Senior Living Marketing: We are Selling Senior Living WRONG

Author:

Traci Bild

Date Posted:

June 20, 2024

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Marketing Senior Living

Senior living operators are marketing and selling assisted and independent living communities wrong, and it’s showing in their financial performance.

Not too long ago, I returned home from dropping my mom off at the Mease Surgery Center.

Post-surgery, my mom faced a six to eight-week recovery period. Prior to moving her to a life plan community, she had at least three serious falls. The last one resulted in three out of four torn muscles in her rotator cuff. As you can imagine, I worry about her every day.

At the time, we lived just two miles from my mom’s house. My kids, Paris who was 17 and Noah 14 at the time, could easily ride the bike trail to visit and help their Grammy and she had wonderful Polish neighbors who brought her food and spoiled her as if she were their own family. Yet not all seniors in my mother’s situation are so fortunate. Many are on their own, with adult children and family members spread across the country, or even world for that matter. Waiting it out rather than enforcing change; senior living operators, investors, and developers continue to wait for the Baby Boom that will fill their communities; which is still a good four to five years out.

Senior Living Marketing is a Serious Business and Yet we Treat it Like it’s a Hobby

All morning, I couldn’t help but ponder how serious the business of seniors housing is and how vital independent and assisted living as well as memory care is to the well-being of potential residents and their families. It is a lifeline, a means of comfort, support, and quality care for people in need. It’s a deep contrast to the isolation of living at home alone and at risk as many seniors do. Without an engaged family, many people are forced to recover at home alone from surgeries, strokes, cancer treatment and other conditions; it’s tragic. I am convinced that if we had not moved my mom to Regency Oaks, she would not be alive today; this move transformed her life and ultimately saved it.

Understanding the Target Audience for Senior Living Marketing

Adult children who are not fortunate enough to live close to their loved ones will come to visit during these difficult times in their parents’ lives. It is then they will typically be referred to and call various assisted living communities as a prospective solution. It is more and more prevalent these days with the baby boomers retiring and many living across the state or country, far from their children.

Herein lies the solvable business problem for marketing senior living communities

When prospective buyers inquire to an assisted living facility whether for a short-term respite or a long-term move, they often encounter:

  • Long hold times
  • Communities with no one available to take their call
  • Disconnection of call upon transfer
  • Messages that are never returned or when returned, take upwards of 48 hours
  • Confusing information on levels of care, ADLs, and monthly fees (for many it’s like another language)
  • A fast-talking salesperson providing an overwhelming amount of information at a price that is more than most people make in a year
  • Impersonal emails with canned video tours, attachments with floor plans, pricing, activity schedules, newsletters, and a request to call back when ready

IT’S NOT WHAT SALES PEOPLE DO, IT’S WHAT THEY FAIL TO DO THAT IS CAUSING PROBLEMS

Marketing To Prospective Residents

What will be missing in nine out of ten conversations is any sense of compassion, empathy, or attempt to learn about the prospective resident, who she is as a person, what’s been happening in her life, how she has coped with her many health changes, who is involved in her care, and what alternatives the family is considering outside of assisted living.

Senior Living Marketing

Senior Care Is More Than Just Sales

In short, the heart-felt human side that a protective daughter like me craves to see when considering a major life change for her mother, is non-existent and there is no way I would have visited , let alone moved my mom to a place where she would be nothing more than another head in a bed. While this may not be true as operators and their salespeople do care, it’s how it is perceived because of what is consistently a poor sales process.

IT’S THE BUYER EXPERIENCE, NOT THE RESIDENT EXPERIENCE THAT’S THE PROBLEM

Ways to Improve Your Marketing

While this would not be the experience once moved in, it’s what’s implied on that first critical connection when someone like me, an adult daughter, finds the courage to call an assisted or independent living community. It’s the poor buyer experience, the sales process, where senior living operators are floundering. They are stretched incredibly thin and focused on operations and care, their zone of genius- with little to no time left to formulate a sales training and marketing strategy that is sophisticated enough to net up and grow occupancy and revenue. This has become a true constraint over the last several years.

