The Tone-Deaf Response: Why People Would Rather Talk to Their Dog
Poor listening skills are rampant in independent and assisted living as well as memory care; creating occupancy gaps that should not exist. Failure to ask the right questions, listen and properly advise is costing far more than you think.
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The late Dick Bass , son of a Texas oil baron, was known for his ambitious mountain-climbing expeditions and for talking about them to anyone within earshot, including a man who happened to be seated next to him on an airplane. For the duration of the cross-country flight, Bass went on about the treacherous peaks of McKinley and Everest and about the time he almost died in the Himalayas and his plan to climb Everest again. As they were about to land, Bass realized he hadn’t properly introduced himself. “That’s okay,” the man said, extending his hand. “I’m Neil Armstrong . Nice to meet you.”
Can you imagine?
The content in this chapter is so incredibly relevant to seniors housing (and in particular assisted living and memory care) that your sales team, upon implementation, will see an immediate increase in both inquiry to tour and tour to move in; resulting in increased occupancy and revenue yet this month.
WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A GOOD LISTENER
A good listener is open to hearing someone else’s experiences, ideas and acknowledges their point of view. While this is a state of mind, the ability to accept someone’s point of view with a sensitive response that encourages trust and elaboration is a developed skill. The author of You’re Not Listening , Kate Murphy, goes on to state that a good listener is a practiced listener. It takes awareness, focus, and experience to unearth and understand what is really being communicated. Good listeners are not born that way, they become that way.
This is the reason the seniors housing sales cycle is so long and why the length of the sales cycle can be cut in half with proper training. Salespeople in independent and assisted living as well as memory care and life plan communities have not been properly trained to listen. Instead they;
- Make assumptions
- Use industry jargon
- Attempt to close without first establishing value and trust
Over time, details begin to slowly emerge as the situation worsens and families become more desperate. Suddenly, it all makes sense! The salesperson connects the dots and can build value as to why the community is a fit. Sadly, in many cases this happens too late and seniors who would have thrived in a senior living environment miss out altogether due to premature death or lack of qualification due to their health.
We can do better.
A good listener looks for cues. In assisted living and memory care in particular, it might be when an adult child’s voice catches and being sensitive to what might be troubling the caller most at that moment, a trained salesperson might say something along the lines of, “It seems like this has been a pretty rough time, how is this impacting you?” and continuing upon listening to say, “and your mom, how is she responding to everything happening in her life right now?”
Research by Graham Bodie , a professor of integrated marketing communication at the University of Mississippi, shows that people are more likely to feel understood if a listener responds not by nodding, parroting, or paraphrasing, but by giving descriptive and evaluative information. Active listening is not a passive exercise, Bodie’s work reveals it requires interpretation and interplay. Your dog can listen to you, Siri or Alexa can “listen” to you. Ultimately, talking to your dog, Siri, or Alexa will prove unsatisfying because they won’t respond in a thoughtful, feeling way, which is the measure of a good listener.
Bodie goes on to state “people want to sense you get why they are telling you the story, what it means to them, not so much that you know the details of the story.” The barrier here is that he and his colleagues have consistently found that most people are bad at this. Their data suggest that listeners’ responses are emotionally attuned to what speakers are saying LESS THAN 5% of the time, making your dog look pretty good by comparison.
There’s more to listening than just being quiet so the other person can talk. People aren’t devices where you can just press “play” and they will share their innermost thoughts and feelings with you. Intimacy is earned through patience, sensitivity, and meeting people where they are.
HOW DOES THIS APPLY TO SENIORS HOUSING?
So, it’s not that Mary, an adult daughter and caregiver for her mom is looking for an assisted living that’s significant but how it’s impacting her emotionally. Getting to this and extracting it from Mary is the art of listening, especially when people bombard you with a lot of extra information (she no longer drives, is a pack rat with lots of stuff, and takes a lot of medication).
Our research division conducts thousands of mystery shops and competitive analyses annually and the one thing we find missing 99% of the time is emotional connection. This is an important fact to note because it’s emotion, not logic, that drives the sale in assisted living and memory care as well as independent living.
Your salespeople must act as detectives, always asking, “Why is this person telling me this?” They must look for clues, always- understanding that prospective buyers sometimes (or as I believe, most of the time), may not know the answers themselves.
- Why did her voice choke up when she talked about her mom’s photography work?
- Why did she point out that her mother no longer drives?
- What made her so worried about the quarantine policy?
Salespeople must slow down as the average inquiry call is extremely rushed, lasting just two minutes! The more time spent up front, truly wanting to understand the situation in its entirety and allowing time for that conversation to unfold will save a tremendous amount of time on the back end of the sales process.
Good listeners can help prospective buyers’ figure out what’s happening and how they really feel about it by asking questions and encouraging elaboration.
Proof of this happens when a person inquiring or visiting responds to you with something like, “Yes, exactly!” or “You understand how I feel, spot on, thank you!” For those of you who know of and have used the Bild Sales System , you get why I’m so passionate about this book club selection. I’ve been teaching these concepts for twenty years and people who have implemented them into their companies’ sales practice have seen astounding results and become raving fans.
Therefore, as Kate Murphy demonstrates in her book, listening works and it’s one of the most powerful skills you can learn and master.
When you as an executive have a conversation with an employee or with a prospective buyer who is inquiring about your community, ask yourself upon leaving that conversation;
- What did I just learn about that person?
- What was most concerning to that individual today?
- How did he/she feel about what we were discussing personally?
- When did he/she begin to open up and share details?
If you can’t answer these questions, you need to work on your listening skills and if your salespeople can’t answer these questions about their prospective buyers (not just the top ten but all of them), work needs to be done on listening skills.
In seniors housing we have found that most salespeople go into conversations thinking they already know everything, and it limits their ability to learn, grow, connect, and evolve that relationships with the prospective buyer. A good listener must be open to hearing someone else’s perspective, experiences and acknowledge their point of view.
Have a contest, set a goal, do something that involves getting your salesforce to laser focus on asking a series of three to five open-ended questions with each prospect they engage with. As an executive, lead by example by doing this exercise with them so they can experience the power of interest firsthand. There is no right or wrong question, what is important is that it’s open-ended, not one that elicits a “yes” or “no” response (we can’t learn from that).
When asking questions, the goal is to actively listen, encourage people to expand on what they are saying, and to respond in a way that demonstrates you are not just listening but hearing what is being said. This process will naturally prompt empathy on the part of a salesperson and a sense of urgency to solve the prospective buyer’s problem. The shift moves from selling, to problem solving, advising, and emotionally connecting in a way that builds trust and dialogue that is honest.
When good discovery has been done and needs uncovered, closing to the next step is the easiest part of the sales process. People call your assisted living communities for a reason; they need help and most likely are unfamiliar with where to start or what to do. Stand out, be different, step back and remember why you got into the senior living busines in the first place. When you do what you love and with passion, skill, and purpose, success always follows. Even more importantly you get to help people by adding years to their lives and ensuring that time is filled with friendship, joy, laughter, and memories they otherwise would have never made.
Want to funnel your passion into a plan with purpose? Schedule an appointment with Jennifer Saxman and Traci Bild during the NIC annual (virtual) conference.