Upon arrival I slowly began to hook up the electricity, water, stabilize the camper, unhitch from my car and so on. With the help of Noah and a few friends, we sat back, satisfied. It was time to relax, finally! I went to grab something for Noah from the restroom and when I opened the bathroom door, water began to pour out everywhere. All I had were paper towels and that wasn’t doing anything to contain the water which was now a solid inch deep. I was in total panic mode! Bart, a good friend of ours, came running in thinking I saw a mouse (yes, because of my screaming) and realized what was happening; quickly reappeared with a beach towel that saved the day. I was able to soak up the water and assess the damage. It was going to be okay!
As we replayed setting Rosie up, someone pointed out that I had put the freshwater hose into the black water tank and essentially flushed the toilet water out into the camper. I know, bad move and trust me, I’ll never do that again. This is the type of thing that happens when you tell someone what to do versus showing them.
When we went to pick up the Airstream from the dealer, my assigned delivery and set up guy quickly showed me how to embark once at our campsite- unhook the hitch, open all the windows, the canopy, stabilize the camper, use all the electronics, and a dozen other little, but important things. I kept saying, “Can I do that please as I learn by doing, not by watching.” Clearly, that was a no go.
As I reflect on the tank issue, I can’t help but think of seniors housing and in particular assisted living. In two decades of training sales and marketing directors, our rally cry to operators and owners has been “you can’t just tell people what to sell, you have to show them how to do it.” When people do things themselves, it increases retention.
While I had to clean up a mess from the toilet, the wreckage is much worse when an operator hands a new assisted living or skilled nursing sales and marketing director a training manual and says, “read this.” Yeah right. Got it. I’m going to kill it!
There is nothing worse than wanting to succeed and utterly failing as I learned in North Carolina. Trust me, I immediately downloaded arrival and departure checklists, laminated them, and physically went through every aspect of arrival and departure because I did not want another incident like that. Most assisted living communities have incredible people in place, responsible for the sales and marketing of their senior living communities, yet they have no playbook and if they do, no one has taught them how to use it. While selling might seem easy in assisted living, it’s actually very complex.
Each quarter the Bild & Co team does dozens of on-site assessments on underperforming assisted living communities to better understand where the barriers are. One constant we consistently see is lack of execution at the site-level of training programs implemented by the operator. Most often we find that within a portfolio of communities, each is doing their own thing. Meaning there is no consistency company-wide making it much more difficult to scale and grow as many operators are attempting to do right now.
If your immediate goal is to grow profitably and ultimately move toward Zero Lost Revenue Days, meaning all units fully occupied at market rate rent, sales and marketing directors must understand how to:
1. EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE:
Meaning, until a salesperson is taught how to listen versus talk, ask numerous open-ended questions with real curiosity, listen, respond in a personal way that demonstrates he or she has heard; and demonstrate empathy for a prospective buyer’s life situation, that person is going to struggle.
While you might think, “well that’s pretty easy to do,” it’s not! Just 2.2 out of 10 prospective buyers who inquire actually come visit an assisted living community. That means 7.8 do not! Keep in mind, these are real people, in crisis who are calling your community for a specific reason – to purchase what you are selling. All they want to know is if your community is a fit. If not, that individual will continue to call other communities or perhaps explore other options like home health or living with a relative.
If you want to double on-site tour volume and increase inquiry foot traffic from 2.2 to 4.4 prospective buyers coming on site (out of 10 inquirers), make sales and communication training a priority. Lack of move ins is not a lead problem, it’s a skill set problem among the very people hired to generate revenue for your assisted living communities.
2. ADVOCATE AND ADVISE PROSPECTIVE BUYERS:
We are in a severely misunderstood industry and are selling a product no one wants to buy. To immediately increase net move ins, you must increase the volume of gross move ins and that means focusing on the leads you have, not getting more. If you can’t close five out of 10 leads you for sure are not going to close 25 out of 50! The numbers you must review every day are leads, tours, and move ins. Focus must be on what it is you want: 12 move ins for July (you can’t control outs so focus on what you can control).
