I still remember my first day as a leasing consultant as if it were yesterday. While I didn’t receive any formal training, my new boss did greet me at the clubhouse entry with the Apartment Guide (several pages already tabbed) and a yellow notepad. She said, “Go shop your competition!” I had heard about this ‘shopping the competition’ thing from friends in the industry, but I had just chalked it up to simply spying on the competition with no real understanding of the benefits.
I was nervous and excited—I had always wanted to be a detective, but what was I looking for? Would I know it when I found it?
In the 23 years that passed since that day, I have shopped thousands of apartment communities in one manner or another.
In doing so, I learned many lessons, not the least of which is that there are three distinct levels of shopping your competition and the best results come from using all of them together.
Let’s review the 3 O’s of shopping your competition.
1. THE OBVIOUS
At first I was really missing the point of ‘shopping your competition’. I did not even realize I might return with some good information for my own leasing presentation. But even untrained eyes, noses, and ears can sense obvious things such as:
- Water dripping on my head from the upstairs apartment
- A mean-spirited leasing professional
- Stained, foul smelling carpet
- Odd scents flowing from the neighboring apartment
- Black, fuzzy mold inside the hot water heater closet
While a new employee might not be able to evaluate the competitor’s presentation as well as someone with a more seasoned eye, they nonetheless have expectations of any interaction with a salesperson. They know how they feel and have their own perceptions of the customer experience by the time the presentation ends.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
The customer experience is about emotional needs:
- What did I sense from the leasing office environment when I walked in?
- How did the leasing consultant make me feel?
- What did the surroundings look and feel like?
- What impressed me—or didn’t?
- Would I want my best friend or a family member to live here?
The answers to the questions are part of what shapes the customer experience. It’s gaining this kind of insight that allows a leasing consultant to model the things they value and begin to create their own unique sales presentation. They are able to focus on their own experience as the customer – what caused them to feel a certain way – and then discern what could be said or done differently to create a better customer experience.
Is there a tool that allows you to document, organize, evaluate and then act on all of this information? Yes—a shopping report! Shopping reports are a great evaluation tool for your employees and one that provide the best results when shopping your competition. When you ask an employee to use your shopping report on their competitor you are introducing them to your expectations and teaching them at the same time what they should be looking for. Your shopping report should include an evaluation of both the presentation and the customer experience, because customer experience is a major determining factor in whether a person leases or not.
It can be difficult to really see something – even when you can see it – when you don’t know what it is you are looking for. The shopping report – not the yellow notepad – was the tool I needed as a new employee.
2. THE OBSERVABLE
After an employee is experienced at leasing apartments and shopping their competition, they begin to sense things differently – observe things at a deeper level. They have developed their own presentation and expectations. They have also gained enough knowledge to be able to compare and contrast the competition’s presentation and customer experience to the ones they offer. They can answer questions like “How does my community/product compare to his?” and “How does my presentation compare to hers?” They will become very sensitive to the obvious—it screams at them, in fact—and they will then begin to observe that which is not so conspicuous.
Here are a few things they might observe:
- The Leasing Consultant presented a benefit for every apartment and community feature. I need to work that into my leasing presentation.
- They have applications available in the model apartment. We don’t do that. Great idea!
- The Leasing Consultant began closing me the moment I sat down at her desk. She was a little too aggressive and made me feel pressured. I can do this without being pushy!
- Their athletic center closes at 9pm. Our athletic center is available 24 hours to our residents. I need to make this a talking point in my leasing presentations.
3. THE OBSCURE
With more experience come even greater skills of observation. I once worked for a regional manager who would conduct monthly property inspections. I remember how proud I was the first time she visited my community. I was certain that I would receive a high grade. When her notepad hit my desk it was half-full with things she observed that needed attention—I was in complete shock! Actually, I was offended. Looking back, she was by far the best regional manager I ever reported to. She would literally take a magnifying glass and a white glove into the models and vacant apartments and conduct her inspection. Once, she marked me off for not burning the candle wicks in the model. It takes many years of shopping apartments, walking apartments, training a lot of people, and managing or overseeing various levels of communities to become accomplished at spotting the obscure.
They notice things like…
- The microscopic gum wrapper on a patch of grass
- The outdated logo on your marketing materials
- The walkway edge that needs a re-touch of paint
- The customer who appears happy to be there (or the one eager to be on his way)
There is valuable information to be gleaned from all three levels of shopping your competition. The key to understanding your competitor is to understand how their customers—your potential customers—perceive their products and services. There’s a reason why your competitor is your competitor, and it’s critical that you understand what that reason is – whether it’s an obvious one, or something more obscure.
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