A FUTURE WHERE OPERATIONS ARE SPLIT OFF FROM MARKETING METHODS ENTIRELY

Assisted Living Marketing

Just as third-party operators are more difficult to find, in the near future, as we are seeing here at Bild & Co, senior living operators will focus exclusively on care and staffing- the operation of the community. Companies like mine will execute senior living marketing plans on their behalf, taking ownership over the numbers for owners and investors while removing a huge load off an already full operator’s plate.

Market Your Senior Living Community The Bild Way

There is too much risk financially to continue with business as usual and like anything, people need to specialize in what they do best and for most operators, it’s caring for staff and residents.

Seniors housing is a premium purchase, averaging $60,000 per year.

Independent Living Sales Includes Teaching The Customer

Most consumers are clueless as to what independent or assisted living is until they are referred to it. If the circumstances were different and my mom were in this same healthcare scenario and lived alone in Florida with me still in Ohio with two teens, a national business, lots of travel and a husband who is a pilot and flying a lot, if I called your senior living community to explore options only to experience what I just laid out for you, I would most likely move her home to Ohio and care for her myself.

That means one less resident moving into your community due to a poor sales process and if done properly, would have resulted in a better solution for everyone.

IT’S ACROSS THE BOARD, AND EGO KEEPS OPERATORS FROM ASKING FOR HELP TO FIX IT

Senior Living Sales Starts With Answering The Phone

All over the country, this is happening every single day. People like me, who are caregivers for their parents, are calling and in need of your services yet unable to receive help.

We can’t reach anyone and when we do, there is zero empathy, no emotional connection, and little to no compassion or education around what it is I need to do and how that will ultimately impact my mom’s life as well as mine as her caregiver.

We wonder why occupancy is sitting at 85.6 percent rather than 88 or 90 percent?

Traditional Marketing Channels and Digital Marketing Is Only Half the Battle.

We have many problems and one of the biggest is our inability to properly communicate and build value with prospective buyers. Making a move to an assisted living community is easily a $120,000 spend over a two-year period for seniors and their families. Yet we put people in the sales role who are experienced in senior living yet have no formal training in sales communication skills; meaning:

  • Asking great open-ended questions
  • Listening and really hearing what people are saying
  • Responding in a way that ensures people feel heard
  • Digging into vague answers to help callers process their own emotions and what’s going on
  • Advising what the next best steps are based on the specific situation just shared, showing empathy, concern, and advocating on behalf of the senior

Successful Senior Living Marketing

We are not selling an apartment or a building, we are selling care, love, affection, concern, lifestyle, nutrition, security, peace of mind…an extended family of sorts and that is what the industry is missing. Senior living salespeople are far too busy selling real estate.

What we’re focused on selling is a product- an apartment; and it’s misrepresenting what makes senior living what is. So long as operators, developers, and investors continue to underfund the sales department, from investing in true sales talent and compensation packages to formally training them on how to sell a complex, high end item with difficult family dynamics, we will struggle to see our communities fill at market rate rents at the velocity they should.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS FIX THE PROBLEM, INSPECT WHAT YOU EXPECT AND WATCH THE GROWTH

Fixing Your Senior Living Sales Problems

The longer you delay fixing your sales problem, the worse it will get. Rarely does poor performance turn around on its own. With traffic at a two-year low and inquiry to tour conversion hovering at a poor 22 percent; it’s hard to get the payoff of high tour to move in conversions that are at a record 35%- if we can’t even get people in the door to tour! The data shows that when people tour, they move 35 percent of the time, yet we lack the skill set needed to build value regarding a site level visit. Like every other business, seniors housing has drastically changed and specifically the way we market and sell. It’s time to retrain those responsible for sales and regain your power to generate results. Here are four areas you can invest into right now:

FOUR AREAS TO FOCUS ON RIGHT NOW AS IT RELATES TO SALES PERFORMANCE AND RESULTS:

1. ACCOUNTABILITY

Never have salespeople needed more accountability. That means someone who is inspecting what is expected as it relates to responding to web and phone inquiries in minutes, not hours; conducting personalized tours that resonate with families due to deep discovery and tour prep, and purposefully nurturing leads over time and helping them through the decision process.

