How Artis Promotes Culture of ‘Human Being Care’ in Memory Care Sales

It’s no secret that culture is an important ingredient in a winning sales strategy — and that is doubly true in memory care communities.

Prospective residents and their families often have many questions — and some anxieties — over what memory care entails and who it’s for. Sales teams in the sector must have both empathy and assertiveness, but those are not always skills that workers bring to the job.

When Mary Underwood and Amy DePreker started at Virginia-based memory care operator Artis Senior Living, there were only a handful of employees and not much of a well-defined, company-wide philosophy. But that soon changed thanks to a keen focus on company culture to get everyone “talking the same language.”


Underwood, who works as the company’s vice president of memory care services, said the executive team originally wanted to create a company philosophy based on how associates care for residents, and how company leaders treated associates.

“We felt like the first thing we really needed to do was to define who we were as an organization,” Underwood said during a panel at the Senior Housing News BRAIN conference in Chicago.

Artis developed its culture and philosophy of “Positive Partnerships” and “The Artis Way,” which are both based on the concepts of integrity, success and recognition while cultivating meaningful, positive relationships.


Underwood said that it’s a common trend in senior living for a company’s different departments to become “silos.” To counteract that, she stressed the importance of building a strong positive culture. .

“It’s overall how everyone treats everybody within the organization,” Underwood said. “It’s important to have the same way of thinking about how they interact with everybody.”

Artis Senior Living operates 27 memory care communities across the eastern and midwestern U.S.

‘Human being care’

Underwood works with sales teams to help them understand that providing memory care is akin to providing something she called “human being care.” Sometimes, memory care can focus on limitations around the dementia residents are facing. But first and foremost, these residents are people with rich lives and stories, and should be treated as such.

That’s where training comes in. By educating the company’s sales teams on a more holistic view of memory care, Underwood said they were able to build better relationships internally and boost morale, which spilled over to the residents and the general atmosphere of a community. Artis uses external and internal salespeople, coordinated through a national sales director, to train and instill the company’s culture in new employees.

DePreker, who is vice president of sales and marketing at Artis, said “a lot” of new employees, especially sales staff with experience at other operators, typically try to market communities through selling benefits and feature sales, but Artis wants to break that mold.

Instead of directing sales staffers to promote a community’s bells and whistles or luxury amenities, DePreker said the company’s leaders “spend a lot of time trying to shift that focus, and making it about philosophy.”

To do that, she said leaders have to “think outside the box” with apps that offer video coaching and role playing opportunities to make learning within the organization’s culture “constant and ongoing,” she added.

Each director of an Artis community is required to take two-hour training on philosophy with Underwood. In standup meetings, teams talk about philosophy.

“We’re constantly reinforcing what we do and why we do it,” she added.

If sales staff are selling with a unified voice, it helps alleviate confusion on behalf of a prospective resident’s family, DePreker said. She noted that, by emphasizing why Artis operates the way it does, that helps families understand the nuances of memory care.

“Features and benefits vary from community to community,” DePreker said. “That’s very confusing for the families and when you give them the ‘why’ and that ‘why’ is consistent among all staff, it does make it easier for them to understand what it is we are trying to accomplish.”

Strong philosophy leads to sales

Having a strong philosophy and knowledge base among employees impacts the sales process, because that allows employees to better handle questions from residents and families, Underwood said. Having the ability to underscore the meaning, or as Underwood puts it, “the why” of a company-wide philosophy allows sales staff to answer any question and resolve problems more quickly

“A lot of times, families aren’t going to ask you about features or benefits,” Underwood said.

For example, while some sales people might assume a family wants to hear about fitness facilities or landscaped courtyards, Underwood said that questions from families are often more personal in nature. For example, a family might have certain routines that they want to prioritize, such as serving their parent a favorite food during mealtime.

“The answer is, we treasure everyone’s uniqueness, and if that’s what your mom wants, then that’s what we’re going to be able to get your mom,” she said.” It’s not just an easy answer. It’s an answer about culture, and it really does help in the process.”

DePreker said Artis sales staff look to learn a prospective resident’s story, background and family history before delving into the more typical questions tied to memory care, such as incontinence and mobility.

DePreker backed up this vigilance in understanding the residents with data that showed Artis was able to convert more sales due to its cohesiveness among staff and commitment to building culture through understanding philosophy.

In one-on-one focus groups, Artis found families chose to have a loved one at their community based solely on the quality of the staff and the commitment to the philosophy.

“People cared more about philosophy than some of our premiere amenities that make our communities great,” DePreker said.

Crafting roles, improving staffing

Artis employs a position called the Director of the Artis Way Experience. The role is centered on driving the company’s philosophy to make sure team members know how to bring residents’ passions to life.

Associates in these roles are typically brought in to talk with families and to build relationships prior to a resident moving in.

“It’s a huge benefit because we’re driving person-centered care,” DePreker said. “It helps make sure our philosophy is lived every day.”

To provide cohesiveness among communities, the director works with department leaders to find efficiencies and the most effective ways of providing care. For example, the role has a hand in managing the culinary experience, such as adjusting when breakfast is served to better accommodate resident preferences, Underwood said.

The director also keeps records on residents based on an eight-page questionnaire filled out by residents and their family members when entering a community. This lets Artis get a personal touch to residents on a small scale to promote positive interactions with staff, Underwood said.

“They are just working with the teams to take the tasks that other departments have to do and matching it with culture,” Underwood said.

Companies featured in this article: