Huntington Beach, Calif.—The customer call is an important touch point for prospects, according to panelists at the session, “What the Customer Hears: True-Life Sales Phone Calls Gone Wrong (and Right),” at the AIM (Apartment Internet Marking) conference held at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa in Huntington Beach, Calif.
Despite this, the latest national stats show that of the 73,864 calls made to 1,380 communities, only 35 percent of qualified calls were converted to appointments, according to Patty Morgan Seager, principal, Seager Marketing. And, she added, the total lease revenue lost by these communities amounted to $8,450,395.
The emphasis the industry places on phone leads makes an enormous difference in occupancy rates and advertising budges. In fact, the panel noted, the phone-to-first-conversion ratio is between 55 percent and 60 percent.
“If I have a great phone interaction with you, I’m four times more likely to lease with you if I show up as a result of setting a specific time to visit. You made me feel like I mattered to you,” explained Seager.
But the cost of indifference is high, pointed out Amy Earp, director of marketing, The Donaldson Group. An example she provided showed that if a community, with an average monthly rent of $1,000, misses 35 percent of its 210 calls, that community could lose $6,600 in revenue if all of the prospects signed 12-month leases. Annually, lost revenue for just one month of missed calls is $79,200, she reported.
Because leasing consultants have more and more tasks to complete, however, management needs to be cognizant of the “administrative burden on teams,” added panelist Tina Makssour, vice president of performance, Alliance Residential. “Look at tools to help prioritize and manage all these tasks our team is being burdened with,” she suggested, including things like call routing and “Call Me Now” features.
Conversations with customers have become more difficult due to the recession. Another obstacle is the fact that today’s sales associates are from a generation that never learned the so-called art of communication.
Of course, poor phone performance is not always a training issue; recruiting the right sales associates is equally important, as is allowing them to “provide a framework for a call that rewards spontaneity instead of just checking the boxes” provided by management, said Makssour.
“We want our sales associates to be engaged with the customers and be relative and responsive to their needs,” she added.
Earp agreed. “We’ve loaded our people with scripts,” she pointed out. “We’re selling long-term commitments, and we’re having one-night-stand conversations. We have to invest in mentoring and training our people to actively engage our customers.”
To do this, she advises focusing on specific training needs and providing individualized feedback. She also suggests creating a company policy with expectations and consequences. Her company, for example, publishes a report of the top 10 sales performers for the month and awards the top three scorers with a financial incentive. The bottom 10 performers are published privately to regional managers.
Seager points out some top telephone tips, including:
• No more thank yous. Instead, she suggests creating a unique greeting that names the community.
• Get connected. Ask for the prospect’s name within the first 30 seconds and use it several times within the conversation.
• After you go through questions, mute your voice and count to 1,000 three times. Give the prospect time to answer.
• Use power questions, including “Do you have a few minutes to spend with me to talk about what you’re looking for?” Replace “how soon are you looking?” with “when would you like to move to our community?” Connect by, encouraging prospects to speak up and connect with you.
• Value selling. People are looking to save time, money and energy. When you talk about benefits, these need to be in the forefront.
• Personal invitation. Set up a specific time and ask the prospect if he wants to be first on your list.
• Reciprocal exchange. Provide prospects your name before asking for theirs.
• Memorable finishes. This is when you say thank you for calling and for choosing us.
• Be a telephone rock star. Be happy to pick up the phone.