Even ALL STARS Make Outs 60% of the Time

Baseball can teach lessons to our Senior Living Marketing & Sales Teams- as well as Management and Ownership.  As this picture depicts, the Greatest Hitters in the history of baseball made outs more often than they got hits.MLB All Star Hitters 2

They became All-Stars because they kept trying, learned from every “at bat” and then used that knowledge to get better the next time.

 

Top 10 Lessons We Can Apply to Senior Living

 

  1. Realistic Expectations. Management & Owners should NOT expect every person who walks through the door to become an immediate move-in.  “Move-ins are a Process, not an Event”[i] and, generally, the sales & marketing staff must build a relationship with the prospective resident and/or their family before the move-in will occur.

 

  1. Positive Attitude. Just as the Batter must go to the plate anticipating that they will hit the ball, the sales staff must be prepared to “close” every encounter with a prospect and capitalize on every opportunity to connect with them.  A batter will surely go into a slump if they lose faith in their ability to hit the ball!  The same is true for the salesperson who loses confidence in their product or their ability to relate to the customer.

 

  1. Everyone is Not Equal. Managers set the line-up to give their best hitters the best opportunity to make meaningful hits that give the TEAM the best chance to win the game.  Successful Senior Living Management understands the difference between anyone[ii] being able to show someone around the community and a professional tour conducted by a Super-Star.  They make sure that all “tour guides” are properly trained and have the personality and tools to effectively “close” a move-in.

 

  1. Multiple Chances to get a hit During the Game. A tour should be viewed as parallel to the 9-inning baseball game in which the starting players get at least 3 chances to hit.  The sales staff should develop multiple opportunities to “close” during a tour, and not simply wait until the 9th inning (i.e. the end of the tour) to try and score.

 

  1. Take What They Give You! Great hitters can’t always wait for the perfect pitch and the perfect pitch count[iii] before they swing at the ball.  They are opportunistic and prepared to swing when they get a pitch “right down the middle of the plate”.  The sales staff should do the same when conducting a tour and learn to STOP the tour and sales spiel; sit down and move to closing when the prospect provides them the right cues that they are ready.

 

  1. Numbers Game. No one is going to get a hit every time they go to bat or successfully close every time they interact with a prospect. Success does depend on NUMBERS → the more “at-bats” for the baseball player and the number of leads / prospects and interactions with them by the Sales Team.

 

  1. Sometimes a Walk is as Good as a Hit! In baseball, the key is to get runners on base, so even if the All Star walked instead of getting a hit, he has contributed to the Team’s ability to win. AND, the batter frequently had to work just as hard to get the walk.  In senior living, the comparable might be a person asking for a tour who states up front that “I’m just looking” – possibly for another family member.  The sales person should put just as much effort into providing a first-class tour because it may lead to the next “at bat” when the prospect returns and/or makes a referral to others.

 

  1. Short Memory. Ballplayers state that you must have a short memory to be successful.  Whether they hit a home run or struck out in their previous at-bat, they must forget it the next time they come to the plate.  Worrying about the last time (or even what they did in the field) doesn’t allow them to “keep their mind in the game” and focus on the current situation.  The same rule applies to senior living sales, where the sales staff will generally have multiple contacts (in person [e.g. tours], phone calls, social media, etc.) with different prospects during the day.  They must focus on each of those interactions as they occur, regardless of what happened with the previous contact, if they wish to have the greatest chance of success with each prospect.

 

  1. Practice and Preparation. All Stars have natural talent but success over their career is predicated on hours of preparation and practice.  They study the opposing team and individual pitcher’s preferences and tendencies to increase their chance of being prepared for the pitches that are thrown to them in different situations.  Then they practice their stance, swing, etc. until the repetition allows it to become “second-nature”.  The sales staff should follow the same concepts:
  • Prepare for every scheduled encounter with a prospect or family.
  • Review notes from prior interactions and determine “hot buttons”.
  • Know which apartments you plan to show during a tour[iv], plan the route to those units and preview the route / apartment to insure no surprises during the tour.
  • Learn something about the prospect from every visit and record it to assist in future meetings.
  • Critique your “performance” and make notes for future improvements.[v]
  • Practice to get better.[vi]
  1. Takes a Team. No one baseball player willTEAM win a championship. No matter how good a hitter they are, they are only 1/9th of the Team at any point in time.  Without contributions from other team members, the All Star would have minimal chance of success.[vii]  Activities, housekeeping, food services, care services, maintenance, etc. all play a role in the presentation of the senior living community.  A move-in should generate a Celebration for this entire TEAM!

