If you're anything like me, then this is the time of year when your nightstand groans with books that friends and family kindly sent you over the holidays. You feel grateful and daunted at the workload entailed in reading those books in equal measure! You reach for recommendations and reviews and other data points to decide which text gets to the top of the pile.
Every now and then a business book comes along that everyone in your field seems to talk about and recommend. One such book from a few years ago was The Challenger Sale - a text that was so revolutionary when first published in 2011 that it has become a framework for sales strategy, talent management, and training in sales-driven companies ever since. While the book centers on research carried out in B2B sales organizations, its findings are highly relevant to multifamily leasing. Here I will explain why that is.
First, the background.
The Challenger Sale is based on a seminal piece of 2009 research by the Corporate Executive Board into the behaviors of different sales representatives and their levels of success. The analysis segmented salespeople into five categories:
Lone Wolves - those who primarily rely on their natural wit and charm and operate with relatively little support
Problem Solvers - those who take a more consultative approach, digging deeply into how their companies' solutions solve customers' problems
Hard Workers - those who put in long hours prospecting, following up and seeking to make their numbers by the law of averages
Relationship Builders - those who are well-connected, have excellent interpersonal skills and generally display the skillset that we most commonly associate with effective salespeople
Challengers - this was an unexpected category of salesperson, with the habit of looking beyond the questions they are being asked, digging beneath the surface to develop insight about the prospect's needs, even if they are different from the needs that the prospect thinks they have
What was fascinating about this research was the way that salespeople in these five categories performed. To summarize, the most consistently high-performing salespeople fell into the "Challenger" segment, followed by the "Lone Wolf." The lowest-performing segment was the "Relationship Builder" - the skill set that companies have traditionally focused on when recruiting or training salespeople. This finding turned many people's view of sales on its head.
What this means for multifamily leasing.
The findings of the Challenger Sale are highly relevant to multifamily leasing. Although leasing is a B2C, rather than a B2B sale, it is an unusually high-involvement transaction - rent is the biggest check most people write each month. So, the ability to understand a prospect’s unique situation and motivation, and to tailor the sales discussion to that set of needs can make a huge difference in sales performance.
Leasing is a high-turnover position, meaning that organizations typically have to train a lot of leasing agents. And today’s multifamily training programs tend to miss the critical point of the Challenger Sale. Through our extensive experience of the industry, we see many sale training programs at first hand. They usually focus on building relationships skills and getting agents to stick to a rigid selling process.
The findings of the Challenger Sale suggest that this may not be the right approach - Lone Wolves and Challengers do not achieve their success by following a rigid process. From a training perspective, it is hard to teach the natural skills of a Lone Wolf. The behaviors of the Challenger, on the other hand, are highly teachable.
OK, what next?
You can read a more detailed review of the research and its implications for multifamily. In the meantime, consider the principles of the Challenger Sale, which are to "Teach, Tailor and Take Control" of the sales conversation.
You can move away from pushing prospects through annoying sales processes and instead teach agents how to learn about the prospect and tailor the content of the sales discussion to the individual. Agents close more leases when they learn to structure the sales conversation around the prospect. Teach them to build trust, ask questions, add value and manage a great leasing conversation.
Finally, by developing challengers who can manage each stage in the prospect-centric sales process, rather than following a script, you allow agents to be themselves. That's a big deal, as it increases motivation and engagement for associates in a traditionally high-turnover position.