Amy Alvarado-Plank, director of sales and marketing for Legacy Pointe at UCF, knew she had a problem.
Lunch and learn events were a key sales strategy for the life plan community under construction on the campus of the University of Central Florida in Orlando, averaging around 25 prospects per session. But seniors began canceling their RSVPs as Covid-19 escalated in mid-March.
On March 20, Alvarado-Plank’s team moved to a remote work environment and focused on its current depositors via phone calls, email and video conferencing. The quick actions have provided immediate dividends. Legacy Pointe closed one sale in April and she believes that her team can secure five more before the month is through.
“When we saw everyone canceling and the reason was uniformly [because of Covid-19], we realized we would be in a position to pivot,” she told Senior Housing News.
Senior housing sales and marketing teams across the country are shifting to virtual tours and leveraging technology in order to continue building relationships with referrals considering a move to senior housing during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as develop leads that can be converted into in-person tours and move-ins once stay at home orders are lifted and buildings are opened to non-essential personnel again. Some teams have shifted to remote work settings, as well, while others are still working on site and are assisting front-line staff in delivering meals and supplies to residents restricted to their apartments.
In other words, forward-thinking sales and marketing teams have risen to the Covid-19 challenge, as industry expert Traci Bild predicted to SHN that they would last month. And leaders with some of the largest senior living providers in North America — such as Mississauga, Ontario-based Revera — believe that their sales pros are showcasing their talents in the midst of the current crisis.
“This has really gotten our sales consultants to reach out in creative ways to their potential customers and get to know them on an intimate level,” Revera CEO Thomas Wellner said on a recent Senior Living 100 Covid-19 Task Force call, organized by Lincoln Healthcare.
Still, they have their work cut out for them. Move-ins have continued to tail off due to Covid-19 concerns, with a slowdown in leads conversions/sales cited by providers as the most common reason, according to a survey conducted between April 13 and April 19 by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).
However, other data show that inbound inquiries are still flowing to senior living, and a greater proportion of prospective residents have urgent needs. So, while sales teams are working differently than usual and may not be able to hit their usual numbers, their efforts are still crucial in stemming the occupancy loss from Covid-19.
Virtual tours and beyond
Sales and marketing teams that immediately adapted to the current reality are relaying the message that their communities are open, despite severe dropoffs in in-person tours, Arrow Senior Living Vice President of Sales Cassie Tweten told SHN.
St. Charles, Missouri-based Arrow secured all of its 22 communities to non-essential personnel by March 12 and saw new inquiries plummet 47% in the following week.
But the operator already had virtual tours in place for out-of-town prospects and family members prior to Covid-19, and expanded the service to local prospects and their families, as well.
Additionally, some Arrow communities have implemented “window tours” for families to view model apartments and key common areas from outside.
Watercrest Senior Living also had virtual tours in place prior to securing its communities on March 16, Vice President of Sales and Marketing Rose Pietras told SHN. Based in Vero Beach, Florida, Watercrest operates 14 communities in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia.
Additionally, Watercrest implemented email and phone invitations to virtually tour communities, both in new marketing campaigns and in follow up efforts, with links to community websites wherever possible.
“Our virtual tours not only offer a detailed visual of our communities, but can enhance the picture already painted by the sales counselor during conversations,” she said.
The team at Revera is connecting with existing residents, to learn whether they have any friends living on their own who might need support. For those people, Revera has begun doing “porch drops” of treats, soups or other nutrition. Then, for those who are tech-savvy and interested, the provider is following up with virtual tours.
Legacy Pointe’s sales and marketing team was able to set up and test its office phone system to ensure that it could function in remote work environments. The team also adapted an email platform, BombBomb, which allows sales associates to record and add customizable videos to emails, texts and social media channels, adding a level of personalization to virtual interactions, Alvarado-Plank told SHN.
The pivot to virtual tours has been a fast learning curve for sales teams who were previously reticent to embrace technology, Fleet Landing Director of Sales and Marketing April Morin told SHN. Based in Atlantic Beach, Florida, Fleet Landing is a continuing care retirement community.
Fleet Landing utilizes virtual tours to continue prospects on their sales journeys, as well as virtual coffee meetings and one-on-one video chats. This allows Morin’s team to share screens, talk prospects through the virtual tour and provide views from inside the community.
Legacy Pointe received ample support from Greystone’s central office in making the transition to virtual tours as seamless as possible
“This experience will position us to be stronger because we’ll be more tech savvy and can do more. Our sales counselors are amazed at how easy the tech is [to operate],” she said.
Strengthening existing relationships
Stripped of the personal nature of in-person visits, sales teams are communicating even more to convey a sense of urgency to prospective customers, as well as develop trust among prospects and their families, that they will be taken care of should they decide on a move.
Arrow’s sales teams are hosting virtual events with prospects and new development depositors, as well as hosting one-on-one meetings through the video conferencing platform, Zoom. To assist seniors who may find using computers and tech platforms daunting, Arrow’s marketing team developed a senior friendly “How to Use Zoom” guide. This has proved so beneficial that other providers have reached out to Arrow to use the information to educate their prospects, Tweten told SHN.
“Additionally, a pen pal campaign has been set-up between prospects and members of the sales team, and we’re regularly sharing information from the CDC for seniors,” she said.
Watercrest is utilizing video conferencing and ramped up its email newsletters and updates, as well. The provider is also utilizing telephone communication, and — similar to Revera’s porch drops — has found creative follow-up deliveries such as groceries to fulfill the immediate needs of prospects and loved ones, Pietras told SHN.
“Based on an understanding of the individual and their interests, any department leader or associate may get involved in deepening the relationship,” she said.
The pandemic is proving to be an ideal opportunity for sales teams to alleviate anxiety many prospects have about making a move during this uncertain time. Fleet Landing is focusing on prospects who are looking to make a needs-based move, and highlighting what is happening at the community level to combat the sense of isolation that is being felt by everyone, inside and outside a community’s walls.
“[Prospects] are interested in peace of mind — how will I get these groceries? They are hearing a lot around isolation and there is some anxiety about a move. We can address anxiety and help them realize the value of community during this time. The world has changed and that hasn’t changed the need [for senior housing],” Morin said.