When I became a hands-on leasing counselor, I understood that my time was my most valuable and limited resource. To enhance performance, you need to purposefully invest time to build relationships and uncover emotional blocks. In other words, invest time to facilitate buying before even thinking about selling, offering solutions or closing. It takes a lot of time — you need to laser-focus what precious little you have on one prospect at a time!

The emptiness of a typical “the more leads, tours and call-outs, the better” approach in senior living sales is illustrated by an extensive study of time-oriented performance metrics taken from Sherpa user data. The initial study was conducted in 2016 by ProMatura Group and has been supplemented with Sherpa internal studies. Those studies identified distinct sales behaviors that are proven to drive and help predict higher conversions. Stated simply, it’s about investing more TSZ (time in the selling zone) with fewer prospects.

Not surprising. Spending more TSZ with prospects and their families allows for more meaningful interactions. The prospect eventually may be open to hearing our solutions, but only after trust is gained. The approach itself differentiates our community from the competition and creates a compelling reason for the prospect to choose our community.

Activities included in the ‘Time in the Selling Zone’ calculation

Senior living operators consider time invested in every area of their business other than sales: housekeeping, nursing, personal care, food services, transportation, etc. They also generally track the calendar days that it takes from inquiry to move-in but, surprisingly, not the factors that might accelerate that time frame. It was obvious that we needed a new definition of direct selling time.

We coined “Time in the Selling Zone” to include the time invested in individual prospects for engagements that are:

  • Face-to-face directly with the prospect or their family members
  • Voice-to-voice (plus all non-face-to-face prospect engagements such as email, text messaging or mail)
  • Time spent planning before or after prospect engagements, including exploring life stories through conversations and internet research, assessing readiness and thinking about best next steps
  • Time invested in creating personalized, creative prospect follow-up

More time per lead worked

The ProMatura study concluded that spending more time with fewer prospects is what most drives higher sales conversions. We knew that this was true for senior living sales from years of hands-on selling and from our theoretical “Stages of Change” model. We were curious. Do data prove that increasing the average time spent with each prospect has a direct, quantifiable and observable effect on visit (tour) or move-in conversions?

An internal Sherpa study looked at results across a broad section of the Sherpa customer base for a total of 512 communities. Each of these customers had been using Sherpa for more than 12 months. Here’s what we found: those communities that spent one hour or less per prospect averaged a 21% visit-to-move-in ratio. In contrast, the communities that spent an average of two and a half hours or more with each prospect improved sales results by an astounding 90% to 100%.

How the best performers allocate TSZ

The ProMatura study shows that it takes an average of 10 hours of TSZ to help an assisted living prospect get from inquiry to close. For rental independent living prospects, it takes 20 hours. The time needed to convert is even longer for the typical continuing care retirement / life plan community.

In terms of the relative effect that various sales activity drivers have on performance, top performers invest 35% of their time in face-to-face interactions, 30% in planning, 20% in phone or email conversations and 15% in creative follow-up, or CFU.


In our industry, top sellers spend more time working with each lead. They invest almost 50% of that time in planning before each prospect interaction and in doing personalized CFU afterward. They shift the target from a focus on velocity to one of planning and purposeful deliberation. They also create intermediate prospect outcome targets along the way, from inquiry to close.

It’s about time. If you invest TSZ, then your senior living sales results will improve. You can identify, track, set goals and focus on improving the key sales behaviors that have been proven to increase sales results. In the end, you win. Your community and company win. But perhaps even more important, a prospect-centered perspective will help enhance the lives of many of the 90% of senior adults who fearfully cling to their houses and to lifestyles that no longer fit their needs. That’s heroic selling.

David Smith is an entrepreneur, attorney and real estate agent. At 35, he became a developer, co-owner and manager of The Gatesworth, McKnight Place and Parc Provence senior living communities. Smith spent decades studying the senior housing sales process at his own properties as well as dozens of third-party consulting sites. In 2014, he co-founded Sherpa, a SaaS-based customer relationship management and sales enablement platform that brings empathy and the science of prospect-centered selling to life. He is the author of “It’s About Time!: How to Grow Revenue with Prospect-Centered Selling.”

The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.