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How Discovery, Acts, Atria Are Improving Senior Living Sales for 2024

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Senior living providers must adapt to a new sales landscape in 2024 where tours and leads may be plentiful, but improving move-ins and conversions remains a harder task. 

Operators have changed sales processes and increased investment in tech to support operations, from clinical to sales departments that have led the industry into a new era of sales in senior living.

“The sentiment and the conversation around senior living is changing,” said Atria Executive Vice President of Sales Sanela Graziose during the SHN Sales and Marketing Summit in Tampa, Florida.

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In January, the industry surpassed an average of 85% occupancy and the 10th quarter of improved census. Operators have reported an increase in leads and tour frequency that’s tied to increased senior living demand but challenges remain in how operators will handle the influx of inquiries.

But higher acuity is causing shorter stays and that’s forced operators to focus on wellness and lifestyle engagement to improve resident health. At Discovery Senior Living, Vice President of Sales Lou Maranto said leadership teams try to promote buy-in from sales teams to continue fighting for wider margins.

“We have a mantra internally that every day matters,” Maranto said. To highlight that, he added that with Discovery’s scale, improving a conversion’s move-in time by just a single day could increase sales figures for the company by “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

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Atria Senior Living, Discovery Senior Living and Acts Retirement have taken new approaches to improving senior living sales processes, from changing internal guidance to finding ways to improve conversions while focusing hiring to improve retention and recruitment. All of these aspects must be addressed in 2024 for senior living sales teams to make substantial gains in the months ahead.

Changes to sales aimed at improving performance

By changing aspects of the sales cycle or implementing new ways of qualifying leads and managing digital marketing, operators have had to evolve senior living sales to improve the bottom line.

Discovery Senior Living expects improved portfolio revenue performance based on strong demand, along with rosier language from the U.S. Federal Reserve on plans to lower interest rates in 2024, Maranto added.

Discovery at the start saw improved performance in January and February ,and Maranto added that the Bonita Springs, Florida-based operator is “in really good shape” for March. Discovery recently centralized its sales, setting up a call center to improve response time to prospects and improve lead times.

“We’re working with the database and we are working with leads and turning people over to the sales teams that are Discovery-embedded and it’s working really well,” Maranto said.

Acts Retirement reported improving operating performance in the second-half of last year that bled over to strong sales figures in the first two months of this year, according to Vice President of Sales Megan Longely.

“I’m surprised at how good it looks and that started last year,” Longely said. “Leads are up, sales are up…If you’re wondering how the forecast is going to look, it’s looking very positive.”

Acts is in the middle of researching a possible switch to an internal call center like Discovery to improve sales. The company in 2023 started using an artificial intelligence (AI) software that helps sales teams with call recording that has led to improving its sales process overall.

“It’s driving our ability to understand what our sales people are saying and have them hear what they are saying,” Longely said. “It’s pretty transformative.”

Atria will also dive deep into improving conversions this year in what Graziose said was one of the company’s biggest sales goals in 2024.

“You have to work a lot of things together when you’re managing new leads,” Graziose said. “What are your pre-qualifications that can be made to protect sales people and put them in front of customers that are ready to move in.”

Solving turnover, offering training combat ‘pressure’ from capital

Senior living operators have spent the last four years weathering staffing challenges and working on relationships with their respective capital partners to allow for a runway for a strong recovery in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This has led to providers needing to make changes to sales and operating models.

Graziose said Atria’s sales teams were experiencing “a lot of email fatigue” not only from prospects but also internally from sales teams. That means clearing up the inboxes of Atria sales teams and taking a new approach in delivering training, sales plans and guidance from leadership differently.

Senior living turnover rates for sales staff are high, Graziose said, and Atria put a renewed focus on improving retention among sales teams in order to preserve prospects and relationships made by an exiting team member.

In reaching the right team members, Longely highlighted how Acts Retirement reworded its advertising of job postings to target jobseekers, while changing internal goals around employee sales training.

Maranto noted how Discovery sales and marketing teams meet on a monthly basis to ensure the same message is being communicated by both departments and improve continuity.

“Ultimately it’s about making sure ops, marketing and sales are all working together,” Maranto said.

That continuity on all fronts appears more important than ever before as he added that Discovery and other senior living operators were “feeling an enormous amount of pressure” from capital partners to improve margin.

While the push for recovery continues, operators have had to weigh rental rate increases against the lowering appetite for consumers to stomach rising fees. That creates a delicate balance for an operator in increasing rates that take into account new operations costs while properly messaging a community’s value proposition to quell resident angst.

That’s led some operators, like Discovery, to use a “stair-step approach” on new rental rate increases that are based on various market factors, Maranto said.

“We don’t want to shock the market,” Maranto added. “You’re watching a market as it develops to make sure that if you go too high, you don’t have to backtrack on market rate and what we try to do is slowly move that over the year.”

For Acts Retirement, the company saw a slight increase in rates from past years to annual average increases of 4% to 5% annually, Longely said.

The pressure to improve conversions is felt at all levels of a senior living organization and Graziose said there was a “fine balance” between raising resident rental rates and also improving conversions.

That comes as operators are making concessions to improve conversions and move-in figures, something Graziose said was a “risky proposition” as discounting could continue to lead to senior living as an industry to be “under-valued.”

“We have to be careful that there isn’t a race to the bottom that isn’t really necessary,” Graziose added. I think they want us to call a spade a spade so I think we really figure out how to start cutting back on that and get back to showing the price.”

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