For example, most operators expect a tour request by their salespeople when speaking with individuals inquiring to the community . Yet what’s happening in most cases is salespeople ask a single question, verbally dump as much as they can about the community before they run out of breath, attempt to prequalify, and then tell the person with whom they are speaking to let them know when they are ready to tour!

The prospective buyer leaves the call overwhelmed, more confused, and determined to wait it out in hopes that the situation will improve. Operators must inspect what they expect in the sales process and hold people accountable to true relationship selling and confirmed next steps that guide the buyer journey.

2. INCREASE SALES ACTIVITY

It requires almost double the level of income producing activity to generate the same move in that it did a few years ago; attrition is higher than ever. While Bild & Co is all about working smart, not hard; those days are gone. Your salespeople must work both hard and smart. That means they must be diligent in using their CRM, inputting all leads, using their follow up tools, keeping great notes, and working the database daily. When all leads have been worked and moved to the next step, salespeople need to be connecting with referral sources from their local ER doctor to geriatric physicians.

The only thing that is going to lead to increased move ins is income producing activity; calling and seeing people who can move someone in or refer.

3. IMPROVED SKILL SET

Operators tend to focus on the quantity, not quality of leads. This results in an enormous marketing spend with little information as to return on investment and a poor buyer experience for a new resident. This is one area of focus you can quickly pivot to to work smart, not hard.

While the industry sees an inquiry to tour conversion of just 22 percent right now, we still hold the bar at 50 percent at minimum here at Bild & Co The difference in achieving this goal comes down to skillset. How good is your sales team at discovery, relating back customized solutions, firmly advising prospective buyers, and locking in the next step 100 percent of the time?

Working smart means investing in your salespeople as any savvy business should do and that investment most often means better retention as well, less turnover and less disruption of the sales pipeline.

4. OWNERSHIP OVER SALES

Someone must take 100% responsibility over sales and marketing strategies portfolio-wide and own it. That means being proactive, looking at what is working, what’s not, digging into the CRM to see if leads are being worked properly- if discovery is being done and the next action steps scheduled with prospective buyers, the length of the sales cycle, what lead sources product the most actual move ins and more. It means being proactive and not letting poor sales numbers percolate and get worse over time. It means role playing, addressing shortcomings, and barriers head on. This is where research comes into play.

I can’t tell you how many executives, upon asking for their marketing numbers, state that they don’t have them or that if they do, they are inaccurate. How can something so important continue to not be fixed? This is the systemic type of problem we see every day in both assisted and retirement living, life plan and diversified portfolios.

IT’S TIME TO ASK YOURSELF:

  • Who owns the sales process for our community or portfolio of your senior living facility?
  • Who does the buck stop with?
  • Who owns sales results day in and day out?
  • What type of experience and track record does the individual in charge of sales and marketing have?
  • Is this person getting the job done?
  • Have I properly invested in and trained this person to succeed in a COVID-19 world?
  • What is the next step I should take right now to proactively turn things around?

Next, prioritize what’s most important to accomplish first, second and third; and take action. You’ve got this!

The first step is to get your process of handling leads and sales in place, then to move on to gaining leads through effective senior living marketing efforts such as search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media platforms, email marketing campaigns and drip campaigns and other forms of online marketing. A solid marketing plan is crucial to implement your marketing ideas, however not having a process in place for your digital and phone leads before a campaign launch can be costly and reputation damaging.

Need advice on how to fill your communities to capacity and create a wait list? Let’s talk! Click here to schedule a call with Traci Bild and Jennifer Saxman to learn the best practices on implementing effective marketing strategies for your senior community.

About the Author: Traci Bild

Avatar Of Traci Bild
Traci Bild, Founder of BILD & Co and BILDX, has revolutionized the senior living industry for over two decades. Her innovative sales and marketing strategies have positively impacted 80% of the top 100 senior housing operators in the U.S., U.K., and Canada. An accomplished author of four books, including "Zero Lost Revenue Days," Traci's expertise is frequently featured in CBS Sunday Morning News, Wall Street Journal, BBC, Senior Housing News, and McKnight’s Senior Living. Her firm, BILD & Co, is a Great Place to Work and ranks among Inc. 5000’s Fastest Growing Private Companies.

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