By Lola Rain

The alarm goes off. It’s time to go to work. You used to jump out of bed because you loved your job. Seeing residents and talking to their family was the best part of your day. Then, you moved to management and the stress took the fun out of going to work. Does this sound like someone you know?

False Hope

This describes a lot of people, even before the pandemic. Over the last year, the turbulence and uncertainty have given us false hope that When we get the vaccine . . . When the pandemic is over . . . life will get a little easier, a little less stressful. Even with the vaccine, that less stressful day has yet to come.

In fact, the stress has compounded for sales counselors and sales managers. It’s their responsibility to climb our industry out of a huge hole, right?

Have you had this conversation with your sales team since the NIC report was released in January? “What’s your plan to drive more leads and fill the building back up? How long will it take? Can you do it by Q2, or mid-year? We have huge losses from last year we need to make up.”

Bad news boss: Making up for a $10 million or more shortfall is going to take time, a lot of it. It will also take teamwork and excellent leadership.

The Truth

Here’s the truth, and you are about to have an ah-ha moment. The two people you depend on to grow occupancy only have half what is needed to make recovery happen. They know how to talk to prospects and they know how to move a person into the building. But do they have the skills and the time to find the prospects and persuade them to move post-pandemic? Even the best, most seasoned sales and marketing folks are having a hard time with this.

The average sales counselor started in activities, or dining services, or as a receptionist. After a few months, disappointment set in. They couldn’t afford to work in that role. So they moved to the top-paying job in the building without any prior experience. Does this sound familiar?

Salespeople thrive from the conversations — the qualitative aspect of their job. One sales director said  last week, “I can’t believe how much I missed talking to prospects since the pandemic began.” She didn’t say, “I can’t believe how much I missed explaining the cost of care.”

Recovery is going to be hard. Back to basics isn’t enough. You are going to need to reinvent, and here are the steps to tackle such a daunting challenge.

  1. Align evaluate why your building is not full.
  2. Focus – assess whose responsibility it is to fill your building and keep it full.
  3. Shift – acknowledge your ah-ha moment and do something about it.
  4. Balance recognize everyone needs balance, empathy, and respect.

Read Predictions: 5 Ways Sales and Marketing Will Shift in 2021

Find Alignment

Step One: Evaluate why your building is not full. Is the reason a person, the environment, or misplaced expectations?

We love to find someone or something to blame. Sales teams are not selling fast enough. Marketing isn’t working hard enough. Our website isn’t converting. Our first impressions are not good enough. It must be the carpet or the smell. The list of blames can go on and on and on.

Sometimes your sales associate is not a good fit, other times you are a terrible coach. But most of the time, your goals are not aligned.

If my goal as a salesperson is to improve the life of every older adult who moves into my community, I am leading with my heart. If my supervisor’s goal is 100% focused on filling units because he feels threatened by his supervisor, then fear is the motivator. A heart filled with love and a head filled with fear is like fire and gasoline. Either you put the fire out, or you burn down the whole building.

There is no place for complacency in our business, and there is no place for scare tactics — no matter how subtle they may be. In fact, you might not even know you use them, but your subordinate certainly does. 

Staff are your biggest cheerleaders if they are happy. They will sing the praises of your company if they feel valued. They want to see the fruits of their labor. But if their fruit is the smile on Mrs. Green’s face, and your fruit is Mrs. Green’s monthly check, it’s time to realign your goals.

Us versus Them attitudes cannot be tolerated if we expect to recover. The pandemic has taught us teamwork at a collegiate level. We are like the Ivy League rowing team now — in sync and moving faster. Put your coaching hat on and take your team to the Olympics.


A New Focus

Step two: Assess whose responsibility it is to fill your building and keep it full.

We often talk about collaboration and how people need to feel part of something bigger. They need to feel like their work matters. The keyword here is FEEL. If everyone felt responsible for the financial health of your building, how would that change your census?

I’ve worked with companies who’ve rewarded everyone in the building for 100% occupancy. They’ve added $150 to paychecks from dining to housekeeping to activities. Everyone felt they needed to pull their weight because everyone got rewarded for the hard work.

Could this approach be successful in your community, or would you hear every reason under the sun why this will never work? Can you imagine what is possible if naysayers turned into yeasayers?

Some buildings allowed COVID to be a catalyst to clean up their buildings, literally. Not just wiping away infection, but shaking out any unnecessary expense and cleaning out anyone whose values don’t align with the future of their organization. Do you have employees who are making others’ jobs harder, not easier? It’s time to reevaluate their position. Status quo will not help your recovery. Everyone needs to do their part.

 Shift Your Approach

Step three is to acknowledge your ah-ha! moment and do something about it.

I recently asked a few sales directors: What tools do your sales teams need most to help them with the current occupancy challenges? I was surprised by what I heard. They need help with work-life balance said Kristin Cherry, VP of Sales and Marketing with Traditions Management. Kristin explains she is focused on giving her team recognition to boost morale and help them overcome the hardest year of their lives.

“We are being impacted by the stress. We’ve seen turnover,” says Jeff Gronemeyer, Director of International Census Development for Meridian Senior Living. He sees a “paradigm shift” because so much has happened in the last year and things are not the same. “Selling is not the same,” says Jeff who prefers to take a holistic approach. He is finding new ways to handle time off and manage shifts, being cognizant of the new dynamic of home-schooling kids. His staff have pressures that didn’t exist a year ago. He advises we need to stop asking about occupancy and first ask how are our people. “How do they feel? How do they look? How are they emotionally coping? I’m only cracking the surface of what I know about our staff and what is important to them,” Jeff admits. “It’s a true, genuine shift on valuing our staff as a whole.” 

Jeff had another ah-ha! “You are more of a social worker with the families,” he says about being in sales. Senior living sales professionals must counsel and console. They are empathetic listeners. By providing comfort, they can quickly build trust. Because of the pandemic, less time is spent on describing the amenities and more time on explaining the benefits of congregated living. “We have done a better job of describing the positive outcomes of living in senior housing,” Jeff explains, “We have to be better storytellers.”

During a recent video interview with Steve Moran, NIC CEO Brian Jurutka asked a pointed question: “How do we ensure that the value prop of senior living is adequately communicated to potential residents and their adult children?” Jeff and his team are ahead of the curve on this one.

Achieve Balance

Step 4 is to recognize that your sales and marketing teams need balance, empathy, and respect.

My colleague Leigh Ann Hubbard, a Foresight contributor, asserts, “We were thrown into a hailstorm. Everything changed. You can’t sell anymore, you have to empathize.”

Not only do we need to empathize with our prospects, but we also need to empathize with each other. We need to find the delicate balance between emotional support and meeting business objectives. By finding ways to de-stress and share the burden, we can get back to business revitalized with a new attitude.

One overwhelmed marketing and sales director told me her building had two open apartments before the pandemic and now it has 20. With a staff of two in charge of filling apartments, and the pressures of new responsibilities that have emerged during the pandemic, there is a pending disaster ahead that we need to prevent. That will take a new, proactive attitude. 

Empathy is the yarn holding the blanket together. When you pull any string, it entirely unravels. Don’t let your employees unravel. You have the power to help them keep their heads high, to shelter them from stress. By creating a culture of support, everyone benefits and thrives together. Your building will thrive and your occupancy will thrive. The pot at the end of the rainbow is right around the corner.

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