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Demand for senior living is high in 2024 – but to attract prospects, operators must work to personalize the sales experience from start to finish.
From revamping how inquiries are handled to how conversions are made, many aspects of the senior living sales process have changed in the last four years. Now, in 2024, sales teams are looking to maximize their opportunities to act on local market demand.
But new data from senior living marketing consultancy Bild & Co., showed “alarming” patterns in the pace at which operators are responding to web-based inquiries, indicating that there is even more senior living sales teams can do to attract new prospects during a crucial period for adding occupancy.
That is why some operators, including Legend Senior Living, are treating inquiries from the web or phone as akin to a senior living “911 call.”
“There are people who need help and information, and oftentimes, we don’t have the same urgency that our prospects have,” Legend Senior Living Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Christy Van Der Westhuizen told Senior Housing News. “There’s a need, and we can be the help that they may need.”
Legend is not the only senior living operator with sales leaders taking this philosophy. Other companies with similar strategies include SilverPoint Senior Living, Baldwin House Communities and Claiborne Senior Living – all of which are focused on improving sales to keep conversions.
As they do so, they are focused on fixing the staffing, morale and culture problems that can result in communities lacking a personalized journey for prospects.
‘No tour should be turned away’
One result of the pandemic has been that senior living prospects are now doing more of their research online. And when they contact senior living operators, they are often reaching out to multiple communities at a time. That makes it imperative for operators to reach prospects quickly – and yet, data shows they are not always doing so.
Bild & Co. recently analyzed more than 250 senior living community web and phone mystery shops made during 2023 and came away with what they said were some troubling trends.
More than half (53%) of mystery shops did not get a response from a community within two hours following a web inquiry. Another 13% of mystery shop calls never received a response at all. Furthermore, 17% of mystery shop calls were blind-transferred to voicemail, while 19% of the mystery shops elicited promises of a callback that same day.
The average time a shopper spent trying to inquire was 1 hour and 36 minutes and the average length of a sales call was 13 minutes, according to Bild & Co. data.
This gap in connecting messages from a marketing team to actual practice in executing at the sales-level shows there’s much work to be done to adapt senior living sales practices to meet current demand. That resulted in a 22% conversion rate for inquiry to tour in 2023, Bild & Co. data shows.
To Van Der Westhuizen, the low conversion rate is a “sad” indication that senior living sales need improvement overall.
“No inquiry should go to voicemail and no tour should be turned away, period,” she added. “We are building trust and transparency in our sales process and I think our largest goal as an industry is to continue building trust and transparency.”
For the Wichita, Kansas-based operator, and many other organizations in the industry, tracking speed-to-lead is a focal point for sales teams. By training back-up sales teams to handle inquiries or tour requests when a sales rep is unavailable, that gap can be closed, Van Der Westhuizen said.
Legend is changing its sales process in 2024 to include more price transparency, Van Der Westhuizen added.
SilverPoint Senior Living’s inquiry-to-tour conversion rate is 27%, with its rate of tour-to-move-ins being even higher, at 31%. Overall, the operator’s conversion rate was 12% from inquiry to move-in, according to Vice President of Sales and Marketing Kelly Schwennesen.
At present, the New Braunfels, Texas-based operator sees 85% of all inquiries come from digital/web-based leads, and Schwennesen expects that figure to grow in the coming years.
“I anticipate industry benchmarks to climb this year based on pent-up demand, artificial intelligence chatbots with texting features and call centers becoming more cost effective to have in their tool box,” Schwennesen said.
Baldwin House Senior Living, just one full month into 2024, is reporting 10% to 12% higher sales volume as a signal of the “new normal,” according to COO Tina Abbate Marzolf.
“We are looking at each community and analyzing how we can differentiate it in a specific market and we’re testing different product offerings and combinations to see what resonates with the market,” she said. “I think that’s really led to our sales growth over the last 12 months.”
Abbate Marzolf said organizations must better position themselves to capture online demand, but mixed with a personal touch.
“We responded to that by putting as much good information online as possible so that people have a good idea of what they might expect when they visit us,” Abbate Marzolf said. “A lot of it depends on the team and the geographic area where the community is located.”
She added that the Hazel Park, Michigan-based operator reported a 22% conversion rate from inquiry to tour, in line with the Bild & Co. data and industry average.
But that figure isn’t uniform across the portfolio, with communities reporting conversion rates as low as 15% and as high as 35%, Abbate Marzolf shared with SHN. From tour to move in, Baldwin House reported an average of 22% to 90% across its portfolio and inquiry to move in at 12% to 15%.
Strategies for 2024
Senior living companies have taken steps to fill gaps in the sales process in recent years, from AI chat bots to more intuitive web design displaying community pricing.
Claiborne Senior Living has seen sales success through implementing an automated sales assistant on the company’s website. Since it was implemented, 55% of all leads generated to Claiborne sales reps come from that tool, and 88% of all move-ins across the portfolio come from web-based traffic, according to Brooke Saxon-Spencer, who is the Vice President of Marketing for the Hattiesburg, Mississippi-based provider.
“Customers want their own journey,” Saxon-Spencer said. “The sales assistant has served as a great starting point to tell a bit of their story and is a great way to start our interactions with prospects.”
Collaborating among sales and marketing teams can better craft a singular sales message, she added.
All operators that spoke with SHN also highlighted the need to be cognizant of the public-facing view of their company online, specifically with curating and responding to reviews on Google. Social media moderation and engagement have been tools operators have used more in recent years to reach new residents considering a move to a senior living community.
“You have to talk through what your strategies are and what is going to drive quality leads in and make it worthwhile for the community,” Saxon-Spencer said. “We review our metrics on a monthly basis so that we can pivot and change strategies should we need to.”
Going forward, Schwennesen said as an industry, sales teams “have to do better” on instilling a sense of urgency around responding to inquiries and expanding price transparency.
“We have to get better at becoming more transparent and it’s really driving qualified leads and how we do that is getting better website design,” Schwennesen said. “When the person is on the phone, they need help and they can be in crisis mode so everyone in the community needs to understand that urgency.”
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