Assumptive sales and marketing tactics fostered by the inability to listen is devastating assisted living revenue, margins and growth prospects during this unprecedented time.
This Chapter is a valuable reminder that when we meet someone who fits one of our mental rubrics- consider a recently widowed man who is no longer eating properly, is confusing his medications, not showering and showing signs of depression; and we immediately think we know him or at least certain aspects of him to stop and instead take the time to ask, listen and respond.
What if I told you?
- I was raised in a small midwestern farm town in Ohio
- I lived a good part of my youth in a trailer court
- I was raised by a single mom of three kids, who worked three jobs to make ends meet
- That I got into Ohio State but ran out of money and had to leave during my second year
You can’t help it; you’re making assumptions and putting me in a box. Now what if I went on to tell you,
- I was the first person in my family to go to college, graduate and I had no financial help
- I started my first business at 20 while in college
- I published three books
- My company landed on Inc. Magazine’s Fastest Growing Companies list
- I’ve been on the Today Show with Kathy Lee and Hoda and featured in CBS Sunday Morning News with Jane Pauley and Lee Cowan
Did I move into a new or different box? What is your assumption of me now?
Without realizing it as we learn from author Kate Murphy, we listen selectively, hearing only what fits our preconceived notions (depending on which set of facts you learned first about me, your assumptions would be polar opposite).
Research shows that we all harbor prejudices because of our unconscious drive to categorize and the difficulty of imagining realities we have not experienced ourselves. None of us is fully awake to the realities of people who are unlike us. That’s the goal, to sit back and allow curiosity to consume us when engaging with people, to actively listen and hear what people have to say.
MOST PEOPLE ARE TERRIBLE LISTENERS, IT’S JUST A FACT
The most common words used in close relationships are, “I love you,” followed closely by “you’re not listening,” or “let me finish,”(oh how many times have I heard my mom say that to me!) or “that’s not what I said at all!”
The sad truth is that people in long term relationships tend to lose their curiosity for each other. Not in an unkind way, they just become convinced they know each other better than they do. They don’t listen because they think they already know what the other person will say.
Parents can make the same kind of mistakes, assuming they know what their children like or dislike and what they would or wouldn’t do. We all tend to make assumptions when it comes to those we love. It’s called the closeness-communication bias . We have overestimated our ability to read those closest to us. Even close friends overestimate how well they grasp each other’s meaning and we see this failure to communicate in assisted living sales and marketing every day.
“Understanding, ‘What I know is different from what you know,’ is essential for effective communication to occur,” said Kenneth Savitsky, who is lead author of the paper, “The Closeness-Communications Bias: Increased Egocentrism among Friends versus Strangers,” published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.
SALESPEOPLE IN ASSISTED LIVING TEND TO BE BIASED AND MAKE FALSE ASSUMPTIONS THAT LEAD TO LOST SALES
No matter how much we try to listen or how close we feel to another person, it’s important to remember we can never really know another person’s mind. Listening to people who are not close to us brings an entirely different set of bias that are most often rooted in false assumptions. This is something we see daily in independent as well as assisted living sales and marketing . In this Chapter, the author states that to make sense of a large and complex world, we unconsciously create file folders in our heads into which we drop people, usually before they even start talking (this is so very true).
The categories we drop people into can be broad stereotypes influenced by our culture or personal experience. While they can at times prove helpful, if not careful, our rush to categorize and classify can diminish our understanding and distort reality. It’s that “Yeah, yeah, I got it” syndrome that makes us jump to conclusions about people before we know who they really are.
ASSISTED LIVING SALESPEOPLE STRUGGLE WITH THIS SINGLE CHALLENGE
As I was reading this chapter my mind raced with the twenty plus mystery shops I reviewed this past week with seniors housing CEOs who requested that our research team gauge the buyer experience within their individual communities. All but two presented this problem: Salespeople who failed to listen and instead made assumptions about the caller they were speaking to. In each case this disconnect lead to a failing grade on their mystery shop because it lacked discovery, personalization, emotional connection, and empathy among many other things.
CURIOUS AS TO HOW YOUR OWN SENIORS HOUSING COMMUNITY SALESPEOPLE ENGAGE WITH PROSPECTIVE BUYERS? CLICK HERE FOR 3 COMPLEMENTARY MYSTERY SHOPS AND KNOW IN JUST 5-7 DAYS. EACH SHOP WILL INCLUDE AN AUDIO RECORDING AND SCORECARD WITH DETAILED NOTES.
When assisted living or memory care salespeople put prospective resident’s into a box, “She’s 87, can’t live at home any longer and her daughter can’t care for her…great- she’s a perfect fit for our community, if I just offer a discount and beat my competitor’s price, I’ll close this one!” it limits their ability to build value and close them to the next step in the sales process. Now, more than ever, it’s vital that seniors housing’s sales and marketing teams listen and make every effort to understand what’s happening as it relates to a possible move to an independent, assisted living or memory care community.
While the prospective buyer may be 87 and unable to live at home on her own, it’s important to dig in and understand why?
- What’s going on that mom can no longer live at home on her own?
- What’s her current home like?
- How long has she been there?
- When did the family notice the changes in mom’s behavior or health?
- Does she acknowledge these changes as well?
- How does she feel about making a move and leaving her home?
- How familiar is the family with assisted living?
- What’s most important to them about a prospective move?
- What is the greatest concern as they seek to find a place that will be a fit for mom?
