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Senior living sales leaders in 2023 are building on momentum gained in the second quarter of the year while also strategizing how to reach residents who are now choosier than only a few years ago.
Part of the reason for that choosiness is that today’s senior living prospect is thought to be more internet savvy than ever before. That has led to a significant increase in the number of web leads compared with before the pandemic.
At the same time, that savviness has driven prospects in some cases to be pickier and compare prices, concessions and incentives when picking a new community. Senior living sales teams are responding by bolstering their footprint online and offering new and creative perks to entice move-ins.
Not long ago, the industry had a more or less “one-size-fits-all” model of sales, according to Sinceri Senior Living COO April Young. But now, some operators have adopted the mindset that “less is more” — at least with regard to selling — and are acting accordingly by focusing on building relationships and gaining trust.
“Less quantitative sales activities, more quality engagement with customers,” explained Young who ascended to the COO role at Sinceri earlier in June.
The pandemic’s early forces disrupted industry seasonality as older adults waited to make their move into senior living communities. But in arguably the industry’s first quarter mostly unshackled by the pressures of Covid in sales, seasonal trends have come back back and are likely to be the new normal going forward, according to Aline Chairman and CEO Brad Frasher.
“I don’t have any real projections as to what the summer will do, but it’s behaving on a nice, normal seasonal pattern,” Frasher told Senior Housing news.
Leads up, conversions down
According to data collected in the second quarter by senior living sales analytics and solutions firms Aline and WelcomeHome, the number of leads are exploding online. But, that glut of online inquiries also is driving conversion rates down in some cases.
An initial resurgence in leads, sales and occupancy lead to a quick rebound in 2021. But, as many of the pressures of the pandemic became easier to deal with toward the end of 2022, those tailwinds receded, according to Maggie Seybold, vice president of customer insights with senior living data firm Welcome Home.
Part of the opportunity — and the challenge — is that older adults are doing their research online.
“We’re now seeing people expanding their shopping criteria and looking at many more communities than they have historically, which makes them pickier,” Seybold told Senior Housing News.
Now, the prevalence of online and aggregated leads, coupled with the aging baby boomers, will have a “strong effect” on the industry’s new normal sales cycle, she said.
The number of leads that come from the internet is up by more than three times from 2013, according to data from WelcomeHome. While a decade ago only about 10% of prospects came from online sources, that number rose to more than a third of all prospects in the first quarter of 2023.
While the company is still analyzing its data from the second quarter of this year, previous WelcomeHome data showed a “healthy increase in community leads” in the first quarter compared to the end of 2022. But that trend “failed to transfer proportionately to an increase in move-ins,” with the average number of leads-to-move-in dropping to 7.3% in the first quarter.
Data from sales analytics firm Aline – a company formed this year by the merger of Enquire Glennis Solutions and Sherpa CRM – tells a similar story.
Just prior to the pandemic, about half of all senior living leads tracked by Aline came from digital marketing, direct website and paid referral sources. Now, that number is far higher — 65%, according to Frasher.
But while prospects and their families are doing more research online, that is not leading to an increase in conversions, Frasher told SHN.
Aline data shows a conversion rate between 5% and 7% for leads generated online, a downward trend compared with data from before the pandemic. That’s compared to about a 30% conversion rate for human-sourced leads.
“You’re seeing more come through the funnel on the digital side, which is leading the overall conversion rates to decline,” Frasher said. “It’s down about 3% overall from pre-pandemic levels.”
Seybold added that WelcomeHome’s data shows similar trends:
“It’s worth noting that now that online conversion rates in 2017 were closer to 20%, so now that online is more widely adopted as a research method, conversions have dropped significantly,” she said.
Sales conditions on the ground mirror the data from WelcomeHome and Aline.
Leads ticked up approximately 15% to 20% for Wichita, Kansas-based Legend Senior Living between January and June. And on an overall basis the company is seeing 30% more leads than in 2021.
Similarly, leads are up about 10% across the board at Sinceri’s 74 communities, according to Young. The increase is driven mostly by IL and AL resident demand, she said. But the sales cycle is shorter than before the pandemic.
“Inquiries are pretty much parallel to what we saw prior to the pandemic,” Young added. “But the sales cycle seems to be a bit shorter, so the deposit ratio is higher.”
With a larger number of prospective residents now doing their research ahead of moving in, senior living operators have stuck with an approach that has proved useful during the pandemic. Instead of selling residents on oversized pools, luxe bars and stylish spas, they are looking to build a relationship with prospects.
GenCare Lifestyle Founder and CEO Leon Grundstein noted the company is careful not to overload prospective residents with all of the bells and whistles a community might offer, a process he jokingly referred to as “amenity barfing.” Rather, GenCare’s sales teams want to understand each lead and prospect and tailor their pitch to them.
Legend Senior Living upped the number of social media posts its communities posted fivefold and added a social media coordinator to its marketing team.
The operator went from an average of about 300 posts per month in January to more than 1,500 posts per month in May. As a result, “our likes have tripled, our shares have tripled and our comments have quadrupled,” Senior VP of Sales and Marketing Christy Van Westhuizen told Senior Housing News.
“We’re seeing a giant correlation between occupancy and the number of social media posts – a huge correlation,” Van Der Westhuizen said.
That is why it came as no surprise to Van Der Westhuizen that the company’s most active community on social media also saw the highest number of move-ins to date this year.
Tumwater, Washington-based Sinceri recently polled a number of residents who moved in and found that they largely moved in for three reasons: Amenable rates, good customer service and a sense that the operator is fast to respond and understanding.
“Relationship building sells more than anything else,” Young said. ““Each customer has an individualized need and it’s our due diligence and obligation to figure out what that is.”.”
Legend has competitors in some markets enacting concessions in the neighborhood of 20% to 25% on all apartments. While Legend won’t be offering discounts quite as deep, the company is instead opting for a more personalized and adjustable approach.
“We’re not afraid to personalize what an incentive might look like for a community or for a prospect as well,” Van Der Westhuizen said.
Competition from other companies is pushing some operators to consider concessions when they previously had not. For example, Seattle-based GenCare this year offered prospects concessions for the first time ever at its six communities.
“We held off giving concessions for a while and lagged behind everyone else,” Grundstein said. “Prospects, potential residents are hooked on them, mostly looking for some concessions as a part of the deal.”
He added that in the months since offering concessions, sales velocity increased significantly, noting that the company filled 15% of its units in one month alone.
But the bottom line is that having sales staff engage and empathize with residents is “critical” to winning their trust and ultimately getting them to move in.
“You could have the best building and the biggest giveaways, but unless you have the personnel that the prospects feel confident in, they’re not going to sign up,” Grundstein said.