Relentless Follow Thru

Whether playing golf or hitting a baseball, “follow thru” is critical for consistent success.  The same is true in sales for a senior living community.  Move-ins are a process and not an event.  Simply running an ad in the newspaper or holding an open house is NOT ENOUGH!

What is needed is a systematic approach to prospect management AND the discipline to follow and adhere to that system.  The system doesn’t have to be fancy or complex – an industry leader successfully utilized a manual system for years.  But, it needs to maintain pertinent data about the prospect, track all activity and establish suspense dates for periodic follow thru.

Of course, the system is not enough by itself either.  The process starts with “getting the right people on the bus[1]” Does this mean always hiring a super salesperson – someone who can sell ice cream to Eskimos?

NO, IT DOES NOT!

Is the ability to sell senior living a natural, “god-given” talent that can’t be learned?

NO, IT IS NOT!

Anyone who has ever networked or established a relationship with someone else can be taught how to successfully build occupancy for their senior living community.

So, what makes a person “right” for the job?  Attitude, a desire to help and serve the aging population, willingness to learn and a drive to accomplish something are often more desirable traits than are technical skills.

“This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball.” is a famous quote from the movie Bull Durham.  Strategy (e.g. bunt, steal, intentional walk) can be complex, but continuous success depends on these basics.

The sales process for senior living should also be kept simple.  The basics are a good game plan, effective training and then consistent and relentless follow thru.

Marketing will create the demand,

but the follow thru will lead to the move-in.

Some of the steps in the sales process can be viewed in a downloadable PowerPoint presentation by clicking here.  This game plan should follow the sports axiom: good offense starts with good defense.[2] In senior living, providing an exceptional experience for the current residents “defends” against unwanted move-outs and provides positive feedback to potential new residents and their families.

There is no “magic pill” that works everywhere.  A customized game plan must be created based upon each unique situation, just as a winning coach prepares differently for each opponent. A building with a low number of prospects needs to focus on filling the top of the “funnel” with marketing, advertising and branding efforts. Others may need sales training / reinforcement, or even changes in personnel.

Over time, most facilities take on the personality of the local manager(s).  Efforts should be taken to understand the local culture and select a manager with a similar background and personality.  For instance, an urbanite with a high energy level who is used to a rapid pace, quick decision-making and a direct (in your face) approach to problem-solving may be a “duck out of water” if assigned to a rural facility. So, in addition to getting “the right people on the bus”, senior management needs to get them “in the right seat”.

Senior living clientele have had success in their lives and are generally smart and sophisticated shoppers.  They will want to become “part of a senior living community that shares common interests, values and/or resources[3]”, but will also be attracted by local management with a personality similar to theirs.

They will build a relationship with the prospect one step at a time by:

Making a Friend

Solving a Problem

Following this approach, a number of people who said, “I’ve never sold anything in my life!” became successful at filling senior living buildings.  In training, they were shown that many networking techniques (similar to those used in a job search) had direct application in this process.  They were taught to use the following techniques:  READ MORE:

  1. Establish common ground.
  2. GIVE something of “value”.
  3. Make the contact about THEM.
  4. Have a REASON TO CALL.
  5. Do your RESEARCH.
  6. Ask questions.
  7. Don’t sell.  Listen.
  8. Play Sherlock Holmes.
  9. Plan the Work.
  10. Work the Plan.
  11. Make every contact a QUALITY interaction.
  12. Be Prepared for No Response.
  13. Get away from the trite “Lunch and a Tour”.
  14. Don’t expect to “Close”, but be Ready for the Opportunity.
  15. Never Give Up!

Relentless Follow Thru applies to all levels of the organization, which must present a consistent message from the top-down.  Initial training, weekly sales calls, regional or companywide meetings, and mini-marketing workshops can be effectively utilized to establish targets, monitor performance, and reinforce adherence with the prospect management system.

Ultimately, however, players must be put into the game and empowered to make decisions in order to build their self-confidence.  This will present continuous “coaching” or personalized mentoring opportunities.  Certain individuals need their high-pressure sales instincts to be toned down.  Others need coaxing and hand-holding until they develop their comfort-zone.

Positive reinforcement should be given for “wins” and emotional support for “losses”, with on-the-spot adjustments to procedures and techniques and additional training when necessary.

“HOT” Prospects – the small percentage of prospects who are likely to move-in within the next 90 days – should receive a greater degree and frequency of sales efforts.  An individual can turn hot at any step in the relationship building process – there is no exact formula as to when that will happen.  They may simply say that they’re “ready”, but often some event in their life causes a change in their status.  Examples might include a fall, death of the spouse, or loss of independence.

The key is that relentless follow thru will enable you to know when these events happen and be there to provide support, answer questions and offer a SOLUTION.

A customized strategy should be created for each hot prospect.  Responsibility should be assigned and timing intervals established for facility visits, home visits, phone calls and invitations to activity programs or meals. Determine which features and amenities to highlight, as well as which unit(s) to target as “available”.  Make sure that it’s clearly understood who has the authority to make price concessions to “close” the deal.