 

[i] See https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/2011/04/01/move-ins/ for a further discussion on this topic.

[ii] I once had an E.D. who insisted that every one of her care assistants could conduct a tour and that she didn’t need to spend the money for a designated “marketer” – even though the building was in declining occupancy with about a 50% census.

[iii] i.e. balls & strikes

[iv] These should be based upon the type of accommodation(s) that the prospect will likely prefer.

[v] This may seem like a contradiction with #3, but it is not really.  The critique should be done, noted and then move on to the next encounter – not dwelling on the past.  There is always room for improvement.

[vi]You may also want to refer to “15 Networking Techniques for Senior Living”: https://progressiveretirement.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/15-networking-techniques/

[vii] If nothing else, the opposition could simply walk them every time they came up and they would never even get a chance to hit!

The “GRADUATE” turns 75!

It’s the late 1960’s.  The war in Vietnam is escalating and college campuses are erupting in violence across the country.  Then comes the quintessential coming-of-age film with a young, drifting college graduate fulfilling an adolescent fantasy by being seduced by an older woman.  This film was the springboard for stardom for Dustin Hoffman and “Mrs. Robinson” became a chart-topper and Grammy Award winner for Simon & Garfunkel.

On August 8, Dustin Hoffman will reach 75 years of age and enter into the target demographic for senior living facilities.  He is part of the “Bobby-sox Generation”[1] that will drive occupancy for the next decade.  Other notable bobby-soxers turning 75 this year include:

Bill Cosby                                               

                                                                            Warren Beatty

General Colin Powell (ret)

Former Sec. of State

George Takei                        Billy Dee Williams

Mister Sulu”                           “Lando Calrissian

Jack Nicholson 

Roberta Flack

Betty

Elinor Donahue

Burt Reynolds      

Morgan Freeman

Richard Petty  “The King

At the time “The Graduate” was filmed, a U.S. male could expect to live to an average age of 67 years (74 years for a woman)[2].  That meant that the average man – who, in 1967, would have generally been expected to become the principal family breadwinner – would retire at age 65 and have a few years of retirement before dying.  His widow would then live another 7 to 10 years and likely need some form of health care support in her waning years.

These are the demographics and statistics that have driven the development of the senior living industry for the past 40 years and led to the adoption of the “rest home” mentality throughout much of the industry.  A quiet, secluded location was considered appropriate for the aged to live out their remaining years.  As providers, our focus was on giving high quality medical care and supportive services to make the resident comfortable in their final years.

DO THESE INDIVIDUALS LOOK LIKE THEY ARE READY FOR A REST HOME?

The reality is that the world has changed radically as a result of medical advances since 1967.  Our sampling of bobby-soxers have already beaten the odds by exceeding their projected life expectancy.  They are still vibrant and active with life expectancy now increased for white men to over 76 years and 81 years for women.[3]  Beyond the extended life projections, the Christian Science Monitor and other articles[4] note several significant changes in the make-up of the aging population.  The gap between male and female mortality has narrowed to just 4 years[5]        as women are now smoking more with higher incidences of obesity and uncontrolled high blood pressure.  In addition, the life expectancy for blacks (African-Americans) has made great strides towards the white statistics.

These analyses suggest that the successful senior living facility of the future must appeal to a much broader demographic than just the traditional 80+, widowed, white female.   Fundamental changes in everything from location and building design to lifestyles management will be necessary to offer a product and services that will appeal to the Bobby-sox generation.


