By Jack Cumming
To begin, here’s what I’m not. I’m not a salesperson. For the past 14 years, I’ve been a resident in a senior living community. But, contrary to what you might imagine, I am a prospect. After all these years, our apartment is dated and shopworn. Just today, one of the drawers fell out of our kitchen cabinet, the umpteenth time that has happened. In the meantime, there are many other attractive senior living opportunities. Since we have to move if we want an updated apartment, we – my wife and I – are shoppers much like those newbies who are taking their first look at senior living options.
In this article, we’ll share some of what we’ve learned from our own shopping experiences. As you can imagine, these have been limited during the pandemic. This is just about one couple’s shopping experience, meaning there’s no marketing analysis. In a four-phase selling process, marketing helps target your introductory message to prospects, shopping follows as prospects look for information, closing comes next if the sales process is successful, and testimonials result from happy resident customers. For us, as shoppers, websites are more important than ever, but let’s start at the beginning.
Why This Article?
Not long ago a group of senior living provider friends and I were in one of those Zoom rooms where we’ve spent so much time during this past year. We all love the business of senior living. Occupancy has been hurting, so it was only natural that we were discussing sales and marketing. I mostly listened, but then I shared a recent sales experience my wife and I had. Our experiences are, of course, very individual and reflect our personalities. Even so, the group urged me to write this article.
My wife and I may be more analytical than many. We are both introverted and socially shy. We tend to have a few close friends instead of a social set. We’re a bit nerdy. Thus, it’s not surprising that we prefer to put off any conversation with salespeople. We don’t even like to reveal our interest until we are sure of what questions we should be asking.
For us, that process begins, naturally enough, with the Internet. A selling organization has just a few seconds to capture the interest of a prospect. Think of how this applies to the community where you live or work. Is your website a fashion tribute to a design firm or does it grab the attention of prospects and hold their interest? Our experience is that most websites are easily dismissible. Prospects quickly scan websites to eliminate choices that don’t offer the right services or that don’t feel right. It’s easier to eliminate than to delve deeper.
What does your community’s website do with those few seconds of attention? As I write, I just checked a couple of websites to see what I could find. The first website I went to had a popup headlining “Current COVID-19 Operational Plan.” That’s important for the provider but we’re looking for a permanent home. The next website was worse. It was condescending. It, too, flashed a popup in my face. It blared, “Top 5 Reasons to Move Now.” My instant reaction, “I know 100 reasons not to move, so who are you, not even knowing me, to tell me I should move . . . NOW.” We want to be more than just sales bait.
What do prospects want to see on your website? The answer is clear and straightforward. They want to see residents. I’m happy to say that my own current provider organization does that part right on its website. Prospects are considering whether your residents are people among whom they want to live.
Prospects are not looking for the sales staff as friends, though friendliness is a good idea. Testimonials sell. Professionally written stories about residents help prospects feel at home and, as a byproduct, they honor your residents. Imagine partnering with a local theater company to have playwrights interview residents, develop their stories, have actors tell those stories, and feature that on your website. Prospects want to see residents like them with whom they feel comfortable. They want to see residents they can relate to.
It’s All About Buying
Selling should be a buying experience. It’s the prospect who matters. If you allow the prospect to linger incognito on your website, absorbing more and more information about how living in your community will feel, then prospects can sell themselves. Selling should not be an argument. As soon as a skeptical or reluctant prospect (perhaps the reluctant spouse with an eager partner) meets a sales pitch built around “Here are 5 reasons to move now,” an uncomfortable discussion may result. Prospects want to believe you know them before you give them advice. It’s always best to start with questions. But that’s only after they’ve finished with the website and are sitting in your office.
What’s the alternative to this kind of oversell? The alternative is to let the website presell prospects before they’re even on your selling radar screen. Start with information. The North Carolina disclosure laws provide a good example of how this can work. If you’re not familiar with North Carolina, their law requires a boatload of provider information in a publicly accessible web location. If your community is the best choice for prospects, tell every bit of that story openly. Prospects have a keen sense for lack of transparency.
If you tailor this kind of information for a website, you can keep a prospect reading for hours. For instance, in North Carolina, the residence agreement is required in the disclosure. You can annotate that agreement to highlight all the features that make your contract preferable to others. Of course, you want to lure your prospect into your deep dive gradually. Give them links rather than massive blocks of data and huge documents for download. Prospects also love to know enterprise stories such as the founders’ motives and the experiences that led them to senior living. Supplement history with personal stories of the meaning that those values have for the leaders and how that translates into resident value and a better life experience.
Selling is Everyone’s Calling
Everyone touched by an organization contributes toward selling the offering either positively for successful organizations or negatively for rogue operators. Every employee is central to selling since the sales process can only be as strong as the delivery of organizational value, and every employee contributes to value.
That particularly includes the C-Suite. Critical top-level decisions impact the experience that a senior living community offers. Some of those decisions are permanent; e.g., will residential units for couples have two sinks in the master bath? Some are policy; e.g., do residents get one meal a day, or three, or points, or declining dollar balance? These executive choices and others – technology for one – determine whether the community will sell itself or require exceptional sales skill.
Embracing everyone as a sales resource includes residents as well. How can we make that transition from prospect to enthusiastic resident easier and more seamless?
Help Prospects to Belong
After prospects have spent those hours learning from your website, they have rationalized the benefits of coming to you. You can ease the journey from anonymity to a waiting list, with a membership option that gives them additional opportunities to get to know you and for you to get to know them. I’ve not seen anyone do this and that surprises me. It’s that obvious. Here’s the trick. People register to be affiliated support members. They may be prospects. They may be family members. They may simply be supporters. Supporter membership is an easy next step short of having to pack up, downsize, and move in.
You can attract those who are timid by opening virtual activities to these supporters. That can give them a taste of what residents are experiencing. There can be live streaming and video archives. Membership can quickly accumulate a large repository to showcase the positive living that you offer. Membership can be complimentary, or it can require a fee or donation. Registration, though, gives your sales team a relationship. Why aren’t more providers doing this? It’s a puzzle.
Asking for Commitment
Some prospects and their families will still want to meet a salesperson right at the outset. Others may linger longer on the website and only come into contact when they are ready to talk about moving in. A compelling approach is to let specially trained and qualified residents, those with winning personalities, lead initial contact tours. Ending when the resident docent introduces the prospect to a sales counselor to talk confidentialities and details.
Knowing when to ask for the close, or when to just listen, is central to the art of selling. A well-designed website, though, can mean that many prospects will only arrive for a tour when they are ready for that close. Letting them meet with residents will end the feeling of strangeness about the prospect of moving in. Later, those same residents can act as guides to help new residents get settled and feeling at home among their new friends.
- A well-written, video-rich website can be your top sales “person.”
- Helping prospects to feel they belong is a key to move-ins.
- Residents can be among your best “employees.”
- Residents with purpose are happy residents and happy residents are the best sales resource.
- Selling your community doesn’t end with move in. Selling requires that everyone from C-Suite to residents be committed to communal success.
The Last Sales Step
Asking for the close is where Foresight partner Russell Rush can help. His three-part method – relate, reason, resolve – leads to results. He calls it the R3R1 sales process, and it’s a proven method for closing the sale and getting the move in. Encouraging buying leads to happy residents and high occupancy.