While many providers struggled at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic to maintain leads and move-ins, they have since pivoted to new strategies — mostly virtual — to overcome those hurdles.
Virtual tours and remote meetings — once a rarity in the senior living industry — are now commonplace. And providers including Sunrise Senior Living, Presbyterian Senior Living, Otterbein SeniorLife and Episcopal Retirement Services have coped by committing to them fully. The providers are also embracing transparency as a way to assuage fears and promote safety and security during the sales and marketing process.
While the pandemic has transformed how providers sell and market their communities, the biggest change occurred in how providers are reaching their prospective customers.
It was as if a switch had flipped at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Kelly Myers, senior vice president of sales at McLean, Virginia-based Sunrise Senior Living. Although the preferences of residents and their loved ones didn’t change as much with the pandemic, the process and tools for reaching them did.
“Our interactions with family members, and what we need to help them through, none of that has changed,” Myers said during a virtual panel at this year’s Senior Care Marketing and Sales Summit, also known as SMASH Week. “What has changed are the platforms that we have to use in order to connect with people or to share information.”
Providers are also now dealing more often with adult children, who are helping their parents decide whether to move into senior housing and sometimes also caring for them in the interim.
All of the providers have made adjustments to their budgets, one way or another. For instance, while Cincinnati-based Episcopal Retirement Services is not cutting back on digital or traditional advertising, it is trying to become less reliant on outside support services.
Meanwhile, Lebanon, Ohio-based Otterbein is ramping up its marketing spending after slowing down earlier this year, and is looking for ways to more effectively reallocate those dollars for 2021.
Although Dillsburg, Pennsylvania-based Presbyterian was already on the trajectory of centralizing its marketing spend, Covid-19 accelerated that process this year. And, Sunrise has been able to cut back on its travel expenses and deploy that money in more efficient ways in its marketing budgets.
Technology and transparency
Using new technology and implementing new sales and marketing tools was a big challenge that required outside-the-box thinking, according to Bryan Reynolds, vice president of marketing and public relations at Episcopal Retirement Services.
When the organization shifted to using Zoom and other virtual conferencing technologies earlier this year, it also began coaching salespeople on how to maintain their presence and energy when remotely talking to residents or their families.
“My background is in television, and having that presence when you’re on camera — you have to be about four or five notches of energy above an in-person [meeting],” Reynolds said.
Episcopal also began using new tools to promote its communities, such as a podcast series with residents it launched in the spring, and a video series on wellness.
Otterbein encountered some challenges shifting to a tech-driven sales and marketing strategy. In particular, the company’s post-acute sales teams found it more difficult than before to engage with referral sources — a development that was “scary,” according to Shonia Russelle, associate vice president of marketing and communications at Otterbein.
“We were so used to having that foot traffic in the hospitals and being able to meet face-to-face with so many of our referral partners,” Russelle said. “A lot of that dried up immediately.”
Faced with new challenges, the company coped by maintaining its relationships with some of its closer partners. Otterbein began buying pizza for its partner’s staff members who were working long hours, or sending them care packages with vitamin C packets and bottled water. That came in handy later.
“Some of those strong relationships were the first ones that opened up … virtual sessions with us,” Russelle said. “[We discussed topics such as], ‘What’s going on with Otterbein? What’s going on with the team?” so that we could exchange information on how we can move forward together.”
The provider has also supported its sales staff by checking up on them periodically, or by encouraging them to take care of their needs to avoid the stress, fear and anxiety that comes with “Covid weariness.”
“We have to pull each other through this, because the goal is to … get on the other side of the pandemic,” Russelle said. “We have to find a way to still execute our plans, reach our company goals, but also keep our team moving along.”
In addition to embracing new technologies such as Skype, Zoom and Facetime, providers also had to shift to communication and marketing policies centered on transparency.
When the pandemic hit earlier this year, Presbyterian looked to become as transparent as it could with residents and their families. The overarching goal of that messaging is to convey how safe and secure residents are inside their communities, according to Kristin Hambleton, vice president of sales and marketing with Presbyterian Senior Living.
“One of the things that we put out there in the messaging is that our residents have never had to worry about whether or not they would run out of basic necessities,” Hambleton said. “And that was in every level of care.”
Similarly, Sunrise put in an “enormous amount of work” retraining its sales directors so that they could become knowledgeable on all of the company’s infection control policies and procedures.
“[We retrained them] to make sure that they could be transparent with our customers, and share with them not only what we’re doing, but why we’re doing it,” Myers said. “And if the competitor might be doing it a bit differently, to simply be able to back that up with why we feel so strongly about keeping our current residents safe.”
Selling safety and security — and focusing on transparency — can also help an adult child make the hard decision to move a parent into a senior living community.
“You have to appeal to the adult child, and the conversation is about more safety, more security, more support and the ability to provide for that 24/7 need that your mother or father has,” Hambleton said. “But this is just one more objection, and there are ways to overcome it.”