[1] Born 1935 – 1945.  See http://wp.me/pCemc-bn for a further discussion of the Bobby-sox Generation

[2] See:  http://demog.berkeley.edu/~andrew/1918/figure2.html

[3] Christian Science Monitor, June 19, 2012:   http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2012/0619/Racial-gap-in-life-expectancy-reaches-new-low-in-US

[4] e.g. ABC World News, June 16, 2011:  http://abcnews.go.com/Health/life-expectancy-men-outpacing-women-study/story?id=13850055#.UCGh26DN6So

[5] USA Today, 4/20/12:  http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/story/health/story/2012-04-19/Life-expectancy-improves-slower-for-women/54419298/1

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

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!

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

POSITIVE ATTITUDE — POSITIVE IMPRESSION

“Disney makes you wait on line for a ride even if the park is empty.”[1] Seth Godin uses this example because of the recognized marketing genius of Walt Disney and his organization.  He goes on to point out that “a full restaurant is more fun than an empty one”[2] as he emphasizes that creating demand is a complex process – because humans are complex individuals.

These concepts have several direct applications to the senior living industry.  But, first, a word about the placebo effect.  The past couple of years have delivered many marketing – as well as operating – challenges; and it is easy to slip into a negative attitude about the futility of your marketing efforts.  Of course, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, Seth observes that just as a placebo often produces positive results: “If we believe we’re going to get better, perform better, make the sale, etc., it often occurs that we do.”[3]

If you are the sales person (the individual interacting with a prospect), you must believe in your product and approach the tour, discussion, etc. on the basis that it WILL close!  We know that the sales cycle is a process, but you have to approach each contact as though “this is the one”; otherwise, human nature will lead to just going through the motions and neither you nor the customer will be satisfied with the interaction.

But, this goes further than just the attitude of the tour guide.  The attitude permeates the entire organization.  A classic example is whether to set all of the tables in the dining room for every meal, even when the building has multiple vacancies.  A cost-conscious manager will say to set only enough tables to seat the number of expected residents and guests for the upcoming meal.  They’ll point out that the residents will spread out to all the tables causing more effort in serving the meal and requiring additional staff time in clearing and sanitizing tables and cleaning unused table settings.  So, it’s certainly tempting to save time and money by setting only the minimum number of tables and place settings.

Now, let’s look at the same situation from a marketing / customer service viewpoint:

  • Wouldn’t the current residents be happier having the freedom to sit anywhere they want in the dining room?
  • Shouldn’t the building be TOUR READY every day?  Wouldn’t you prefer to have a table already set and ready if you have guests that you would like to invite for the meal?
  • Shouldn’t management convey optimism that guests will show up for a “tour and a meal” and be ready for them?  Maybe, that attitude will carry through to other staff members and encourage them to demonstrate “pride of ownership” in the building.
  • WHY ADVERTISE THE FACT THAT YOU’VE GOT A LOT OF VACANCIES by showcasing a “half-empty” dining room?

It’s human nature to assume something’s wrong with the choice that isn’t in demand.  Think about it. When one ride at Disney World has a line and another has none, don’t you wonder what’s wrong with the one without a line?  Is that the one your kids are going to want to ride? Probably not.

You create that same question in the mind of your prospective resident and their family when they see a dining room that looks empty.  So, don’t shoot yourself in the foot; create a positive atmosphere and be ready to be full today.


[1] Seth Godin’s blog article:  “Ethical placebos (stunning, but not actually surprising)”  http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2011/02/ethical-placebos-stunning-but-not-actually-surprising.html

[2] ibid

[3] ibid

Beyond “DEATH and Dying” – Part 4

Bargaining

The previous installment[i] introduced the concept of hope as a key to managing grief and assisting the individual to move from ANGER into the BARGAINING stage. This segment will expand beyond the concepts discussed by Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in “On Death and Dying”.  With her focus on terminally ill patients, she talks about “entering into some sort of an agreement which may postpone the inevitable”.[ii] She states that these “bargains” are generally made with their God and goes on to give examples of  mothers that want to live long enough to see their daughter married, or new grandchild born, etc.

