CHAPTERS 7 & 8: PEOPLE DON’T WANT TO MOVE TO AN ASSISTED LIVING COMMUNITY
Assisted Living and Independent Living Sales and Marketing Teams Will Face Fierce Competition from Home Health and a Resident’s Own Home; and Lose
Last month I was in Orlando, Florida filming an industry awareness video for a not-for-profit operator with none other than my mom. She’s had a rough year- with several falls, two rotator cuff surgeries and a forthcoming eye surgery, I began to fear for her safety.
After reaching out to several independent and assisted living communities, I broached the subject with her (and not for the first time) and let’s just say it didn’t go well; she was not interested at all. In fact, like most seniors, her response was, “I would much prefer to have someone come live with me here in my home than go to one of those places.”
After teaching seniors housing sales and marketing teams how to sell for two decades, I had to sell my own mom, how apropos! Back to the video shoot…
THE MOST PROFOUND STATEMENT I’VE HEARD IN THE PAST YEAR FROM A PROSPECTIVE BUYER
In four hours of filming in an independent living apartment, the most profound thing my mom said to me, as I tried to convey the glories of independent and assisted living is, “When I was your age, they didn’t have stuff like this. My dad was in a nursing home, I was a caregiver in one and it wasn’t pretty; in fact, it was at times terrifying. People like me don’t even understand what this is; all we know is that we don’t want it.”
The second most powerful statement I heard was from a resident. While conducting an interview on film with my mom, the resident and her son, her former caregiver; my mom asked , “Weren’t you afraid of losing your independence when you moved here?” as the resident raved about the community. The resident looked at her and said, “I actually gained independence by moving in! I can do whatever I want, when I want, go for a walk, cook in my apartment, or go to the dining room. I can go play cards with people or watch a movie by myself, I gained independence when I moved here.”
I’ll never forget the look on my mom’s face, it was priceless. As the film crew was putting the cameras away, one of them looked at me and said, “when your mom walked in here she was all, ‘hell no!’ but by the end of filming she was trying to explain to you why she would want to move here, it was crazy, I can’t believe what I just saw happen!”
It was enlightening- he was right and as an adult daughter, afraid to dive too deeply into this topic with my mom who is in declining health, we had the most candid conversation ever about her future and what might happen should she not be able to stay at home permanently. I had to ask the tough questions, but I had to take in the hard truths she wanted to share.
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OPPOSING VIEWS ARE TURNING POINTS IF YOU ARE WILLING TO LISTEN
As I was reading the last two chapters of You’re Not Listening, , by Kate Murphy, our current executive book club selection , I was reminded of this day and its impact on my relationship with my mom. We found a new understanding that transformed our relationship and helped garner peace for both of us as I am her primary caregiver. I had to be willing to hear an opposing view. The truth is, I’m a seniors housing fan and have dedicated my entire adult life to it. As you may well know, that can cause blinders. The goal of my interviews was to understand how baby boomers really feel about moving to a senior living community. I had to hear her say things that made everyone in the room wince. Yet we knew it was a breakthrough day.
The information shared in these two chapters is important and now, more so than ever. Seniors and their adult children are afraid of making a move into an assisted living; not just because of COVID-19, but the implications of moving a loved one in that they may not see for months on end.
Salespeople are not prepared to address this deep truth and help families confront the fact that the need of moving to an assisted living or memory care community far outweighs the pain and fear involved in making a move. The topic is too sensitive, emotions too raw, and as an industry, we’ve not trained sales and marketing directors how to really listen and hear these truths without rushing to fill in with routine answers.
In fact, families don’t always need answers, they need someone to hear them, to feel their emotion, to empathize, and understand what they are going through. Who better to do that than a sales and marketing director at a life plan, independent, or assisted living community? But they don’t because no one has taught them how to do it .
