Confessions of a Marketing Director: I’m Shut Out by Hospitals, Challenged by New Senior Living Competition

“Our local health care system won’t let marketers into their building. I have to find sneaky ways to get in there.”

These are the words of a sales and marketing director at a standalone memory care community, who spoke to Senior Housing News for this installment of “Confessions.” The goal of this series is to share candid perspectives that might be hard – but helpful – for readers to hear. To encourage this level of honesty, the senior living sales and marketing director has been kept anonymous.

From issues in connecting with hospital discharge planners, to pressures created by new competition, to the “love/hate” relationship with third-party referral sources, this interview highlights the daunting challenges that sales and marketing professionals face as they strive to keep occupancy up in the current senior living operating environment.

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Do you work in the senior living industry? Do you want to participate in the “Confessions” series? Email me at: tmullaney@seniorhousingnews.com. Confidentiality will be maintained for all sources for this series.

What would you say are the biggest challenges in marketing senior living communities?

First, the influx of competition.

Second, with memory care there is a lot of denial with loved ones, they think they are betraying their loved one by “putting them in a home.” When, in fact, early placement has been proven to be beneficial in slowing down dementia.

Is the new competition offering rent breaks for new residents? Is that creating pressure on your community?

It has been, yes. There’s been a little price play. We’re willing to be a little flexible, but we’re not going to be ridiculous like some of the newer places are, just to fill their buildings.

What are the most effective forms of marketing that your company does and what approaches aren’t as successful?

Educational seminars that bring people into our building are successful. Not so successful – sales calls to hospitals.

At conferences, you hear about how important it is for senior living providers to get in front of hospital discharge planners. But then we hear that in reality, the discharge planners often won’t take those meetings.

No, they won’t. Our local health care system won’t let marketers into their building. I have to find sneaky ways to get in there.

What’s an example of a sneaky way to get in there?

I don’t want to give my competition any ideas!

In terms of the senior living and memory care product itself, do you think consumers are more educated today than in the past, or do you think most consumers still misunderstand senior living/care?

The seniors themselves are not educated, they think of it as punishment. I find that the children of the seniors are very informed, the internet makes it easy to do research.

Speaking of the internet, what’s your relationship like with the online referral services and local placement agents? Do you view these as effective, helpful ways to connect with prospects?

I have a love/hate relationship with them. I love that I’m getting referrals, but I hate that I’m only able to contact about 10% of the referrals they send, and of that 10%, about a third actually come into my building to tour.

Why are you only able to connect with 10%?

I think it’s because they send the lead to too many communities and the person needing information gets bombarded. A lot of the placement agency reps know just the basics about each community, most of the reps we deal with haven’t toured our building so they don’t know what differentiates us from each other. How can they recommend my community if they know nothing about it?

Is it a goal to be less dependent on online referral services in the future?

I don’t know how, as they have pretty much taken over every search for senior living.

What’s your challenge when it comes to selling prospects on your community?

The one thing I have to overcome is that our building is not shiny and new. It looks dated when you come into the community, but when we can show them why it’s that way, why we don’t have chandeliers, why we don’t have showers in the bathrooms and carpet on the floors … a lot of research was put into the design and functionality of the building for people with dementia.

I go to my competition, they’re memory care and they’ve got carpeted floors and great big showers in the bathroom. It’s like, okay, this is going to get destroyed within the first month of someone moving here, and then they’re going to go take a shower at three in the morning because they think it’s time for work, and the chances of them falling and getting hurt are through the roof.

It sounds like you believe your company did a good job in designing the environment. In general, do you feel supported by corporate?

I do get a huge amount of support from corporate. Their sales training is fantastic, and they are right there to help when needed.

What do you wish your colleagues understood better about how you do your job?

I’m not just going to luncheons and throwing parties, I’m out there discovering how we can help and be a resource. I also wish they would understand that when I have an event in the building that we all need to “schmooze.” We are all involved in selling the community.

Can you elaborate on that idea, that everyone needs to be involved in selling the community?

When I do a tour, everybody’s all on board, from the caregivers to the people in housekeeping. Everyone will come up and introduce themselves to the families that are touring. And that is huge, it shows how everyone is there for our residents. But … when we have events, too many people sort of hide in the front office.

I can understand why some people might be intimidated about working the room.

Yes.

Do you think that’s the issue? Is more training needed so they feel more comfortable doing that?

Not with the people who have been here as long as they have. Even if it’s for 10 minutes, I need key people on the team to come back and introduce themselves and let people know the warmth and the greatness that we have back here in all our employees.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Seeing a resident be successful, and seeing their loved one come in the building looking refreshed and healthy because they are not the resident’s caregiver anymore.