There is a further opportunity for those providing services for seniors who have already suffered losses.  They may utilize the natural desire/need to bargain by presenting realistic options as positive alternatives for current or future residents. Success is achieved when the senior begins to approach each new day with HOPE for positive experiences instead of focusing only on their “losses”.

The following guidelines should be considered when negotiating a bargain and building hope for these seniors:

  • We can’t replace their loss – DON’T TRY!

Think of the parent who buys a new puppy to relieve their child’s sorrow over the death of a pet.  The child may initially reject the new pet feeling that paying attention to the new puppy is disloyal to the memory of their “friend”.  Ultimately, the child will learn to love the new pet – not as a replacement – but because of its own unique qualities.

  • Don’t minimize the loss; no one else can determine the relative importance of a particular loss to the individual.

How often have you heard someone say (well-meaning, of course), “Oh, it’s not that important; you’re spending too much time thinking about that”, etc.?  Whether the senior lost a favorite piece of jewelry, a loved one, or the ability to drive their own car, that loss is real to them.

  • BARGAIN = COMPROMISE.  The secret is to demonstrate enough value to be gained by your proposal that will offset what the senior believes they are giving up.

For instance, older adults who are asked to give up their personal residence will seldom see enough value to offset the loss of the home by simply emphasizing the “real estate” aspects of the senior living community.  As Jason Popko observes:  a HOUSE is an “object that can be bought and sold” while a HOME has “meaning and attachment to … personal living space” that can’t be “bought or sold”.

The new building may even be better, safer, etc. than the original, but the individual won’t/can’t hear that at this stage.  Smart marketers will focus on lifestyle, the benefits of socialization, interactive activity programs, etc.

  • Don’t create false hopes with unrealistic expectations.

It is tempting to make promises, especially when trying to convince a prospect to move in, but make sure you can deliver what you promise.  Otherwise, the short-term gain will be far offset by the negative reputation that will be generated.

  • Grieving is a complex emotional process, but don’t be afraid to try and help.  Understand that it’s natural for the person to slip backwards into DENIAL and ANGER. Don’t take it personally.

Remember that HOPE is the KEY and TRY AGAIN!

  • Begin building relationships in the marketing process.  Then draw upon the knowledge gained to generate attractive options as the resident experiences the inevitable losses that come with aging.

The ability to convey compassion, show support, communicate an understanding of the grief process and present creative options will facilitate move-ins and reduce move-outs.

  • ALWAYS, treat the senior with dignity and respect and don’t insult their intelligence.

There is a tendency by some in the industry to “talk down” to the residents and treat them somewhat like children:  “Now, honey, you don’t want to do that…”   Respect their ability to understand the significance of their loss and the value of the proposed alternatives.

CASE STUDY: Jim lost his wife Tammy a little over a year ago.  He has been in declining health for a number of years with deteriorating eyesight (in fact, he is “legally” blind), but his wife had always promised him that she would take care of him and that he would never have to go into a nursing home.

Jim was a successful sales executive who used to be the “life of the party”, was active in his church, and attended all his college’s home games.  Due to his eyesight, he had to forgo these activities and retrofitted his 2-story colonial with a first floor bedroom.

Jim’s son Dale and his family moved in to take care of Jim.  But, both Dale and his wife work and Jim is often left at home with little to do all day.   Jim’s upset because Tammy often sat and had an afternoon “toddy” with him, but now everyone seems to have their own priorities with little time for him.

Some days Jim tries to do the things he “used to do”; this often causes additional problems (e.g. he fell and broke several lamps). Other days, he is angry with the grandchildren for being too loud, leaving their “stuff” in the way, etc. He is frustrated because he no longer seems in control of his “own home”.

Dale has come to you for help.  He has confided that several other communities stated that Jim seems like too much of a problem and they either want too much money for “specialized care” or said they aren’t interested in him as a potential resident; one even suggested that Dale contact a nursing home.

How would YOU handle this situation?

Please CLICK HERE to post your comments and suggestions.