As we’ve been learning in this book study , listening is not an innate skill ; it’s not something we were born to do. In fact, it must be learned and it’s not something people teach at the primary, secondary or university level; rather we learn how to speak and debate. What people considering assisted living or memory care really want and need is someone who will listen, be empathetic and understand; and that is hard to find.
WHY CURIOSITY IS SO IMPORTANT TO SELLING ASSISTED AND INDEPENDENT LIVING
In Chapter 7 we learn the importance of asking questions out of curiosity as opposed to questioning to close a sale, as many sales and marketing directors do in seniors housing sales. This is hard for people, particularly the more involved and complex a sale such as an entry fee life plan or memory care community.
People worry that if they really pay attention and seek to understand the prospective buyer’s point of view they will hear,
- It’s expensive
- I may not see my mom for three months
- She could get COVID-19
And they will be side-tracked and try to jump to the quick close with the use of discounts and incentives or worse yet, fear.
What we’ve learned in 20 years of research here at Bild & Co, particularly in listening to thousands of recorded mystery shops is when sales and marketing directors listen and hear what people say, it creates incredible empathy and compassion on the part of the salesperson. This in turn compels that salesperson to better advocate for what’s in the best interest of the senior -and that isn’t normally staying at home.
Without realizing it, sales become easy because passion takes over and solutions are front and center due to real concern as it relates to what was learned and the situation at hand. It’s so counter intuitive but it’s very true. Even more interesting is that operators believe this is what their sales and marketing directors are doing when in fact, they are talking, pleasing, order-taking and multi-tasking rather than being curious, empathetic and compassionate and it’s taking a toll on occupancy as we watch our resident base decline like never before.
SALESPEOPLE TALK SO MUCH, THEY ARE NOT BEING LISTENED TO AT ALL, PEOPLE ARE CHECKING OUT
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Even more important is that someone who has been listened to is far more likely to listen to you. Ever wonder why people who inquire can appear so rude when talking to you about your assisted living community? In most cases, they’ve called several senior living communities already, have been:
- Spoken to
- Sold to
- Bombarded with information
- And, by the time they speak to you, all the prospective buyer wants is the pricing, nothing more
Trust me, prospective buyers, whether the senior or the adult caregiver, don’t want any more of what they just experienced. We see this daily when mystery shopping , and it’s endemic in seniors housing, yet operators are clueless, thinking that people calling in, to spend $100,000 over a two-year stay are receiving an incredible customer experience. That disconnect must change; it’s time to inspect what you expect and work with the facts. Independent and assisted living, memory care, and life plan sales and marketing directors flat out do not know how to listen. Okay, about 2% do; but the remaining 98% do not and that’s a problem.
When prospective buyers are objecting, which means stating opposing viewpoints, Carl Rogers , the psychologist who coined the term active listening , said this is in fact the only way to grow as an individual- to listen. If operators taught their sales and marketing directors to listen when people object instead of ramming through and overcoming their objection, they would be able to follow that objection up with more questions to provoke thought, conversation, and growth for both parties. Hearing why someone is afraid to move a loved one into your assisted living community is incredibly valuable information that if heard, allows for improved understanding and communication of solutions the prospective buyer may not be aware of.
The better a salesperson becomes at listening, the more they come to understand that there is usually more to the story than first appears and that to advance the sale, the onion must be peeled back much more. When that occurs, trust is locked in and the salesperson is looked at as an advisor or expert in senior care. That is a game changer.
The more you invest in teaching your sales and executive directors to listen , the more sales you will see at market rate rent because the value will be there, and buyers wouldn’t think to ask for a discount when they see value as it would be an insult.
A PROFESSIONAL LISTENER IS MORE VALUABLE THAN AN EXPERIENCED SALESPERSON IN ASSISTED LIVING
In chapter 8 we learn about Naomi, who at 76 is a rock star in the world of qualitative research . She’s professionally listened to more than 50,000 people! One of her greatest talents is asking questions that don’t rob people of their stories. I love this!