It is helpful to notify ALL staff members and expect the unexpected (e.g. prospect showing up when the designated in-house contact is unavailable).  Selecting a resident ambassador(s) and including them in the sales strategy can also be effective.

A Final Observation

Time doesn’t slow down when you retire;

It ACCELERATES

Stuff happens causing a senior’s situation to change drastically overnight.  Don’t lose an OPPORTUNITY by delaying your follow-thru.  Be relentless in pursuing every available means to build a bond with every prospect.

GOOD LUCK!


[1] “Good to Great” by Stanford Professor Jim Collins, 2001

[2] Lady Vols Basketball Coach Pat Summitt is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA basketball history, men or women, in any division with 1071 victories and an 84+% win rate at the University of Tennessee from 1974 to current.  She was the first U.S. Olympian to win basketball Gold Medals as both a player and coach.

[3] “Boomers Redefine Retirement Living”, Sally Abrahms, AARP Bulletin, April, 2011

Advertisements

15 Networking Techniques

for Senior Living

The following techniques enable senior living communities to establish strong personal relationships with prospective residents.  These relationships are often critical to the prospect’s move-in decision.

1.  Establish common ground. Build on the prospect’s expressed interest in senior living.  It is often helpful to share aspects of your own life that will appeal to the identified interests of the prospect (e.g. a favorite pet).

2.  GIVE something of “value”. Take a plate of baked goods or other small gift when visiting the prospect in their home.  Begin a phone call by discussing a topic of general interest to seniors (e.g. H1N1 flu shots) including happenings at your facility.  Senior citizens will generally value the time you spend with them.

3. Make the contact about THEM. Tell the person that they are important and show you care about them as an individual – not just as a potential customer.  Be sincere in doing or saying something that will brighten their day.  Respect their time by asking if “this is a convenient time, or should we schedule a specific time tomorrow?”

4. Have a REASON TO CALL.  Of course, you want a move-in, but that is NOT the reason for the contact.  Your PURPOSE might be to invite them to an event or simply to follow-up about something that was going on in their life.  THINK:  Which statement is more likely to receive a favorable response?

“Hi, I’ve got a one bedroom unit open”; or
“Hi, the last time we spoke, you were planning to attend your granddaughter’s wedding – how was it?”

5. Do your RESEARCH. If everyone has recorded notes after each interaction, a wealth of information before contacting the prospect.  Identify potential topics of conversation by reviewing information about the spouse (living or dead), children’s and pet’s names, where the family goes to church, likes and dislikes, what they did before they retired, and clubs they’re interested in (e.g. “Red Hatters”).

6. Ask questions. The elderly are ignored by many people in our society who fail to show the dignity and respect they have earned for their life accomplishments.  By inquiring about their life, you demonstrate appreciation and help them to feel “worthwhile”.  You will be amazed at what you’ll learn and may even find that you really LIKE the senior.  In turn, this friendship will provide you a competitive advantage when it becomes time to move into a facility.

7. Don’t sell.  Listen. This is probably the biggest mistake made by new managers / sales people.  They are so concerned about listing all of their features and amenities that they forget to listen to what the prospect is trying to tell them.  THEN, and only then, will they know which points to emphasize in subsequent contacts.

8. Play Sherlock Holmes. The vast majority of residents don’t move into an independent or assisted living setting unless they have a NEED and have experienced a fairly recent LOSS.  Interestingly, couples frequently make the first inquiry, but only the surviving spouse will move-in.  Seniors are often reticent about disclosing their concerns.  Yet, by discovering their unmet need(s) and presenting your services as a solution, you can generate a move-in.

9. Plan the Work. Getting move-ins is a numbers game.  Successful buildings will have 5 to 15 prospects (depending on the level of care) for each unit.  Different members of the sales team should be assigned a specific target of contacts (i.e. phone calls, personal visits, tours, etc.) for each day / week.  Goals should be set for “contacts made” and not just attempts – it may take 5 or more attempts for each successful contact.

10. Work the Plan. Your sales efforts must be a PRIORITY.  Set your target and then follow your plan every dayThis is what relentless follow-up is all about. There will always be a reason why you can’t get out of the building for a home visit or make all of the assigned phone calls.  You must be self-disciplined to not accept these excuses and find a way to meet your targets.

11. Make every contact a QUALITY interaction. Remember that the ultimate goal is to “score” a move-in. Making calls in which you fail to “connect” with the prospect is simply wasting time.  Instead of padding your statistics by mailing the activity calendar to everyone, select a handful of prospects to invite for a specific program that your research shows would interest them.  Then follow-up.

12. Be Prepared for No Response. Have a customized message ready to leave on voice mail or a hand-written note to leave on the door if the prospect doesn’t answer the call or “knock”.  Include a “hook” to prompt a return call.