[i]Beyond ‘DEATH and Dying’ – Part 3   Anger

[ii] “On Death and Dying”, Chapter V, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., originally published in 1969

AGING-in-PLACE – Threat or Marketing Opportunity?

A SWOT analysis, identifying Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats, is often used in developing the marketing strategy for an individual community.  As discussed in several prior articles in the “Wake-up Call” series, the aging-in-place concept should definitely be viewed as a threat to the traditional senior living community industry.

This phenomenon is clearly gaining traction and as reported in the Orlando Sentinel, “it even has its own National Aging in Place Week, which falls on Oct. 11-16 this year.”[i] All indications are that this stated preference will become even more prevalent as succeeding generations age into the historical target demographic for senior living communities.

On the other hand, management, marketing and sales can turn this challenge into an OPPORTUNITY.  It is becoming clearer that an aging adult will need to adapt their living space to be able to continue to effectively “age-in-place”.  For instance, the Orlando Sentinel article identifies the following AGING-IN-PLACE Architectural Features:

Wider doors, hallways and toilets

Same-level transitions or ramps instead of steps

Roll-in showers with wide, doorless entries, grab bars, nonskid tiles, built-in seats and handheld shower units

Walk-in closets, casement windows, lever-style door handles

Waist-high kitchen appliances and storage drawers.

How many of these features are provided as “standard” in your community?

Are some of these features included in selected apartments (e.g. ADA[ii] or “handicapped” units)?

How often do you focus on these features when conducting a tour?

Is your company willing to add certain of these features to accommodate the needs of a potential resident and get a move-in?

Can you speak intelligently about what it would cost the individual to make these changes in their own home?

Some organizations, especially independent living communities, have been reluctant to include several of these safety features for both cost and ambience reasons.  The philosophy of these companies has been to “wait for the customer to ask for it”.  For instance, one IL only included grab bars in their ADA units because they didn’t want the building to look “too much like an assisted living facility or nursing home”.  After losing several prospective residents, the owner agreed to make modifications – AS NEEDED – but encountered problems in retrofitting the showers.

Another industry leader uses lo-rise toilets throughout their buildings, except where ADA regulations require raised toilets.  In most cases, they will “switch-out” the toilet if the resident specifically requests it, but leave it up to local management to handle.

The fact that aging adults are prepared to add these architectural features in their own home should tell builders and owners that it’s time to wake-up. Items such as grab bars, hi-rise toilets and walk-in closets need to become as standard as wide hallways in ALL levels of senior living communities.

Taking this step may initially increase construction costs slightly, but will positively impact marketing. It will enable sales people to build better relationships by focusing on CAPABILITIES vs DISABILITIES!

In fact, safety features such as grab bars, non-skid flooring, etc. may be marketed as part of a HEALTHY AGING concept.  Aging is a normal process and it should become natural to either add these features or move into living accommodations that were designed to promote resident safety.  As senior living specialists, we should promote these features as preventive measures for a healthy aging lifestyle instead of only adding them AFTER the individual needs them.

3 things happen – ALL NEGATIVE – when we make a prospect ASK for features that they may have already installed in their own home:

  • We place them in an awkward / embarrassing situation when they are forced to admit and focus on a frailty.  NO ONE likes to be reminded of their weaknesses – why should we expect a senior to be any different.
  • The value perception is diminished.  The prospect will question:  “WHAT ELSE is LESS than I have at home?” or “WHY don’t they have these features – I thought they were the experts?”
  • They may never ask the question, nor learn that options are available.  They will simply go elsewhere that does provide the desired features.

If your community does offer these features, how do you work it into the conversation and turn them into selling points without making the prospective resident feel “disabled”?

For instance, a 6 – 8 foot hallway is clearly wide enough to navigate a wheelchair, but that’s not what most prospects want to hear.  On the other hand, you might point out how spacious and well-decorated it is and then ask the question as to how it compares with the prospect’s home. [Note:  the average hallway in a single family residence will be 36 inches or narrower.]

The key is to sell a LIFESTYLE vs a litany of real estate features.  This approach will enable you to establish a personal relationship with the prospect and present the retirement community as a positive option, instead of something they will “have to do”.

