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How B Class Communities Can Outperform The Competition

Understand your customer’s needs and leverage technology to meet resident demands without blowing your budget.

By Stephen Ursery

In the never-ending battle to sign new residents and retain existing ones, it's easy for Class B operators to feel their communities are outmatched by newer, more luxurious properties.

But as the APTvirtual session, “Don’t Forget About Me, I’m a B” demonstrated, Class B operators have a wide variety of tools and tactics they can deploy to attract prospects, spur renewals and thrive.

The session outlined three major challenges Class B communities typically face: Small onsite staffs, limited budgets and a lack of amenities.

Overcoming Staff Challenges

The demands on onsite associates are immense, and that's especially true at Class B properties, where there are relatively few team members to handle the range of responsibilities, said Holli Beckman, Vice President of Marketing and Leasing Operations at WC Smith.

"You're running from posting rent and handling collections to approving timesheets, handling leads, trying to respond to your regional about some review on some site and then you're probably putting out notices because the parking lot is getting repaved," Beckman said. "It just never ends. It makes me breathless."

Among the repetitive "time sucks" facing associates, according to the panelists: Timely follow-up with leads, back-and-forth communications with prospects to schedule tours, answering questions from new residents about the move-in process and distributing door-to-door notices to residents.

Class B operators can easily implement automated email drip campaigns to follow up with leads and move them along the sales funnel, noted Mike Whaling, President of 30 Lines.

"As soon as you get a lead that comes in, if everything is set up the right way, that lead is going to hear from you six to eight times, automatically, over the next few weeks," Whaling said. "We've seen that it is really helpful in terms of helping the leasing team boost their closing rates."

These email campaigns not only make life easier for associates, they typically offer a competitive advantage, Whaling added.

"We know that a lot of folks aren't doing this follow-up," he said "They give up after two or three contacts, so if you have this in place you've put yourself in a much better position to have that person move in with you."

Installing a tour scheduler on a community website is another easy way to reduce the time associates have to spend communicating with prospects and create a good customer experience, the panelists said.

"When I'm visiting your site as a prospect, I have a lot of intent," Beckman said. "I'm looking for something, and you should be able to move me down the funnel closer to that sale. By having an appointment scheduler on your website, that gives me some control to set up that appointment when I'm on your website at 8 p.m. and your leasing staff isn't around."

Prospects who are allowed to self-schedule their tours are more likely to actually tour, Whaling added.

"People are way more likely to show up if they're the ones in control, if they take the step to book the appointment," he said. "We see that they're almost twice as likely to show up versus being coerced into booking an appointment. If you can drive almost twice as many people in the door, your leasing team can keep the same closing ratio and your numbers are automatically going to go up."

Posting answers to frequently asked questions in multiple places, including a community's website and its Google My Business page, is another way to give associates more time to care for leads and current residents.

Miniscule Budgets

A lack of marketing funds and resources may at first glance hamper Class B communities, but there are plenty of practical workarounds, Beckman and Whaling noted.

For example, many Class B properties don't have model units to photograph, and images of vacant units aren't likely to appeal to prospects. But technology allows operators to affordably digitally "stage" their vacant units so that the homes appear to be outfitted with attractive furnishings. These images can then be posted on community websites and ILSs, Beckman said.

In addition, strong lead management allows Class B communities to maximize their existing advertising budgets.

"We don't really want to be spending more and more on advertising,” said Whaling. “In a lot of cases we don't even need to. What we've seen – and Holli says this all the time when she's talking with her team – when you take better care of the leads you already have, you won't need to spend nearly as much on advertising at the top of the funnel."

Carefully examining the performance of advertising sources in generating leads also allows operators to get the most out of their marketing budgets.

"It's about really understanding which of our lead sources are working for us, so that we can double down on those and not spend money on places that are wasting our dollars," Whaling said.

Auditing their existing CRMs can allow operators to uncover tools in those solutions that enhance lead management efforts, the panelists said.

A Lack of Amenities

Class B communities may not feature "climbing walls or heated rooftop pools," but they can still easily provide amenities and services that keep residents engaged, entertained and set their communities apart from the competition, Whaling said.

For instance, communities without luxurious demonstration kitchens can still offer residents virtual cooking classes, Beckman noted.

"We just had a chef in Bali teach all of our residents how to make this amazing dinner and everyone's doing it in their own kitchen," she said. "But they're all experiencing it as a community and they're having this awesome experience."

Communities without extensive fitness centers can still encourage residents to form running groups or rec league kickball teams and can help fund those activities, Beckman added.

"It's so much cheaper for you to spend a couple of dollars on a cooler and some Gatorades once a week to put out for the running club than to try and find a place to put a gym inside your community," she said. "The same goes for the flag football team. You just pay the sponsorship for them to actually have a team and your residents go participate.

In the end, amenities don't need to be fancy to impress residents and help them develop a bond with their communities. "It's not just about the big party – it's about connecting your residents to each other and to the community," Beckman said.

Stephen Ursery is a Content Manager for LinnellTaylor Marketing.