By Susan Saldibar

Julie Podewitz knows instinctively what it takes to build a successful sales team. It is a process she developed and has been fine-tuning for years. And she’s put it to good use as Chief Sales Officer for Vitality Senior Living.

Vitality operates a network of senior care communities throughout the southeast, from active adult to independent and assisted living to memory care. They started with eight communities and have grown to twenty-eight. So they’re doing a lot of things right. And Julie, who has been on board since day one, is a big part of it.

I spoke with Julie recently and, not surprisingly, she had a lot to say about the need for sales training, development, and solid systems in place to support them.

Sales Training is Key to Conversion

I asked her to weigh in on what she feels has changed the most in senior living sales. The main thing, of course, is how we get leads. “Back in the day prospects would either walk through your doors or call you,” she says. “Now, in our digital world, prospects are researching on their own first, which puts more layers between you and them. That means it can take longer to develop a qualified prospect.”

But what hasn’t changed, in her view, is what you need to do to develop a strong sales team. A big part is training, something Julie, as a former teacher, is clearly passionate about. So much so, in fact, that she has started her own training company. “I spent a lot of my time as a sales expert in training,” she tells me. “So I know how important it is to coach, teach, and mentor your sales associates.” But it’s their activities that sit at the center – what they do and how well they do it, she says. “It’s important to focus on intersecting those areas to a maximum degree to increase conversion metrics.” That means tracking. And that requires a strong infrastructure.

A CRM that Listens to Salespeople

I asked Jule to talk a little about their sales infrastructure, namely her reliance on the WelcomeHome CRM platform, which I’ve been told she had an early role in developing. She tells me that about 90% of her suggestions were implemented. (WelcomeHome is a Foresight partner.)

And she had plenty of suggestions. “First was the welcome screen. It should have a clean look, easy on the eyes, and include the top KPIs from the community level all the way up to the enterprise level. I also recommended simple color-coding; green for “good”, red for “not good”. That makes it easy to see if targets are being met, such as conversions and so on. They did a great job of it.”

She also had suggestions for the WelcomeHome reporting section. “They had to be super simple and sorted logically with occupancy, move-in/out, with a sales funnel that is easy to understand. She also was instrumental in the “rack and stack” capability, which shows how all the communities stack up against each other. “You can easily compare things like occupancy, move-ins/outs, leads, tours, and conversion ratio – top to bottom,” she tells me.

Automation was key. “You can call right from the system and it records the call,” she says. “You can text right from the system and record text conversations.”

Finally, it had to integrate with other systems. “So if someone engages through HubSpot, the lead is automatically pushed into the system. It’s also set up to do emails automatically,” she says.

Julie talked and WelcomeHome listened. And they delivered. “They were great partners throughout everything,” she says.

Salespeople Who Can “Lean in” and Learn

But, even with the best sales tools, Julie is quick to point out that not everyone is cut out for sales. “What we really need now more than ever are ‘drivers’ in the sales seat,” she says. “Hiring people who love seniors is great, but can they advise and overcome objections? Are they going to be able to say, ‘Okay, based on everything you’re telling me, here’s the next step’ and keep things moving forward?”

So, for Julie, it’s not so much about experience as it is finding people with potential and willingness to “lean in” and learn. “I will work with you forever if you’re leaning in,” she says.

Get Them the Latte, Then Do Even More

I asked Julie what leadership needs to understand about their sales teams that they still may not get.

Her response was quick and to the point. “The way we treat our sales professionals needs to change,” she said. “If you really want to motivate them, then do what it takes. Celebrate their wins. Nurture them. Get them their lattes if they want them. Your sales culture should be one of celebrating. And not just once a month. All the time.”

But, ultimately, it’s the love of what she does that drives Julie. “Sales is the orchid in the garden of senior living,” she says. “It may be high maintenance, not too much water, not too much sun. But it’s beautiful when you have it.”

For more information about WelcomeHome please visit their website.

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