Gone are the days of picture-perfect, well-choreographed tours — at least for now.
In the age of Covid-19, senior living sales teams are embracing strategies that emphasize transparency, with the idea that while shiny new amenities or top-notch programming may have sold a resident or their loved ones before the pandemic, senior living customers are now more interested in safety and security.
And, many communities’ amenities and common spaces have been temporarily shuttered or repurposed to enforce social distancing during the pandemic, forcing providers to rely on other selling points anyway.
For example, when Omaha, Nebraska-based Heritage Communities implemented its virtual tours three months ago, the company tried to make its outreach to prospects look like “perfect marketing collateral.” But that soon gave way to a more transparent, less manicured approach, according to Lacy Jungman, Heritage’s vice president of sales and marketing and interim director of communications.
“For now, we’re just being raw and real,” Jungman said Wednesday on a Senior Housing News webinar sponsored by Sherpa.
Heritage — which owns and operates 14 communities across three states — is not the only provider embracing more transparent sales approaches during the pandemic. Chicago-based Senior Lifestyle Corp, which operates about 200 communities nationwide, has also retooled its sales and marketing efforts for Covid-19. And in the past few months, both providers have learned more about what to do — and what not to do — as the pandemic drags on.
‘Nothing to be ashamed of’
In March, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted many senior living providers across the U.S. to restrict or halt new move-ins and tours. In just three months, occupancy and move-ins have fallen across the industry. But there is evidence that, as providers adopted new sales strategies, they also in some cases started to move the needle in the opposite direction, according to data compiled by Sherpa, a St. Louis-based firm offering a sales enablement platform, providing methodology, CRM technology and sales analytics to the senior living industry.
Though move-ins among Sherpa’s clients are down an average of about 41% compared to 2019 levels, they increased about 71% in May compared to the previous month. In March, new leads were down 34% among Sherpa’s clients, compared to average 2019 levels. And in April, they were down 50%. But in May, new senior living leads have grown about 9% compared to April levels, according to Sherpa.
Instead of worrying over the things they can’t control, providers should instead focus on the things they can, according to Sherpa Co-Founder and President Alex Fisher. And one thing providers can control is how they cultivate trust with prospective residents and their loved ones.
Heritage is doing that by giving new leads a chance to see how a community is actually operating during the pandemic. While the provider once wowed prospects with well-kept dining rooms and common spaces humming with activity, it’s now also showing them images of caregivers in masks and gowns.
“Families can look past the dining room that has chairs up and an activities room that’s being used as a storage closet,” Jungman said. “They want to see that associate in a mask, wearing gloves, [and] that you’re following through on the protocols that you preach.”
Senior Lifestyle went through a similar process with its virtual tours, according to Janine Witte, the company’s vice president of sales. But for that provider, the biggest hurdle was simply getting the mechanics down — and the first few tours “should have come with a free sample of Dramamine,” Witte joked.
For a higher-quality virtual tour — especially for prerecorded ones — Witte recommends a salesperson tuck their elbow in, hold their phone in front of them and walk slowly from room to room. That way, viewers can see the community without the risk of feeling motion-sick. And, providers should be more aware of their surroundings when conducting a live tour. For example, they should make sure to check for residents who haven’t signed a consent form to be filmed, or for other things that could confuse or scare a prospective resident.
“Go live, but go live carefully and with a lot of awareness,” Witte said.
A good virtual tour is also interactive, Fisher said. And while senior living providers can still send or link to a prerecorded walkthrough of their community as a supplement to the virtual tour, they must interact with residents or family members to truly make a connection.
“There is an additional opportunity here to actually flip the camera to the prospect, and maybe have the prospect give us a tour of their home,” Fisher said. “What a great opportunity for us to start the tour not by starting to show [them] around, but making that connection.”
Senior living providers should also work to uncover prospects’ motivations for exploring senior housing as an option. By learning about a resident’s movitations, providers can better explain the value that senior living offers. This is especially helpful when dealing with residents or family members who want to delay a move into senior living until the Covid-19 threat has diminished or passed.
“I understand wanting to wait, but help me understand, what does your situation look like now, and what do we think will get better?” Jungman said, citing an example of how she might talk to a prospective resident or loved one. “So, I think it’s really asking more questions and diving in to understand their situation.”
And while the virtual tour is especially important during our new socially distant era, providers should also remember to follow up with their potential customers in a meaningful way.
“If you have a great virtual tour, and you’re kind of just starting this path with somebody where you’re sending that link, that’s not actually a completed tour,” Witte said. “The completed tour is after you reconnect with that prospect, you’ve talked through what they saw, and then you figure out what else they need to see.”
There is evidence that taking a more transparent approach, getting a handle on virtual tours, and other new sales strategies can help put prospects more at ease. For instance, Heritage reported that 80% of its move-ins last week came from buildings with former or current positive Covid-19 cases.
“That is a testament to tight protocols, tight communication, making sure that we’re being transparent, honest, open, building that trust and rapport and really the reputation of the community itself,” Jungman said. “I don’t think that Covid has to be the end of us.”