Years ago I visited a car dealership after seeing that they had two demo cars advertised at a reduced price. I didn’t really need a new vehicle immediately, but was going to be in the market within the next year. My current car was purchased from this dealership, so I knew their service department was excellent. The saleswoman, Joy, was charming and had recently taken the sales job after being a fan of the make for years and being challenged by friends to try selling it herself. We took a test drive, and I was mildly interested. She asked if I’d like to fill out an application to see if I’d qualify for preferred financing, so I did. All was going perfectly fine until I said I’d like to think about it. Then The Manager became part of the process. “So,” The Manager said, “we’d like to see you in this car, and we’d like to see this happen for Joy.” Okay, I thought, Joy’s a nice gal, but I’m not going to buy a car just to make her happy. He continued, “We can offer you this great interest rate today, but not if we wait until tomorrow.” I looked at The Manager and told him “Urgency is a great closing technique, and I train people how to use it. But today is Saturday, and there’s no reason that the same interest rate won’t be available to me tomorrow.” He looked at the floor and said “You’re right.”
There are so many ways that we can be of service to the people who visit us needing a new place to live. We can educate them, inform them, and help them be better consumers by giving them insight into the things they should consider in looking for a new apartment home. We can even encourage them to decide sooner rather than later, if it’s in their best interest. However, we should never insult their intelligence, or force them to make decisions that are more in our best interest than theirs. That’s where The Manager at the car dealership made his mistake.
Many of us began our leasing training with hearing the acronym ABC: Always Be Closing. This is a valid strategy to approach our interactions with clients, as we need to start out our relationships with them by being interested, listening, and uncovering what is important to them in a new home. Where we go wrong is by seeing them as just another prospect in the line, and giving the same knee-jerk responses to everyone.
Let’s start with a couple of ways that leasing interactions can get off to a bad start. When someone arrives at your office and says, “I’m here about a two bedroom,” what is your response? Please don’t ever let it be “Do you have an appointment?” To start with, we should all welcome anyone who is looking for a new place to live, since we are in the business if renting apartments. Most of us don’t require appointments at our communities, so don’t make a visitor feel unwelcome if he or she doesn’t have one. Second, you should be aware of the office’s schedule, and know whether anyone is expected at the time that this apartment hunter arrives. It’s your job to know that someone named Dave has an appointment at 2:00, and if someone who looks like he might be Dave arrives at that time, start by saying “Hi, you must be Dave!”
One of the first questions we’ll ask people who are looking for apartments is “How soon do you need to move?” One of my favorite things to do when shopping properties is give a date that is more than sixty days in the future, just to see how the leasing consultant responds. All too often, it’s “We don’t know what we’re going to have then.” In other words, what the prospect hears is, “If you can’t take something that’s on my availability list today, go away until you can.” This is when I want to say to the leasing consultant, “There’s a good chance that you’ll have something available at that time, right?” The people who are looking far in advance are our most valuable clients, because the farther in advance they begin looking, the longer they’ll stay. (I am not making this up. Industry expert and national consultant Jennifer Nevitt has conducted studies that prove there is a correlation between the length of time spent looking for an apartment in advance of the move in date and the tenure of residency.) The best way to respond to this client is by saying, “That’s great that you are planning ahead! We work on a sixty day forecast, so will know very soon what apartments you could reserve for that date. Can you tell me a little more about what you’re looking for?”
So, what’s the right way to Always Be Closing? Understand that any prospective resident’s buying cycle moves from interest to commitment, and your role in the process is to help him or her to get through this cycle more quickly.
- Start by being assumptive in your conversation. Speak in terms that suggest you expect that the prospect will be moving into your community. “When you live here, one of the things that that you’ll really like is how close we are to shopping, restaurants, the dry cleaner, really everything you need is just five minutes away.” And when walking through the apartment home “Where are you going to put your couch?” and “Won’t your cat love lying in the sun here?” They need to start seeing it as theirs, which moves them further along in the cycle.
- Help them analyze and uncover objections. Standing in the apartment, ask, “How does this compare to other the places you’ve seen?” Then listen. What you hear next will help you better understand where you need to go with your presentation. If the apartment is smaller, you’ll need to find solutions to space challenges. If it’s carpeted and they really liked the hardwood they saw elsewhere, the next question is whether that’s the only thing that’s better about the other apartment. If the price is higher, then it’s time to establish value by reviewing what’s included and what makes it worth more rent.
- Let your residents help you lease! Use third party anecdotes to present features and amenities, and overcome objections. “One of the things our residents love about living here is how conveniently close we are to accessing the highway, though you don’t hear traffic.” And “Our residents say that even though they belong to gyms, having a small fitness center right here in the community is great for when they only have 45 minutes to work out and want to get some quick cardio.” When furniture placement becomes an issue, try “What residents love about this floor plan is the large living room, though sometimes furniture is a bit tight in the bedroom. Some of them have solved this problem by moving their small dresser into the walk-in closet.”
- When it is appropriate to use urgency, remember that it’s not the TV infomercial “call in the next five minutes and we’ll give you a free bonus!” variety. It’s helping the people with whom you are working understand why acting sooner, rather than later, is in their best interest. If you’ve done a great job identifying their needs, and have narrowed the apartments that satisfy their requirements down to one, you can tell them honestly “This is the last one we have.” Or “We can offer $300 off the first month rent for the next three apartments we rent, and we’ve already rented two.” You should tell them that you understand they need to look around, though this apartment probably won’t be waiting for them when they come back. But you are telling them these things out of kindness and experience, not in an attempt to provoke fear. It’s giving them the information that you would want to consider if you were the one making the decision.
- Always invite clients to put down deposits. They expect it. Many of them won’t commit, and you need to know that’s okay, and let them know it’s okay. Do consider offering to hold the apartment without obligation for 24 hours with a deposit when they need to visit other communities before making a decision. Check with your management on this, but it can be a great idea because it will move them come closer to owning it in their minds. They might even stop looking so hard at the other communities on their list.
- If they’ve walked out the door without a commitment, or even a 24 hour hold, your closing continues with follow-up. Think of the clients as three quarters of the way into their buying cycles, and you need to be a bit more attentive and persuasive to move them to the end. Send them photos of the apartment they liked if they didn’t take some of their own. Write them personalized notes that mention the things they said they liked about the community. Offer to conduct a Face Time tour with their spouses or roommates whose schedules make it difficult to visit for an in-person tour. Good follow up is not leaving multiple messages that start “I’m just following up…” This can be like verbal water torture to a client. Begin by saying, “I want to make sure that you have all of information that you need, and help you in any way…” Your clients need time to think, but this time is when you can impress them with how well you take care of details, and will take care of them when they move in. It’s possible that your competitors are dropping the ball on follow up, and this when it becomes your competitive advantage if you do it with finesse.
In the end, I bought the car from Joy the next day. It wasn’t because I was pressured, it was in spite of it. It wasn’t because I thought she was terrific, though she was. It was because I had the opportunity to purchase a quality car at a good price, had the information that I needed, was confident that I’d receive good service from the dealership, and had the time to come to the conclusion that this was the best decision for me. This is what your clients need, too: relevant information, trust in you and the community that you represent, and the ability to make a decision based on what’s important to them.