By Elizabeth George

Amazon, you either love ‘em or you hate ‘em.  To some people, they represent a threat to businesses and the end of brick and mortar. For others, they’re the answer to the prayers of time-constrained people on a budget. Which is most of us these days.

Regardless, it’s hard to argue with the quality of their consumer experience. Amazon’s vision is to be Earth’s most customer-centric company. A large part of this is reflected in the experience of both buying and receiving products from them. 

They have mastered the easy sale. And the flexible delivery.

How is the senior living industry doing when it comes to making it easy for prospective residents to buy an apartment and move in?

I talked to Russell Rush, Managing Partner of R3R1 Consulting Group, and a Senior Living Foresight partner, to get his perspective on the industry, particularly when it comes to the sales process.

To say he feels strongly about this issue may be the understatement of the year (or maybe going back even further than that).

“We’re in a period where demand for our product is not as strong as we need it to be given the market supply”, Russell says.  “Yet, we often make it hard for prospective residents to buy from us. In our zeal to increase our move-in numbers, we lose sight of our focus on the customer during the sales process.”

Shift Your Mindset

That sounded counterintuitive so I asked him to explain.

“Many people in the industry perceive the sales cycle to be much longer than the delivery cycle – we’ve institutionalized a belief that it will take 6-12 months for the average prospective resident to come in, tour our community, develop decision readiness and sign on. Conversely, communities often perceive the delivery cycle – the time it takes a new resident to sign on and move in – to be as short as 2-4 weeks.”  

“In reality”, Russell says, “it’s nearly the reverse. In my senior living sales experience, the sales process takes on average about 2 weeks and it’s usually about 65 days before an incoming resident moves in.”

Hmmm, why?

“In order for most older adults to be able to afford to live in a senior living community”, Russell says, “they need to sell their homes and that usually takes a couple of months, maybe longer depending on the state of the property market. That makes it nearly impossible for most people to move in within a few weeks of committing to an apartment.” 

Russell believes that this mindset around the sales cycle and delivery cycle timeframes is affecting the entire sales process negatively and by making a mental adjustment, communities will be able to increase sales. He explains, “With demand lowering, more communities and salespeople are under a lot of pressure to report move-ins each week. Our natural inclination in response to the pressure is to try to talk an interested prospect into committing to an apartment and putting a deposit down well before they are psychologically ready to write a check.”

This can send them back to their homes throwing up their hands. We just made it hard for them to buy from us.

Russell shares his perspective on how communities can shift this mindset to increase their sales:

  • Be realistic: “As we get older and are no longer working, we naturally become more risk-averse”, says Russell.  “Most seniors are going to need to sell their homes before they can purchase an apartment from us and that process takes time. It’s no different from buying a home on contingency – most homebuyers need to sell their properties before they can purchase another. Putting a timeline on a prospect that places unnecessary pressure on them can backfire”.
  • Assess your community’s census and demonstrate appropriate flexibility on move-in dates: Your situation will greatly influence how flexible you can be with interested prospects who are eager to sign on to your community but need time to get their ducks in a row. Says Russell, “If you’re at full or near full occupancy, you may not need to be flexible at all. But for those communities who have many vacant apartments, you are in a position to work with a prospect and hold an apartment open for an agreed upon time period.”
  • Focus the weekly sales meeting on “reservations” rather than “move-ins”: Russell believes we need to have a different type of conversation with our sales teams. “We have a practice in the industry where salespeople are asked to report on the number of tours, deposits, move-ins for the week, move-outs for the week and what’s projected for the following week. By placing the emphasis on reservations rather than move-ins, we’ll shift mindsets to think longer-term and put together the plans to build the strong pipeline we need to sustain sales.

By flexing on move-in timelines and methodically building his pipeline, Russell has been very successful at increasing his closing ratios and filling up his client communities.

“We take more of a gamble when we focus on move-in numbers rather than the experience of our prospective resident. Being flexible is a win-win.”

Learn a proven method to convert more leads to move-ins. Sign up for the R3R1 Science of Selling Academy. 

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