What You May Be Missing with Lease Conversions
By Donald Davidoff, D2 Demand Solutions.
Today's Internet-savvy renters arrive at communities armed with most of the information that they need about your property and your competitors. What they likely need from a leasing agent is highly specific. Find out what that is.
Multifamily marketers and operators perennially worry about leads. Last month I read with interest a recap article from Apartmentalize: “Curing the Lost Leads Epidemic,” where marketing leaders from Equity Residential, Beacon Communities and Bainbridge Companies explored the phenomenon.
The article focused on the critical areas of communication process and technology - both important levers needed to help reduce potential leases lost to unanswered calls and suboptimal call-back processes. All three companies had improved their processes and technologies to plug gaps in their lead funnels, but (as I will argue later) the answers do not always lie in technology per se. A growing body of evidence tells us that an ounce of sales process improvement is better than a pound of additional lead generation.
Let’s start with some marketing and sales fundamentals. The objective of marketing is to generate as many leases as possible. That calls for a combination of lead generation and lead management, as well as the training of leasing agents, which also tends to fall into the marketing purview in multifamily.
A great deal depends on the skills and competency of leasing agents. A lease is a high-involvement purchase for prospective residents. It’s probably the largest check they write each month. To ensure that we close as many leases as possible, and don’t waste the time and money already spent on getting prospects interested, we must focus on developing sales skills at our communities. Having worked with numerous clients in this area, I know that it’s a source of low-hanging fruit in our industry.
The rental housing industry is unusual in that our front-line salespeople (leasing agents) typically report through operations, rather than a professional sales organization, as salespeople do in most industries. Leasing is also a relatively transient position, creating a requirement for companies to deliver high volumes of training to ensure consistency in an environment of high staff turnover. Given these factors, it can be difficult for operators to benefit from the most current sales approaches. And today, that is costing most communities lost leases because prospects are becoming more sophisticated.
Most traditional sales processes were designed at a time when prospects depended heavily on salespeople for their information about a product or service. Today's internet-savvy renters arrive at communities armed with most of the information that they need about your property and your competitors. What they need from a leasing agent is likely highly specific, so it's our job to “catch up to where they are,” finding out where they are in their decision process and thus what they need to know rather than pushing them along a prescribed sales process.
Instead of “Always Be Closing” our sales mantra should be “Always Be Helping,” as we re-frame leasing conversations around the prospect rather than the process. That requires a radically different approach to training sales skills and measuring results compared to the way most multifamily operators are doing it. Here are examples of the skills that we need to develop in our agents so that they can be as successful as possible in a competitive market:
- Understand what differentiates not just an apartment and community but, critically, the neighborhood, in terms of what is relevant to different prospects.
- Identify where a prospect is in their own buyer’s journey, and align your sales approach so that you can be the best possible resource to help them to their decision.
- Understand prospects’ shopping styles and what it is that we must do to advance the sales conversation.
- Know how to ask questions to gain an understanding of the prospect’s needs, and judge how and when to ask for the lease.
These examples should leave the impression of a shift in focus - from the cookie-cutter process of days gone by that focuses on what we want to accomplish in a sales conversation to a highly flexible structure that puts the prospect and what they want at the heart of the conversation. The good news for leasing agents is that it gives them the freedom to be themselves and use their own voice as they build rapport with prospects. As we prepare for the uncertainties and competitive pressures that 2019 will bring, few things can impact our marketing performance more than re-thinking and improving our sales processes.