Category: Blog Roll

3 Ways to Sell a Product You Wouldn’t Buy

Those who know me well also know that shopping in general does not fall into my favorite activity category. When the rare desire strikes, I am a pretty speedy shopper because everything tends to land into one of three categories: love it, could live with it, detest it. I am swiftly either in the checkout line or out the door.  I believe that makes me an easy customer to deal with because a salesperson knows quickly where I stand on a product.

Reflecting on my own leasing career, I wonder how this trait served me? Did how I personally categorized my own product leak on my customers? While we don’t always vocalize it to the customer, our self-talk often ‘speaks’ about the things we like or dislike about the product we represent. We can try to hide it, but it is always there lurking in our thoughts. The fact is that if you spend any time in this industry, you are going to work on a variety of product types, in various locations, and you will not love them all.

Here are three ways to sell a product you wouldn’t buy.

1.  Realize Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our product that we forget who we are selling to. In most cases, our customer is a stranger, and the entirety of their situation is one that we cannot begin to understand during our brief time with them despite our efforts to do so.  We tend to focus more on our product than our customer because it is more familiar and comfortable to us. In some cases, our opinions overpower the conversation and we end up doing more talking than listening.

It took many years on the leasing floor, attending a multitude of leasing classes, and receiving a few subpar mystery shopping reports for me to finally understand this fact:  My opinion does not matter. It’s a harsh statement, but it is true. It doesn’t really matter how much I love or hate an apartment. The ugly duckling just might be the perfect match for the next person walking through the door. In fact, in a blog I wrote several years ago, I shared my own leasing story about how an apartment with peach-colored carpet which faced the local landfill was the perfect fit for one particular customer. I learned that the customer does not care about the same things I might, and as crazy as it seems, that awful apartment represented some aspects that met my customer’s needs.

The lesson in this is that our focus should be on how our product can and will make the customer’s life better. What does better mean? If we don’t know where they are now, how will we know what better looks like to them? We must place all our focus on the customer. What will work best for them?  Me, my, and I should not be part of the conversation. By focusing on the customer, you can easily sell a product you wouldn’t buy.

2.  Forget You Are a Leasing Professional

You heard that right. When you are interacting with a customer with the goal of ultimately leasing an apartment, you need to forget that you are a leasing professional.  In my experience, if leasing or not leasing an apartment is anywhere in our thoughts, then consciously or subconsciously we will be trying to manipulate the customer’s decision to meet our agenda. Instead, we need to become their trusted advisor. When we stop bombarding the customer with our opinions, we are better able to gather information while engaging in a conversation with them. This is not a scripted process; it is natural and free-flowing.

Dr. Theodore Zeldin, author of Conversation: How Talk Can Change Our Lives, suggested, “The salesperson is not just an instrument of commerce but also an expert in human relations, and their function is to make the customer feel better and understand better and feel more satisfied. They are an outsider who can expand another person’s world.” This is accomplished through a two-way conversation.  But, where do we begin? During my research, I ran across a great article in Fast Company titled, “Six Habits of the Best Conversationalists”. There are many golden nuggets in the post, but one point in particular stood out to me:  It takes skill. Learning how to engage in fruitful conversations with your customer takes time and practice. Good conversationalists don’t interject themselves into the topic when it’s not needed. It is not about you or your product; it is about your customer and their wants and needs. Your conversation with your customer is not a promotional opportunity for you but rather a time for you to listen to them. There is a reward for toning down your “sell talk” too.  Another interesting article in Sales Hacker revealed metrics which suggest that when your likely customer talks for at least 30% of the time, sales conversion rates improve dramatically. Silence truly is golden.

3. Ask Revealing Questions and Never Assume

This was the big error I made and shared in my blog post Stop the Stinkin’ Thinkin’. I assumed that no human being with any sense of smell would ever have leased that apartment. What I didn’t realize was that the things I cared about, my customer did not.  And the things he cared about were unfamiliar to me. I injected my opinion into his solution. My questions were scripted and not sincere.  I had not yet learned how to sell a product I wouldn’t buy.

Revealing questions are often open-ended. Open-ended questions are also called discovery questions because they are designed to get to know the customer and their needs better. They usually involve who, what, where, when, why and how. They don’t have a set order and they are more focused on feelings than facts. They are designed to facilitate a natural dialogue between the leasing professional and the customer so that rapport and trust can grow.

The open-ended questions you choose should result in an exchange that is both personal and revealing. Here are a few examples:

  • What do you love about your current kitchen (bathroom, bedroom, etc.)? What would you change, if you could?
  • What other communities have you visited? What did you like or dislike?
  • What has motivated you to move?
  • Tell me more about…
  • Do you enjoy eating out? If so, where are your favorite restaurants located?  

