Senior living providers have tended to discount online-sourced leads as less likely to be qualified, but marketers say a lead tracking strategy that includes building relationships with each and every inquiry can help boost conversion rates for tours and, eventually, move-ins.
Many providers tend to view online leads as inferior quality, says Todd Walrath, president of SeniorLiving.net, but what they should do is follow each lead from start to finish to improve the chances of a sale.
“It’s safe to say about half of [senior living] leads are coming from the Internet; at least 50% of the people who are making the buying decision are using the Internet before they buy,” he says.
One of the biggest problems providers say they face is failure to convert those leads into a tour or move-in—often because of a lack of follow-up, says Kevin Williams, president of SeniorMarketing.com.
“We hear a lot of providers say they’re getting all these online leads, but they’re struggling to turn qualified leads into tours,” he says. “They need to track all the way to the sale. Once you understand that, you can make some decisions on which strategies work and which don’t.”
Only about 40% of move-ins come from online leads, he estimates, with the rest originating from referrals, community outreach programs, event marketing, and other such activities. Historically, leads from certain referral sources such as walk-ins or discharge planners tend to have higher conversion rates compared to those coming from the Internet, sales and marketing professionals agree.
But that preference shouldn’t be to the exclusion of online-sourced leads that are often viewed as inferior, says Walrath, adding that the senior living industry has a lot of catching up to do to multifamily and other real estate types when it comes to handling inquiry volume and tracking lead sources.
“A lead in this industry needs to be nurtured; that’s where database marketing comes into place,” he says. “Providers need to be compiling big databases; the more you can keep in touch with relationships and educate them through the [senior living search] process, you’re much more likely to get their business than your competitors down the street who just buys leads but doesn’t ever follow up. It casts a much wider net than those who don’t have that mindset.”
At Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp., approximately 60% of leads come from online sources, estimates Adam Kaplan, the company’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, which translate to around 30% of move-ins. Those sources range from websites to paid referral agencies to directory partners, he says, all of which are tracked in Senior Lifestyle’s CRM.
“We integrate with our website and each of our national referral partners so we can track precisely how each of our leads are sourced,” he says, adding that his sales staff is encouraged to treat each lead the same in terms of follow-up, regardless of its source.
At The Goodman Group, a Minnesota-based company that manages senior living, healthcare, residential, and commercial properties, all Internet-sourced leads go to each community’s marketing staff to get qualified. It’s currently implementing a CRM system, a process expected to be complete by the second quarter of 2014.
“We track all leads and determine how effective they are. It impacts making adjustments to existing plans and those going forward,” said Christine Cobb, director of sales and marketing. “We also calculate the cost per move-in for each lead.”
It’s not just about cost and conversion rates, though, Cobb says: lead tracking takes a relationship-heavy approach, and sales professionals at The Goodman Group are considered “counselors” who assist prospects through the search process.
“We have follow up standards that we expect our sales associates to adhere to that starts the day of the first contact,” she says. “These contacts are tracked and maintained in our CRM that our sales associates use on a daily basis. Our sales associates follow their leads very closely because the goal is to get their prospects to the right place to meet their needs.”
Other senior living companies, including Emeritus and Elmcroft Senior Living, have tried supplementing third-party leads with in-house generation, finding cost savings along the way. Consistently trying new tactics is the best way to ensure continued growth and profitability, says Cobb, adding that her company also views meeting established sales goals and leading tracking as important for decision making for marketing strategies and budgets.
“Tracking sales leads is important, not just because they do more than just help our business become more profitable, they also allow us to communicate with a growing customer base,” she says. “Personal contact is important for developing a long-term relationship with our customers and clients. You cannot simply make a big push for developing new sales leads and then give up on the process once you feel you have expanded your customer base enough.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace