We spend far too much time focusing on our products and not on our prospects.

By Kent Mulkey

You may have heard the story made famous here about the convention of dog food sales professionals, where the VP of Sales led a rallying cry to whip the crowd of hundreds into a frenzy and instill pride in the product he believed was incomparable. Legend has it that it went like this:

“Who has the best packaging?”       “We do!”

“Who has the best logo?”                “We do!”

“Who has the best prices?”             “We do!”

“Who has the best marketing?”      “We do!”

“Who has the best ingredients?”    “We do!”

Finally, in a resigned and pathetic voice, the VP of Sales lamented: “Then why are we #10 out of the top 10 dog food companies?”

A defeated sales rep in the back of the room groaned, “Because dogs don’t like it!”

Every Vendor Has An Angle

It’s not unlike attending a Leading Age, Argentum, or any one of the scores of latest and greatest senior living conferences out there. Every vendor has an angle; the latest and greatest products, services and elixirs to enrich and change the lives of seniors. For example:

  • Programs, technology, lotions and pharmacological treatments that not only slow the decline of Alzheimer’s, but miraculously stop it and reverse the effects of the disease, a sort of modern day Philosopher’s Stone.

  • Companies that guarantee residents will be kept “safe and secure” with the latest door, perimeter and GPS monitoring.

  • Dining programs that no resident will ever, ever complain about because meals are cooked to perfection with “chef-prepared meals.”

  • Buses with photos of hysterically happy residents painted on the side, announcing to the universe that old people love riding the bus to the grocery store.

  • Schmaltzy sales techniques designed to twist the arm of a prospect to come to your community for a “lunch and tour,” which is what most people want to do on a weekend instead of visiting Rocky Mountain National Park or going to a ballgame.  

You get the idea; prospects don’t want what we offer. They simply don’t care about the things we care about, and you won’t see them waiting in line for it, evidenced by the paltry 88% occupancy of the largest senior housing provider in the country.  

The Wrong Focus

I began my senior care career in the mid 1990s, back when our programs, technology and building design were by today’s standards archaic, about 92% of adults over 75 chose to stay home rather than move to a senior community. Twenty years later the market penetration still hovers around 90%. There is a slight improvement, but we don’t appear to be getting a whole lot better at providing seniors with what they want and need.

Here’s why:

We spend far too much time focusing on our products and not on our prospects.

Find out what people do like, such as asking them questions and intently listening; taking an interest in the decades of their life and legacy; looking at pictures of their grandkids; offering them the opportunity to meet other people in the same situation they are in – away from your “retirement home.”

The pet food industry has grown 75% in the past 20 years, to $60,000,000,000 per year. We should be so lucky in senior housing. But it’s not luck, it’s all in the relationship, and the relationship with a prospect is the real, deep down, life-changing work.