Senior living operators have spent over the last two years and change clawing back pre-pandemic occupancy levels, and while that process hasn’t been easy, it has in some cases resulted in new best practices.
To achieve — and crucially, maintain — occupancy gains, operators are focusing on improving sales processes, supporting sales staff and ensuring prospective residents are being sold the idea that their envisioned lifestyle is within reach of the community they visit.
These ideas of personalization are nothing new within senior living, but as the demographics shift toward the baby boomer generation, consumer preferences are changing perhaps faster than ever. At the same time, prospective residents are more tech-savvy than ever-before. and operators must embrace a hybrid digital and physical approach to marketing contrasted with digital campaigns mixed with in-person events.
“The days of the cookie-cutter approach to apartments is really kind of dead now,” Health Dimensions Group (HDG) Executive Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Communications Stephanie Signore said during an Argentum webinar Wednesday. “People want everything in one place and they want an opportunity to be self-sufficient but we start offering it in a safe and convenient way.”
Keep the sales process ‘flexible’, emphasis on wellness
Unit personalization is one way operators are able to attract prospective residents to their communities. By offering prospective residents flexibility and customizable options, that helps ensure buy-in and ultimately cross the sales finish line.
Through the end of the year and into 2023, Signore urged sales teams to keep the sales process “simple” for prospective residents and families, while also discovering what’s important to them.
And by promoting programming that supports overall wellness and community lifestyle, sales teams can paint a better picture of daily life to potential customers, she said.
Local partnerships with clinics can also help push prospective residents and their families over the finish line. Signore cited data that showed 60% of seniors were willing to change their primary care doctor to an on-site physician that was offered on an HDG campus.
“It’s a great opportunity to really partner with a local clinic,” Signore said.
Aside from touting clinical services as a differentiator, Signore also urged operators to designate wellness spaces for various things like meditation and exercise, as HDG has done in communities.
“I think they work in a variety of different ways in different markets,” she added.
Digital outreach key to success
Spurred on by the pandemic, many operators bulked up their digital marketing campaigns. At the time, doing so was aimed at maintaining connections with prospective residents, even as they couldn’t walk through the door of the community due to early Covid restrictions.
But building digital sophistication is helping to accelerate occupancy growth in 2022 and beyond, even as those restrictions are no longer in effect.
Ebenezer Corporate Director of Sales Julie Flaig Smith cited data that showed over 60% of consumers checked Google reviews of senior living communities before even contacting a business. She takes that as a sign that consumers are more informed now than ever-before, and they are willing to do their research online.
By bulking up their web presence, Flaig Smith said sales teams can highlight the unique nature and lifestyles customers could expect at their community, even when they’re not directly talking to a prospect..
The use of social media within senior living communities also helps people not living there interact and engage. Flaig Smith recalled tours in which families said they had initially seen some of Ebenezer’s events on Facebook Live or through event pages on Facebook.
“It’s changing rapidly,” Flaig Smith said. “They’re looking at all these things, from Facebook and some even starting on Instagram and TikTok.”
By integrating social media into sales, Flaig Smith said sales staff can easily leverage those engagements to go along with the ability to “tell a story” of what residents can expect at a community.
Those engagements can help tell the story of a community, said Julie Podewitz, founder and CEO of Grow Your Occupancy.
“Those real moments tell the stories of your communities better than anything else because that’s what is happening in your communities,” Podewitz said.
Changing staffing strategies
Senior living operators have faced innumerable staffing challenges since 2020, from ballooning labor costs to ultra-stiff competition for employees.
Flaig Smith highlighted that Ebeneze works to counteract staffing problems by enlisting multiple departments in the effort.
For instance, she said sales staff teamed up with human resources and recruitment teams to find strategies that worked to improve retention of current staff, all while getting a leg-up on the competition. The operator’s marketing teams also worked with its designers to come up with new digital, print and billboard advertising for staff that led to an increase in the number of applicants over time.
That cross-department effort resulted in new best practices for how Ebenezer searches for candidates and for sourcing prospective employees through search engine optimization (SEO). Ebenezer is not alone in that way of thinking, either.
“That was a great success story of just uniting multiple departments and seeing that success at looking at things differently,” Flaig Smith said. “Those are some ways that we really just went all hands-on-deck and made it a priority.”
Podewitz added that communities must look at staffing in the same light as its sales approaches, examining hiring systems and response times to improve ability to engage with prospective employees. That also includes standardizing things within the onboarding process to remove the time it takes to get staff acclimated to a culture, she noted.
“It’s all about relationships and understanding what people need and want,” Podewitz said.
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