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3 Top Trends Shaping the Future of Senior Living Sales & Marketing

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From being “compassionately aggressive” in order to increase conversions, to having sales teams trained to handle various aspects of both marketing and sales in “centralized systems,” many providers are making significant changes to their senior living sales practices.

This comes as operators make strategic investments in new sales-related technology in order to drive their effectiveness over the next five years.

These were all themes I heard during the 2024 Senior Housing News Sales and Marketing Conference, which convened nearly 300 people in Tampa, Florida last week. 

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In this week’s exclusive, members-only SHN+ Update, I share my analysis of the event and offer some key takeaways, including:

  • Why senior living operators need to think differently about their sales practices to increase conversions
  • The importance of harnessing the power of social media engagement to improve sales
  • How rising acuity, while marketing independence, puts operators in a tough position

New sales processes ‘imperative’ to meet demand

While senior living sales teams have grown to accept many changes in the last four years, c-suites have started making sweeping changes to the sales process. That comes following “alarming” trends arising in senior living sales teams’ communication habits with prospects and lagging conversion rates.

To improve conversion rates, some operators have taken the approach that it’s an entire staff’s responsibility to understand at least the basics of customer service in dealing with prospects to keep them engaged and in the sales cycle. That’s because lead time and a prospect’s time spent in the sales process is typically longer, depending on acuity level.

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Take Artis Senior Living, for example. The memory care and assisted living-focused provider based in McLean, Virginia recently implemented a new sales process due to the fact that while inquiries and lead volume were elevated in 2023, conversions lagged behind desired numbers, something that I have heard recently from other operators.

“We felt it was imperative that we got in front of every department and show them what their role is in sales,” said Artis Senior Living Vice President of Sales and Marketing Amy Beth DePreker during a panel discussion. “The first impression makes all the difference.”

DePreker went on to highlight how Artis executives pushed sales leaders to be “compassionately aggressive” in taking control of the sales process, guiding prospects along the journey of making a life-changing decision to move into a community that is often an emotionally-charged time for the prospect and their family.

Merz Photography on behalf of Senior Housing News and WTWH Media
Artis Senior Living Vice President of Sales and Marketing Amy Beth DePreker speaks during a panel discussion at the Senior Housing News Sales and Marketing Summit in Tampa, Florida.

“You have to have empathy but you have to help them make a decision and push them off the fence to do it and that’s where compassionately aggressive comes in,” DePreker added.

This topic came up in other sessions as well, with Allison Vanderford, who is the senior director of sales at Buckner Retirement Services, saying that the tone of needing to be “compassionately aggressive” in the senior living sales process resonated with her.

In that same panel, Beztak EVP of Senior Living Jason Kohler made a related point. He explained that Beztak sales pros voluntarily completed a Strengths Finders assessment that revealed some interesting insights related to what “selling style” is most effective. There were two main selling styles that were prevalent on the team: motivators and facilitators. Facilitators tend to be highly empathetic, good listeners, looking for “win-win” solutions, he said, while a motivator is “more of an influencer” and motivated by driving progress through the sales process.

“Overwhelmingly, 10 to 1, our top sales performers were motivators,” Kohler said.

I was surprised by this finding, given how often I hear about the importance of empathy in senior living sales, and the need to find and recruit naturally empathetic salespeople. Kohler emphasized that empathy is indeed important, but Beztak is now interviewing job candidates with more of an emphasis on motivator traits. I took this to mean that senior living providers should reexamine their assumptions about what makes a good salesperson, and not prioritize empathy too highly in their recruiting. Kohler challenged the notion that empathy cannot be taught, pointing to “quite a body of research” showing otherwise.

That is, in trying to strike the balance between compassion and aggression, senior living providers could see their conversion rates benefit in they prioritize aggression more than they might be today.

At Claiborne Senior Living, the Mississippi-based operator has “cleared up clutter” within its sales process, removing certain old practices like giving prospects a folder at the end of a tour. The folder has been replaced by a document that is customized with pricing, level of care and other aspects that can help shape a prospect’s sales journey, according to Brooke Saxon-Spencer, Claiborne’s vice president of marketing.

