Leverage Sales and Marketing Efforts to Show Consumers What’s Behind the Curtain in Senior Living
Independent and assisted living as well as memory care communities must show people what is happening behind the scenes for a long awaited and much needed senior living rebrand.
Who ever thought seniors housing would be in the headlines of every major news outlet across the country? Dismally the story is not being driven by those of us in the space; but by the media who may fail to see the bigger picture. In fact, a simple search of “assisted living facilities and COVID-19” produced over 8 million results, most with negative headlines such as this one featured in USA Today on April 9, 2020.
“Assisted living complexes, home to more than 800,000 people nationwide, have quickly become a new and dangerous theater in the coronavirus war. Challenged by deepening financial pressures, sicker residents, limited oversight and too few employees, they now face a crisis that could force companies into bankruptcy, roil the industry and even close some facilities — putting frail seniors at greater-than-ever risk.”
I disagree. That is a pretty aggressive statement. But how can we as an industry change or control the narrative better?
Overall operators have done an incredible job of protecting approximately one million residents. Yet each day we are tied to the devastation occurring
within the walls of skilled nursing facilities. People fail to understand that our resident base is much different- more vibrant, healthy and independent compared to those in nursing homes. Independent and assisted living as well as memory care are not one in the same as skilled nursing. We know that! The problem is consumers do not. As an industry we must get ahead of this and tell our side of the story. We must be bold, aggressive and offer information each day that ultimately gets the attention of both prospective buyers and the media. Most importantly, we must dispel fact from rumor for those with loved ones in our communities, so we don’t see increased move outs and a further decline in occupancy.
WHO WILL TELL YOUR STORY? IF YOU DON’T GET OUT AHEAD OF THIS, THE PRESS WILL AND WHAT THEY SAY WILL BECOME YOUR NARRITIVE.
Being that Chapter nine is called, Break Down Barriers, I decided to look up exactly what the word barrier means: a circumstance or obstacle that prevents communication or progress. It’s safe to say we have a lot of constraints right now both as operators and as consumers in seniors housing. Never has it been more important to break down barriers in the seniors housing and care space than it is right now.
If we thought it was tough to sell before COVID-19, get ready; the job just got harder. No one has been trained to sell senior living blind-folded and with one arm tied behind their back. That’s what it feels like anyway! Dramatically reduced lead volume, the inability to tour the community, historic unemployment, a freeze on move ins depending on where you live; crushing media coverage and no certainty as to when things will go back to normal has devastated the confidence of seniors housing salespeople.
Every prospective resident to your independent or assisted living, memory care or active adult community is likely throwing up a barrier of some sort as it relates to moving in; and rightly so. In fact, there are more obstacles to moving in than we’ve ever seen, in the history of senior living. Yet here we are, in unchartered territory, trying to figure out how to navigate barriers never faced before.
FROM TRANSACTION TO HUMAN CONNECTION
If we are to shift the story among the press and consumers, we must change business as usual. We must lead with our stories because that is what’s memorable and what sticks; always.
Prior to the pandemic our industry was afflicted by transactional selling. Little time or effort was invested in establishing an emotional connection, finding needs, building value and most importantly establishing trust. Apartments were most often sold on rate and the ability to beat the competitors pricing.
We have the opportunity to shift the conversation to help buyers understand the value seniors housing provides their loved ones compared to living at home alone and being 100% dependent on caregivers whose lives are also in upheaval right now. Finally, we get to tell our story!
GETTING BEYOND THE TRANSACTION
In this Chapter, the authors state that when organizations set out to provide a product or service, they typically make the crucial mistake of believing they are only there to provide that product or service- as if they were merely there to fulfill a transaction. Is this the fastest, biggest, cheapest?
In the case of senior living, the transaction is to sell an apartment for the best rate possible. It has become so bad that we have in effect trained prospective buyers to ask for deals and to demand better pricing even if it means selling at a loss. New developments oftentimes use this strategy to lease up communities quickly and while they would prefer not to; it’s easier than training people to sell value, or so executives think.
Why should I buy your product instead of your competitor’s offering? Frequently, a focus on product attributes results in a race to the bottom with price discounts and incentives. We see this daily in independent and assisted living as 98% of what operators provide is the same and when salespeople fail to communicate that 2% difference, there is nothing to differentiate and it comes down to nothing more than price. THE SENIOR LIVING COMMUNITY BECOMES A COMMODITY. The community to offer the best deal wins. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution for the prospective resident by any means; it simply means the lowest price.
