By Susan Saldibar

With all the innovative virtual technology that COVID ushered in, comes a challenge on its backend: How will community leaders use all this great stuff to increase occupancy and grow?

I spoke recently with Hoyle Koontz, co-founder of The Vectre (a Foresight partner), about a piece of technology that, for all intents and purposes, turns the old “pre-COVID” virtual tour on its head.

I had a lot of questions about The Vectre, more specifically about their revolutionary “YourTour” tool. Here’s our Q&A:

1. As a technologist and solution provider, what most excites you about enabling technologies in senior living?

Over the last twelve years of my career, I’ve seen senior living prospects (and some sales teams) move from the notion of “what’s a smartphone” to “FaceTime me on my iPad”. Pretty amazing. So, as catastrophic as COVID has been in this industry, it seems like we are now starting to focus on recovery. And part of the recovery is directly related to harnessing technology to meet prospects where they are. That’s exciting!

2. What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen in terms of using virtual tour technology?

There has been so much innovation and emphasis on lead generation strategies, which is great. But, outside of CRMs, there has been little innovation on the sales side of the equation. Until recently, we haven’t seen many tools to help the sales counselor lead prospects through what is a very emotional purchase decision. Personalization is so important, now more than ever. Operators need to rethink and restructure sales and give them tools to personalize the process. And that’s what we’ve done with YourTour.

3. Tell us a bit about your own background. I know you said you came out of GlynnDevins. How did that and other experiences lead you to develop The Vectre?

My entire career has been spent around the concept of storytelling. After graduating college, I worked in TV news as a photojournalist. So, right out of the gate I was telling powerful stories with images and video. Even after the news business, when I started my own company shooting 360-degree virtual tours, storytelling was still my primary focus.

Then, in 2008 as the internet became somewhat mature, the ability to create digital experiences was becoming more prevalent. A colleague and I founded a firm called Frogman Interactive, working primarily with master plan real estate but The Great Recession scrambled that plan. So we had to pivot and, purely by happenstance fell into senior living. We never looked back. Our tagline was “Dive Deep”, the idea being to allow prospects to “dive deep” into an experience, virtually, before even picking up a phone or filling out a form on a community website.

Frogman caught the eye of GlynnDevins who acquired us in 2017. I became VP of product development. Then, in January of 2020, I was part of a reduction in force for GlynnDevins. It was a totally amicable split, and I was joined by my long-time colleagues at both Frogman and GlynnDevins, Julien Coutellier and Kate Reece, with whom I started The Vectre. Both Julien and Kate are masterful storytellers and know how to incorporate design and technology to enable people. Shortly thereafter, due to COVID, we quickly recognized that senior living sales efforts had changed dramatically. So that was the catalyst behind creating YourTour. And even though communities are beginning to open up, our clients are saying that YourTour has permanently and dramatically changed the way they reach their prospects.

4. So many senior living operators are still using static renderings and photos to sell apartments/rooms. What are they missing here?

They’re missing a substantial amount of the story! A rendering or a photo limits the story because it only tells part of it. That leads sales to resort to feature dump: “We have a fitness center, we have outdoor gathering areas, we have a coffee shop”, and so on. So, if I’m the prospect, all I hear is “we have”. What about me? Again, this is where we need to double down on the personalization factor. Sales needs to tell the story from a place of empathy so that the prospect appreciates the value beyond just bricks and mortar. YourTour allows the counselor to apply what they’ve learned about the prospect in discovery and guide the prospect through the entire community experience, from the view off their balcony to how close they are to all of the amenities.

5. Can you share some of the key capabilities in YourTour that you built to give sales counselors the ability to personalize and virtually tour the community?

Research published in 2018 by Epsilon indicated 80% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences. YourTour is built totally around personalization – personalization for each prospect as they move through the evaluation process into a buying decision. That personalization is what sales can hone in on and use to guide the process.

[You can take your own “tour” here.]

We studied human behavior as it relates to the “paradox of choice”. The challenge here is that older adults, especially baby boomers, want choices, but are predisposed biologically as part of the aging process to make slower decisions. So, what you don’t want to do is to introduce more choices to individuals who make slower decisions. It doesn’t make sense. It will delay the decision because there are just too many choices. Worst-case scenario — it will prohibit a decision entirely. YourTour allows sales counselors to achieve a highly granular personalization for each prospect. They can “favorite” floor plans and “favorite” amenities that support the lifestyle of each prospect. The result is to reduce the “noise” for prospects and focus on what really matters. 

6. So YourTour tailors a tour experience for prospects that almost makes them feel like they’ve been physically at the community. That has to shorten the path to conversion.

Exactly. We’ve been told this very point by some of our clients based on feedback from their prospects. This is about a customer experience so you can meet prospects where they are. And in our next feature release, once they’ve favorited those floor plans and amenities, the sales counselor can create a virtual “brochure” tailored to the prospect in the form of a link to share with adult children, financial advisors, friends, etc. That enables the emotional component of this decision to be realized — understanding what a day in their life will be like in the community.

What we’re doing is pulling in all the physical tools that sales counselors now use — floor plans, photos, maps, etc. — to make this a robust, very personalized platform that guides the prospect through the process and shortens that conversion path between Visitor and Resident.

7. This just makes so much sense. So, how do you get senior living leadership to shake off the old thinking and get on board with this?

I believe they already realize that the sales process has changed dramatically and virtual is here to stay. I caution those who want to “go back to the way things were” with the lifting of many community restrictions. I advocate that teams must be entrepreneurial. A mindset of innovation is necessary. You can’t look at technology as a barrier to the sales process. That means IT can’t get in the way. IT departments work best when they solve business challenges, not dictate what can or cannot be done. The marriage of high touch and high tech will propel sales teams forward from here.

And leadership needs to embrace sales/marketing as part of their own job description, in my opinion. If that’s not where you are, you need to rethink that, top-down. Not just from the executive director, but department heads as well. Make it an iterative process and embrace the mentality of continuous improvement on behalf of sales and marketing.

8. What’s on the horizon at The Vectre? Any upcoming enhancements you’d like to share?

Well, personalization continues to be our number one key initiative. Our next release in April will roll out our personalized digital brochure as we’ve discussed. But something we’ll also add is our initial CRM integration. As we know, the source of truth for sales teams is in the CRM. That’s where major data is housed, and we want to harness that data to benefit sales within the YourTour platform. So multi-directional integration is key. We have built a very robust API, which allows integration scenarios we haven’t even dreamed of yet. We have just signed an integration agreement with Enquire. Half of our clients utilize Enquire, so that’s a major step forward. But other CRM integrations are on the prioritized roadmap for coming releases.

9. Any final words of wisdom or advice for sales and marketing management?

Innovation, adaptation, optimism, entrepreneurial vision is where your sales teams need to be. They need to be entrepreneurs to rethink processes around sales. So many folks I talk to say, “Wow. Why weren’t we doing it sooner?”

You can get more information on The Vectre and take your own tour of YourTour here.

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