“Make sure people are comfortable from the get-go; and you need to do discovery and personalize the [prospect] an experience,” Saxon-Spencer said during a panel.

Social media becoming its ‘own beast’

From virtual tours, photo galleries and short video content, senior living operators are adapting social media management into its own specialized component of the senior living sales process, not just something for marketing team members to use periodically.

“Social media is now becoming its own beast,” Kohler said.

This has led providers to recruit team members from outside the senior living industry, with organizations recruiting social media managers to increase brand presence and online reach. Social media, while being a valuable sales tool in documenting the highlights of congregate living, has also served as a way for operators to reach job candidates for sales positions sooner via LinkedIn, according to Cogir COO Gottfried Ernst.

During a panel I hosted, Holbrook Life Vice President of Business Development Jack Miller told the audience that operators need to “be more intentional” with their social media channels to aid sales, and I couldn’t agree more.

Operators in recent years have pivoted from managing a sole social media platform to taking on more video and photography-based content on the likes of Instagram and Tiktok. These channels will become even more important in the years ahead as customers want more information about a community in an increasingly video-based format.

That intentionality has led Holbrook Life and other companies to roll out marketing initiatives based on curated experiences for residents that can easily be translated into social media platforms.

“We’ve had 90-year-olds jump out of airplanes, we’ve had 85-year-olds swim with sharks,” Miller told summit attendees. “These types of things promote that active lifestyle and it makes for amazing videos and ads because [the public] is seeing what we are all about.”

Contrasted with high demand, rising acuity remains a challenge

Marketing older adults leaping from airplanes or swimming with sharks no doubt can be effective in promoting the lifestyle-driven demand that is fueling the active adult boom, but it also highlights a difficult tension that marketers must navigate with regard to rising acuity.

Over the last four years, operators have seen residents coming to communities later in life, increasing the average age of a resident base. And new residents also are entering assisted living communities with over a dozen chronic health conditions on average.

I believe that this age- and acuity-creep is a trend the industry must continue to combat, and operators are indeed finding ways to innovate and reach residents sooner, which was another theme of the event. This is shown by some operators – including Holbrook and LifeStar Living – launching country club-style membership models to increase their sphere of influence before a prospect even considers a move.

For Holbrook Life, at the IL level, the average age of residents is 85-years-old, Miller said.

“It’s about how we pivot,” Miller said during the panel. “We’ve introduced this country club model to try and extend that sales cycle.”

Optima Living, a Canadian operator based in British Columbia, is a prime example of how the sales cycle is shifting from a drawn-out process to a lightning round. According to demographic data, one in four Canadians will be 65 or older in 2043. In reviewing sales data, Optima Living Co-Founder Karim Kassam said the company’s sales cycle has shrunk from up to 18 months to between two and eight months presently.

“It’s required our sales people to think differently in the way that they respond,” Kassam said during a panel.

With the average age of Optima residents increasing from 79 years to 84 years in 2020, Kassam said organizations with IL and active adult components must define which areas of support will be provided so as to not “take away independence.”

“It’s a tough balance because you want to be full all the time but you also want to make sure you’re not compromising the existing community and creating imbalance, and as operators we’re going to have to really think deeply about this,” Kassam said.

Cutting lead times, regardless of the approach, also surfaced as a theme during our conference. Operators with different care types across the continuum are finding ways to reduce the time between a prospect entering the sales cycle and final move-in.

At Trilogy Health Services, the Louisville, Kentucky-based senior living and health care provider is looking at adding an interior space planner to assist families in coordinating a move to speed up the transition from home to community, according to Trilogy’s Chief Growth Officer Staci Woods.

“I think there’s big potential there to help be the provider of choice and to really shorten that sales cycle to make the decision easier for families,” Woods said during a panel.

That hits home the resounding point that operators must change their sales habits to consider the new normal of demographics, average age and rising acuity. There’s no one-size-fits all fix to this problem, but operators must evolve or face stagnation.

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