Overcoming Community Weaknesses

Overcoming Community WeaknessesAdmitting your weaknesses, let alone talking about your weaknesses, can be difficult! But as the old saying goes, the first step is accepting it.

The challenge is that with weaknesses specific to your apartment community come prospect objections.

Although objections are rarely great news, they do indicate interest and are an opportunity for you – an opportunity to overcome the weakness and close the deal.


The first step in overcoming community weaknesses is preparing yourself. Many sales people fear their weaknesses, but you cannot avoid them. Objections are a key part of your job. After all, a prospect that has zero objections is often a prospect that isn’t going to lease from you. Your prospect is asking questions or raising concerns about a weakness because they are interested. You are in the power position. If you want to convince your prospect that you are the right community for them, you have to be mentally and emotionally prepared, and you must steer clear of the natural defense mode. A question about a weakness is not an attack; it is merely a misunderstanding. Cue your opportunity to educate and engage your prospect in an easy and comfortable dialogue.


When a prospect presents you with their hesitations, be empathetic and understanding by acknowledging your weakness (or their objection) for exactly what they are. Learn to agree and to say yes. By agreeing and confirming the weaknesses you can move on to resolving the problem for them. It is important not to let one weakness taint your own impression of the community. Become comfortable by practicing and learning from each conversation you have.


Once you are prepared you must work towards increasing your credibility. When a prospect looks at your weakness, he weighs it against your strengths and then decides whether to lease from you. Your job is to ensure that your strengths outweigh your weaknesses and that those weaknesses become non-issues. You can use these opportunities to become a problem solver, which will then increase your credibility for your prospect.


The following tips will help increase your credibility while also overcoming your competitive weaknesses:

  • Treat every prospect as if he’s the most important person in the room
  • Focus on the prospect’s needs to establish trust
  • Listen carefully and never make assumptions
  • Offer information and educate the prospect
  • Explain the benefits of living at your community
  • Share stories about similar situations or concerns
  • Don’t pressure the prospect for a decision


The more you educate your prospect, the more your prospect believes that you understand his problem and have the skills and qualifications to solve it. Listen to your prospect carefully so you can determine which points are most important to your prospect. Be careful not to offer boilerplate solutions before you have genuinely listened to your prospect’s problem.


Lastly, keep the line of communication open.  If the prospects says no now, that isn’t a forever no.  Make sure the prospect knows that you are always happy to answer questions, whether it is now or in the future.  This builds trust better than anything else, and trust can overcome any community weakness or objection.

Posted in: Sales and Marketing |


How to Utilize Your Advocates

Cultivating Your AdvocatesYour customers and residents are more trusted than any other source when it comes to making purchasing decisions. This even includes your community website.  Advocates are 50% more influential than the average customer. They are those happy customers that are willing to promote your brand for free simply because they are passionate about your customer experience and your community.

Each community and every (good) brand has their own unique set of advocates, and if you are smart about it, you can partner with them to create successful marketing strategies and customer experience without busting your budget.

“The web isn’t really made up of algorithms. It’s made of people in all their frustrating, imperfect, and complicated glory.” – Sonia Simone

We always want to get the maximum exposure without spending a painful amount of money on traditional paid and print media. Cultivating brand advocates who are excited to share their experience is a cost effective solution to achieve that goal. To foster a dedicated group of advocates, you have to recognize what it is that they love about your community and what drives their loyalty. Use these advocates as a source for customer feedback and work towards implementing their suggestions while letting them be involved in the process.


Harnessing your advocates is a “give first” relationship. Most marketers focus on how to get the most out of their advocates, but you first have to focus on what you can give to them. Advocates crave opportunities to be a resource. They also want to be considered a trusted thought leader for their personal following.  Make sure you reward them when they are helpful and insightful.  A cost effective way to do so is to give them access to your private amenities or offer them any neighborhood discounts that are exclusive to your community. This will create greater affinity and exclusivity.


Here are additional tips to cultivate your tribe of advocates:


Send a handwritten note. No matter how much of our time is spent online, people still love to receive a personal note in the mail. Dust off your branded stationery and send your advocates a personalized thank you note for what they have done for you personally and your community.


