Sell smarter

As the Industry evolves to higher standards, new tools for managing performance are emerging.

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One look at the apartment industry today quickly tells you this is not your father’s business. Aided by widespread adoption of technology and driven by new standards of accountability, performance, and professionalism, the industry is evolving to a new management paradigm. The rise and growth of apartment REITs and the changing dynamics underscoring the apartment market has changed the playing field for everyone.

At the core of this new conceptual model of the industry lies the central relationship between properties and their customers. How this relationship is nurtured and managed is critical to the success of a single property or portfolio. Tighter margins and demands for greater operational efficiencies have made it essential that properties maximize lease-ups while stemming resident turnovers.

When technology is not enough

The governing principle for performance management has been an over-reliance upon technology to provide the information and the answers to performance issues.

“Tracking is becoming a commodity,” says Jerry Feldman, president of CallSource, the leader in call monitoring and measurement systems and performance management solutions. “There are countless ways of gathering information about a property’s performance, but it’s what you do with the data that’s important. It requires expertise to extract information, analyze it, and devise implementation solutions based on those analyses. What happens during leasing calls? How do your leasing agents sound on the phone? Are they taking all the steps necessary to secure appointments and win prospective residents over? Are they sensitive to Fair Housing regulations and related issues? These are the questions property managers need answers to.”

Feldman says Jeff Thull’s book, Mastering the Complex Sale, captures how the sales process is changing and provides invaluable insight into what’s needed to manage and enhance sales in today’s global marketplace. Thull’s book shows how changing customer demands and increased competition put greater pressure on sales professionals to perform. The answer, says Thull, is to acquire comprehensive information on your customers, their markets, needs, and capabilities.

Thull maintains that salespeople need to position themselves as trusted sources of information to customers and build multi-level relationships with them. To do that requires up-to-date knowledge of your market, your customers, and an accurate sense of how you relate to your customer base.

“It’s all about selling smarter,” says Feldman. “With tighter margins and greater accountability to investors, property owners and managers need greater efficiency in their leasing, marketing, training and operational efforts. The mantra today is to achieve more with less. To do this, you need a comprehensive awareness of where you stand in the marketplace and how you compete. Once you have that information, you can devise best practices and implement them.”

Prior to the introduction of call tracking by CallSource in 1994, apartment firms worked in a vacuum. They lacked a viable mechanism to secure the data and feedback needed to realistically evaluate the performance of their leasing agents, marketing strategies, and training programs.

What was needed was a method for capturing data at the source that would provide a record of leasing prospect interactions. This record could then be screened and evaluated. The next step involves extracting the information needed to yield an extensive profile of a property’s marketing activity and position in the marketplace. With this data in hand, experienced professionals are able to pinpoint problems, successes, and the need for additional training, or changes to marketing strategy.

The technologies for tracking and measuring sales calls have been in place for some time; what was needed were methods for developing efficient marketing strategies and finding ways to differentiate properties from competitors.

Performance management solutions

Since it introduced call tracking to the multifamily industry in 1994, CallSource has continued to develop its product line and services to meet what it saw was the changing needs of the industry. Its second generation of services brought web-based browser access to call tracking along with telephone and web-based training on key leasing skills, call routing, monitoring, and marketing support.

Third generation services provide expert analysis of call data followed by the design of action plans and then assistance with implementation. Telephone Performance Analysis (TPA) is just one component of efforts by CallSource to provide complete, turnkey performance management and implementation solutions to the multifamily industry.

“Performance management is really the next generation in our evolution as a solutions partner to our multifamily customers,” says Elliot Leiboff, COO of CallSource. “Over the course of a decade we introduced call tracking to the multifamily industry. That enabled firms to better evaluate the effectiveness of their marketing programs. We’ve continued to build on that innovation and develop new solutions, including bench-marking, training and distance learning programs.”

Third generation systems fill the void created by companies who lack the time or the internal resources to monitor their leasing performance and take corrective actions when performance falls short of expectations. The CallSource staff of multifamily industry experts review calls for customers and provide complete analysis, an executive summary, and a targeted training strategy.
CallSource subscribers can track a lease back to its originating ad source and gain insight into customers’ buying cycles with key data on demographics, location of incoming calls, time of day, and other pertinent information. Users of the system can identify unqualified traffic and its source by call duration. They can also use the data to better plan staffing schedules around periods of highest call traffic.

“What I like about the CallSource system is the ability to rapidly get a snapshot of how a particular property or leasing office is performing by reviewing actual calls,” says Cynthiann King, president of Cynthiann King Education Services, and a national speaker, policy manual writer, and educator who has served the property management industry for over 18 years. “The ability to make well-informed decisions requires the input of qualitative and quantitative data that help you zero in on what is working and what isn’t.”