Show the prospect how different features are designed to keep them safe and able to maintain their independence.  Observe that very few private residences are designed with these safety features even though statistics show that 1 out of every 3 seniors (over 65) will fall each year.[iii] This may prompt a discussion about the type of safety features they have or lack in their home and lead to the conclusion that the “smart” choice is to move-in with you!

A great follow-up question is whether they know what it would cost to retrofit their current home with the same features that you include in their basic rent.  Depending on the extent of the modifications, costs can easily run between $20 – 40,000.  (How many months of service would that buy at your community?)

Invest a little time to establish greater credibility by identifying contractors that are doing those services in your local community and finding out exactly what they charge.

Should the prospect “know” what the costs are, MOVE THEM TO YOUR “HOT LIST”!  They are ready to do something – now all you have to do is convince them that you offer their best alternative!

PLEASE CLICK HERE TO SHARE YOUR OPINION AND/OR READ THE COMMENTS OF OTHERS


[i] “Seniors embrace aging in place”, Jean Patteson, Orlando Sentinel, July 9, 2010.

[ii] Americans with Disabilities Act

[iii] International Council on Active Aging

“Do not go gentle into that good night”

– Dylan Thomas

 

In the 1920’s, T.S. Eliot ended “The Hollow Men” with:

This is the way the world ends
  Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This became a philosophy of aging for 20th Century generations.  The senior living / care industry offered protective living environments to meet the expectations of these generations as they aged with increasing physical and/or mental frailties.

BUT the 21st Century is a different world and the bobby-soxers (born 1935 – 1945) and baby-boomers won’t be satisfied to simply fade into the sunsetas their parents and grandparents did.  They won’t “go gentle into that good night” and the senior living industry must evolve to meet the increased demands of these future generations.

Today’s senior living communities were designed to provide care and services for “The Greatest Generation[1]and/or their parents.  These individuals lived through the Great Depression and were molded by the experiences of World War II.  They worked hard and made a better life for their children who often became the first in their family to attend college.  Frequently, they worked for the same companies their entire career and were rewarded with generous retirement packages, including lifetime health benefits.  Others built their own businesses, anticipating that their children would join and then succeed them in operating the company.  In either scenario, the parents were expected to retire with their productivity and significant contributions to society at an end.

The general message from the adult children and even the government has been:

You’ve done enough.  Just sit back and let us take care of you.

Medicare and related programs in the mid-1960’s created the funding for the development of modern health services to “insure” adequate care for these elderly.  Nursing homes and home health evolved from cottage businesses into professionally managed multi-million dollar industries.   Assisted living, independent living and investor owned CCRC’s developed to supplement non-profit (primarily church-related) life care communities and traditional “old folks” homes.

Operators built self-contained communities and assured residents that all their needs could be handled within these enclaves.  Food and shelter, security and transportation for essentials such as doctor appointments[2] were provided.  Activity programs were scheduled to entertain and fill the residents’ days.

Today, prospective residents are told that their worries will be over if they agree to move-in and pay an all-inclusive fee.  Concerns about meals, cleaning and maintaining the house and yard, or paying insurance and utilities, etc. are eliminated.  Depending on the type of facility, care needs may be provided directly by facility staff or arranged with private caregivers / home health companies.

This comprehensive approach led one resident in a recent Tennessean article[3]tostate: “They really take good care of me here. . .  They do everything for you.  They would even make my bed if I wanted them to, but I said ‘No, I want to do something.’”

Progressive Dependency

This chart demonstrates the loss of independence and increasing dependence on caregivers as the senior progresses through varying levels of care.

For individuals who experienced the shortages and deprivations of the Depression and World War II, the value equation was fairly simple.     They understood that the move to a senior living community was a compromise as their health and support needs increased.  They were used to adapting so giving up some independence to receive service was an acceptable alternative and they were willing to live with restrictions such as standard meals at set times.

However, these generations are dwindling – e.g. World War II veterans are dying at the rate of 1000 per day. [4] The replacement generations do not appear as willing to accept this one-size-fits-all-mentality.