Send an email. If you aren’t able to send a handwritten note, send a personal email to show your gratitude. Even if you find that the people who are regularly interacting with your brand are doing so on social media, take the conversation offline. This will allow you to continue to build your relationship with the advocate while also showing how much you value them.


Feature them on your blog or social media. Advocates are great at sharing their experiences via social check-in, tweet, vibrant Instagram pictures, Facebook post, and even Snapchat. They are busy crafting content for you and encouraging their friends and followers to take interest in your brand. Rather than liking, sharing, or retweeting their posts, feature them on your brand’s social channels, blog, or website. Just make sure to get approval first!


Treat them. The best way to cultivate your advocates is to build genuine relationships with them and get to know them beyond their social mentions. Treat them to coffee, send personal invitations to your community events, or send lunch to their office.


Encouraging and fostering a community of people who are passionate about your brand and are  willing to share their living experiences should be the main focus of your social media strategy. Your advocates are boosting your SEO with their positive reviews, improving your online reputation by sharing their stories, and extending your word of mouth reach and social engagement by way of social media comments and tweets. You can’t buy for these results with paid advertising. Identify and cultivate your advocates, make the process easy, and your advocacy marketing strategy will be wildly successful!

Posted in: Customer Loyalty |


Role Playing: Riding the Ginormous Elephant in the Training Room

Riding the elephantRole playing has been used as a sales training tool for a many years, yet the expectation of having to role play with others still strikes immediate fear into the hearts of many. Trainers see it as an opportunity for employees to practice their new skills and knowledge in a safe place, but trainees see themselves in danger of suffering the severest injury that can be inflicted – embarrassment in front of their peers.

Quite often, it is the “ginormous elephant in the training room”. Role playing strongly resembles public speaking and according to the National Institute of Mental Health, 74% of people suffer from social anxiety, and many people fear public speaking more than death. But since role playing is a valuable learning opportunity that results in greater learning gains and retention, we need a way to move employees past that fear and inspire them to jump up and ride the elephant. Here are 3 steps you can take to achieve greater success during your next role-playing session.

  1. Explain the Process and Set Expectations

Role playing is often presented without explanation or expectation. As a result, it is not uncommon for employees to immediately dislike the idea. They get hung up on “acting”, when in reality it has nothing to do with acting. The general purpose of a role play is to provide a safe place to practice, fine-tune skills, and obtain new knowledge. A sports analogy works well here. Present the following question, “How many of you like to play _____?” “We could spend the next four hours discussing ____ or we could spend time practicing _____. Which would you rather do?”

  1. Determine Your Approach

The planning and approach for role play should be determined before the class meets. Consider the following:

  • Jump in the Hot Seat: The trainer is the best person to set expectations by modeling each role play for the entire group. A sprinkle of humor and little exaggeration helps to clarify your point and put everyone at ease. Model a familiar scenario in front of your entire class while they score the presentation (use a mystery shopping report) based on their understanding, knowledge, and perception. Debrief with an open dialogue regarding what could have been done differently. Proceed with a second role play based on this new knowledge. This time give the trainee a turn.
  • Take a Micro-Bite: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. We know the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces. When you break down, for example, the telephone process into the following 2-3 minute role plays: the greeting, connecting with the customer, building rapport, identifying specific needs, etc., you are able to make small corrections in areas you might have missed otherwise. This is much more effective than asking employees to model the entire process at once.
  • Three is Company: Two people take designated roles as leasing consultant and customer, and the third person plays the observer role. They rotate roles.
  • Use Real-World Scenarios and Environments: Gather prospective role play scenarios from current employees. Remember—this is practice—so, why not practice what is taking place at the office? If possible, the role play should be performed where the scenario would take place – in a leasing office, in an apartment, walking through the fitness center, etc.
  • Do it Early and Often: Introduce people to the role play experience early in the process by holding micro-bite role plays from the start of training. This gives the trainees time to become more comfortable with the idea of practicing in public. Don’t let the ‘the ginormous elephant’ loom large in their minds all day.
  1. Stay Connected

riding the elephant2Walk around the room to make sure everyone is engaging appropriately in their roles. Set an alarm to make sure each person gets their fair amount of time in each role (5 min max). Refrain from commenting on the details of their particular role play during the process. Save that for the debriefing which comes next.

