older woman at computer with younger woman pointing at the screen
(Credit: Terry Vine/Getty Images)

Digital continues its ascent to importance in senior living — as a lead source and move-in source and tour generator, according to an expert.

In a review of second-quarter senior living lead sources across 33 states, digital sources led the pack at 47.6% of all lead sources, compared with 47.1% for paid referrals and 5.39% from professional referrals, according to Bild & Co.

In the first quarter, paid referrals had the top tours, at 43%, whereas digital referrals sources had 38%. Now, in the second quarter, 44.39% of tours came from digital sources, and 42.9% of tours came from paid referrals. Paid referrals, however, had 37.62% of move-ins, and digital referrals had 35.64% of move-ins.

Independent living surprise

Jennifer Saxman of Bild & Co. said that the most striking information to come from a recent data drop was how many more leads for assisted living and memory care were being driven through digital sources compared with independent living, which still is fueled by paid referral sources. 

During the second quarter, paid referrals sources had the top new leads in independent living, as well as 46% of the move-ins and 38% of tours. For assisted living and memory care, digital sources led to the highest number of new leads, at 68%, as well as 70% of tours. Paid referrals still had the highest number of move-ins in the quarter, at approximately 67% for assisted living and memory care.

Word of mouth in independent living and 55-plus communities is “sky high,” Saxman said, whereas paid referrals aren’t as common. The data, however, tells a different story.

“I expected to see it flipped — assisted living and independent living reflective of each others’ data,” Saxman said. “But that was not the case.” 

Saxman said she is starting to see consumers who are doing their own homework, which correlates to an increase in digital leads. That finding, she said, means that people are becoming more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to shopping for a senior living community.

“I’m hoping the trend means we’re dealing less with crisis cases and are actually able to walk the family through a tailored, customer-centric type of sales process,” Saxman said. 

Mismanaged digital leads = missed opportunities

But sales teams need to up their game and pay attention to those web inquiries — many of which go unanswered, she said. A very small percent of communities follow up on a web lead within an hour or two, she said, with the majority of communities taking up to a day or longer to respond — or they never respond at all.

“We still don’t have a sense of urgency for web leads,” Saxman said. “Web leads / digital leads coming in? Those are the walk-in tours pre-COVID and the early 2000s.”

Digital leads soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, but sales still haven’t caught up and recognized that digital leads actually mean business, Saxman said. Buying online or engaging in a sales process online no longer is foreign to prospective residents, and baby boomers are going to start the process online, she said.

“Treat your digital lead as if you have someone on the phone waiting for you or someone just walked into your building,” Saxman said, adding that email follow-up should be a last resort after a phone call or text message. “If you’re not doing a phone call plus text on your initial contact, you’re missing the boat.” 

Web leads received after hours are coming from working adult children desperate to find information or a solution at night, she said, and no one is answering their plight.

Saxman said she sees an increasing number of clients using online booking sites for tours, but she stressed that a sales counselor still should be following up on those bookings to get more details.

“There still needs to be a sales experience,” she said.