To get beyond discounting and incentives that do nothing but devalue senior living and its incredible benefits, it’s time to show what’s behind the curtain, to demonstrate how life is different for seniors at your communities compared to being at home alone. Not only will this strategy drive move ins, but garner positive press, social media shares and a fanocracy around your individual communities.
No one knows what changes are in store for senior living operators once COVID-19 is behind us. What we all do know is that our business will be forever changed. Never has transparency been more important and leaders have a unique opportunity to connect with customers in a very personal manner- showing the human side of senior living. Executives need to welcome fans into the inner world of seniors housing and melt the barrier that exist between buyers, “prospective residents and their families” and sellers, “those independent and assisted living as well as memory care communities looking to care for seniors.”
When we are encouraged to see behind the curtain, for ourselves, what’s going on in these communities- versus what’s in the news; when we even become part of what’s going on once the curtain is up, we’re made to feel special and then we become fans. Forever.
ANDREW CUOMO LIFTS THE CURTAIN ON NYC
While not everyone is a fan, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has become a trusted voice in the COVID-19 pandemic. He had done an incredible job of pulling the curtain back for the world to see exactly what’s happening in his state of New York. Transparent, direct, and sometimes emotional, Cuomo states the facts, uses visuals, and is consistent.
Each day he is live, on camera sharing updates to the residents of New York. In talking with people who live there, he is a lifeline to critical information. Most importantly people trust him because he is transparent.
You have the same opportunity to be the face of your company; to provide the facts around COVID-19 and how it’s impacting your company. Whether you have 100 or 100,000 residents, in most cases there are family members who are concerned and wake up every day wondering what is going on inside the walls of the community in which their loved one resides.
While you may not like being on camera, it’s time to get visible. Whether a daily or weekly message, as the leader of your organization or community, you must speak about what you are doing to protect residents and staff. This should be posted on your website and social media feeds and accessible by anyone that is a stakeholder or considering your community as a future home for themselves or a loved one. Salespeople in your organization should be able to share these updates with prospective buyers to demonstrate the leadership behind the organization they are considering. People need to hear from you.
This effort, no matter how taxing will be a game changer for your organization. Doing so consistently, day after day, week after week, will create an unbreakable emotional connection with current and future customers that no amount of marketing spend could ever buy.
People want the facts and only you can dispel the confusion buyers have around what’s happening in nursing homes compared with assisted and independent living or memory care communities. Only you as the leader of your organization or community can speak to what steps you are taking to protect residents and staff; better controlling the dialogue around your business. Never has there been a time where leadership is more needed in seniors housing than today.
GO BEHIND THE CURTAIN AND EXPOSE WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING
When communicating with stakeholders, be sure to take them behind the scenes. While it may be true that residents have not left their apartments for thirty days, talking about why the simple things are so important. Allow family members a peek into their loved one’s world.
- Join an activities director on her nightly cocktail hour where residents are served cocktails at their doors or sit in on chair yoga.
- Go into the kitchen and interview the chef about steps he is taking in food preparation and delivery, handling special request and more. Let him tell his side of the story.
- Speak with your direct care staff about the little things they do to lift their resident’s spirits, to ensure they are getting the care needed every day from medicine and wellness checks to critical care needs compared to living at home alone.
- Interview your maintenance director who works tirelessly to ensure the community is in good working order, from replacing burnt out lightbulbs and leaky faucets to getting vacant apartments turned quickly so new residents in need can move in.
- Shadow your housekeepers and janitors as they sanitize every surface of the community to ensure everyone is safe.
Bringing staff into the conversation literally pulls the curtain back on the good work you are doing every day. Don’t worry about trade secrets being shared; we all need to help one another right now and odds are your competitors prefer their process to yours anyway. The gratitude and loyalty this type of effort will make far exceeds any discomfort found in such a transparent process.
PEOPLE CRAVE LEADERSHIP
Transparency is everything! Those CEOs, owners or executive directors who are willing to speak candidly, get out of their comfort zones and not shy away from what is happening in front of the media will flourish.
Seeing executives personally share their passion for the residents served and that of the employees will create a fanocracy like no other. Giving people the ability to experience what is happening inside the walls of your individual communities is good business; and should COVID-19 strike within one of your communities; provide more room for compassion because people will have seen firsthand what you’ve done to stay ahead of it.
Treating your followers and fans as part of the family leads to fanocracy; you make them a part of the experience so they don’t have to wonder- but instead they know all you are doing to protect your residents and staff.
You have more power than you realize. Strong financial performance is not going to happen on its own, you will have to work for it and that means equipping your sales and executive directors with the skill set needed to get move ins post COVID-19. Click here to schedule time with me to discuss a proactive sales and marketing strategy that will position you for a strong third and fourth quarter.