The Robotic, Reactive, and Assumptive Sales Mentality That is Plaguing the Independent and Assisted Living Industry and Reaping Financial Destruction
According to the Harvard Business Review , an awakening is taking place in management circles. Business is tied together by its systems of communication which depends more on the spoken word than it does the written word; and the effectiveness of the spoken word hinges not so much on how people talk as on how they listen.
“People in general do not know how to listen. They have ears that hear very well, but seldom have they acquired the necessary aural skills which would allow those ears to be used effectively for what is called listening.” HBR
As we dive into Chapter 3 of our current Executive Book Club Selection , You’re Not Listening, it’s important to understand that listening, unlike talking, is not a skill that people naturally possess. Developing the ability to be curious, to actively listen and hear what people say, can transform your company’s performance results in ways you could never imagine.
If you put focus on listening, as an organization, you will see immediate impact on:
- Employee engagement
- Resident satisfaction
- Sales, move ins and revenue (the focus of this blog)
Never has it been more important to listen as the seniors housing industry, which includes independent and assisted living as well as memory care communities, undergoes a total disruption. Everything has changed; from how we market , sell and serve residents, to how we train, manage and engage employees. The American way of life has been upended, with people more emotional and vulnerable than perhaps any other time in their lives.
Listening is the neglected stepchild of communication.
According to the author Kate Murphy, much of what we think we know about listening is about how students comprehend what is learned in classrooms and that’s normally in the form of a teacher yelling, “pay attention” or “listen up everyone!” Scholars can’t agree on a definition of listening either.
In schools, little attention is paid to the aural element of communication, reading ability is continually upgraded while listening ability, left to falter along on its own, degenerates. As a fair reader and a bad listener, the typical student is graduated into a society where the chances are high that he will have to listen about three times as much as he reads.
What educators are now realizing is that listening is a skill that can be taught. About two dozen major universities and colleges in the country now provide courses in listening and this is a great start!
BECOME A BETTER LISTENER
There’s lots of advice on how to be a better listener and trainers often come up with fancy words like co-contextualizing or acronyms such as SPIN to help people remember to listen and to show they are paying attention by doing things such as making eye contact or saying “uh huh” and “I understand,” or nodding their head.
Without really listening, but pretending they are, people then launch into what they want to say; only listening in a prescribed way to get what it is they want. Whether it’s to;
- Get a date
- Make a sale (our focus)
- Negotiate terms (our focus)
- Climb the corporate ladder
People easily pick up on this type of inauthenticity. Listening must come from an honest, genuine place of curiosity and when it does, you don’t need to make a big deal of it because the person you are speaking with feels the connection firsthand.
Listening is about being curious.
Little kids will ask millions of questions, oftentimes embarrassing ones, ha! And they listen to what you say and will often repeat back what they hear.
While this behavior can be annoying, it’s authentic; kids are naturally curious and sincerely want to know the answers to their questions! We are born this way and sadly it gets beat out of us by the time we are adults. The truth is that all throughout life, we have something to learn from everyone we meet and the real tool to embrace and improve your ability to listen is to BE CURIOUS.
You can make more friends in two months by being interested in other people than you can in two years in trying to get people interested in you. To listen is to be interested. The goal is to leave the exchange having learned something. You already know about you, it’s time to learn about them.
FACT: When talking to inattentive listeners, speakers remember less information and find themselves less articulate in the information they are sharing. Attentive listeners did the opposite- with speakers remembering more information and finding themselves more engaged in the conversation and what is being shared.
STOP PUTTING PEOPLE WHO CALL YOUR SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITY INTO A PRE-SUBSCRIBED BOX
Despite COVID-19, most seniors housing communities are generating a steady flow of sales leads . This means people still need assisted living or memory care; perhaps they are ready to live in an independent or active adult living for a sense of community and peace of mind.
Each prospective buyer who inquires to your community is a hot lead, otherwise they would not be calling. No one wakes up and decides to call an assisted living community for fun! Rather than listening and trying to pull out what is happening, how long the situation has been going on, immediate and long-term concerns, fears, goals, wants, and needs; salespeople seek to pre-qualify, data dump and quickly sum up if the lead is viable or not. Most salespeople simply don’t want to waste their time on leads that they deem unqualified. Odds are a good segment of your existing database of leads have been closed out as cold by salespeople and they are in fact viable leads who would otherwise, with some nurturing, consider moving in.
Lack of real interest and concern is felt by prospective buyers and causes them to disconnect from the conversation emotionally. People can sense when an individual is not interested in what they have to say and sadly, this is happening every day on call after call to assisted living communities where prospective buyers are trying to find real solutions to difficult, life altering problems.
THE INABILITY TO LISTEN HAS CRUSHED OUR ABILITY TO CLOSE WITH JUST 9% CONVERTING TO MOVE IN
When salespeople fail to listen, they are unable to build value regarding the next step of the sales process. The community becomes another box on a list of places to call where it will be stacked side by side with its competitors.
These communities will engage in a price war in hopes of landing a quick sale because none of the salespeople know how to sell differently, they’ve not been taught the importance of, nor how to, properly ask questions and actively listen. In the world we are in right now, just 9% of those inquiring into assisted living or memory care will move and that’s just plain sad.
All I can think of is the 91% who had a need, called and ended up talking to a robotic salesperson who went through the motions; pre-qualifying and dumping as much information as possible on them leaving the caller more confused than they were when they initially called in.
If salespeople would just slow down, listen, and take the time needed to build trust and emotionally connect, more than 50%, not 9% of those inquirers would move in.
