In order to get to a 50% closing ratio, one must master three specific skills . . . do you know what they are?

By Anthony J. Mullen, Founder, Advanced Sales Summit

You can see Part 1 of this two-part series here: “Is Flawed Thinking Hurting Your Occupancy?”


ISSUE 2: There are Three Skills One Must Master to Have a 50% Closing Ratio

Many people are incredulous when they learn there is a small but growing number of sales professionals, who are at (or on their way to) a 50% ratio of move-ins to face-to-face visits (defined as at least one meeting between a sales pro and a prospect). This knowledge will revolutionize the industry over time, especially as the evidence grows between these skills and permanently high occupancy levels. However, like most things, only a few will devote the necessary time, effort and resources to change their culture and sustain the effort, until it produces the results they seek.

In Issue Number 1, I laid out  the empirical evidence, which has also been recently corroborated by the Sherpa CRM data base. In order to get to a 50% closing ratio, one must master all three of the following skills, although one will see significant improvement after mastering the first skill. Note that these skills have nothing to do with traditional sales training. In fact, you will find little, if any, detailed knowledge of these skills in any traditional sales training. Much of the proprietary work done in this area was accomplished by a small team of caring professionals in senior housing working with me over the last 10 years (David Smith, Alex Fisher, Carlo DiClemente, Steve Ferranini, Margaret Wylde, and Anya Rogers).

The Three Skills are:

  1. Motivational Interviewing

  2. Deeply Connecting through the Science of Human Influence

  3. Understanding the Stages of How One Changes One’s Mind

I will briefly summarize these three key skills in this Issue, and then do more detailed analyses in future issues.

  1. Motivational Interviewing

    This is by far the most important and effective skill and was originated in the field of behavioral psychology by William Miller, Ph.D. and Stephen Rollnick, Ph.D. After 35 years of practical application and replication in the scientific literature, it is now a proven skill set for thousands of professionals across many disciplines. It’s effectiveness is based in the simple, but elegant, reality that when it comes to difficult, expensive change, self-motivation is by far and away the most effective method to cause actual change of behavior (like moving into an independent or assisted living community). Our ingrained human behavior is that when someone seeks to pressure or persuade us to do something difficult, the vast majority of people are hard wired to push back, disengage or avoid the issue (as well as the person) seeking to persuade or pressure them.

    Motivational Interviewing at first is very awkward, because it goes against almost everything taught in traditional sales training. MI requires a serious commitment of time and effort to master, but is exceptionally effective.

    The evidence for dramatic increases in the move-in to visit ratio has now been accumulated from the Sherpa data base (, as well as my own work with certain companies. The evidence from the scientific literature on the ability of a questioning approach to significantly influence the behavior (self-motivation) of a person has been examined in great detail and been proven to be statistically and practically significant (see “A Meta-Analytic Synthesis of the Question-Behavior Effect”, Spangerburg, 2016). There is other related research that proves that the more people sincerely listen to us, the more we like and trust them. The seminal work to master is: “Motivational Interviewing in Health Care” by Butler, et al.

  1. Deeply Connecting / The Science of Human Influence

    Liking (or better, deeply connecting) has been proven as one of the major scientific principles of human influence, and when used ethically, can be a powerful help to those who master it. These principles are embedded in being human; they are how human beings demonstrate emotion/desire/thought and how they behave. For example, people prefer to say yes to individuals they know and like. We want people to like us, and we like those who seriously demonstrate that they like us. When this likeability component is added to the MI approach, it makes it far more effective. The most well-known approach in our field is “Creative Prospect Follow-up” by David Smith and his team. It is squarely based in the scientific principle of likeability. It also touches on the second powerful principle of reciprocity (we are hard wired to return a favor to someone who does us a favor or gives us something of value). There are six other key principles that can significantly help prospects if mastered: social proof; values/commitment/consistency; scarcity; authority; stories; and environmental/situational influences. There are two key books to master these skills: “Influence: Science and Practice” by Robert Cialdini, Ph.D. and “Influence: The Power to Change Anything” by Patterson, et al.

  1. Understanding How One Changes One’s Mind

    The harsh truth is that change of behavior (moving into independent living or assisted living) is exceptionally difficult, and the more costly and emotional the change is, the greater chance that a person will not change. In fact, 90% of serious heart care patients, those who must change their diet and lifestyle or they will die, do not change their behaviors. All people contemplating change are in one of these stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action or maintaining (the changed behavior). In order to focus their precious and fixed amount of time and effort, the best professionals engage with a list of 10-12 of the very best prospects in order to maximize their scarce time and effort. This list of the very best prospects is compiled by understanding where someone is in the stage of change (only about 3% of prospects will be in a state of action to move in any month). Thus, how we select and prioritize the other 97% of our prospects to engage with, through MI and the Science of Human Influence, is a critical skill that can be learned by mastering this skill of understanding where in the stage of change the person currently is.

    There are key questions one must learn in order to properly understand where a prospect is and the likelihood they might ever move. One cannot know these facts through a “volume and velocity” approach to prospects (how fast can I disqualify someone and how quickly can I get them to come for a tour). The volume and velocity approach is the main reason why average occupancy rates are so poor in our industry today.

    The seminal work to master this skill is “Changing for Good” by Prochaska, Ph.D., et al. As you can see, I have not mentioned one traditional sales training book, because the reality is: hard emotional change such as moving out of one’s lifetime home into a community that most initially find undesirable (or neutral) is not a situation where traditional sales training has value. One must understand the science of how to help someone find their own motivation to make their own decision. It can be learned and mastered and you will be a much better and more successful person for doing so.

Anthony J. Mullen is the chairman of The Advanced Sales Summit for the Senior Housing and Care Industry to be held June 27-28, 2016 in Jupiter Beach, FL. The agenda for the 20th Anniversary Conference can be viewed at