We all know that one important part of traffic generation is outreach marketing; building relationships with area employers, locators, and other community organizations in the hopes that they will send apartment-seekers our way. We also know that there is much more to successful outreach marketing than simply dropping off some brochures or bringing in the occasional box of doughnuts.

While the best marketers may make outreach calls look natural, like a friend dropping in to pay a visit, there is actually a substantial amount of thought and planning behind every one of these “visits.” That’s good news for many of us because it means that an effective outreach campaign does not necessarily require a special, instinctive “talent” for making marketing calls. What it does require is training and practice!

But what exactly should we be teaching, and how? We asked some training experts their opinions on those questions, and here’s what they had to say.

Choosing a Place, Time, and Approach

Planning outreach marketing involves first determining who to call on and how and when to approach them. According to our training experts, knowing who to call on requires knowing your resident profile. “They first need to evaluate who their target market is,” says Pam Newsom, Training Coordinator for BNP Residential Properties. “They need to evaluate their property profile and determine where the majority of their residents are employed.” Sandra Barfield, Director of Training for Trammell Crow Residential Services Southeast, agrees. “Track which companies your residents work for,” she says, “and also know what companies are coming into your area.” Calls need not be limited to area employers. Onsite staff should brainstorm other likely organizations and businesses that might be likely to send traffic their way: chambers of commerce, realtors, and local merchants and service providers.

Callers should also be instructed to “do their homework” on their callees before paying visits, especially when calling on an area employer who can refer relocating employees. “They need to know about the company they’re visiting,” says Janis Cowey, Training Manager for CWS Apartments LLC. “How many people they’re bringing in, and so forth.” The caller should also determine which of that company’s employees are already residents at his property, so he can drop them into conversation by name.

The next consideration in planning outreach marketing is how to make the initial contact. While popping in unannounced may work in some cases, many of our trainers suggested getting permission to visit, or even a scheduled appointment, before showing up. “I think it shows respect for the person you’re visiting to actually make an appointment,” says Pam Newsom. Regardless of how the first contact is made, almost all our trainers said the timing of it is important. Callers should steer clear of Mondays, which are notoriously busy. Fridays may also be questionable, according to some of our experts, since it is a day many people take off. Other trainers, however, say that Friday is a good choice. “Fridays are nice,” says Sandra Barfield, “because most people have a more casual and receptive attitude that day.” Time of day is also worth considering when planning calls, with mornings favored over afternoons. “In the mornings, people are in better moods,” says Janis Cowey. “They haven’t had time to have a bad day yet.”

Getting the Supplies Together

In addition to helping trainees devise a plan for their calls, our trainers teach them what to take along on those calls. Carolina Castillo, Training Manager for Western National Group, lists “being prepared” as the number-one essential for making a successful marketing call, saying that callers should go into every call armed with all the available information about his or her product. This might include property brochures, virtual tours on CD-ROMs, floor plans, rate sheets, and leasing criteria, as well as copies of any particularly good press coverage your community may have received. Pam Newsom and Janis Cowey also suggest putting together material on the surrounding community—such as information on schools, churches, shopping, recreation, and so forth. “People are leaning more toward choosing a neighborhood, not just a home,” says Pam Newsom. “They want to feel that they are a part of the community, so it’s important to position your property in relation to the larger community.”

A nice touch is to preface all your material with a personalized cover letter, according to Sandra Barfield. Sandra suggests tailoring collateral information to each specific callee, with a cover page showing specific benefits. If your company offers any preferred employer incentive, that information should also go into the cover letter.

Once all the pertinent material has been assembled, it should be packaged neatly, attractively, and in such a way that it is easy to keep together (i.e., in a three-ring binder, a pocket folder, a display box, or a customized file folder). Keep in mind that there are different ways your material might be used, and plan accordingly. For example, say you are leaving material with an HR representative of an area employer. The HR representative might keep your material on hand in the office, to share with onsite employees or she might send packets of it out to relocating employees. In this case, perhaps you’d be wise to leave a brochure display (or perhaps a three-ring binder with your materials in page protectors) and a number of information packets that can be handed or mailed out. The more options you provide, the more likely it is that your material will get seen.

Many of our training experts also suggest bringing along a small “goody” for callees, preferably something with the community’s name and/or logo on it, such as a customized coffee mug full of candy or snacks.

