TALKING LIKE A TORTOISE, THINKING LIKE A HARE: THE SPEECH-THOUGHT DIFFERENTIAL
Why independent and assisted living communities’ sales and marketing directors are losing sales despite considerable marketing spend and prospective buyer interest.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been introduced to someone only to immediately realize I don’t remember their name. While I used to feel embarrassed, I now simply say, “I’m sorry, can you tell me your name one more time?” upon which I listen and tattoo it on my brain! I imagine you can relate. According to Time Magazine , this is a common gaffe that we all tend to make.
Introductions to people often result in missed names because the truth is, we are distracted sizing them up, thinking about how we are coming across and what we might say next. Compare this to meeting someone’s dog, it’s super easy to remember its name because we’re fully immersed in the moment; we leave all the chatter behind and focus solely on the animal in front of us because most often, we are captivated! If only humans were so cute.
When you mentally disengage from a conversation it’s caused by the speech-thought differential , meaning that you are thinking far faster than someone is talking. We see this daily in our research division as we conduct thousands of competitive analyses and mystery shops annually; the sales and marketing directors are typically a few steps ahead of the prospective buyer talking. Making assumptions, interrupting, and rushing the conversation already two steps ahead.
The average person talks at around 120-150 words per minute, taking up little of your mental bandwidth. As a result, you like most people, probably check out mentally taking small detours such as, “wonder how Jackie did on her test today?” or “why hasn’t Jim responded to my call yet?” We get side-tracked by things like the person’s outfit, hair or perhaps a piece of food lodged in their teeth. Yet by far, the biggest distraction is thinking about what to say next yourself.
Having missed part of the conversation due to these various departures, we jump back in somewhat behind. Unconsciously and most often wrongly, we attempt to fill in the gaps and ultimately find ourselves disconnected from what the person is saying; only to check out again!
“In what may be a dangerous trend, the influx of digital gadgets into daily life has made people super productive, yet much less attentive and able to focus on any single detail” – Bob Sullivan, The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success
DO SMARTER PEOPLE STAY MORE ENGAGED IN CONVERSATIONS?
The reality is that smart people are often worse listeners because they come up with more things to think about during the conversation and assume they already know what the person is going to say. Those with a higher IQ also tend to be more neurotic and self-conscious meaning worry and anxiety are more likely to hijack their attention. Likewise, introvert’s contrary to popular belief, are no better at listening. These individuals have so much going on in their minds that it’s hard to make room for additional input.
Ralph Nichols, a professor of rhetoric at the University of Minnesota,, regarded by many as the father of listening research found early in his teaching career that students who worked on their listening skills became more persuasive debaters. This sparked a series of articles and books on listening prior to his death. Nichols believed that to be a good listener means using your available bandwidth, not taking side mental trips but to double down on your efforts to understand and intuit what someone is saying. He stated that listening well is a matter of consistently asking yourself if people’s messages are valid and what their motivations are for telling you whatever it is they are saying. We have seen the same type of results in studying the buyer experience whether in independent or assisted living, memory care or a life plan; the more a sales director listens, the easier it is to persuade prospective buyers to choose their particular community.
PEOPLE MISS 50% OF EVEN SHORT, SIMPLE CONVERSATIONS
The truth is, the older people get, the more their listening comprehension sinks. Making matters worse, studies show that people wildly overestimate how good they are at listening. This is something the Bild & Co training team experiences daily; salespeople who insist they are great listeners due to their experience in seniors housing. Upon shopping them to gauge the buyer experience, we find it’s quite the opposite which is always a wake up call for both the salesperson and their managers.
Few people focus intentionally for even the briefest conversation. In studying businesspeople , Nichols found that immediately after a short talk, most people missed at least half of what was said, no matter how well they thought they were listening. Two months later, most had retained just 25%. This is why we train sales and marketing as well as executive directors to repeat back what they hear people say, to confirm they heard what was being expressed, and to validate the prospective buyer making them feel important.
One tactic Nichols suggest is to think of listening like meditation. Make yourself aware of and acknowledge distractions and return focus the moment you notice you’ve checked out. Instead of focusing on breathing or an image, focus attention on the person you are speaking to. Most importantly resist the temptation to think about what you will say in response, don’t worry- it will come naturally! Besides, the more you contemplate what to say, the more you miss in the conversation, and the more likely it is that you’ll say the wrong thing in response.
Truthfully, a better response will come when you have taken in all the other person has to say. Pause if needed to compose your thoughts. While it may feel uncomfortable to you, it demonstrates you are listening and attentive. Pay attention to the person’s body language and inflection as well to consider the context and motivation behind your discussion. These always add extra clues.
A second tactic served up in this chapter of You’re Not Listening is to pay close attention to what people open the conversation up with. This is critical for salespeople who market and sell independent and assisted living. Someone who starts talking about their Ivy League schooling may be conveying, “I’m smart, respect me,” while another who begins a discussion with “I never eat this type of stuff,” shoveling a cupcake in their mouth may be saying, “I’m not confident in my body, don’t judge me.” These early signals are big indicators of what’s on the person’s mind first and foremost. Good listeners pick up on the subtext of what people say as well as subtle non-verbal details like the clenched jaw of the Ivy League alum or the closet eater who is explaining to a stranger why she’s eating a cupcake. Good listeners use their excess brain capacity to notice these things, collecting more than just words.