- The prospective buyer has a need
- The prospective buyer acted on that need and emailed or called your senior living community
- We, as an industry, let them down because we fail to prioritize and teach salespeople how to listen
WHAT’S GOING ON IN AN ASSISTED OR INDEPENDENT LIVING SALESPERSON’S MIND?
In our research, lots of assumptions are going on with the salesperson assuming they know what is needed before even asking.
“Looking to hire true sales talent, not poach yet another salesperson from the competitor? At Bild & Co we recruit talent that are currently employed, performing and that ultimately could transform the trajectory of your revenue.” Jennifer Saxman
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When an individual thinks he or she already knows how a conversation will go, it kills all curiosity and subverts listening. What we see in completing thousands of mystery shops and competitive analyses annually is this exact scenario replayed over and over and over.
- A prospective buyer calls in and the salesperson puts them in a box with everyone else, assuming it’s going to be a quick, easy sale.
- The salesperson will ask why the caller reached out and upon hearing the answer, begin to verbally vomit all over the prospective buyer overwhelming them with unsolicited, impersonal information to include the pricing bomb that it will only cost “$5,600” per month, maybe more depending on care needs.
- Only when the salesperson realizes the prospective buyer has completely disconnected and will not be a quick, easy sale will they pivot and try to quickly save the call but by then, it’s typically too late.
AN INTERESTING STUDY ON LISTENING
In Chapter three, the author discusses a study conducted by behavioral science researchers at the University if Chicago who ran a series of experiments involving hundreds of bus and train commuters whom they assigned to one of three conditions:
- Sit in solitude
- Engage with a stranger
- Act as they normally did on their commutes
People thought they would be least happy if they had to engage with strangers but strangely enough these people were most happy. Those convinced others wouldn’t want to talk to them, reported back that it was not true and in fact no one had insulted or rebuffed them.
Sitting alone and keeping to ourselves is a survival mechanism that tries to keep us doing what we’ve always done because it’s safe. People by nature crave routine- think of Starbucks or McDonalds, people go there because they know what to expect and will most often get it; and that makes us feel safe.
People walk the same routes, cruise the grocery store the same way and visit the same vacation locations each year because it’s what they know and it’s in their comfort zone. Similarly, we see this in assisted living sales. Marketing directors ask each person that inquires in any given day the exact same one to two questions and ramble off the same, if not exact sales pitch over and over; not taking into consideration that no two people are alike. Tours will be robotic and each one essentially the same.
UNCERTAINITY IS EXCITING; THINK OF THE LAST TIME YOU DID SOMETHING NEW
It’s uncertainty that makes us feel most alive. Think of events that shake you out of your rogue existence. Going somewhere you’ve never been! Time seems to slow down, and you feel more fully engaged. Same is true if something is risky- your sense is sharper, and you notice more. You know this if you’ve ever been mountain climbing, kite surfing or skydiving!
There is a greater surge of pleasure in a chance meeting and discussion over something that’s stagnant or planned. This is why movies with unexpected plot twist like The Sixth Sense are so popular; it offers something completely surprising!
People are fascinating because they are unpredictable. By failing to listen, you will be bored and BORING to the person whom you are speaking. When you are genuinely curious and able to learn about people, getting them to share things they typically wouldn’t otherwise, you are at the top of your game. I have lifelong friends that I am still learning new things about like;
- Heather who I recently found out lived in Germany when the Berlin Wall fell and has a piece of it at home, she was part of living history
- My best friend from elementary school Michele who is an empath and while I knew that she was a Reiki master I didn’t realize she could feel or sense when someone has an illness they don’t yet realize they have
- My daughter Paris, who I just learned last week has the Myers Briggs personality make up that only 1% of the world has (infjs); which explains a lot
People are fascinating and like a piece of thread on the pant leg that continues to unravel as you pull, strangers and friends will unravel their lives and share things you could never imagine if you just care to ask and listen.
FIND OPPORTUNITY TO BUILD NATURAL RAPPORT
Listen for things you have in common and build rapport naturally; don’t interrogate people. Calling an assisted living you will immediately be bombarded with questions like, “where does your dad live, is he living alone, does he drive, is he mobile?”
This is interrogation style selling and causes people to put their guard up further limiting your ability to understand how to properly advise them. The conversation ends up a superficial elevator pitch.
In the study I shared in this Chapter with passengers who rode the train to work and who were given the task to engage with strangers; they were also told to make a connection. That meant they had to work to find something interesting about the stranger, something personal and then share something about themselves. Rather than the typical “do you work in the city?” it’s seeing a Yankee’s ball cap and instead asking “what made you a Yankees fan?”
In listening and letting the conversation build organically those in the study found out how interesting their fellow travelers could be, and they much preferred this experience to sitting alone or doing what they normally did.
Take your time, be patient and a good listener if you want people to tell you their stories. Let people talk and probe them with questions that move beyond the surface. The more you listen, the more they will share- ALWAYS.
IT’S TIME FOR A TRANSFORMATION IN YOUR SENIOR LIVING BUYER EXPERIENCE
Do you dream of a future where your senior living salespeople;
- Listen instead of talk
- Extract intimate details from prospective resident’s lives that even their own children are unaware of?
- Provide a buyer experience that makes people feel important, heard, and understood?
The Bild & Co team has been transforming independent and assisted living organizations for two decades with hyper focus on sales communication and relationship building skills centered around listening. Text me at 813.390.3349 to connect, email email@example.com or schedule time on my calendar here and let’s discuss next steps to achieving your business performance goals!