If you are a property manager, filling vacancies and meeting budgets is your top priority. So, it’s crucial that you develop your leasing consultants’ skills to help set your apartment community apart from the rest.
We turned to our Multi-Family Vice President, Lisa Wetzel for her expert advice on hiring, training, and developing leasing consultants. Lisa has been recruiting and training top talent with JWilliams Staffing’s Property Management clients since 2014. She has also developed comprehensive leasing training materials for JWilliams Staffing’s training platform, Real Estate Learning Network, and has 15+ years of on-site property management experience. So, it’s no surprise that Lisa had an outpouring of knowledge to share with us!
Now, let’s explore the soft skills of a successful leasing consultant and how you, as a manager, can develop those traits further for lasting results that delight your current and prospective residents.
Soft skills are not about someone’s knowledge or technical skills, but rather the personality and behaviors they display in conversations or various scenarios. Examples of soft skills include integrity, teamwork, affability, or empathy. Conversely, examples of hard skills include being bilingual or proficient in Yardi or data entry.
While this is an article on training and employee development, it’s imperative to mention something Lisa shared with us about hiring: “You are much better off if you can hire leasing consultants who already possess soft skills that will allow them to flourish. That way, you can work to develop those skills further.”
Lisa also shared that, “unfortunately, it’s not always easy to discern a candidate’s soft skills based on a single interview. You may uncover more about a candidate’s soft-skills when they are on the job”, so setting up a ‘working interview’ is a great way to see if they possess the necessary soft skills to be a successful and strong fit for your community. You can do this by payrolling your selected candidate, or doing a temp-to-hire with a recommended candidate.
“Great leasing consultants show that they care about those they interact with,” Lisa shares. “Your prospective residents and current residents should never feel like they are wasting your leasing consultant’s time, so assess your leasing consultants’ ability to make those people feel valued. Typically, leasing consultants who display empathy are humble, listen, ask proactive or compelling questions, and can put themselves in someone else’s shoes.”
You can coach your leasing team to improve their empathy. Try giving them questions to ask prospects that are open-ended, elicit emotion, and, in turn, help your leasing consultants better connect with and understand their prospects. Questions might include, “What is it about your current apartment you do not like?” or “What would make your future apartment home a better fit for you?” The major key here, though, is that the leasing consultant really exercises his/her listening skills, while the prospect explains, and then applies what they learned to their conversations during this visit and going forward.
Lisa highly recommends role-playing as a way to develop this skill: “Role-playing allows your trainee to understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end of someone who has (or lacks) empathy, and then allows them to put what they learned into practice.” Try setting up a few different scenarios in which you are the:
People do business with people they like and trust. A leasing consultant who is personable, warm, and welcoming helps his/her prospective residents open up and begin to form a connection with the leasing consultant and the community. A leasing consultant with a strong ability to connect is typically the one who gets more leases signed. Make sure your team never loses the fundamental ability to smile, provide positive energy, repeat prospects’ names, ask interesting questions, and make the conversation about the prospect.
Beyond the essential likeability factors and polite, friendly manners, another great way to boost your team’s social skills is to encourage them to step outside of their comfort zone. Maybe it’s being in front of a crowd, networking, or doing a virtual presentation. “Even the most outgoing people have a comfort zone when it comes to interacting with others,” Lisa says, “Have your leasing consultant try doing something that makes them a little scared.”
Lisa added, “When I began my vendor career with JWilliams Staffing, I was a pro in the leasing office, but I hadn’t done much in the networking and event arena. I was great with one-on-one interactions, but talking in front of big groups of people made me sweat. I began doing as many networking events as possible and became more and more comfortable. In the words of the great Jeff Shore, ‘Move out of your comfort zone, and your comfort zone expands.’ Having helped hundreds of leasing consultants develop this skill, I know this to be 100 percent true.”
