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Not Playing Catch-Up: How HDG, LifeStar, Sunshine Retirement Sell Senior Living to a New Generation

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With the incoming wave of baby boomers preparing to enter the senior housing market, providers are having to focus on new ways of connecting with future residents.

The sector is becoming more transparent, preparing for residents to largely do their own research and employing a variety of methods for reaching potential residents, including in both print and digital mediums.

That’s according to leaders with LifeStar Living, Health Dimensions Group (HDG) and Sunshine Retirement Living, who spoke at the recent Senior Housing News Sales and Marketing Conference in Tampa, Florida.

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“The big piece with digital to think about is the amount of information that every single one of us is hit with on a regular daily basis,” said Jessica Kraft, executive vice president of sales and marketing, LifeStar Living. “We’re constantly trying to find places to meet our prospects where they are to get that engagement.”

However, the amount of information available also leads to one of the greatest challenges in connecting with consumers, according to Stephen Eatman, president of resident engagement at Sunshine Retirement Living. The amount of info that is available can lead to overload and “immediate shopping fatigue,” he said, which in turn brings an extra reliance on sales teams to be personable and unique.

It also leads to a need to adapt marketing strategies to specifically appeal to the baby boomers. Matt Owens, regional director of sales and marketing at HDG, said this is particularly important as consumers are looking more to “do things their way.”

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“The consumer now is … really educating themselves. They’re doing a lot more research, they’re reaching out to a lot more communities,” Owens said. “We have to really be ahead of the game, and really be that person to stand out in a very crowded response to an inquiry.”

Changing landscape

At this time, technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and chatbots is causing the biggest shift in connecting with consumers and marketing strategies, and Owens said his team is still in the process of figuring out how to utilize those tools to their advantage. Due to the increasing speed in replies, teams are having to find out how to really stand out.

“As we progress forward, it’s going to be about the experience,” Kraft said.

With that in mind, HDG is focused on working with team members such as concierges and the people answering phones, to help them understand how important their roles are in ensuring a positive prospect experience as they walk through the literal or metaphorical front door.

Among the ways the industry can change is by continuing to look at outside industries, particularly in the hospitality sector. Eatman noted, as an example, that he equates senior living to attending a resort, and uses that as a way to adjust offerings for incoming residents by “letting them drive.” However, in order to do so, he noted both current and future residents need to be asked what they are wanting.

Kraft added senior housing can look at the qualities that are working for hospitality and bring them back to communities.

“I actually joined the Luxury Hotel Association just to keep a pulse on what’s going on in that arena,” she said. “They have amazing webinars about shifts and change and wellness. As a business traveler, it’s exciting to see that trend come forward. Senior living doesn’t have to always be playing the catch up game.”

With the increasing demand for senior housing, Owens said he has been having his team shift focus because “everybody knows a senior in some way.” In order to do so, it eliminates focusing only on particular areas and encourages sales teams to think outside the box for additional referrals.

Unlearning sales habits

In order to break learned habits within the industry, Eatman said he has made a point of hiring new team members from outside sectors in order to sell to a new generation with different needs.

“We have to approach people differently, we have to be comfortable in different spaces,” Eatman said. “There’s different outreach strategies to reach a different audience, and it’s working. So now we operationally also have to adjust to deliver the things that this audience wants.”

Another shift for the industry is reinforcing that every member of a senior living community is part of the sales team in some way. Kraft said this is reinforced at LifeStar Living through training, where team members are put through a variety of situations that could impact a potential sale. The goal, she said, is for every person to feel special.

In that vein, Owens added he has seen more leads close from prospects having the opportunity to talk to team members who aren’t directly tied to the sales team.

“I think sometimes we forget to include them in that process, and I’ve had them do follow up calls,” Owens said.

Eatman said he has also seen success by highlighting individual staff members, including chefs and head maintenance workers.

“If you can highlight other people in your community, that’s way more powerful than just having the sales conversation. And I’ve always stuck with that approach,” he said.

All three panelists noted that taking a people-centered approach will be the key for sales and marketing to continue to grow throughout 2024, and focusing on the cues learned during discovery can lead to a stronger relationship with prospects, with various technologies then being used to to reinforce the connection.

For example, everyone gets the typical followup email, Owens noted. Providers must do more.

“It’s that personal connection you make with somebody that makes a world of difference … it’s being specific to that person that you’re working with and what’s going to trigger them to want to reach back out to you again,” he said.

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