THE LOST ART OF LISTENING
I’ll never forget my mom saying to me, “I used to walk into a room and people would stop and look at me, talk to me…now I walk in and no one sees me at all, it’s as if I’m invisible.” At the time she was in her early seventies and it broke my heart.
When is the last time someone really listened to you, to the point you felt truly understood, heard and well, important? Does your spouse listen to you, your co-workers, employees, what about your kids? Is anyone really listening to what you have to say?
I imagine it’s been a long time since you’ve really felt as if you’ve been heard.
There’s an unconscious tendency to tune out people you feel close to because you think you already know what they are going to say.
You are not alone. In a 2018 survey of 20,000 Americans, 50% said they didn’t have meaningful interactions on a daily basis and often felt lonely and left out; even when others were around. In the 1980s just 20% felt this way. As a society while we are not alone, we are more strangely disconnected than ever before. The survey went on to disclose that:
- One in four Americans (27%) rarely or never feel as though there are people who really understand them.
- Two in five Americans sometimes or always feel that their relationships are not meaningful (43%) and that they are isolated from others (43%).
- One in five people report they rarely or never feel close to people (20%) or feel like there are people they can talk to (18%).
- Only around half of Americans (53%) have meaningful in-person social interactions, such as having an extended conversation with a friend or spending quality time with family, on a daily basis.
- Generation Z (adults ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.
- Social media use alone is not a predictor of loneliness; respondents defined as very heavy users of social media have a loneliness score (43.5) that is not markedly different from the score of those who never use social media (41.7).
People are talking but they aren’t listening to one another. To connect in a meaningful way, it must be a two-way street involving both talking and listening. Instead, people are engaged in “dialogue of the death” talking over one another. It’s all about defining oneself and shaping the narrative.
I can’t help but wonder how people who are in their late seventies, eighties or mid-nineties must feel…a lifetime of wisdom, experience and stories to share yet no one interested in listening. Now with COVID-19 they are more isolated then ever; it’s tragic.
LISTENING SKILLS CAN BE LEARNED
It seems more than ever people just go through the motions of life, missing one opportunity after another to connect in a meaningful way that enriches one’s experience. Instead, it’s become commonplace to have a conversation while scrolling through news and social media feeds. Even when people seem to be paying attention, most are pondering what they are going to say next rather than actively listening.
My current executive book club selection, You’re Not Listening by Kate Murphy, could not be timelier for seniors housing investors, developers and operators. The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on the long-term care industry. All told, COVID-19 has made a known appearance at more than 4,000 long-term care facilities across the country and has caused more than 10,000 deaths among residents and staff members alike .
Never has it been more important to listen to what your residents and their adult children, employees and referral sources have to say. Never has it been more important for your sales and marketing directors to listen to what prospective residents and their adult children have to say because their fears are very real.
Those who fail to listen and respond accordingly may not be in business this time next year. Independent living residents are protesting over long-standing quarantines, adult children are increasingly distressed over their inability to visit their parents and skilled nursing has all but been decimated.
Your failure to listen may result in a mass exodus of residents once COVID-19 is under control leading to the collapse of what were once great companies. On the other hand, those executives who do listen and choose to dive deep into what people are saying, while crafting thoughtful solutions, will thrive and experience the much-needed relief of pent up demand. The implications of a professionally trained sales director who understands the importance of listening rather than talking has never been more important.
LISTENING DRAMATICALLY SHORTENS THE SALES CYCLE AND LEADS TO INCREASED MOVES INS
Occupancy sits at a 14 year low of 84.9% among independent and assisted living operators. What’s unfortunate is executives who are failing to fight back and equip their sales and marketing teams with the skill set needed to thrive in today’s difficult sales environment. Many are simply waiting it out, hoping things will get better as they watch their margins decline and begin to dip into cash reserves.
The reality is you will have to work harder than ever before to court new residents and generate double the leads that are typically required to produce one move in. Sales and marketing teams will need to adapt and fast, from relying on face to face interactions where they typically excel, to becoming masters of remote selling . We must work both harder and smarter to survive and even thrive during this challenging time.
Traditional marketing methods must be enhanced or even replaced by digital efforts that allow prospective buyers to chat, schedule live zoom tours via the website, download brochures and pricing information, as well as read customer reviews, and even watch resident videos and messages from the CEO on what is being done to protect their vulnerable residents and staff.
The days of “order taking” are over. Professional, sophisticated sales and marketing skills, will be required to thrive in seniors housing over the next decade. The sale itself has become much more complex with COVID-19 in play resulting in:
- Remote appointments and tours that are oftentimes on the fly and sales directors who are deeply uncomfortable leveraging this technology
- Questions around quarantine procedures and visitation capabilities that lead to discussions sales directors are not equipped to have
- Increased acuity among prospective buyers that are beyond the historical norm and even push your communities existing abilities
- An abundance of competitors who are discounting to fill apartments all while further destroying already floundering margins and the ability to properly serve residents
- A constant news cycle that is damaging to the industry as a whole and raising endless objections among prospective buyers
A highly skilled and properly trained sales and marketing professional must know how to listen, ask thought provoking, open-ended questions, and be truly curious as to how people feel. They must be tuned into what prospective residents and their adult children have to say, truly listening so they can craft the best advice moving forward. Listening allows people to process their thoughts and emotions and as it relates to seniors housing and care, people are more emotional than ever because the implications of a bad move are literally life threatening.
Sales and marketing directors must learn how to build trust and emotionally connect with prospective buyers. While many consider their “building” their most valuable asset, what’s more important today is that sales director who is able to resonate with prospective buyers, build value and get them to move today versus tomorrow and in turn protect the revenue, cash flow and future viability of the community. Yes, who you hire and what you choose to invest in the sales engine of your business will result in the outcomes you see over the next 12 months. This is healthcare but it is still a business and with increased labor and PPE costs this is no time to slack on your sales efforts.
This executive book club selection will force you to acknowledge the true capabilities of your sales and marketing team and better understand why your numbers are where they are and as I’ve been preaching for decades, it all comes back to the ability to listen and connect with prospective buyers. We are going to get real, and more importantly clear, on what you need to do right now to get results.
Take a moment and forward this book club selection on to your business associates and peers and let’s improve sales communication and overall listening skills as well as occupancy and revenue as an industry together. Those you forward this blog to can sign up here as well as dive into our four previous executive book club selections and blog series.
Frustrated with current performance results? Do you seek to be proactive and end 4Q20 in a position of strength? There is still time, click here to schedule time on my calendar and let’s strategize what it will take to get your occupancy, revenue and net operating income into recovery mode and back on track for positive growth.