I’ll never forget the first time I met my friend Beth at a school function. At the time, my kids were very young, and our family was planning a trip to Paris, where would live for the summer. As our conversation turned to travel, I was shocked to discover she too would be in Paris at the same time with her family. We since became lifelong friends and each time I’m with her I’m so engrossed in the conversation that hours pass without us even realizing it; I’m immersed! The more I’ve focused on listening, the more I’ve realized that most, if not all, conversations with people can be like this (I didn’t say ALL of them) we just need to listen.
Refusing to take those little mental detours frees you to inhabit someone else’s story. These listening experiences not only enthrall us in the moment but accumulate within us and form our characters. Even if you don’t like someone too much and hope to never have to listen to them again, this strategy can help. I can say with certainty, shifting your listening to truly focus on hearing what people have to say makes most people downright fascinating. You just must break through the façade as most are used to people glazing over, checking out, and keeping the conversation superficial.
As I began this particular executive book club study on You’re Not Listening, well over two months ago, I’ve stayed hyper focused on actively listening, asking more open-ended questions of the people I engage with, ensuring I am locked in- with great eye contact, fully attentive and listening to what they are saying. While I thought I was a good listener before, I now realize, I still have a lot to learn.
The most interesting part of this process is that I’m enjoying people more, fascinated by what I learn and have become more curious, interested, and as a result, find people are opening up more, sharing personal details and stories attributed to what I assume is a sense of trust and connection. To have a more rich experience on the daily walk of life with our children, spouses, friends, business associates, employees, and customers; we simply need to tune into the conversation, tune out the inner chatter and fully immerse ourselves in the moment at hand.
SO, WHAT DOES THIS MEAN TO THE SALES AND MARKETING OF SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITIES?
It means that you as an owner, operator or developer must acknowledge that the very people responsible for marketing your senior living communities and generating the revenue needed to run them, don’t know how to listen. Those seniors and their families who inquire or visit to learn about your community are sharing what is happening, why they are interested, and what they want or need, but the salespeople speaking to them or the executive director hear only 50% of what they say; at most.
If notes are not immediately put into the CRM, little if anything will be remembered sixty days later meaning that if and when the prospective buyer calls back due to continuing challenges, they will need to start over, explaining who they are and why they are calling because your sales and marketing director won’t remember more than 25% of what was initially shared. Imagine how important that makes them feel?
The emotional connection is what drives the sale in assisted living. Without strong listening skills and a true curiosity in what a prospective buyer has to say, that connection will not be established and in most cases the sale lost. We continue to see operators struggle with occupancy,. While a good 20% are still holding 90% or better, 80% of seniors housing operators are hovering at 80% or less. Combined with increased expenses, margins are taking a big hit and putting operators at risk of meeting financial requirements. While we can’t control the pandemic, competition, or the economy; we can control what we do in that moment a prospective buyer inquires. Every inquiry has the possibility of generating over $100,000 in revenue for an assisted living community, we need to professionalize sales now, not later.
Sales and marketing directors consistently lament that they need increased lead generation but what they need is to learn to better work the leads they have. It’s not quantity but quality and right now, we are failing at creating a positive buyer experience. If instead of rushing through calls, attempting to pre-qualify and verbal vomiting pricing, floor plans, and COVID-19 procedures all over interested buyers, sales and marketing directors asked lots of great open-ended questions, actively listened, drilled down to better understand the details, and responded in a personalized way, we would see drastically improved move in numbers, occupancy and revenue.
Prospective buyers want to be heard but salespeople are not listening. If we are too busy talking and taking mental side trips when people are confiding in us; we will continue to struggle and fail to help the very people we are so passionate about.
While not easy, improved listening is a skill that can be learned. Just six years are devoted to formal reading instruction in our school systems. Little emphasis is placed on speaking, and almost no attention has been given to the skill of listening, strange as this may be given that so much lecturing is done in college. It’s time to pivot and equip yourself and those responsible for the sales and marketing or service delivery of your seniors housing community the ability to close their listening gaps. Please, share this blog with your colleagues and encourage them to go on this journey with you, everyone has something to learn and will be better for it.
NEED TO IMPROVE BOTH IN PERSON AND VIRTUAL COMMUNICATION AMONG YOUR EXECUTIVE TEAM OR EMPLOYEES? WE ARE CURRENTLY SCHEDULING BOTH IN PERSON AND VIRTUAL EXECUTIVE RETREATS AS WELL AS TRAINING SEMINARS AND ACADEMIES FOR 1Q2021.
Email Revenue@BildandCo.com , text 813.390.3349, or call 1.800.640.0688 to speak with Jennifer Saxman and I about your goals and how our team can customize training to meet the needs of your organization today. You can also schedule a time on our calendar here.