For example, when moderating a focus group for a grocery store chain that wanted to find out what motivates people to shop late at night, she didn’t ask participants what would seem like the most obvious questions:
- “Do you shop late at night because you didn’t have time during the day?”
- “Is it because stores are less crowded at night?”
- “Is it because you feel stores restock their shelves at night?”
All are logical reasons to shop at night and would have most likely received affirmative responses. Nor did Naomi ask why they shopped late at night- she feels that asking “why” makes people defensive, like they must justify themselves. Instead, Naomi turns her questions into an invitation:
- “Tell me about the last time you went to the store after 11:00 pm?”
- “What’s it like shopping at midnight rather than the morning or afternoon?”
- “Are there differences in your shopping patterns when shopping at night as compared to during the day?”
These type of questions immediately open people up to answer honestly, without feeling judged. This reminds me of the many assisted living mystery shops I listened to this week as part of a massive research project. 99% of all the calls I listened to did exactly what Naomi refuses to do. In call after call, if there were any questions at all from sales and marketing directors they were:
- “Are you looking for independent or assisted living (as if they know?)
- “Is your mom ambulatory?”
- “Does your mom still drive?”
- “Do you want a one or two bedroom or perhaps a studio?”
Each time, and if you’ve ever shopped , you know this holds true- the person inquiring, in this case the shoppers; become defensive. These types of questions are all wrong and do nothing to foster trust, emotional connection or a relationship, instead its’ simply checking off boxes as if to say, “there I asked and they are not a hot lead so I’ll just code this one as lost,” followed by, “we need more traffic!”
And to think that each lead cost you $500 at minimum.
Naomi goes on to say that “What matters in life can’t be counted.” While she’s used quantitative methods many times over the years, usually in the form of surveys, those experiences have taught her that it takes a “whole lot of listening” and not just tallying numbers to understand people’s quirky feelings, habits and motivations.
A survey or poll or in the case of what we find in studying the seniors housing buyer experience is that a checklist of five or six yes or no questions isn’t going to get the prospective buyer to tell his or her story. The power of qualitative research, the power of listening is that it EXPLAINS the numbers and reveals how the numbers come up short. Using both will always get you a truer truth.
EMOTION WILL ALWAYS TRUMP LOGIC
So while we know that the average person who moves into an assisted living is 87, lives within five miles from the community they choose, and has on average, three levels of care; we also must learn that the person asking about pricing is a human being with life experiences that shape their thoughts and opinions about the place you hope to convince them to move.
With my mom it was the story of her dad, who had a massive stroke at just 72 and could no longer remember who she was or even me, his granddaughter…well expect for on good days. It’s the emotional pain of coming to work in the skilled nursing facility where she was a caregiver and starting her day by going into his room only to see him strapped by both wrists to his chair, in front of a television, not knowing where he was or even why he was in that chair; crying out for help, day after day after day. That was hell to her and it’s not something she wants to relive particularly if she has a choice.
Only when we teach independent and assisted living sales and marketing directors to listen , will we be able to learn these stories and their impact as it pertains to fear. When you teach someone in seniors housing to be curious and to listen deeply to what people have to say it’s transforming because that one skill impacts everything else they do in the sales process because they:
- Create urgency
- Become an advocate for the prospective buyer
- Feel compelled to help and ensure a solution is found because in truth, that’s what got them into the industry in the first place- most simply have forgotten
The greatest complement we get at Bild & Co when training sales teams for organizations, is when a long-tenured sales director who feels she didn’t need our training in the first place says, “Thank you, I’ve fallen in love with my job again, I forgot how much I loved it and what it felt like to truly connect with people.” That is why I do what I do, and I know it’s why our coaching and training team does what they do, it’s life changing to help someone have that awakening.
Have questions, comments or want to find time to connect via phone and discuss your goals? Call 1.800.640.0688 or email Revenue@Bildandco.com.