Senior Vice President Mike Brindley Weighs in on What’s Next for Senior Living Sales
Q: With vaccine availability more widespread and cases beginning to taper, it appears that senior living communities are starting to open up. How is Solutions Advisors working with communities to help them with re-entry?
MB: Yes, it’s a great opportunity for communities to say, ‘we’re here, we’re open and we’re safe.’ Almost all of our clients are actively having in-person visits, following their own state and CDC guidelines of course, but we’re coaching sales teams to slowly return to in-person tours and events. For the near future, if a prospect is still not comfortable showing up in person, we have the option of virtual tours and online events. I think we’ll be in this ‘hybrid’ mode for some time, that is, having both in-person and virtual meetings and events, with virtual events dissipating over time. Sales teams need to be patient and flexible and meet the customer where they are. The good news is we are seeing an uptick in leads and community visits which gives me hope for a stronger 2021.
Q: What strategies are you deploying to keep the sales pipeline full?
MB: Three things: digital, digital, digital. Seriously, we’re seeing website leads account for 50% or more of new leads as prospects and families turn to the internet to do their research. Of course, your website needs to be compelling, up to date and deploy smart SEO/PPC strategies and conversion tactics. The online user experience is so important because it’s often the first touch a prospect has with your community. We often recommend realigning marketing budgets to invest more resources in digital strategies. We’re still using direct mail, the difference being direct mail is the catalyst to direct people to your website where they can see photos, videos, testimonials, your COVID response protocols, your team members, floor plans, blogs – and hopefully fill out a contact form for a senior living guide or other information to help in their decision-making. Your website can be an incredibly powerful sales tool. At Solutions Advisors, we’ve invested in a team of internet-savvy strategists who know the power of social media and smart on-line tools and can advise clients on how to make their website a workhorse for lead generation.
Q: Besides digital, what other sales strategies are you recommending?
MB: We’re looking closely at resident and family referrals which often have a high conversion rate. But it has been difficult during the pandemic, people feel restricted and referrals are down. We find that communities that have been fully transparent about their COVID protocols, communicating constantly with residents and families, are the ones doing well and still getting referrals. Home visits are another opportunity. Home visits have been flat year-over-year as opposed to down like other metrics we watch. In many ways older adults feel safer at home, they can social distance, wear masks and clean before and after the visit, so they feel in control. Plus, they’ve been isolated so long they often welcome a home visit. Maybe it’s just to drop off a meal kit or dessert, but it’s a way to say, ‘we’re thinking of you.’ OneDay videos have worked well during the pandemic and we’re encouraging sales teams to continue using videos as a way to connect with prospects even after communities open up. I think a lot of the tactics we started using during the pandemic will continue to be effective tools going forward.
Q: Are you changing how you look at key indicators, like lead generation?
MB: We’re constantly evaluating key indicators to establish a consistent baseline going forward. This will allow more communities and the general public to be vaccinated, resulting in more confidence in visiting communities and attending in-person events. The reality is that every lead is one at a time, so maybe those 10-15 leads you do get are worked more closely, more personally. This is a great time to look at middle-of-funnel leads, too, those leads in your database that have spent time with you before. Can you learn more about them, their motivations, their objections, their legacy? What have they gone through during COVID? How are they doing? It’s a great time to develop that personal relationship. At the end of the day, though, the ability to get volume leads back will be critical. What’s in your database now will dictate your success six months or a year from now.
Q: What else can communities be doing?
MB: Communities have worked hard to keep residents and team members safe, but over the last 12 months, we’ve seen an erosion in quality first impressions. For example, some amenity spaces have become PPE storage areas, furniture has been moved around to accommodate social distancing and vaccination screening areas and maybe the dress code was more lax. It was just a lot for the communities to take care of and some of that true culture of customer service may have been lost in the transition. It’s time to get back on track with training and workshops. It’s back to the blocking and tackling of the ‘do it daily’s’ of walking the community and making sure the tour route is impeccable, that models are fresh and inviting and that both residents and team members are ready to demonstrate to prospects the value of living at your community.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future?
MB: Absolutely! There’s a lot of opportunity but it will take hard work. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of fatigue out there among sales teams. It’s been an unprecedented time and going on longer than anyone anticipated, and we feel for what they are going through. I suggest setting goals but make them realistic and attainable. If you need 50 sales, get to 20 first, then get 10 more and so on. The good news is the housing market is very strong and older people are realizing that being isolated in their home isn’t such a good idea after all. Now is the time to partner with realtors and downsizers to get people comfortable with the idea of selling their home and moving to your community.