Fostering an authentic sense of community is the most important part of working in any aspect of the senior living industry, but it is especially true in sales.

After all, the community is the commodity. Although the growing array of amenities, services and perks add value and convenience, they can’t compete with the personal connection and satisfaction that comes with joining a vibrant senior living community. Here, residents became part of a unique micro-society. Friendships are formed, laughter is shared, passions are rediscovered and feelings of purpose are renewed.

Being part of a community means much more than simply not being alone. Here are four tips to help your sales team cultivate a sense of community in senior housing:

1. Start early.

Building community begins the moment a sales prospect walks in the door. The best sales teams immediately work to encourage personal connections during tours by introducing prospects to current residents who may have something in common.

Making these matches can be both challenging and fulfilling, but the quicker new residents get acclimated and feel at home, the stronger the community grows. This calls for sales professionals to be attentive, perceptive and highly organized, not to mention active participants in the daily lives of residents.

2. Look within.

Every senior living community is different and unique. Successful sales teams know their communities inside and out because they’re part of them. That means their jobs don’t end when they close a sale.

Sale professionals typically are trained to “hand off” residents to executive directors in the single-minded pursuit of new leads. Meanwhile, the best way to identify potential prospects is right in front of them.

As a former sales manager, I realized early on that happy residents are an invaluable source of high-conversion leads. They actually became some of my best sales associates. Not only were they an excellent source of referrals; they also were eager to have a hand in growing their own community. Trust in their voices as some of your strongest assets – their personal testimonials are priceless, and their positive energy is contagious.

3. Invest in relationships.

By engaging residents through real conversation and shared interests, sales professionals can attain genuine insight into the distinctive, evolving dynamic of a community. Reframing the role of your sales team to include hands-on activities and events also helps guarantee they stay in touch with individual residents.

Encourage team members to share personal interests with residents by hosting an activity or event. For instance, I channeled my love of painting and journaling into art classes and creative writing workshops. These allowed me to reconnect with some residents and forge new bonds with others.

As a result, we built trusting relationships, they came to me with referrals and the community grew as a whole. And it was much more fulfilling, both personally and professionally, than another afternoon of sales calls.

4. Let residents take the lead.

Many senior living communities point to packed calendars of various cookie-cutter activities and events as a testament to the strength of their community.

Although Tai Chi and Wii Bowling may have replaced Bingo, it’s crucial residents have both a say and a hand in planning activities. The most successful activities are organic and unmanufactured – they allow community members to put their own spin on a holiday, milestone, fad, or current event. For example, some senior living communities host wildly popular Super Bowl parties featuring special menus or friendly wagers and contests, such as voting for the funniest commercials.

Whatever event you’re planning, follow residents’ hearts to ensure it’s true to the spirit of the community, which will result in high participation. Embrace what they want to celebrate and how they want to gather, then use your resources, skills and staff to help make it extraordinary.

Supporting residents in how they want to spend their time and live their lives is key to fostering community in senior living. But it takes teamwork, and a pivotal part of that effort requires sales professionals to take leading roles.

Community is your strongest selling point; it also happens to be a person’s greatest need. At the end of the day, you get what you put in. Invest yourself with authenticity and respect, and you’ll find residents willing to follow suit.

Many residents come to senior living looking for community. Your job is to help create one.

Lindsay Casillas is senior vice president of sales and business development, Sodexo Seniors, North America.

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