Hands-on experience

“We’ve used CallSource for over a year now at all 45 of our properties,” says David B. Woodward, CEO of Laramar Group, a major apartment firm. “It’s main role for us has been primarily as a training tool. We listen to calls every week and use the excellent calls as models. It’s greatest value is that for the most part you know what works and what doesn’t from direct experience. We’ve also found it to be a good method for test marketing.”

According to Woodward, leasing staff have responded positively to the CallSource system. He says that leasing agents get real insight from hearing their own voices and conversational styles. The calls provide a framework for fine-tuning telephone performance.

“We use the good calls as models and we also use the system to provide recognition and reward to those whose performance excels,” says Woodward. “In one case, we found that a good leasing team at one of our properties was giving directions that referred to a competitor’s site as a landmark. Minor details like that turn up when reviewing calls and then we’re able to make adjustments.”

“Sometimes mistakes captured in call reviews have greater repercussions,” says LaDawn Townsend, Customer Care Vice President, CallSource. “The most prominent things we catch are Fair Housing violations and leasing agents failing to market strongly enough. Our job is to demonstrate how to turn a two- or three-minute conversation into an appointment.”

Knowing exactly what’s taking place between a caller and the leasing agent is the fundamental key to assessing performance, and fixing problems.

A unique resource

“Our analysis program is a versatile resource for customers,” says Jane Sage, Training Manager for CallSource. “It goes far beyond simply tracking calls to telling you what is really going on at properties. No other firm offers this type of service.”

Sage, like other CallSource staff, has extensive experience in property management. She has listened to thousands of calls and can readily identify methods that work and areas that need improvement.
“Fair housing errors are probably the most common that appear,” says Sage. “When we monitor a fair housing violation call we immediately forward it to the client for their attention. We’ve found that many leasing agents are weak in the fundamentals, often letting customers control the conversation rather than leading them down a preferred path.”

According to Sage, whether the client is monitoring the calls themselves or having CallSource handle the process, CallSource can provide comprehensive reports and coordinate a regular system to review the reports and interpret the data.

“We provide actionable information that enables management to make informed decisions,” says Sage.

Recorded calls remain in the system for two weeks and important calls can be saved for as long as the customer wants.
Recordings can also be moved from the CallSource system via CallShare, which facilitates the sending of calls via email. Missed calls are saved to a prospect database and can be retrieved.

Phone traffic rules

“It’s amazing in our business how little attention is paid to phone traffic,” says Woodward. “Getting a prospect to come to your community is the key first step in the leasing process. The benefits of the CallSource system are that it tells you when calls come in and where they’re coming from. That way, we can determine office hours and staffing needs, follow-up on missed calls and better tailor our approach to a particular market.”

Woodward points out an example of how at one property they were getting an odd number of calls from the United Kingdom to their San Diego property. By investigating, they found out that a number of military personnel were being transferred from the UK to bases in San Diego. Using this information, Laramar was able to capture a number of leases that would otherwise have been missed.

While much has been made of the growing use of the Internet to market apartments, the majority of traffic to properties is generated by phone calls. The use of call centers is growing at a rapid pace and expansion of the wireless phone market has secured the phone’s central role as a primary communications tool.

There are also distinct advantages to phone traffic over Internet traffic in terms of the ability to track relevant data and source callers. A larger percentage of Internet traffic may be unqualified leads from individuals searching without firm intentions. Phone calls also provide greater opportunities for leasing agents to interact with customers and control the conversation.

The custom approach

Read any of the latest marketing and performance books by authors like Jack Trout and Jeff Thull, and a pattern emerges: companies that differentiate themselves and develop customized marketing strategies succeed and those that don’t fail.

A recent research paper by consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton found “that the way a company responds to demands for customized products or services can make the difference between performance that leads a sector and performance that lags that of industry peers.”

The study also discovered that those companies that went the extra mile to customize their offerings to customers and focused on creating value-based strategies and delivery outperformed their peers two to one in revenue growth and posted profit margins 5 to 10 percent above competitors.

As a company, CallSource views its relationship with its clients as a partnership. Its experts are available to attend marketing meetings and to review and recap traffic reports. CallSource professional staff advises, recommends and provides solutions to lead management, marketing, and training issues. Its services are scalable and flexible, dependent upon client needs and resources.

“What separates CallSource from similar companies is our commitment, passion, and drive,” says Townsend. “Our people understand the apartment industry and all the facets that go into a successful operation. Our performance management systems embody a lot of key elements structured to support the marketing and training needs of apartment firms. But we don’t stop at identifying problems. We take our customers to the next level and show them how they can improve and then we provide the tools and support to achieve that improvement.”

Author: Barry Kipnis, Managing Editor