  1. Dual Debrief Your Teams

There are two debriefings that should take place – in each respective group and as an entire class. The small group has an opportunity for personal reflection and to benefit from their fellow role players’ observations while the entire class can share their experiences and learning gains. Post the questions for discussion on the board. How was the role play helpful to them? What did they find difficult or uncomfortable? What will they do differently next time? Document the key highlights shared by participants to be used in future training sessions.

The biggest challenge for most trainers will be encouraging employees to ride rather than hide from the “ginormous elephant in the training room”. But role playing is a priceless learning experience that provides a chance to practice being on the job. It serves as close to real-life experience as you can get, and we all know that experience is often the greatest teacher.


Maria Lawson

Vice President of Training and Development

Ellis Partners in Management Solutions



Posted in: Employee Engagement |


Managing Your Online Reputation

Managing Your Online Reputation1You probably already figured this out, but you can’t opt out of an online reputation.  We’re learning that companies must take the initiative towards implementing an online reputation management strategy as early as possible.


If you are a company that is hiding from the world of online reputation, you might find yourself in a risky situation.


It’s not very difficult for a disgruntled resident to create negative sites surrounding your brand or even you.  It can be done in just an hour or two! Online reputation is a serious practice that every owner or manager should embrace to protect their brand’s reputation.


“75% of internet users see online search as the most trusted source of information about companies.” Edelman Trust Barometer


Before you can implement an online reputation, you must have an online presence. To do this, create profiles for your brand on all relevant social media sites, and be sure not to neglect the key players: Google, Facebook, and Yelp. It doesn’t end there; you must also develop your audience on these social channels. With ongoing development, you can build up your social presence and begin to interact with customers which will lead to an increase in your influence and engagement scores. An added bonus: Google has re-established its agreement with Twitter, allowing tweets to appear in search results.


Once you have constructed your brand’s online presence, you must then listen and problem solve. As negative reviews or online complaints are made, you must be well equipped and trained to respond accordingly. It is important to be humble in your approach and consider that there may actually be a weakness in your process, especially if you are seeing a common trend in negative reviews. Remember the adage that “the customer is always right”? Always apologize authentically and come up with creative ways to give customers what they’re wanting without causing extra friction.


In a situation where you’re technically right, you might lose out overall if you come across harshly or unprofessional. Worse yet, you might actually be wrong and could end up damaging your entire reputation. The most effective approach to diffuse the situation is to take the conversation offline, keep your cool, and try to reconcile. And remember: if you feel yourself getting drawn into an escalating conflict, walk away from the computer.


Reputation management and social media go hand-in-hand. They are both a must have – not another checklist item.  It is vital to any business just as it is to have a solid maintenance staff. Customers use social media to make complaints or to leave negative reviews. If you are unaware of what your customers are saying, you’re missing out on opportunities to improve your reputation and customer experience.


Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice
Posted in: Customer Feedback, Ratings & Reviews | Tagged:


Resident Retention and Customer Experience

Resident Retention and Customer ExperienceA good reputation, resident referrals, and a solid, predictable community ends and begins with your residents. It’s no secret that your residents are your biggest asset, even bigger than your $40+ million property. Because of this, creating a better focus on customer experience and retention is key. To begin this focus we need to take a peek at a few statistics of why customers leave in the first place:  68% are unhappy with service, 14% are unhappy with product, and 9% move to a competitor.


The first step to building better customer retention is to set customer expectations early. This eliminates uncertainty around the level of service you need to offer to ensure your customers are happy. To avoid over promising and eventually under delivering, you also want set these expectations a tad lower than you are able to provide.


Next, you want to build trust through relationships. Whether we realize it or not, we all do business with people we trust. Trust is essential in business, and building relationships with residents will garner that trust. As trust increases, commitment tends to grow, but it doesn’t happen overnight. You have to build trust through shared values and by taking an interest in your residents and their story over time. Simply providing a service is no longer sufficient.


Third, develop a proactive approach to customer service – an anticipatory service strategy – and eliminate problems before they happen instead of waiting for them to occur. To achieve and maintain this balance, companies must establish a dialogue with customers that shows an awareness of their information needs and respect for their communication preferences. The more contacts made with a resident, the “stickier” that resident becomes. When residents are consistently given valuable and useful information, the stickiness becomes loyalty. Friendly rent reminders, water shut off notices, and regular community updates are all examples of an anticipatory service strategy.