13. Get away from the trite “Lunch and a Tour”. It’s formality lacks warmth and sincerity. Because everyone does it doesn’t mean it’s the best approach.  It says “I want to make a sales pitch” with a structured agenda on my schedule.  INSTEAD, invite them for a friendly “visit” and focus on their wishes.  After chatting for a while, you will probably still get around to a tour – likely in response to some point or question raised by the visitor.  It also becomes perfectly natural to ask them to stay for a meal.

14. Don’t expect to “Close”, but be Ready for the Opportunity. This is a major LIFE DECISION for the prospective resident.  It usually takes time, so don’t put undue pressure on yourself or try to force the issue with a “hard sell” approach.  It’s okay to ASK, but the prospect will generally let you know when “they’re ready”.

15. Never Give Up! At times, it seems as though you’re struggling up a mountain because of the lengthy sales cycle.  Relentless Follow Thru will insure that YOU are there when the prospect is ready to make that move-in decision.  Like the little blue engine in this adaptation of Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”, you should maintain a positive attitude and keep chugging!

“The Little Engine That Could” Adaptation

A Senior Living Adaptation

The following adaptation of Watty Piper’s “The Little Engine That Could”[1] was created and first used as an inspirational aid for a marketing meeting in 2007.  Managers and salespeople were encouraged to maintain a positive, “can do” attitude and keep trying in their sales efforts until they achieved 100% occupancy.

ABRIDGED VERSION

Chug, chug, chug.  Puff, puff, puff.  Ding-dong, ding-dong.  The little train rumbled over the tracks.  She was a happy little train for she had such a jolly load to carry.  Her cars were filled full of good things and new residents for the retirement center.

There were activity items – exercise equipment, games, and even a Bingo set.  Then there was putter baseball, shuffleboard, beach balls for volleyball, giant crossword and Sudoku boards, and the cutest race horses you ever saw.  And there were cars full of bibles and hymnals, a pool table, picture puzzles, books and every kind of thing seniors could want . . .

The little train was carrying all these wonderful things to the senior living community on the other side of the mountain.  She puffed along merrily.  Then all of a sudden she stopped with a jerk.  She simply could not go another inch.  She tried and she tried, but her wheels would not turn.

What were all those seniors on the other side of the mountain going to do without the wonderful activity items to keep them occupied and the good food to eat?

“Here comes a shiny new engine,” said one of the retirees who jumped out of the train.  “Let us ask him to help us.”

So all the seniors cried out together: “Please, Shiny New Engine, won’t you please pull our train over the mountain?  Our engine has broken down, and we need to move into our new home and won’t have any place to stay or food to eat unless you help us.”

But the Shiny New Engine snorted:  “I pull you?  I am a Yuppie Engine.  I have just carried a fine big train over the mountain, with more cars than you ever dreamed of.  My train had sleeping cars, with Digital TV; a Five-Star dining-car where waiters bring whatever hungry people want to eat: and parlor cars in which people sit in soft arm-chairs and work on laptop computers.  I pull the likes of you?  Indeed not!” . . .  And off he rumbled to the roundhouse chugging, “I can not.” . . .

But the old gentleman called out, “Here is another engine coming, a little blue engine, a very little one, maybe she will help us.”

The very little engine came chug, chugging merrily along.  When she saw the old gentleman’s flag, she stopped quickly.  “What is the matter, my friends?” she asked kindly.

“Oh, Little Blue Engine,” cried the seniors.  “Will you pull us over the mountain?  Our engine has broken down and we’re tired and hungry and need to take our medications and won’t have a place to sleep or good food to eat, unless you help us.  Please, please, help us, Little Blue Engine.”

“I’m not very big,” said the Little Blue Engine.  “They use me only for switching trains in the yard.  I have never been over the mountain.”

“But we must get over the mountain before its too late,” said all the seniors.

The very little engine looked up and saw the tears in the grandmother’s eyes.  And she thought of the old folks who would not have any place to sleep or good food unless she helped.

Then she said, “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”  And she hitched herself to the little train.

She tugged and pulled and pulled and pulled and tugged and slowly, slowly, slowly they started off.

The old gentleman jumped aboard and all the grandmothers and other seniors began to smile and cheer.

Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine.  “I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can.”

Up, up, up.  Faster and faster and faster and faster the little engine climbed, until at last they reached the top of the mountain.  Down in the valley lay the retirement center.

“Hurray, hurray,” cried the old gentleman and all the seniors.  Everyone in the retirement center will be happy because you helped us, kind, Little Blue Engine.”

And the Little Blue Engine smile and seemed to say as she puffed steadily down the mountain,

“I thought I could. I thought I could.  I thought I could.

I thought I could.

I thought I could.

I thought I could.”


[1] 1954 edition with illustrations by George and Doris Hauman

Move-ins

A Process

Not

An Event!

Click on the following link to preview a PowerPoint Training Session that highlights frequent steps in a Move-in Process.

Move-in Process