.

“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.”  -Brian Tracy

Remind your employees that leasing apartments is similar to playing a game – sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. The loss should reveal their competitive spirit to get back out and try again rather than fall back to their comfort zone of playing it safe. This idea of extending their reach excites me as a trainer. In the article “The 15 Laws of Growth Part XI: The Law of The Rubber Band”, the author writes, “Take a few seconds and think of all the possible ways you can use a rubber band. Now try thinking of all the possible ways to use a rubber band without stretching it.” Growth stops when you lose the tension between the comfort zone and risk. Are your trainer wheels turning? How will you teach employees to resist their comfort zone?

3. Encourage them to set early weekly goals and win early

Timing is everything and success breeds success.  Teach your employees to set two realistic and achievable goals early in the week. It could be as simple as placing a follow up call to every customer who visited their community before they leave for the evening. It is highly likely that once they complete this for day one and two that they will continue on day three through five, too. When they receive their first positive response from a customer for their follow up efforts, it will boost their confidence and inspire them to do it again!

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” -Pablo Picasso

Over the years, one common denominator I have observed in leasing super stars is their willingness to invest in the continued improvement of their skills by repetition. They set their own goals, seek out learning opportunities, and love to win. In the article The DNA of Top Salespeople,  professional trainer and coach Colleen Stanley pens, “Top salespeople are “buggers.” They bug people for wisdom, help, and guidance.” We need to fill our leasing desks with confident buggers!  Coaching leasing professionals on how to plan their weekly progress is just another way to boost sales confidence at the leasing desk.

As a trainer, you can instill confidence in your leasing team by preparing them for rejection, teaching them to take risks, and encouraging them to set early goals and seek early wins. Knowing how to build confidence in your leasing team is crucial for any company of any size.

 

 

Read more like this from Edge2Learn

Maria Lawson
Vice President of Training and Development
Edge2Learn / Ellis Partners in Management Solutions

 

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