The final step for building customer retention is to take it online. Your residents are already there, so why not engage with them in their space? We so often think of customer experience as being face-to-face interaction, but that isn’t the case. People are glued to the screens, so it only makes sense to develop a strategy to connect with them online.

Keep in mind though that connecting with customers and building online communities takes more effort and time than typical social media acquisition strategies. It is a daily exercise if you want to do it properly.


As you add these focus tips to your resident retention and customer service strategy, you will notice an improvement in your online reputation, an increase in resident referrals, and your community will become a bit more predictable. Which tips are you planning to implement?


Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice
Posted in: Customer Experience, Generational Understanding, Understanding Your Customer |


Quick Tips for Skillful Communication

Quick Tips for Skillfull CommunicationBe a great listener. You’ll find that this tip is a prerequisite for the following tips. Becoming a great and active listener is a valuable art to master for any professional role you take on in life. Pay attention to your customer’s message and body language, and resist distractions. It is also important to keep an open mind if they begin to disagree or identify objections. Don’t tune them out or cut them off. Listen closely, and let them know that you understand by reframing key points.


Speak their language. Listen and pay attention to your customer’s communication style. If your customer is energetic and sociable, change the tone of your pitch to be energetic and sociable. This goes for all personality types: direct and efficient, calm and easygoing, or bubbly and animated. Adapt to your customers’ personality types and communication style, but always be professional.


Respond, don’t react. It is second nature to us to react to something that we are passionate about, and we often become very passionate about the product we are selling. Once you have listened (see tip #1) to your customer’s objection or complaint, respond mindfully rather than reacting emotionally. This requires self discipline and knowledge, but it allows us to become more effective in communicating to unhappy customers – which will lead to more happy customers.


Manage objections. When listening to customers’ objections or hesitations in regards to your product, you will find trends in what people really love or what they really hate. Gather these objections as a team and work together to come up with ways to respond. Other team members will see things differently or might have great success stories with overcoming the same objection. This will also keep you and your team be on the same page with your message along with your strengths and weaknesses.


Quick Tips for Skillfull Communications-1Follow through. Making promises is an easy solution to temporarily resolving an issue or customer complaint. But failure to follow through can backfire quickly. If you make a promise, always follow through with action – even if this action ends up being an explanation of why you are not able to deliver your promise. If the promise you presented in the communication to them ends up taking more time than expected, follow up with and keep them informed. But never leave them hanging and uninformed.


Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice
Posted in: Understanding Your Customer |


The Art of Persuasion

The Art of PersuasionThe art of persuasion – not to get confused with manipulation- lies in simplifying something down to its core, and communicating to others what they really care about. Manipulation, however, is coercion through force to get someone to do something that is not in his or her own interest.  Persuasion is the art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest that also benefit you.

Another basic of persuasion is understanding context and the appropriate timing. Context creates a relative standard of what is acceptable. You pick up context clues with conversation, and more specifically, by listening.  Knowing and understanding your customers’ current dissatisfaction and “pains” will guide you to persuade them when they delay a leasing decision. You can then move them forward with this “magic” formula:

Current Dissatisfaction x Future Promise > Cost + Fear.

What is their current dissatisfaction? Commute, noise, size of community, maintenance, neighbors, access to lifestyle? Every purchase decision begins with a buyer’s current dissatisfaction. Feeling dissatisfied with something automatically makes a person a buyer, and the greater the dissatisfaction, the higher the urgency. As soon as that dissatisfaction sets in, buyers begin looking for a way to right the wrong. As a sales person, it becomes your job to discover that “wrong” and lead buyers toward the new “right.”

How will you create a future promise? With a well-defined idea of what is wrong in your prospect’s world, focus next on what “right” looks like. Future promise is the mental picture prospects carry around in their heads that helps to move them forward. When you clearly establish a buyer’s current dissatisfaction and future promise, you create a fantastic recipe for buyer motivation. Define a buyer’s future promise using questions such as these:

“What motivated you to start looking for a new apartment?”

“What do you dislike about your current home?”

