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The assisted living business is not for the faint of heart. While it was once an investor darling, the love affair has simmered, and reality has set in. With slim operating margins, meager gains in occupancy, rising costs, a lack of employees, public scrutiny, increased regulation, and steep competition; only the strong will survive.
Despite the doom and gloom, there is one answer that solves five of the seven problems listed and in this blog, I will share what that answer is. Additionally, you will learn five steps you can take immediately to accelerate growth and profitability in a single quarter effectively shoring up your balance sheet.
I had a recent experience that demonstrates how easy it is to close a sale with someone who has inquired about your service. It truly reflects one of my favorite quotes about sales which is, “help people get what they want, and they will buy with ease!”
After an excruciating four years of construction my family moved into our dream home just over a year ago. With spring around the corner, I decided it was time to invest in proper landscaping. Much as I tried, I needed a professional! My father-in-law referred me to Frank, someone he used that did great work for him, so I reached out and to my surprise had an immediate response. Texting Frank, we set a time to walk my property that same afternoon and by early evening I had images that reflected our goals to transform my landscape.
Upon confirmation of the plants and trees I had a proposal in hand within 24 hours. I made a few edits, agreed on the scope of work, pricing, and Frank closed by asking me to provide a deposit check. I immediately left a check for the deposit under my door mat so Frank could begin as I was leaving for the day. Within 24 hours of reaching out I had a solution that I was excited about, and Frank had a new client; it was a win-win!
I was shocked by the impeccable communication and follow up. Unless you live under a rock, you know as well as I that it’s rare to find professionals who respond at all let alone follow up in a timely manner. Frank immediately earned my trust and respect.
Work began less than a week later and to my delight, each morning I received a text that Frank’s crew was on the way, another when it was lunchtime explaining when the crew would be back, and a text at the end of the day with an update on progress and projected return times. Each day Frank would text requesting that I come check his work and provide feedback where needed. I was blown away. I can say with confidence I’ve not had this kind of service for years. His clear communication and follow through blew my mind and made me want to tell everyone in my neighborhood about his landscaping company! As my yard took shape, Frank made recommendations I had not thought of and I found myself excited about the new look and feel of my yard and rather than focusing in on price, I was completely wrapped up in the vision and unfolding of my new outdoor space. Needless to say, I spent more than expected but also found myself with a much improved front and back yard; worth every penny!
I’m going to break it down; provide the short cut to taking the complex task of doubling move ins and make it simple, allowing you to implement quickly. Take notes and get ready to act because your assisted living or memory care business is about to see smart and profitable growth with the five action steps outlined below. Concentrated focus on professional selling skills throughout your organization can move you beyond the pandemic catastrophe that’s been wreaked on balance sheets and toward a solid financial recovery and period of growth.
People don’t know what they want or need, most just know it’s help! I received a text this weekend asking if I could assist a friend of a friend with a move to a memory care community. When I got on the phone to discuss solutions, it was amazing how lost this individual was; she had no clue where to start or what to do; but what she did know is she needed help. Successful and educated, I was reminded that this is our average consumer; a boomer female who is providing care for a loved one that is burnt out and no longer able to do so. Most know nothing about senior living and have not thought about what’s most important to them outside of the most basic questions of “where do I take mom, how do I get her to agree,” and “what’s it going to cost?”
Your salesforce must pivot and understand that their singular role on an inquiry whether via email, text, telephone, or a walk in is to ask open-ended questions that get prospective buyers to think. Before any next step can be established, value must be created and verbalized. That can only occur when needs are extracted and a meaningful conversation beyond why they called and what it costs, is held. Relationships must be formed and trust established. Then and only then will truth begin to emerge around what’s really happening at home.
Here are sample questions and it’s critical that discovery is done until at least three wants or needs are established:
The goal of asking these types of open-ended questions serve two purposes; one is to help the caregiver process their own wants, needs, and emotions and two is to help the sales director grasp the urgency of the situation, empathize, and understand how to build value regarding the next step, ideally an on-site visit today or tomorrow. That is the single goal of an inquiry- not to pre-qualify, share pricing, or review ADL’s, but to clarify the wants, needs, and timeline driving the act of inquiring and getting the decision makers on-site.
