Friday, February 25, 2011

The importance of follow-up.

My job requires that I "shop" properties on a regular basis, meaning that I walk in to a leasing office and pretend that I'm looking for a new apartment. It's a lot of fun, and incredibly educational. Depending on the day, I might be taking notes on any combination of the following:
  • Leasing office layout/decor
  • Model apartment decor
  • Apartment/community features and amenities
  • Leasing skills
  • Follow-up techniques
Over the last few weeks, I've shopped five properties in the Greater Boston area, managed by some of the industry's most well-known companies. Though the properties ranged somewhat in age, size, and target demographics, each property is a Class A property in terms of finishes and amenities, and the location of each is stellar. (True confession: during one of my most recent tours, I was struck with a pang of envy. If I were single, ten years younger and worked in the city, I would have moved into this particular community in a heartbeat—it was just that fabulous.)

What struck me most though, wasn't the amazing amenities, trendy model apartments, or even the friendly leasing staff at each property (all of whom, with the exception of one property, were professional to a T). Out of the five properties I shopped, only ONE followed up with me. The leasing agent at this particular property promised me that she would send me not one, but two emails that very afternoon with a summary of our conversation, and some additional information that I might find helpful. The emails were professional, cordial, and included all of the information an apartment-seeker might need to make an informed decision about next steps.  If I were actually in the market for an apartment, guess which property would have gotten me to come back and fill out an application?

If you work as a leasing consultant (or in any type of sales role), take note: After every tour, follow up with an email, phone call, or hand-written note. It's easy, takes only a few moments, and most importantly, will set you apart from your competition.

Many companies say that they use shops as a training tool: we do at my company, too. If that's truly the case, I find it fascinating that some of the country's best known apartment management companies don't do a better job at following up. Perhaps they think the apartment or community will sell itself? Maybe, but I know I'd certainly prefer to live somewhere that makes an effort to really understand my needs and wants, and then tell me that not only do they understand those things, but they have the best solution.

While I won't name the leasing consultant that sent me the thank you note (or the property, or the management company that she works for), I will say that she really knocked my socks off with both the timeliness and the professionalism of her follow-up. And to all of the leasing professionals out there who understand the importance of this very small, very simple, but essential step in the sales process: bravo. You're head and shoulders above your competition, and it shows.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Five tips for (new) trainers

This week is going to be an incredibly busy one: we have been developing a leasing training program for months, and it's finally kicking off this week. I'm especially excited for this program to launch, as training is a somewhat new responsibility for me professionally. While I've taught several marketing-related classes since joining Dolben, this is my first time developing a full-blown training program.

Over the course of this week, we have two leasing training sessions in New England, two in the Mid-Atlantic, and a Train the Trainer class, so that our internal team can brush up on our training skills. This week's sessions will be followed up with smaller group sessions, and then with one-on-one sessions to review mystery shopping reports and hone in on any issues that might benefit from more in-depth training. We've hired an outside trainer, Heather Blume from Behind the Leasing Desk Consulting, to develop the first round of classes, and our experience so far has been great. Still, during this whole process, I have learned a few key lessons that I thought would be worth sharing with other training newbies out there:

1. There is no such thing as over-planning, or over-communicating. In fact (not surprisingly), I've realized that the more you can address earlier on, the happier everyone is, and the less you're trying to take care of at the eleventh hour. This includes everything from travel arrangements, to technology, to snacks. Similarly, when you're planning a program that touches hundreds of people, proactive communication is absolutely essential. (On that note, I'd suggest sending out "Save The Dates" WAY in advance, even if all of the details aren't 100% concrete. I sent out a notice about four weeks out, and was instantly bombarded with questions and conflicts. If I could rewind and re-do, I'd have circulated preliminary information at least six weeks prior to the training dates.)

2. It takes a village. Or in this case, a couple of committees, comprised of regional managers, property managers, assistant managers, and leasing consultants. Having people with different backgrounds and various areas of expertise contribute to our curriculum has been key to developing a thorough program.

3. Ask for help. If you can get help, do it. I thank my lucky stars that I have an assistant who is, by nature, uber-organized: she researched training venues, coordinated our attendee lists, and fielded questions when I was unavailable to do so myself.

4. Maintain your sense of humor.  There are bound to be glitches and moments of sheer frustration. Roll with it, have a good laugh, and move on.

5. Trust. At the end of the day, I know we've done our research, and have done our very best to plan a quality program with a professional training consultant. Once Tuesday morning comes, the ball is in her court, and I need to trust that she'll put her best foot forward in helping to educate our team.

If you have other suggestions, please share them below. And please wish Team Dolben a happy training!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Me, middle-aged?

A few months ago, I read in Allure that Julianne Moore thinks middle age starts at thirty-five. Since my thirty-fifth birthday is tomorrow, my jaw dropped open when I read that, as I generally think of graying Baby Boomers as being middle-aged, not active Gen Xers like myself. Interestingly, Ms. Moore's rationale as to who deserved the moniker of middle-age was to simply double one's current age:

"I'm always shocked by people who talk about not being middle-aged," Moore tells the magazine. "I'm like, 'How old do you think you're going to live? Let's double your age and see where you get.' People are always like, 'Thirty-five is not middle-aged.' I'm like, 'Double it.'"

Provided my good health continues, I hope to live much longer than 70 years old...but I get Ms. Moore's point. Still, I find comfort in the adage, "You're as young as you feel," since when you have a two-year old, the everyday silliness factor is upped considerably. And while there are days when I feel every second of my thirty-five years (and then some), after seeing the below, I've decided that I do not yet qualify as middle-aged. Why? I identify with exactly zero of these points. Hooray!

So yes, I keep searching for the fountain of youth (in other words: an effective wrinkle cream). But middle-aged? Nope. Ask me again in ten years, and I'll see if I feel any differently.