The industry has seen quarterly declines in average occupancy for more than 2 years with blame placed largely on the economy and specifically the real estate market.  It’s time for a wake-up call if the industry wants to rebound from this census slump.  Another hidden (or ignored) factor is the “changing of the guard” with new demand models and demographics for today’s aging population.

There currently seems to be an over-riding preference for “Aging in Place”.  The Tennessean[5] states: “Despite more alternatives than ever, the overwhelming majority of elder Americans choose to age in place — in their own home, within the communities where they have lived for decades or have family ties.”

At some stage in the aging process, however, staying at home may NOT be the best option. Health and care needs, financial considerations, safety concerns, marital situation, housing condition, proximity of family members and the availability of caregivers and other components of a strong support system are factors that will impact this evaluation.

Yet, many senior specialists[6] note that the elderly will often stay in their own home until a “crisis” arises.  As a result, the senior is often “placed” in a higher level-of-care than required, with an unneeded loss of independence.

This is obviously not the best for the resident.  Could a senior living community do something differently to encourage the individual to move in earlier?

First, recognize that today’s aging population demands more than three meals a day and the “3-B’s activity program” – i.e. bingo, bible and birthdays.  They are not willing to retire their egos when they stop working.  They desire many more active and productive years with the ability to control their own destiny.

Focus on lifestyle vs real estate.  A HOUSE is an “object that can be bought and sold” while a HOME has “meaning and attachment to … personal living space” that can’t be “bought or sold”.[7] It takes more than living in a Taj Mahal to generate enough value to prompt a move-in.

Apply a scientific approach to the structure and organization of daily activities for the residents.  Utilize Maslow’s theory and healthy aging concepts to challenge the residents to continue to age gracefully, achieve new successes and “CREATE PRECIOUS MEMORIES”.  Treat the residents with dignity and respect by developing imaginative programs that stimulate and challenge their mind, body and spirit, going beyond the kindergarten style Summer Camp for Seniors[8] or cruise ship mentality.

Become familiar with the research about the negative impact isolation has on aging and couple this with Maslow’s need for socialization to develop a powerful marketing tool – offering a SOLUTION for potential residents and, especially, their adult children.

Revise marketing strategies to include education about your scientific approach and other 21st Century initiatives.  Use these to differentiate your community from the competition, AND eliminate prior perceptions.

Train staff to PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE by “helping” residents with their activities of daily living, but not “doing it for them!”  A former resident related an incident where she was made to feel “helpless and incapable” because, at an outing, “everyone tried to get food for me as if I couldn’t do things for myself.”[9]

Finally, accept that the new generation is guided by the words of Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


[1]Tom Brokaw, 1998.

[2] Maslow refers to these as “basic” needs in his Hierarchy of Needs.  Select “Maslow” in the CATEGORIES drop-down box to access additional articles dealing with differing levels of needs.

[3] “Facilities offer convenience and care” by Jessica Bliss, 12/27/2009.

[4] Associated Press, May 24, 2008

[5] “Elderly forgo assisted living – opt to stay at home” by Jessica Bliss, 12/27/2009

[6] Click on this link to review comments posted in the Senior Care Services Companies group on LinkedIN.

[7] Courtesy of Jason Popko.

[8] By Ellen Brandt, Ph.D., August 1, 2009 on the Ellen Interactive blog.

[9] Essay by Betty Warren, Hickory, NC, 2006

Beyond “DEATH and Dying” – Part 2

Moving Past Denial

One of the common mistakes in grief management is not allowing feelings of DENIAL. This is often demonstrated by relatives attempting to force the individual who has suffered a loss to “face reality” and move on with their life.   Yet, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her renowned book “On Death and Dying” states that initial denial is an important temporary defense and serves “as a buffer after unexpected shocking news”.[1] She  goes on to suggest that this defense mechanism is necessary to allow the individual adequate time to adjust to their loss and notes that it may be combined with a tendency towards isolation – wanting to be “left alone”.  Family and other caregivers should understand that this is part of a healthy grieving process. [2]

