I’m going to confess to something that will upset you; but as you know, I always speak the truth no matter how painful. While 2020 was a tough year for most everyone, it was particularly hard for my mom. In addition to being a 74-year-old widow living within the constraints of a pandemic, she also had multiple falls with one leading to rotator cuff surgery. One of the most painful procedures one can endure, three weeks into recovery, she fell again and had to go back in for a second rotator cuff surgery with the tear being one of the worst her surgeon had seen.
This was an incredibly tough time, both physically and emotionally and being my mom’s protector, I was terrified. Would she fall again, how serious would her fall be, and what if her health only continued to decline as it had over the past several years?
After a few tough conversations I decided to call both independent and assisted living communities to see what my options were here locally. Yes, I know as a senior living sales and marketing expert I should know but this was my mom!
The first step I took was to go online and look for local communities that would entice my mom to at least consider it. That meant something preferably on the water with sizeable apartments, pet friendly, and close to my home.
What struck me immediately was the fact that there were no pictures on the websites I visited. I’m going to be honest; I was shocked. Why in the world did the independent and assisted living communities fail to have pictures of their apartments online so I could see them, particularly in a pandemic where tours were virtually off the table?
The second step I took was to call communities in hopes of talking to someone about my mom. For the first time in my twenty-year career as a sales and marketing consultant and expert in the seniors housing space, this was not a mystery shop but the real deal. I was in panic mode.
Frustrated, I did exactly what people across the nation do when in need of independent living, assisted living, memory care, or rehab; I called a third-party referral agency . I didn’t want to go this route because I know what it costs senior living operators (typically the first month’s rent upon move in) but the reality is that I didn’t have time to continue calling communities in hopes that someone would take my call. With an international business, two teenagers, and a mom whose health was in fast decline, I needed answers immediately; not later.
I can’t begin to express the “ah ha” moment this was for me. For the first time I understood why third party paid referral companies are so successful and how they have gotten such a strong foothold in the seniors housing industry . I called A Place for Mom and within one minute received an email and within five minutes a telephone call. The individual I spoke with asked lots of great questions, sympathized with me, openly discussed pricing (after identifying my needs), and various options that might suite my mom.
Even more interesting is that while I initially called looking for an independent or assisted living, I ended up most interested in a continuum of care retirement or life plan community with a substantial entry fee
component. The individual I spoke with kept it super simple, organized the communities for me, made introductions, and by the end of the day I had done my first virtual tour and spoken to a sister property of the one I toured virtually.
The moral of the story is that people use third party paid referral agencies because they have professionalized their sales process and properly trained their sales and marketing people making the buyer experience seamless. Seniors housing assisted living operators have not and are paying for that dearly and in some cases, depending on the size of the portfolio, millions in fees per year.
Listen up! As an adult daughter, I figured I would spend $3,000-$3,500 per month for an independent living community with an assisted living option should my mom’s health continue to decline. Yet because those communities failed to take my call, capture my contact information, or even call me back; my first choice became a beautiful waterfront CCRC with a $250,000 entry fee and monthly fees of $5,000 per month. This would mean selling my mom’s home and shoring up any deficiencies from her monthly spend, but it also meant she would have access to an urban environment where she could walk her dog downtown, shop, eat lunch out with friends (of which she needed desperately), have a sizeable apartment, and care for life.
Had it not been for the incredible training provided to my APFM sales counselor, I would have never even looked at this type of option. Yet she asked a lot of great questions, drilled down to what was important, and didn’t assume it would cost too much; she offered the right fit based on my wants and needs and that resonated with me!
Ultimately, I didn’t move her in YET, because she wasn’t ready. The average resident within the community was 84 and she, just 74, felt she was too young. We hired her a housekeeper and a dog walker which helped tremendously. These two actions were transforming and gave her time to heal. Within a few months my mom was back on her feet.
The positive is that this experience led us to several very candid conversations about her health, options for the future, and my truth; I’m not a caregiver. I will help how I can and support her financially where needed but I cannot physically care for her. It’s just not in my DNA. She shared that she already knew this and while she was initially against making a move, she had warmed up to the idea over the past few months and just this last week, said she was ready to make a move when the time came.
What’s the lesson here? Oh, there are many so dive into Chapters Two and Three of Zero Lost Revenue Days with your entire organization today for actionable ideas that will result in move ins.