At the end of the day, selling something you wouldn’t buy comes down to this:  It’s not about you or your product. It’s not about apartment features, amenities, pricing, location, etc. It’s not about the number of awards you have received or how many promotions are ahead of you.  It is about your customer. They are the main characters in their story, and they are going to take out their checkbook if they believe that your product is going to improve their life. If they don’t, they won’t!

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.

Three Targeted Leasing Training Approaches That Work

Every day we set simple personal targets. What time will we wake up? What time will we arrive at the leasing office? Our goals then cross over into our work life. At the management level, goals are set monthly and annually to achieve budgeted numbers. The leasing team will often set weekly goals which pertain to traffic counts, number of leases, renewals, etc. Interestingly, we can get so good at our jobs and so comfortable that we turn on the cruise control and simply take in the scenery, that is until we get the dreaded call. That call from the corporate office which reinforces what we might already know: we missed the target. Instantly, we hang up the phone, turn off cruise control, turn on the emergency flashers, and launch the quickest solution we can locate because it must be fixed and now!  Does this sound familiar?  

Over the past several decades, I have been on the giving, receiving, and observing end of this very common cycle in the leasing office. When we aren’t hitting the numbers, we move into “fix it” mode, and we start grasping for any viable commonly used solution. “Send Mary to a leasing class!” “Sign James up for a sales seminar!” “Hire a sales trainer and schedule a full-day training for everyone!” While any one of these solutions can be motivating, broad training solutions are not always the best solution to a leasing performance problem that is often very individual and specific. Our broad training solution might be overkill in some cases and in others it closely resembles the old cooked spaghetti test – throw it against a wall and see what sticks! Are you simply throwing under-performing leasing professionals against a training wall and waiting to see what sticks, or are you targeting their training?  

Here are three targeted leasing training approaches that work:

1. Start Small

Sometimes starting small gives you the best chance for success. When a baseball player isn’t performing to their potential at the plate, their coach doesn’t blindly start changing their overall stance, swing, etc. and just see if that fixes the problem. They complete a diagnosis by watching them in action. This allows them to identify and target a problem area, which can be very small, and come up with a customized plan of action.

When was the last time you shadowed your leasing professionals while they were in an apartment with a customer? Before the days of video shopping, I would intentionally go to the apartment that was about to be toured and “conveniently” be making a list of items when the leasing professional walked in with the customer. Seeing and hearing the communication between a leasing professional and the customer allows the manager to diagnose issues, target training, and build on their current strengths. This 30-minute process can replace a broad performance training solution because it readily exposes the root of the problem. Sometimes being on “cruise control” can lead to some extremely sleepy presentations. This is not something that can be seen through the window of a manager’s office. It must be experienced.

I remember working with a leasing professional many years ago who was failing his mystery shopping reports. While he was hitting the major points, mystery shoppers and real customers both were consistently indicating they would not lease the apartment based on his presentation. After spending about an hour listening to his telephone calls and watching his real-life presentations, we knew exactly what the problem was and what he needed to do to improve. Had we not invested the time to start small and break it down, we would have been throwing him against that leasing training wall and waiting to see what might stick!

2. S.M.A.R.T. Goals

When top performers and leasing training managers set a goal, they have something specific to work toward. That something should be achievable. If your leasing professional is in a slump and you send them to a broad solution leasing training class, you have nothing to really measure performance other than numbers that can possibly be attributed to considerations that are not a direct reflection of the person at the leasing desk.

When you target a specific training area, you can set refined goals and the employee can have a vision to work toward to get the best results. There is an old saying that a team is only as strong as their weakest link. If this is true, then your leasing professionals are only as good as their weakest link in their presentation. Here is a quick refresher in setting S.M.A.R.T goals.

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Realistic
  • Timely

The spaghetti method of training is not specific and is not measurable. As a result, it will be difficult to attain a goal, and not quite realistic to expect a complete transformation at the leasing desk when they return from their half-day group sales training class. Plus, putting a timeline on improvement would be also be difficult. Zig Ziglar taught, “You can’t hit a target you cannot see, and you cannot see a target you do not have.” If there is no target, there is literally nothing to work toward, and even though your employees may be working hard on improving their numbers, their hard work may not translate into anything. Targeted leasing training is specific and it can be measured. And what gets measured gets improved.

3. Case Study Training

Case studies have long been used in the school and business classrooms. Their power can also be leveraged by managers in the leasing office. Case studies come in many formats, but I prefer the very simple scenario-type approach of “What would you do in this situation?” When you are targeting training, you are building a very specific case study which will eventually include the answers to the question, the plan, and ultimately the improved results.