Great leasing consultants understand that selling value generates customer interest in the beginning and, for residents, results in satisfaction, loyalty, and even advocacy. Most people appreciate knowing that they made the right decision in choosing to move to your apartment homes.
A leasing consultant who adds value to your product is one who uncovers the benefits of the features within the apartment or community for their prospects. Lisa shared, “Each prospect has their own needs, personality, attitude, and ideals. This concept was crucial to me when writing the training content for Real Estate Learning Network (RELN). Don’t sell the same features and benefits to every person who walks in the door. You will know what is important to them during the discovery portion of your initial conversations.” For example, if your leasing consultant uncovers that their prospect loves to cook, the leasing consultant could point out the pantry (feature) and mention that it will give them extra storage for dry goods, fun ingredients, and kitchen tools (benefit).
Lisa recommends that you should have your leasing consultants practice the “so that” technique: “Another thing we highlight on RELN is that when a leasing consultant points out a feature, they should use the “so that” method to translate that feature into a benefit.” For example:
It’s a well-known statistic that for every ten people in which you ask for a sale, only one will say yes. Strong leasing consultants must be able to handle rejection well, stay persistent, and not be afraid to make the ask (to get a rental deposit). “If a team member is getting down, remind them that if they connected with the prospect, the customer’s refusal to lease is likely not a rejection of them personally, but of the product being offered,” says Lisa. “Not every visitor to the property is going to leave a deposit or decide to rent at your community on the spot, so help your team keep their confidence up.”
If your leasing consultant needs 9 “no’s” for every “yes,” then a “no” is getting them closer to the “yes” that will inevitably be around the corner with another prospect. You never know, so encourage them to stay on top of their game each and every time. And, having them practice different closing techniques and track their progress may be insightful to know what seems to be the most successful technique in various cases.
Finally, follow-up is crucial! Prospects may need some time to consider the commitment and your leasing consultants’ follow-up call, text, or picture of a highlighted feature, could help the prospect move toward signing a lease. Most important: celebrate wins, especially when persistence results in a lease.
A successful leasing consultant knows when to remain silent and focus on listening. They ask probing, open-ended questions that encourage clear communication and elicit the prospect’s true needs. Customers need to be able to process their thoughts and should feel that their needs are valued. A leasing consultant with the ability to listen makes a prospect feel precisely this way.
When developing this skill, “Have your leasing consultant pay attention to someone who has mastered ‘listening’ and observe how they ask questions,” says Lisa. “The key to developing this skill is to master the art of “active listening,” and to witness it in conversation a great way to understand what it entails.” Encourage your leasing consultants to implement active listening by making a conscious effort to understand not only the words that someone is saying, but the message they are communicating. Someone who has mastered this skill shows that they are listening (using body language and gestures), does not spend time preparing a rebuttal while they are “listening,” and provides valuable and relevant input once the speaker is finished talking.
Mentoring is a one-on-one relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person transfers that knowledge and guides a less experienced person. “Putting yourself in a mentorship-mindset is a great way to ensure that you are providing ongoing guidance to your team,” shared Lisa. “It allows you to improve communication between you and your team, promote valuable skills, gain new perspectives, and improve your training ability.”
Typically, you would select the individual(s) who have a passion for what they do and a strong potential to succeed (i.e., those leasing consultants with valuable soft skills) as your mentee(s). Be approachable and available, and remember who the relationship is about. Have a conversation with your mentee and ask them what their priorities and goals are. An influential mentor will work with the mentee to create a plan to achieve those goals and prioritize what will be addressed together. Establishing a mentorship gives you the space to provide your mentee with the direct and critical feedback that will help shape their career as well as the success of your apartment community.
To sum things up, “even in today’s ever-changing, technology-driven world, these top soft skills will never be replaced,” Lisa mentions. “They are the fundamental basics of a great leasing consultant and will always be necessary, even if used through the different and virtual means used today.” Focus on these soft-skills when you are hiring, training, and developing your leasing team, and they will surely delight your prospective and current residents.