With occupancy currently under pressure, senior living providers have to be at the top of their sales and marketing game. They must know their consumer base, have a strong brand that translates into an appealing value proposition, and perhaps even reconsider some conventional wisdom.
These were among the insights shared by a trio of leaders from Belmont Village, Thrive Senior Living and Holiday Retirement, who spoke Monday at the Senior Living 100 conference in Laguna Niguel, California.
One common theme: Language is important, and sales and marketing professionals need to carefully consider how they use de-personalizing terms like “on-boarding” a move-in, “silver tsunami,” and even whether to use the term “senior.” Such language can be alienating for prospective residents and can even perpetuate ageism and a youth-oriented culture that makes it harder to present senior living communities as a desirable option, the panelists argued.
Here are other highlights from Monday’s discussion:
Use effective tools
Belmont Village is driving move-ins by harnessing online tools, said Debbie Reilly, vice president of sales with the Houston-based provider, which has a portfolio of 28 U.S. communities and one in Mexico City.
About six months ago, Belmont Village implemented a website link allowing people to sign up for tours.
“They book their time, and guess what — they show up,” Reilly said. In 2019 alone, 12 move-ins have stemmed from these tours.
The company also uses a live chat feature on its website, which lets visitors connect instantly with a representative. Belmont Village has moved in six people this year from live chat.
Another tool: Roobrik, an interactive, four- to five-minute online survey that generates “rich information” for Belmont Village’s salespeople. Between February and March of this year, 22 move-ins came through this channel.
Surveys in general are a powerful tool. Belmont Village surveys new residents and/or their family members 30 days and 60 days after move-in. Participation is nearly 100% for the first survey and about 80% for the second, Reilly said.
The most common response from seniors and especially family members is a wish for a friend at the community, so Belmont Village has put “a lot of rigor” into addressing this — especially because the company has determined that residents who do not make a friend tend to move out within three months, Reilly noted.
Have the tough conversations
Too often, senior living providers fail to make sales — and fall short in delivering exceptional experiences — because they shy away from the realities that their residents are facing, said Tammy Marshall, chief experience officer at Thrive Senior Living. Based in Atlanta, Thrive operates 19 communities across nine states.
“Our whole culture and focus is about the human experience,” she said. “And leaving your home and all your belongings is de-humanizing … we lean in to that [difficult] conversation.”
Thrive has a few different frameworks and approaches to having potentially tough conversations with prospective residents and their family members.
One is to frame the discussion as not only about the health and wellbeing of the prospective resident, but also the adult daughter or other primary caregiver. There’s plentiful research about the toll that caregiving takes, and so framing the senior living value proposition for the whole family unit makes sense — it can even change the way that customers think about what long-term success looks like, Marshall said.
Thrive also does “body talks” with new residents, derived from the book The Body Keeps the Score. The premise is that people carry their histories in their bodies, and this can provide a powerful lens through which to learn someone’s story, Marshall said.
The social determinants of health — such as access to transportation and exposure to environmental stresses — are also part of early discussions at Thrive. And the provider utilizes the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s life expectancy website. By typing in their ZIP code, a prospective resident can see the life expectancy for where they live, which opens up conversations about the health conditions common in the area, what factors influence health, and how to take steps to maximize wellness.
Senior living sales and marketing teams typically think of people as either open to senior living or determined to live at home, but a more nuanced approach might bear fruit, said Sara Kyle, director of resident experience at Holiday Retirement. The Winter Park, Florida-based company is the largest independent living provider in the nation.
“How do you take these people who will always want to live at home and still have them be friends of the community?” Kyle said.
The idea occurred to her at a recent grand opening for a Holiday community. The local fire marshal took part in the event, and his 75-year-old father came as well. The fire marshal’s father said that he would never want to live in the Holiday community himself, but it was different than he expected, and he might suggest that some of his friends consider living there. This got Kyle pondering the benefits of having allies like him throughout markets where Holiday has buildings.
“I would much rather hear a peer of mine saying this is cool, rather than a 20-year-old saying, come have a free lunch,” she said.
It is asking a lot of senior living sales professionals to cultivate relationships with people who are never going to move in, Kyle acknowledged. They understandably want to know why they should take months to reach out to and develop connections with people who aren’t leads.
But Kyle suspects that substantial benefits could flow from having older adults in the community at large who can be advocates for senior living. As they support a senior living community within their social networks, it would help drive greater visibility, acceptance and occupancy.
“I use the analogy of any type of college,” Kyle said. “A university is never going to turn you away, ‘Please don’t be a fan, you didn’t attend our university, we don’t want to sell you tickets to a football game.’”