Set the inquiry to tour conversion ratio expectation at 60% at minimum. That means for every ten people who inquire, six schedule an on-site visit. Also track first inquiry to first site visit date and strive to get that number to two days. That means converting inquiries into on-site visits within 48 hours. People who reach out to learn about your community are beyond the breaking point and in dire need of help. It’s your salespeople who must learn to respond and react with urgency. As I stated early in this blog, it means helping people get what they want and fast. This first step entails deep discovery (which means slowing down and resisting the urge to pre-qualify), listening, and inviting the person inquiring to see the community firsthand to experience it. So long as you see inquiry to tour conversions improving day by day, week by week, you are on your way to success. Industry wide 25% of inquiries are converted to tour. Set your benchmark at 60% and don’t stop training and coaching until it’s achieved. The impact on move ins is transforming.
While simple, frankly it doesn’t happen in the seniors housing sales and marketing process. Circling back to my experience with Frank, all he did was ask questions, listen to my response, and then customize a solution. He sent images of the plants discussed superimposed into my landscape so I could see the difference. This is oftentimes referred to as the puppy dog sale– once I saw it, I was hooked and there was no going back; I had to have it. It’s not hard to do, it’s a simple skillset but when done makes a tremendous impact.
Upon completing discovery and scheduling an on-site visit, salespeople must become diligent in customizing the visit experience.
Based on what was learned in discovery, what residents would be good to meet, what staff, which apartment should be shown, and what is the next step post-tour to ensure the sale moves forward? While you may know this, to see the result you must do it and that is where the big breakdown is in seniors housing. Most operators have a training process, they know what to do; but there is no accountability to execution. Salespeople do whatever they want which most often means winging it and that leads to failure 77% of the time as just 23% of tours convert to move ins industry-wide compared to 42.81% who are professionally trained to use the simple steps outlined here.
4. PROBLEM SOLVE TO ADVANCE THE SALE AND ENGAGE ALL DECISION MAKERS EARLY:
Making a move to a senior living community is no easy feat. It’s a complex decision that is costly and most, if not all, people learning about it for the first time have sticker shock and no idea how to discuss the idea of a move with their loved ones. Operators must spend more time training their sales teams to problem solve. If I had to pick two to master, it would be price and discussing a move with mom or dad.
Salespeople need to have access to financial tools that allow them to compare finances before and after a move to determine if there is a surplus of funds or a shortage of them. If the budget is short, what tools are available to help fund a move and what’s the process to access? The more turnkey operators can make this process the better. Until we do so we’re going to continue to see salespeople use discounts and incentives to close sales rather than solid problem solving and education skills that make the difference in a move in at a profit and a move in at a loss.
We also need to see salespeople gain access to the prospective resident sooner and this means quickly scheduling the next step that includes bringing mom or dad in so value can be built. Deep discover needs done a second time so mom or dad feel heard and understood, so that they too can fully understand and process the situation at hand. And just like with the caregiver, the tour needs customized to the prospective resident. Who should he or she meet, what staff, which apartments and based on what was learned what might build the most value toward the next step, a move?
Operators need to pivot from allowing their salespeople; the face of their communities and revenue engines to stop talking and start listening; move away from discounting and toward problem solving.
We need to make it easier for people to buy which means clearly establishing next steps at every interaction. Salespeople in seniors housing are people pleasers who don’t want to appear aggressive, so they tend to be passive and ask people to let them know when they are ready to move or to call with any questions. It is imperative that you equip your salesforce with the skillset needed to move from pleaser to advisor and that means advocating for seniors who need to move by clearly establishing the next step in the process: selecting an apartment, making a deposit, and setting a move in date.
There is indeed pent-up demand we simply need to train salespeople to convert more challenging leads into on-site visits as a first valid step, customize those visits to wow prospective buyers, problem solve, and ask for a commitment. Our communities are state of the art today, they are lifesaving, and when people see it for themselves their entire perception of assisted living is transformed, and they understand what’s at stake.
Five steps that can salvage your balance sheet. The question to ask now is who will execute? It’s tempting to think that your sales and marketing directors are already taking these five steps but until you inspect what you expect you will not know.