To immediately impact move ins, focus specifically on advocating and advising prospective buyers on the next step in the process. Sadly, sales and marketing directors make it so confusing that buyers have no clue what to do so they simply stop the process. Reinforce at daily stand up or huddle, which prospective buyers are visiting that day and what the identified next step will be. If it’s a brand-new family, the next step will most likely be a follow up tour with mom or dad. If it’s a revisit appointment with a family who has visited once or twice, the next step is most likely an assessment or deposit check obtained. The key to success is to know what the next step is before the appointment and to confidently clarify by stating that next step at the end of each appointment.
When your sales and marketing directors are confident in the next step and communicate it to prospective buyers, it’s a game changer. People look to you as the expert to advise and when instead your sales directors say, something like, “thanks for coming in today, would you like for me to send you home with a brochure?” or “let me know when you are ready,” it lacks authority and urgency. People are afraid and don’t want to buy anyway! If your salespeople are letting prospective buyers off the hook without a confirmed next step, then that’s your fault for not teaching them to do better.
3. BUILD SOLID VALUE BEFORE DISCUSSING PRICE
People in no way are prepared for the cost of an assisted living community and most are shocked. A big problem is that sales and marketing directors drop big numbers without first building value or laying out how making a move will impact current family member spend. It is vital that your sales and marketing directors are professionally trained and have the skill set to find needs, build value, and advise seniors and their adult children on the impact assisted living has on people’s lives.
A worksheet should be front and center when reviewing pricing that shows current expenses compared to future expenses upon move in so people can see right then and there the net loss or gain in making a move. Only then can a family make an educated decision as to the value of a move. Is it worth an extra $1,150 per month for us to move mom to an assisted living community?
Yet when a sales and marketing director just drops the bomb, “well the rates vary but will be around $5,500 per month depending on what your mom needs along with a $3,500 community fee at move in (what the heck is that?) and if you’re looking at a room with a view say of the lake or trees, it will be another $300-$400 per month.” Of course pricing will most likely come up on the initial call, but that conversation needs to come after the value has been built through discovery and needs matching.
Offering a range of prices and then following up with an in person discussion to sit down and review options puts the sales and marketing director back in the driver’s seat .
You may be thinking to yourself, “thank goodness my salespeople don’t sound like this!” Think again, odds are it’s worse. The single biggest barrier the Bild & Co research team has had in completing competitive analysis and buyer experience mystery shops is sales and marketing directors not answering their phones. It’s tragic! How can a family buy when no one cares to answer the phone and when they do, verbally vomit all over them with no regard for the family’s situation?
A solid salesperson should be able to tell you at minimum three to four wants, needs, or desires a family has as it relates to making a move to assisted living and they must be personal. A great exercise is to have your executive director ask this question each morning at stand up. “Jackie, I see we have three tours today, great job. Can you share with the team, what are the top three to four needs of each visitor so we are prepared should we meet them and even to offer some fresh ideas this morning?”
This effort alone will put hyper focus on each individual buyer and what makes them tick. Compare this with what’s happening right now at most assisted living communities- sales and marketing directors might know why a prospective buyer called and that’s about it.
If you want to improve total tour to deposits and move ins quickly, make it a policy that sales and marketing directors do not dare ask for deposits or move in dates until they are able to communicate back those top three to four needs to prospective buyers and to their own team so proper services can be delivered and honored during move in.
Selling assisted living is just helping people get what they want; that’s it. The reason it’s so complicated is the industry has been reactive and chosen to cut corners by offering incentives and discounts that generate traffic but not actual move ins and on the one or two who do move because of the incentive, they oftentimes do so at a loss. It’s time to stop being afraid to invest in salespeople for fear they will leave. Would you not train a caregiver for the same reason? People know when we are vested in their success, and lack of training and education has led to an entire salesforce of assisted living employees who simply do not have the skill set to sell in today’s complex and costly environment.
For less than $1,000 per salesperson you can equip people with the skills needed to hit their move in goals month after month, year after year, and move away from the cyclical nightmare that senior living operators find themselves in. You have what it takes to be better, to equip that incredibly valuable employee who is responsible for generating the revenue for each of your communities, with the toolbox to success. It’s up to you. Remember, you get what you focus on so make top line revenue a priority and implement these three solid strategies into your overarching plan now.