Senior Living Operators Level Up Digital Sales Strategies to Serve Savvier Customers

As the third quarter of 2023 winds down, the internet is still playing an outsized role in the senior living sales process. Operators that cater to residents’ preferences seem poised to win the day in terms of occupancy gains.

While more senior living prospects doing their own research online has resulted in an uptick in the overall number of leads that sales teams are seeing, it also means those prospects are seeing and shopping many more communities at once.

That has prompted operators to step up their digital marketing game in recent years to stand out from the crowd, according to Christy Van Der Westhuizen, senior vice president of sales and marketing at Wichita-based Legend Senior Living.


Compared with just five years ago, “consumer behavior has changed radically,” she said, with prospects valuing instant gratification and useability. That places the onus on senior living operators to meet those preferences or potentially miss out on sales.

“Consumers want information quickly, succinctly when they want it, and it’s really our job to make sure it’s available for them anytime,” Van Der Westhuizen told Senior Housing News.

There was a time not long ago when sales teams would mail a newly inquiring prospect a sales brochure and only call them a few days later, Van Der Westhuizen added. But times have changed, and consumers’ current shopping habits have pushed sales teams to use technology to their advantage. And Legend is not the only operator in the country seeing these trends play out on the ground.


“What we’re seeing is better quality leads and more workable leads from our digital efforts,” said Eric Varin, senior vice president of sales at Houston-based The Aspenwood Company.

Digital strategies for success

As Varin and Van Der Westhuizen noted, senior living operators are embracing digital marketing strategies to reach a more online-savvy audience in 2023. One popular strategy that companies are wielding to success is transparency, both in the rates that residents will pay each month and the kind of life they will live inside the community.

Kelly Schwennesen, New Braunfels-based SilverPoint Senior Living vice president of sales and marketing, noted that consumers have price transparency in many other things they purchase — for example, a car — and will demand the same out of senior living companies.

“You can go anywhere online and you’re getting rates,” she told Senior Housing News. “I don’t know why healthcare would be any different.”

It used to be that senior living sales prospects had to engage sales people on their terms to start the sales journey, typically by calling them during working hours. Now, the internet has extended the sales process to nights and weekends — and operators should be ready with a website that acts as a welcoming “front door” for residents, according to Van Der Westhuizen.

A website should contain all of the information necessary to “help someone in the middle of the night make a decision,” she said. That is why Van Der Westhuizen and her team at Legend are focusing in the coming quarter on producing “great educational content for consumers to have at their fingertips.”

“Content creation is big in Q4 for us,” she said.

Other companies, such as Hattiesburg-based Claiborne Senior Living, are also focusing on creating digital marketing content such as guides, blog posts and social media posts. That has led to a “dramatic increase” in web traffic this year, according to Claiborne Vice President of Marketing Brooke Saxon-Spencer.

In just the last few years, she has seen a stark increase in competitiveness from other operators regarding their web presences. And as a result, “we have to really be more and more creative with those dollars and how we’re spending them,” she said.

Part of that creativity for Clairborne includes a refresh. The operator redesigned its website in the first quarter of this year, and Saxon-Spencer also noted that Claiborne is currently in the process of utilizing a resident referral program that was launched in the third quarter.

“We know that those referrals and those leads are really high converters and lead to more satisfied and happy current residents and prospective residents,” she said.

Looking ahead, Saxon-Spencer said 2024 is going to be delving into other tools to personalize the digital process. The process has already begun, she said, as the company made the decision to eliminate its print collateral this year, something that some other senior living operators are also embracing this year.

“We hope to create more qualified leads flowing into the communities,” she said.

Justin Yee, vice president of marketing at Aspenwood, said his company is trying to take a more holistic approach to building trust with prospective residents and their families by being as transparent as possible, which includes the use of chat bots that provide upfront pricing “without gating the information.”

Yee noted the sales and marketing teams have revamped their brand messaging through the website, with an approach of making the prospect and their family members the “hero of the brand.”

Using that approach, Aspenwood has grown its digital leads by 9% in comparison with last year. Yee added he plans to see how concessions and incentives are going to continue going into 2024, as his team has been leaning away from utilizing them.

‘All things are improving’

Senior living demand is accelerating. And while operators have in 2023 been careful to note that recovery is not a sure-thing, sales leaders at Legend, Claiborne, Aspenwood and SilverPoint are all seeing the trends moving in the right direction into next year.

Van Der Westhuizen said that Legend is coming out of a strong third quarter where her team is very close to hitting the annual sales goals they set for themselves at the start of the year.

“Lead volume is at an almost all time high … tour volume has increased year over year,” she said. “All things are improving month-over-month, and especially year-over-year.”

Varin said his team has seen continuous net positives for the past six months, and as a result the company has increased its revenue this year by 7.3%. On the whole, Aspenwood had a “very active” summer, with a record number of move-ins during June and then beating those numbers again in July. The operator is currently seeing a total occupancy of 89%, with two communities being full and seven of their 12 being over 90%.

Varin noted August has been slower in comparison and attributes the slow down to the general heat affecting their Houston based communities, but the company is still anticipating to be net positive to close out the quarter.

The idea, he said, is to focus on the quality of a sales call rather than increasing the sheer quantity of them.

“Our goals have absolutely been surpassed,” Varin said.

Looking to the start of Q4 in October and the new year ahead in 2024, Schwennesen said she is optimistic for the senior housing market to continue its positive momentum.

“This year has shown as an industry that we have been able to hold steady and figure things out,” she said.

For the remainder of the year, the challenge for operators will be gearing up and refining what they are currently doing. At Claiborne, that means continuing to leverage digital tools and meeting potential residents and their loved ones where they are at.

“Every quarter, I feel like [sales figures get] stronger and stronger,” Saxon-Spencer said. “But I do think our prospects are expecting more and more from us.”

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