Student housing operators have spent the vast majority of 2015 with a sales emphasis during the lease-up phase. Now a transition begins to occur this time of year best known as turn season. However, for many operators a disconnect takes place between the leasing-sales cycle and turn season.
Of course it is a necessity to have a strong focus on operational turn processes, however it is just as imperative to have a strong focus on sales and marketing during this time of year. Turn season is a holiday of its own in student housing! With such detailed plans and organizational focus on turning over units, suddenly all the strong sales and marketing strategies of the last 6 to 8 months are pushed aside. To achieve ultimate success during turn season in long-term operational expenses, reputation and resident retention, a combination of sales and delivery satisfaction must be paired.
While the phrase “Turn Down For What” used in a recent hip-hop song may be defined as, for what reason should I refrain from partying in the hip-hop world?, for student housing operators, turn down for what simply means why should we refrain from delivering top-notch turn service? Think about the hospitality industry for a moment. When you book a hotel room online based on ratings, location, reputation, amenities and services, you anticipate delivery on what you have reviewed at time of check-in. After all, these factors were what helped you to make a final decision to choose this hotel. If the resident life experience and lifestyle persona you have created through marketing strategies and the leasing-sales phase is not reality on move-in day, you have already lost the retention and community-belonging opportunities.
After experiencing more than 10 years in leasing and turn seasons myself, there is much to be said about this beloved time of year. Outside of unit presentation and delivery, the most valuable tip I can share from my success and failures during this season is that the sales process and cycle never expires nor can be pushed aside!
Here are my sales tips you can implement immediately during the upcoming turn season:
1. ABC (Always Be Closing)
Yes, this acronym is older than most of your residents and onsite sales team, however it’s still a relevant sales expression that simply does not expire! In student housing, most communities are leasing 6-9 months before a new resident moves in. Unfortunately, most close on a lease and forget about the future resident until move-in day! These 6 to 9 months are still considered a critical part of the sales process. This time frame leaves a big window of opportunity for a future resident to feel neglected and disconnected from the community. During the long courtship, leasing teams should seek opportunities to engage with their future residents. It can be announcements about improvements taking place around the property, invites to current onsite events, activity in the local community and events on campus. Content sharing and taking the residents’ interests into consideration will help to develop a mutually beneficial relationship known as resident retention.
2. Communicate Expectations
Communicating what to expect on move-in day will aid in eliminating stress and chaos during the busiest time of year for both students and off-campus communities. A timeline checklist of sorts goes a long way. Similar to how you may develop a social calendar for what events are taking place onsite and when, the same applies for move-in day preparation. Things such as what to bring, what is accepted as form of payment, hours of operation, services available and whom they should connect with at the community. It’s going above and beyond to deliver not only a memorable experience, but also top-notch service. You want future residents to feel confident in your abilities to deliver what was promised during the sales process.
3. Personalize the Experience
Take the time to set up follow-up reminders to check in with future residents. This should not be a time to scold or remind them about all the missing paperwork, but a time to reinforce your brand, resident life and even introductions to others on your team. Personal touches really go a long way, even for this demographic! Handwritten postcards in the early summer create excitement, or even send a personal invitation for the upcoming move-in day. While your communities may be undergoing duel lease-up and turn season simultaneously, it’s just as critical to not neglect those who’ve already been helping to promote your brand and have committed to live with you!
4. Cater to Mom and Dad
Catering to Mom and Dad of today’s student renter really means marketing! They are engaged beyond the sole responsibility of writing the rent check. Mom and Dad are not only the financial support system for student renters, they are one of the largest influencers when making a decision on where to live. You have most likely experienced this during the sales process where the parents were very involved in the decision and next steps. Just as communicating the expectations are critical to the students’ experience, the same rules apply for Mom and Dad. You can create a unique community parent newsletter to send out prior to the move-in with similar information to what their son or daughter receives. Simply reaching out to extend a sincere phone conversation will go a long way with parents, as well. Remember their voice is just as loud and vocal both on and off-line. Parents are a great resource for continued word of mouth movements, but we have to give them a reason to march on for us!
It can be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stress and chaos while managing student housing turn, however it’s much harder to climb out of a negative experience and reputation from lack of attention or poor attitude about the entire sales cycle. Take the time to be proactive and prepare for turn season as you would the sales and marketing strategies used for lease-up. As a result both students and their parents will be spreading the love about your brand.