This knowledge impacts the senior living industry because move-ins are a PROCESS more than an EVENT.  An individual in denial is unlikely to recognize the value of a move-in at this stage.  At the same time, it would be a mistake to write them off from marketing efforts:

  • They became a prospect when they demonstrated interest in the senior living community.  Although you may not know their particular “need”, BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP will move towards an ultimate move-in.
  • Most aging adults are constantly dealing with some form of loss.  A move-in will occur when the senior perceives more value in the lifestyle offered by the community than in their existing situation.  This process takes time.
  • Previously, it took 8 – 9 prospects per unit to fill an independent living community.  With today’s economy, those numbers have almost doubled to 15+ per unit.
  • By maintaining communication and social interaction, management may help the person move beyond the denial stage.  Dr. Kubler-Ross states that people may be selective in choosing which individuals to whom they communicate feelings of denial.  In practice, they may be more open to discussing future plans with the manager/marketer than with their own family members.

The first step in recognizing the denial stage is on-going conversation to learn what losses the senior has experienced (See Part 1 for examples).  This requires an investment of personal time and energy in each relationship – it won’t happen by simply inviting prospects to Special Events and/or calling every 6 months.

The marketing strategy for this stage is DON’T PUSH!  Long term success is more likely by simply “making a friend”, being positive and understanding that it’s part of the process if your overtures are initially rejected.  Be subtle when communicating the benefits of your community.  In time, these may be seen as positive alternatives to the prospect’s current situation and help in their acceptance of their loss – but it can’t be forced!

Liz’s CASE STUDY will help illustrate these points:  She is 85 years old and a widow for 5 years.  She now lives alone with her cat in her home of 20 years.

Liz is in reasonably good health but suffers from arthritis with several knee and shoulder surgeries in the past few years.  She has limited mobility, using a cane for walking any distance.  She continues to drive (around town only) and remains active with her church.

Anne, Liz’s adult daughter, recently stopped by and expressed concern about her mother’s ability to keep up with her house.  Although Liz has a cleaning lady, a lawn service and a handyman when needed, Anne is concerned that the house and yard are more than “Mom” can handle.  Liz has great friends that help out but they are getting older and have their own health issues.  Anne explained that she works and lives out-of-state.  She is finding it increasing difficult to visit and help with things around the house.

Liz has been upset because she wasn’t able to put up her Christmas tree.  Unlike past years, Anne was unable to visit and handle it this year.  So now, Anne has come to you for help – what do you do?

Obviously, the first step is to meet Liz.  Since this is apparently her daughter’s idea, you can expect some resistance.  A traditional way to become acquainted with Liz is by inviting her to a Special Event, but a more intimate approach may be to invite Anne and her mother for a personal visit, including a meal and/or participation in a planned group activity.

The objective of this first meeting should be to initiate a relationship.  During that process, you will identify various walls that Liz has erected as reasons why she can’t move in.  Some of these barriers are a result of the DENIAL of her current situation, while others are related to pre-conceived notions about senior living communities.  These apprehensions may be caused by outdated perceptions of “old-folks” homes or past experience with other levels of care such as nursing homes.

You will need to overcome these barriers, but in the initial stage, it is best to simply educate the prospective resident and her family.  Speak of your efforts to PROMOTE INDEPENDENCE, insure privacy and treat all residents with dignity and respect.  Focus on what the resident “can do” vs the “cannots”.  Utilize the information you’ve gathered to address specifics (e.g. Liz’s pet cat) before they become issues.

Make a follow-up in-home visit with Liz after Anne has departed.  Liz will probably be feeling a little lonely and welcome the visit, which should generate a wealth of information about her current situation.

Finally, here’s a word of caution.  It is very tempting to “gang-up” with Anne and coerce Liz into a premature move-in.  Yes, this might assuage Anne’s guilt feelings, but remember that the customer is Liz – not her daughter.  She won’t become a happy and satisfied resident until she moves past denial.


[1] “On Death and Dying”, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, M.D., 1969

[2] NOTE:  An extreme or extended denial phase must be treated by professionals.