Know the inhibiting factors: cost and fear.  While current dissatisfaction and future promise both serve to motivate prospects, cost and fear are big challenges to overcome. Prospects focus on price, perception of value, fear of a bad buying decision, negative past experiences, market conditions, and anything else that holds them back from leasing an apartment or even making a decision. Discover the specifics of their inhibitions by asking things like this:

“What is holding you back from leasing?”

“When you think about moving, what is your number-one concern?”

“What stresses you out when you think about moving?”

When prospects begin to delay a leasing decision, either their current dissatisfaction and/or future promise is too low or their cost and/or fear is too high. Focus your sales presentation on maximizing current dissatisfaction and future promise while simultaneously minimizing cost and fear. And if you really believe in what you do and what your community offers, you will always be able to persuade others to do what’s right for them, while getting what you want in return.

Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice



Posted in: Uncategorized, Understanding Your Customer |


How to Follow Up On Your Sales Presentation

How to Follow UpWhen was the last time you experienced amazing follow up – whether you were the one following up or someone was following up with you – and that amazing experience led to an immediate sale? These experiences can be rare, because we are often losing customers with unauthentic and automated follow up strategies. To avoid creating a multiplying list of cold prospects, keep this in mind: “Tenacity results in sales.” And then reevaluate your follow up strategy with these tips:


Become a resource.

During the sales process, get to know your prospect. Listen to their problems, and be ready to recommend solutions. Gathering and remembering this information is key to successful follow up. Utilize this information to become a resource for helping them address the issues discussed during the touring process. When you become a valuable resource to your prospect, they develop trust in you and it improves your credibility.


Email is still relevant.

No one likes the “just following up” emails. Start by providing background information about who you are and what you discussed previously. Then be creative in ways you can add value for them by sharing resources and information related to the prospect’s situation. Close the email with a call-to-action that gives the prospect a strong enough incentive to respond to you.


How to Follow Up-1Winning phone calls.

Don’t simply call to “follow up”. Create an easy conversation with them by bridging previous conversations and remind them why they should sign a lease with you. Set the tone of the call to be relaxed and receptive, and emphasize your unique value. This will allow you to feel confident. It will also warm up a cold customer when remove any anxious tones.


Focus on building your tribe.

Nurture the relationship. Taking the extra time to go above and beyond for your prospect while nurturing the relationship and becoming a value to them will take you far in the sales process.


Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice
Posted in: Customer Loyalty, Sales and Marketing |


Communicating Value

Communicating ValueWhen you read ‘communicating value’ and begin to relate that with the sales and leasing process of the apartment industry, you probably presume that you are already communicating said value to your customers and in multiple ways: advising them on how to arrange their oversized sectional, the perks of living at a XYZ community, and an exceptional maintenance team. But the questions remains: what does your current customer value and how does that set you apart from your competitors?

The first step is to become hyper-focused – focusing on your audience of one – the customer that you are speaking to right now. Ask them relevant questions that match their communication style. Customers don’t buy a laundry list of facts and features; they buy solutions to their problems that create value for them. People make purchasing decisions emotionally, and then later justify it logically.

The next step is to listen, which is easier said than done. Taking the time to get to know your current audience of one won’t only help you identify their needs in the short term, but it will also create value for them in the long run. Sales teams must illustrate why their value proposition is the best solution for the customer’s requirements, one that is uniquely suited to meeting their needs. Be prepared. Know the facts and how to communicate the advantage.

Most people buy what they perceive is best for themselves. If the customer needs it, wants it, and feels there’s a fit, then they will compare perceived value with price. And before you put your guard up to the price conversation, remember this… A price objection is just a customer’s way of telling you that the value is lacking or not evident.

It takes confidence, personal rapport, and doing your homework to sell value, opposed to price. Continue to provide good service throughout the lifespan of your prospect, and you will create a value that both parties will benefit from.


Misty Sanford
Social Insight Thought Leader
Renter’s Voice
Posted in: Customer Loyalty, Understanding Your Customer |


Effective Email Communication

Effective Email CommunicationEmails and phone conversations are how people get to know you, like you, and trust you. Do you enjoy emails that look like a generic template? What about phone calls that sound like scripts? Of course not. People want to connect with real people, so write and speak as if you are conversing with a friend.

Posted in: Sales and Marketing |


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