Bad Senior Living Sales Habits Persist During Covid-19

Senior living sales professionals have faced a slew of challenges related to Covid-19, but many are not raising their game to meet the moment.

That’s the message from Bild & Company founder and President Traci Bild. She shared the recent experience of a friend whose stepfather was being discharged from a rehabilitation facility and needed to move into assisted living within 72 hours of being discharged. This person called over 50 communities in Colorado and Texas — totaling nearly 60 hours of phone time — before turning to Bild for assistance.

Bild was able to connect her friend with a regional sales manager, and the stepfather was placed in an assisted living facility within hours. For Bild’s friend, the message was clear.

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“Nobody cared,” she said.

Sales and marketing teams have not followed through on building a pipeline of prospects that can be converted into move-ins as the Covid-19 crisis abates, Bild suggested to SHN. Bild & Company conducted mystery shopping after the experience with Bild’s friend and found that sales teams consistently failed to follow-up on requests for sales sheets, rates and other marketing materials when asked.

In 14 mystery shops across a range of providers and care levels, Bild and her team discovered that 43% of communities targeted by mystery shops offered to send information with no reference to follow up, 29% offered to send information with only a vague promise to follow up, and 14% made no offer to send information or follow-up.

Sales associates fared poorly when determining the needs of the prospective customer. Forty-three percent of associates listed community amenities and services with no association to need during Bild & Company’s mystery shops, while 29% offered no information on their communities at all.

In total, 64% of sales counselors subject to Bild’s mystery shops showed no empathy or concern for the caller’s situation.

And while Bild & Co.’s 14 calls is not a large sample, Senior Housing News also struck out cold calling a handful of communities for this article to obtain sales information.

And it’s a situation that stretches back years. In 2014, senior housing administration students at George Mason University conducting mystery shops revealed that assisted living communities’ sales staff overwhelmingly fail to ask the right questions and provide the necessary information to turn a lead into a move-in. Four years later, SHN’s Elizabeth Ecker had near-identical experiences when conducting her own mystery shops, and in some cases was unable to get someone on the phone.

Bad habits persist

For weeks, senior living leaders have said in scores of interviews and stories that the industry is waiting to capitalize on pent-up demand stemming from shelter-in-place orders, once states begin to reopen and shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted. And signs point to that untapped demand being in place.

The rapid occupancy declines that seized the industry in the pandemic’s early weeks in the U.S. appear to have stabilized, and some communities are even reporting occupancy gains, according to the latest executive survey insights report from the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC). Meanwhile, a majority of operators indicate they will resume move-ins within the next 30 days.

But to drive occupancy once the front doors re-open to move-ins, sales teams must be on the ball. Admittedly, they are working in a very constrained environment. Communities are secured to non-essential personnel. Virtual tours are now standard. Sales and marketing teams accustomed to in-person interactions have pivoted to email and phone calls to keep their referral pipelines moving, prospects engaged and families feeling confident that the health and safety of their loved ones will take precedence over everything else.

Since Covid-19 began, senior living providers have shared stories about sales and marketing teams adapting to the pandemic to keep referral pipelines moving.

Sales and marketing teams should be spending their time during the pandemic transferring their in-person skills to a telecommuting setting, Bild said. Consumers have options in finding a community for their loved ones that do not involve physically visiting a facility.

Sales teams could be spending more time on improving planning and other activities during the pandemic. Data released earlier this month from customer relationship management platform Sherpa revealed that while sales teams improved their conversion rates as the pandemic became protracted, the time spent doing outreach and per contact declined 34% and 49%, respectively. This suggests that sales staff are not maximizing the quality of interactions with prospects, while working the same amount of leads.

The sales issues revealed in the latest round of mystery shopping are not new, but rather show that persistent problems continue during the pandemic, which Bild finds frustrating. In particular, she believes that occupancy issues are too often chalked up to other causes.

“This has been a constant problem. And now with Covid-19, I feel like we’re neglecting what’s happening on the consumer side. We always have an excuse: before Covid-19, it was overbuilding and market saturation. It’s frustrating,” she said.

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