While seniors housing operators complain leads are down and that sales are flat, it’s simply not true. The bigger issue is that when prospective buyers call, senior living communities lack the infrastructure and professional training needed to capture and convert those calls into on-site or live, virtual tours.
Our research team here at Bild & Co has found that first impressions are strong, meaning that the receptionist is answering the phone quickly and politely. Once it’s transferred to sales is where the breakdown begins. Prior to the pandemic our team could turn around mystery shops within a week. Today, it takes two weeks or more due to our inability to get a sales and marketing director to answer or return our calls. Prospective buyers are calling, but we as an industry, we are failing to answer, and we need to pivot fast if we expect to recover.
While 40% of all incoming leads used to fall through the cracks, I would confidently say it is upwards of 60% right now. With sales and marketing directors pulled into operations, staff shortages, and demoralized teams who are exhausted and out of steam; we are missing out on millions of lost revenue. This tremendous loss is not due to lack of consumer interest or lead volume; its due to the seniors housing and care industry’s inability to implement and execute strong sales systems that drive an extraordinary (or ordinary for that matter) buyer experience. The good news? You can fix this in a matter of 30 days with proper training, accountability, and follow up coaching.
Chapter two of this month’s book club study zeros in on mismanaged calls: what they are, how to prevent them, and the impact of plugging this business gap. In case you’re not with me yet, let me be clear:
This is what I mean by the title of my book Zero Lost Revenue. Yet before you can move to zero lost revenue, you must stop the bleed and begin to recapture that which is being freely lost due to a lack of sales systems. As you put those processes in place you can then begin to move toward the goal of selling every apartment in your senior living community and change more lives than you ever imagined.
While I am generally a very positive person, when it comes to seniors housing sales and marketing , I am not. I’m frustrated by our inability to fix this very solvable business obstacle. The challenge for operators is that it’s a hard problem to solve. It takes training and constant reinforcement of that training as well as accountability to execution. My only assumption at this point, meaning frustration; is that it’s easier to just let the prospective buyer call back or move on to a competitor than it is to change the process and confront poor performance.
If a person who is trying to buy a product or service can’t reach the individual they are directed to call (from the website, ad, or direct mail piece), how in the world are they to buy?
The second big challenge is what happens when the inquiry call does make it to a sales and marketing director, executive director, nurse, or whomever is taking the call at that moment? Of the forty percent of calls that reach this stage of the buyer process, most do the following:
The worst part is that these findings are across all levels of care, happening at both existing and newly developed independent and assisted living or memory care communities and with highly experienced sales professionals who know better.
As you read chapters two and three, please keep in mind that this blog series will reflect current trends so defer to these stats over those previously published and yes, you should be concerned that the problem has only gotten worse since my second edition print in 2015.
YOUR CHECKLIST TO EXECUTE STAT TO CAPTURE AND CONVERT LEADS INTO IMMEDIATE TOURS
We can do better and here is a checklist of what you must do immediately to capture leads and convert them into tours within 24 hours:
1. Train Your Employees: Yes, train your sales and marketing directors but also train your executive director, front desk staff, and anyone else who might be responsible for answering the telephone and engaging with prospective buyers.
2. Inspect What You Expect: No more one and done. Either mystery shop or have your regionals call a sampling of communities weekly to ensure no leads are falling through the cracks and that those captured are converted into tours 60-75% of the time.
3. Reinforce Training with Coaching and Accountability to Growth: Take your findings and review them with individual communities and team members. Record calls (where allowed and with proper paperwork) and let the individual shopped evaluate their own performance and share where they might improve going forward.
4. Monitor the Metrics: Watch metrics weekly and if able, daily. Considering the marketing spend operators make to generate quality leads for their assisted living communities, you must have a solid pulse on the metrics. How many leads were captured, converted into tours, retours, and ultimately a moved in resident?
If you are unsure of benchmarks, you should see at least 90% of all incoming leads captured (with mobile and email contact info), 50% converted into a virtual or live tour because the fact is, they called you so they are interested in buying; you must drive the process and be clear as to next steps. If you do that, this will be easily achieved. From there, you want to convert at least 25% of all tours into a move in. Yes, even now within the pandemic.
It is clear there is pent up demand because those people who are touring are converting at a much higher rate, in fact about 15% higher than before COVID-19. Now it’s time to professionalize the sales process so you can stop losing leads, capture far more than you are right now, and ultimately see more move ins, revenue, and net operating income because of your efforts.