Holiday Banks on New Tech to Drive Sales Post-Recession

Holiday Retirement, the nation’s third-largest senior living provider, is banking on sales-related technology with the implementation of a customized customer relationship management system in a final push to reach its post-recession occupancy goal.

The company has been using You’ve Got Leads as its CRM since 2010 but is currently rolling out a Holiday-tailored platform to its approximately 300 independent living communities across the country—a process that will be completed in August.

While Shamim Wu, Holiday’s executive vice president of sales, declined to disclose the company’s current census, she did say it’s approaching its goal of achieving 95% occupancy.


“We’re at the last leg of our marathon, which is always the hardest,” she says.

Since 2009, Holiday has grown occupancy 18 basis points, although Wu couldn’t say how much of that was due to using a CRM. And while the final push may prove difficult, Holiday may already be ahead of much of the senior living pack.

Publicly-traded Brookdale Senior Living (NYSE:BKD), the largest senior living provider, reported 88.5% occupancy as of the first quarter of 2013 across its portfolio.
Industrywide, independent living occupancy has made gains to reach 89.3% as of the first quarter of 2013, according to data from the National Investment Center for the Seniors Housing & Care Industry, after plummeting from peaks of above 92% to a trough of 86.8% during the worst of the economic recession.
The senior living industry has struggled to break the 90% occupancy level, says Traci Bild, president and founder of sales and marketing firm Bild & Company, partly because of attrition rates exceeding move-ins, but also a lack of professional sales techniques and systems.

While it may not be possible to counteract the rate at which people move out of a community, it is possible to increase the number coming in, she says. One fundamental step, according to Bild, is following up on inquiries—a key aspect of professional selling.


“Only about 5% of communities our mystery shoppers contact actually get a follow-up call,” Bild says. “There’s no urgency. No one’s selling us after our mystery shoppers go in to tour.”

Some might tend to attribute that to senior living often being a needs-based decision: when someone needs to move, they will. That’s not often associated with independent living.

But for Holiday—the biggest independent living provider in the country—the majority of move-ins happen within about 30 days after the initial inquiry, according to Wu.

“What that tells us is, whether you’re in independent living or assisted living, it’s a needs-driven decision,” she says. “Our job is to figure out exactly what their needs are to be able to drive value.”

Using a CRM aids the sales process, she says, because they include built-in expectations for associates in terms of time frames for the stages of advancing a lead and closing a sale.

“Any CRM system is absolutely critical to holding teams accountable and keeping them organized with their sales process,” says Wu. “[Our method was to] implement a sales force first, [then] create a sales platform and a system that allows people to work smart and not have to reinvent the wheel every time they take an inquiry or tour, and giving them the ability to organize their time.”

When Wu joined Holiday in 2009, its sales force was “essentially nonexistent.” Fast forward to 2013, as the company’s sales team, from community level-employees up to senior leadership, numbers around 600.

“Back when the economy was at its peak, you could afford to have a very reactive sales culture. That’s what Holiday was—a reactive sales culture. It wasn’t the key focus,” Wu says.

That changed when she joined the company. Wu says her exclusively senior living background paired well with the hospitality background of Roger Aufieri, COO of Holiday.

“We see sales training as an ongoing effort. We will always be a very sales driven group,” says Aufieri. “Training, recognizing and rewarding our teams on sales results will be a cornerstone for Holiday going forward.”

“It’s about execution—how well you do it,” says Wu of the sales process. “For us, we really believe that the robust two weeks of formalized training programs we give to associates before they even hit the community has been critical to our success.”

Half of that is classroom training, while the other half is being on the job with a mentor. Wu says building a strong foundation creates a better experience for associates. The company also has ongoing training and development, including weekly training for community sales leaders and management, quarterly sales summits, and an annual sales conference—the first of which was held just a few weeks ago.

“When you professionalize a sales force at any company, you create strength for yourself,” Wu says, noting that 62% of Holiday’s regional sales leaders have been promoted from within the company’s sales ranks. “With training and accountability pieces in place, you can create the leadership of tomorrow for your own company.”

Written by Alyssa Gerace

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