On the flip side, a manager can use a case study to target training improvement in a particular area. Let me return to the example I used above regarding the leasing professional who was failing one aspect of his mystery shopping reports. What we revealed during our discovery phase was that he was boring. His voice was low and monotone and he sounded as excited as most people do when their dentist tells them they need a root canal. Listening to him was a painful process for me, and I was on his team! We used the case study approach to target his training which in all situations must begin with the employee taking ownership of his or her own performance. It would take both of us working together to achieve the desired goal. I asked him these questions to facilitate building his personal case study:

  • If you were the customer, how would you respond to this question on the shopping report? 
  • What would you tell your employee who was dealing with a similar challenge?
  • What steps can you take to improve this specific area of your performance? How can you practice a different approach?
  • Where will you begin and how will we measure it?
  • What goals can we strive for?

His performance improvement would eventually be developed into a full case study to share in leasing training classes, printed training materials, and with other leasing professionals who demonstrated the same specific opportunity for improvement. I attribute his success to a targeted leasing training approach where we worked as a team to get to the root of the problem by having him participate in developing targeted goals for improvement.

For leasing professionals, much like the person at the gym who isn’t getting the results they would like by using the spaghetti method of trying every machine and hoping something works, a ‘personal’ trainer is helpful because quite often individuals in need of performance improvement:

  • Don’t know where to start
  • Don’t know what they don’t know
  • Need to be challenged
  • Need accountability and motivation
  • Need a measurable goal

Targeted leasing training hits the areas that need to be improved in a way that cannot be accomplished by throwing random leasing training solutions at the problem. Targeted leasing training changes behaviors which results in improved performance.

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.

Two Skills to Prepare Employees for Great Opportunities

As a property management professional, your ultimate responsibility is to prepare employees for great opportunities. My oldest son and I were recently discussing Thomas Edison while preparing for his school debate assignment. We were both familiar with Edison’s early work as a telegraph operator, which inspired some of his first inventions. Interestingly our study and conversation led us to an event in Edison’s life which is not as well-known yet is of great value. While Edison was working for the railroad, a near-tragic event led to an unexpected learning opportunity. History tells us he saved a three-year-old child from being killed by a runaway train, so the child’s grateful father rewarded him by teaching Thomas how to operate a telegraph. By age 15, Edison had learned enough to be employed as a telegraph operator. Consequently, he became a traveling telegrapher as he filled in for those who had gone to the Civil War. During that time, he continued to read, study, and practice telegraph technology while becoming more familiar with electrical science. Because someone took the time and gave him the gift of growth, Edison went on to accomplish notable things.

I wonder what it would feel like to be a tiny bit responsible for the success of a Thomas Edison?  What about the success of someone on your team? Could the future multifamily training director, regional vice president, or president of your company be sitting at your leasing desk? We work in an industry where these types of stories are not uncommon. I know many executives in the multifamily training industry who had very humble beginnings. Like Edison, they were mentored by people who freely gave the gift of growth and prepared them to eventually lead great companies in impressive ways.    

So how do you prepare employees for great opportunities? You give them the multifamily training tools they will need to be successful now and in the future. Certainly, this could cover a plethora of areas, but when I reflect on my on-site career from the leasing desk to the corporate headquarters, I recall twoskills as paramount to my success in multifamily training, both of which involve time management.

Time is a precious commodity. It is more valuable than money because it is fixed and non-renewable. You only get what you get and when it’s gone you cannot get it back.  What is time management? It is the ability to use time effectively and productively, especially at work. Time management is comprised of a set of skills that allow tasks to be completed as efficiently as possible. Ultimately, being productive with time creates ongoing opportunities to improve how work is done. Improving time management in the leasing office allows an employee to boost their performance and achieve desired goals with less labor and more successful strategies. On the flip side, weak time management skills tend to result in procrastination, mediocre work, unproductive workflow, unnecessary stress, and sometimes a poor professional reputation. Trust me – if you struggle with time management skills, it is not a secret in your office. Good or bad, time management skills are on display for all to see.

Thankfully, there are many ways to strengthen time management skills including attending multifamily training classes, but your team can start exercising their time management skills immediately right where they are. Here are two skills to prepare employees for great opportunities:

1.  Be a Planner. The idea behind time management is to work smarter than harder and to make time to do other things as well. Planning plays an important role in time management as they go hand-in-hand. You can make the most of your time only when it is thoroughly planned. You don’t necessarily have to follow a strict routine, but rather it empowers smarter decisions of knowing the right time to tackle a task or an activity. “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy.”  – Brian Tracy

Early in my career, I attended a multifamily training class where I learned the skill of time blocking which is simply making an appointment with yourself in order to complete a specific task. It seems easy, yet it can be difficult to execute. It is so natural to move tasks aside or just cross them out altogether. I found this great post on Lifehack.com where the author Mike Vardy, a productivity specialist, offers 3 easy ways to lock down time blocks on the calendar:

  • Screaming. Blocked times should scream out at you when you look at your calendar. Vardy suggests using a vibrant color for time blocks.  If you are like me and still use a paper calendar, write the blocked activity in capital letters, use Washi tape, stickers, various marker colors, etc., anything to make it stand out among your other items.  In a task manager, label or flag it with tags or a similar method that highlights it for you. The bottom line is that you need to make sure that your eyes don’t miss your blocked time. Blocked time takes priority, and it should be protected. Just because it is your time, doesn’t mean that it should be moved. This is a great way to fight the time bandit in the leasing office, who whispers in our ear, “I just don’t have time to write thank you cards.”
  • Sharing. It is important to hold yourself accountable. Share your blocked times with those who need to know. Vardy mentions that he allowed his wife to subscribe to his Google Calendar so that she can see when he was absolutely indisposed. She knows when he is busy in an area that’s been blocked out and doesn’t even try to reach him during that time. He recommends this same type of connection with close colleagues.  His final point to share is that it is better to let your team know when you can be reached rather than when you cannot. Obviously, there are many ways to share time availability, and one size does not fit all, so it is important to determine the method of sharing on an individual basis.
  • Sticking (to it). In order to make time blocking a habit, it needs to become sticky. A 2009 study conducted by the University College London determined that it takes an average of 66 days to create a habit to the point where it becomes automatic. The author encourages blocking times for 30 instances in order to make this a habit. Repeat the blocked time for 30 instances.  Blocked time should become an important part of the flow of your week and remind you of how important it is to the time management process.

2.  Delegate. Delegation of authority is very important to any organization as it empowers team members. It means that you are willing to entrust a task, authority, or responsibility to another person who is often in a less senior position. There are many myths about delegation which run deep, especially for property management professionals. Less seasoned and even some experienced managers aren’t aware that it is practically impossible to do everything effectively on their own, the key word being “effectively”. Many resist the possibility of delegating some of their tasks. While this can be a pride or control issue, we also know there are property management professionals who feel the need to protect their position out of fear that someone might take their job someday. They are terrified of succession planning and fall victim to myths surrounding delegation, including: 

  • Lack of trust in employee ability,
  • Everyone else is busy too,
  • When I delegate, it does not get done right.

Everyone benefits when tasks are delegated. Not only does it help with time management, it also aids in team development, so when the manager is not present there is no lack of progress or confidence.  Smart leaders know the wisdom of surrounding themselves with people whose skills strengthen theirs, and then setting them loose to get the job done.

But handing over the responsibility to carry out a task is only one aspect of the delegation equation. Have you ever heard someone say, “[he/she] is a micromanager”? Delegation is often a balancing act because it means making sure there is just enough control to monitor the work without stifling the leasing employee’s ability to do it effectively, or even worse, pushing them out of the way and taking back control of the project. When we delegate, the goal is to assign responsibility and authority to directly complete the task while still retaining oversight for its success. Again, it is a balancing act that takes time to perfect.   

Not all tasks are suitable for delegation. Managers must ask themselves a few questions before they take the plunge:  What tasks should be delegated? Who is the most effective person to delegate to? What expectations do I have for this task?

Every time a manager delegates authority and responsibility they are putting their employee to the test. Like any test, it is important for the person taking on the task to have some path to understanding what is expected. While each task is unique, they should all be preceded with the following conversation led by the manager:

  • Communication: What needs to be done? When is it due? What tools will they need to accomplish the goal? Where does their authority begin and end?
  • Trust: The employee should be well-trusted, and they should know you trust them.
  • Honesty: The expectations should be very clear and open. What do you expect from them? When the project is finished, honesty is also critical in the evaluation. Without it, development will be hindered.

Benefits to the person who is delegating, beyond developing their employees, include:

Efficiency. While team members are carrying out routine projects and activities that have been delegated, the property manager can plan and strategize for the next big thing. It reduces stress and opens more blocks of time.

Leadership. Managers become better leaders because they are practicing their coaching skills. When employees can accept a task and accomplish it with or without supervision, the property manager has achieved great success and have saved time.

Giving the ‘gift of growth’ through delegating is a sign that you are willing to invest in the success of the employee. Delegating is a great way of encouraging your team members to develop themselves, developing your own multifamily training/coaching and mentoring skills, and preparing employees for great opportunities. Developing time management skills can be an experiment. Your goal is to figure out how much time you really need to do a certain task, whether or not it realistically works for you, if blocking time out will allow you to successfully complete the task, or if it’s a candidate for delegation.

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.