- What types of hobbies or passions does mom have?
- What would make it an ideal fit and exciting for her?
THIS IS JUST THE BEGINNING! Asking these types of discovery questions forces the individual calling your senior living community to process what’s happening, to really think about what is important- beyond price and location!
Yet rare is the assisted living salesperson that knows how to do this and even more importantly listen to the responses shared, process them and dives further into questions until a true solution rises to the surface that is their idea, not yours. Why- because they were given the space to process with a professional, who understands the importance of taking the time to work through an emotionally charged and difficult decision, to make the person calling feel heard, understood and supported.
Compare this to the seniors housing salesperson who talks fast, rushes people on the call, ask a couple qualifying questions and then dumps an overwhelming amount of information that creates more confusion to include strange new terms like “ADL, levels of care, bundled rates” and literally never stops to ask a single question that strikes an emotional chord.
We pride ourselves as an industry on salespeople who have deep experience and who have been in assisted living for a decade or more. Yet many of these people are in desperate need of retraining as they have forgotten how to listen due to the pressure to perform. We have a lot of work to do and it all starts with training people on the valuable skillset of listening.
STOP GOING THROUGH THE MOTIONS AND TAKE THE TIME TO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE INDIVIDUALLY
What immediately comes to mind when I tell you the following person is coming in to tour your community tomorrow at 1 pm:
- Recently widowed white man
- Gay woman of color
- Billionaire retiree
- Vietnam vet
Each has a singular experience that separates them from everyone else who shares that label. Making assumptions of uniformity as we do in independent and assisted living sales and marketing based on age, gender (men don’t tend to move as often as women or the son is less likely to move his dad than the daughter to move her mom), skin color or economic status (what’s that zip code again) reduces and diminishes us all. Wow this is such a powerful chapter!
SOCIAL SIGNALING: YOU MAY NOT REALIZE IT BUT YOU DO THIS EVERY DAY
It is far too common for assisted living sales and marketing people to social signal and social identify. Two different but related theories dating back to the 1970s that focus on how people indirectly communicate STATUS and VALUES. Nowhere is this more common in the sales process than in a Life Plan or continuum of care retirement community with high entry fees and health requirements to qualify. We find many of these salespeople are quick to pre-qualify and make assumptions that oftentimes result in lost leads.
As a society we gauge social status based on signals like the cars people drive, the clothes they wear, or the neighborhoods they live in. It’s not uncommon to see someone wear a “Vegan’s make better lovers” T-Shirt or driving a truck with an NRA bumper sticker to assume you know everything there is to know about them.
Listening is how you discover the person behind the facade and allows you to get beyond the superficial signaling and learn more about who the person really is- their simple pleasures and what keeps them up late at night. By inquiring and listening you show you are interested in the people you meet as well as demonstrate to those you care about that they retain your interest and concern as they evolve and change.
IT PAYS TO LISTEN
By listening you will find commonalities and similar experiences that allow you to emotionally connect which is vital to establishing trust. Our listening suffers when we apply collective ideas of identity which discourages discovery of what makes us and other people unique. I can’t stress how true this is. I’ve spent two decades of my life studying the sales and marketing process within assisted living and working to improve people’s listening and sales communication skills. Listening is the heartbeat of the Bild Sales System and why it’s legendary within seniors housing- because it works and when people experience it’s impact first hand, they become raving fans .
Communication is tricky and I must say, I have learned a lot about listening to people’s words from this executive book club study. In fact, it’s my favorite selection so far!
I find myself paying hyper attention to how people speak to one another and what type of conversations they are having. Meaning; is the person speaking asking basic yes or no questions that lead to a dead end or asking thought-provoking open-ended questions that make for an interesting conversation. I’ve been observing this closely within my own family.
Last weekend we went boating and took our kid’s best friend Cole, who is like family to us. A recent graduate, Cole enrolled at Florida State and majored in jazz music as a Freshman. I watched as Dave (my husband) tried to check in with him and see how he was enjoying life as a college student. Dave was interested, and asked things like: “do you like Florida State, do you like the music major you chose, is it different than it was in high school, have you made a lot of friends?”
As you can imagine, Cole responded, in order, “Yes, yes, yes, and yes!”
Hmmm…I was stunned as I watched this conversation take place because the reality is Dave didn’t learn anything new and Cole was not really engaged.
Dave and I got into huddle mode and I told him to ask his questions in a different way, just one- “How is your music in jazz different at Florida State compared to Tarpon Springs High School (which is world renown for its music)?” Cole had to literally stop and think! He didn’t have an answer off the top of his head, and it stumped him.
Yes- this is what I’m talking about when writing these blogs, changing the way you converse, to bring more out of the people you engage with each day, to enrich your conversations, to truly be curious and to learn what they are thinking. Dave really wanted to know how Cole was doing but the way he initially asked ended in nothing but your typically glazed over, robotic response. Once the manner in which the questions were asked changed, so did the answers and we learned how things were different in college versus high school and ultimately why he decided to switch his major and go into Computer Science this year as he returns a sophomore.
While the focus of this blog series is to empower your communication and help you to grow as a leader, in your role as an executive, or within your sales and marketing communication; it will ultimately change all aspects of your life. When you are interested in other people, genuinely curious, it makes you interesting! I can’t stress how important this is and the impact it will have on your daily outcomes.
Enough for now, next week we will dive into Chapter five and learn why people would rather talk to their dog than other people, I can’t wait!