This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of Mini Storage Messenger Magazine.

Selling and marketing are undoubtedly important aspects of running your self storage business. With multiple facilities vying for your target market, it’s becoming increasingly important to differentiate your brand to attract new paying customers.

Let’s break down the process into getting a lead, converting a lead, and keeping a lead – or in other words – marketing, selling, and retention.

Step #1: Getting a lead = Marketing

When you’re making your business decisions, you’re certainly concerned with driving the biggest return on investment (ROI) possible. Before you begin any marketing strategy, it’s wise to estimate the potential ROI:

Cost per acquisition

$: The lowest price per lead. These kinds of marketing materials maximize the exposure of your storage facility, leading to a greater chance of acquiring more leads for less money. Think of resources like a great website or building signage that generates walk-ins.

$$: A higher cost per lead. You’ll pay a higher price tag per lead with resources like billboards or aggregator sites. Even if the initial investment is lower for these materials, you’ll likely pay more for each generated lead.

$$$: The highest price per lead The price will vary for each method, but in general, you’ll be paying a large chunk of change for each new lead. These methods include pay per performance aggregators, Yellow Pages, and pay per click campaigns. Of course, this tier isn’t the most ideal place to be spending your money, but it can be a good way to fill empty units when occupancy is low.

Your goal is to move down the tier system

When you’re at extremely low occupancy, it may be worth your while to start with those more expensive lead generators. While it isn’t always true that these resources will be more effective than the more affordable tactics, they are built to justify the higher price tag.

Of course, you don’t want to run an indefinite pay per click marketing campaign. Your business’ goal is to move to a point where you’re paying somewhere between $0 and $25 for each move-in. By keeping your eye on that end goal and consistently refining your strategy, your brand will continue to build its reputation and generate the leads you’re after.

Cost per move-in

How do you improve your marketing strategy?

Hitesh Bhasin from Marketing91 remarks that the companies that do marketing well "create value satisfying goods and services which the customers will want to buy." Tim Williams, who helps marketing firms reposition their strategies through Ignition Consulting Group, echoes the same thought: “The goal of marketing is to make a product, service, or company so relevant and compelling that it literally sells itself.”

So, before you start buying every newspaper ad you can, you must first start by evaluating how your product satisfies the needs of your target market. Just as importantly, you have to allow your business to make adjustments as you take in new information about your potential and current customers.

Bain & Company, a top management consulting firm, asked company executives if they agreed with the statement “Our company is highly differentiated.” Out of the business owners who replied, a whopping 80 percent agreed with the statement. Bain & Company then asked customers of those companies the same question and found that only 8 percent agreed.

When your customer can run a quick Google search to find one of your competitor’s storage facilities, the process of differentiating your facility may seem impossible. Here are some concrete steps you can take to enhance your marketing tactics:

• Ensure that your website is well designed and engaging. Remember that content is king and use relevant, local language (including local colleges and translated content for your ESL customers).

• Create and maintain an active social media program that reads and posts to appropriate blogs. Foster relationships with relevant bloggers and publishers.

• Actively seek opportunities for key team members to speak at major conferences, contribute guest blog posts, or serve as interview sources for local news reporters.

• Evaluate your prices frequently and adjust as often as needed based on your occupancy rates and the needs of your target market.

Step #2: Converting a lead = Sales

Conversion is a term you’ll hear as you talk about your website, but it’s also relevant for face-to-face (or face-to-phone) sales opportunities. Conversion boils down to taking a lead and making it a customer.

Marketing vs. sales

Though sometimes lumped together, it’s important to distinguish the difference between marketing and sales. If getting a lead is categorized as marketing, then converting a lead is sales. Both skills are extremely useful and you can’t effectively have one without the other.

Generating demand and revenue

It’s important to remember the scope of each activity that you perform to help separate marketing and sales. Here are a few differences to keep in mind, courtesy of Diffen, and Smart Company:

Marketing vs. sales

Keeping these two processes differentiated will help you dedicate the time and effort necessary to strengthen each skill individually.

Improve your team’s sales abilities

Selling Storage’s writer, Kenny Pratt, provides a number of helpful articles that challenge facility owners to improve the sales abilities of their staff members. As you analyze and adjust your sales strategy, think on the following points and determine their potential for bringing in stronger profits for your facility:

Fine-tune your sales script. Use call recording software to monitor your manager’s calls. Look for patterns where the customer seemed disconnected or the manager failed to make the close. Work together to come up with new ways to sell your brand over the phone or in person.

Keep moving from sale to sale. Many managers think of each unit as a switch – either it’s on (occupied) or off (vacant). Challenge your staff to think about all the features your facility has to sell, like insurance, locks, packing supplies, and moving help. Help him shift his perspective to look for a new opportunity to sell to each existing customer.

Practice phone calls. If you own multiple facilities, try routing all the facility lines to one store for a period of time. You’ll put that manager of that facility “in the hot seat” for a few weeks, and that’s what will give him the real practice he needs to improve his abilities.

Consider call centers. In self storage, it’s extremely important for the customers’ calls to be answered. If a manager regularly misses calls, he’s losing business because these potential renters will just move on to the next facility. It may be worth the money to implement a reliable call center.

Hire a secret shopper. Honest feedback on real situations is priceless. Plus, a mystery shopper will likely provide an outsider’s perspective that you would never come to on your own. As a more affordable option, consider recording incoming calls.

Step #3: Keeping a lead = Retention

Even though marketing and sales are often more difficult than retention, this last step cannot be ignored or downplayed. Most self storage tenants rent for longer periods of time than they initially plan. If you’re looking for a life-long customer, you must keep on the look-out for ways to keep your tenants happy.

Retention boils down to three factors:

Customer service. Providing a superb experience with every interaction, and perhaps even holding customer appreciation events

Product quality. Seeking opportunities to improve the facility, units, services, and overall customer experience – even after earning customers’ rent.

Convenience. Offering multiple convenient features, like 24-hour unit access, text reminders, and pay online portals.

Marketing, sales, and retention

Never lose the drive to improve

It’s likely that you’re stronger in one of these processes than you are in the others. Your challenge as a storage owner is to address these steps and look for areas of improvement, even while juggling the multiple roles you carry.

But it’s the drive to improve that will always set you apart from your competition. Customers are attentive. They aren’t willing to buy into ploys, and above all, they’re concerned with value. Strive every day to provide that value so that they’ll indisputably have a friend in the self storage industry: your brand.