During the Visit

Training individuals to conduct outreach marketing means first making sure they understand their long-range goal: Building a relationship with the callee. For the caller, that means developing rapport and trust is every bit as important as making the immediate pitch. “It’s all about building a relationship…that’s where you see success,” says Pam Newsom. Janis Cowey agrees. “Continuity is good. It’s good if the same person goes in every time,” she says. “If different people go in all the time, they don’t build the relationship they need to build.”

The cornerstone of a long-term relationship, of course, is the initial visit. That’s why it’s so important for callers to make a good first impression. Our training experts offered a number of tips that novice callers should remember to ensure a smooth first visit:

1.    Be prepared. Callers should know what they’re going to say before they make the call. If they feel uncomfortable, they should practice in front of a mirror or with a colleague until it sounds and looks natural.
2.    Be brief. Callers should remember that the person they are talking to is probably busy and pressed for time. “Keep the information simple and to the point,” says Sandra Barfield.”
3.    Be specific. Callers should tailor their presentation directly to the company they are visiting, mentioning employees who already live at their property and how happy they are.
4.    Be explicit. Rather than just dropping off their materials and hoping for the best, callers should explicitly ask their callees for action. A simple “Would you include this information in your relocation packages?” or “Would you please pass this along to any employee who is looking for a new home?” should do the trick.
5.    Be persistent. Sandra Barfield says that while callers should respect the word “no,” they should not let it stop them. “Try different avenues to get inside the company,” she says.
6.    Be confident. This may be both the hardest point to master and the most important! Callers should go into a call filled with self-confidence, expecting to get results. Carolina Castillo sums it up when she says, “Don’t be afraid…just do it!”

Training Techniques

Now that we’ve looked at what trainees must know to make successful marketing calls, let’s look briefly at how some of our trainers go about teaching these essentials.

Our trainers provided a whole grab-bag of techniques, from tele-training sessions to one-on-one role playing. “Most people just need help in getting a plan together, so marketing workshops or sessions are useful in helping them get started,” says Sandra Barfield. “At Trammell Crow Residential Services, we use the brainstorming format for our marketing workshop, which gets participants involved and boosts their confidence. Typically they leave with a set of ideas and a plan in place, plus enthusiasm to hit the ground running.”

Another commonly used method of training for marketing calls is shadowing: getting a “newbie’s” feet wet by sending him or her out on calls with a seasoned pro. Pam Newsom uses a combination of group training and shadowing to get her trainees ready. “Hands-on experience is best,” she says. “So I typically do some group training, then go with an individual on a call. On the call, I would introduce the individual as the contact person for the property, and get a rapport going.”

Whatever techniques they favored, all the trainers’ shared the same end goal: to provide trainees with a plan for outreach marketing efforts and comfort level needed to follow through on that plan. All seemed to agree that being prepared and being confident are the two keys to successful outreach marketing!

Special Note: This article was written a over a year ago so the people quoted may have changed positions within their company or within the industry.

Outreach without Cold Calls

It is imperative, as a Marketing Manager, to consistently come up with new and effective ideas to increase traffic resulting in more new leases.  When the property owners asked me to start marketing all the businesses in my town, I wanted to come up with a plan that did not involve cold calling.  With any type of direct marketing, it is easier if you know someone and who better than our own residents.

Every Monday morning, the Property Managers at each community fax me copies of applications of all the move-ins from the previous week.  I then highlight where they work and I schedule an appointment on my weekly calendar to visit them at their work place.  When visiting the new resident, I am able to welcome them in person with a bag of goodies with assortment of colorful balloons attached that say we love our residents and welcome home.  The bags have our company logo on it, and it includes a mouse pad, work out towel, cozies, candy and cookies.  The purpose of this marketing strategy is threefold:
•    Creating a lasting positive impression on the new resident.
•    Impressing coworkers that will lead to discussions about our communities.
•    Making a contact with the human resource department for future marketing efforts.

Since I have implemented this program three months ago, we have increased our occupancy by 5% and we have experienced an increase in our corporate referrals.  We also have had a great response from the residents and the businesses that we visit.  Our residents feel very special that we have taken time out of our schedule to make them feel welcomed.

I have been in the apartment industry for several years and one thing I have learned what you need to implement ideas that separate you from the competition.  My success in this marketing program has been tremendous, and I know it will be an instrumental tool for this industry.

Contributed by:  Gita R. Tollette, Marketing Training and Recruiting Manager