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When it comes to senior living leads, digital sources are king, but senior living communities lack the processes and systems in place to handle those leads, as well as the urgency to work them, according to one sales and marketing expert.

Senior living marketing consultant Bild & Co. analyzed more than 40 senior living communities in the third quarter of 2023 to identify lead sources between July 1 and Sept. 30. Results, CEO Jennifer Saxman told McKnight’s Senior Living, show that senior living continues to see more leads coming from digital channels, but sales teams continue to treat paid referrals with more urgency and bemoan that they need more leads. Details of the research are shared in a new white paper.

“Most clients actually don’t need more leads,” Saxman said. “The problem is that they don’t work their leads with the same intensity and diligent follow through and follow up.”

Pre-COVID-19, Saxman said, anyone who walked into or called a community was considered a “hot lead,” whereas online inquiries were seen more as “tire-kickers.” That all changed, however, as consumers became more digital-savvy. 

On average, digital leads made up 30% to 40% of total lead traffic before the pandemic, she said. Post-pandemic, digital leads represent as much as 85% to 87% of all lead traffic. Although a minor uptick in walk-ins occurred during the third and fourth quarters of 2023, Saxman said, a phone call, digital or online inquiry all require the same sense of urgency.

“Now what we’re finding is that the digital leads that are coming in, you have to treat it as a call in or a walk in. It’s just as hot,” she said, adding that sales teams must get past the notion that one bad digital lead means that all digital leads are bad.

“If we don’t let it go and don’t start treating our digital leads as if they were a walk-in, sitting there waiting for you to tour them, you’re going to miss the opportunity and you’re going to always feel you need more leads, more leads, more leads,” Saxman said.

Digital sources produced the highest rate of tours, at 43.4%, in the third quarter, followed by 41.8% from paid referral sources, according to the white paper. Digital lead sources produced the top new leads (52%), tours (80%) and move-ins (85%) in independent living in the third quarter. In assisted living and memory care, digital sources led to more than 80% of new leads and initial tours.

To capture those digital leads, Saxman said, it is important for operators to make it easy for prospects to buy online. That means having chatbots, forms on websites that work and no broken links. She also recommended that communities have a three-person-deep team notified of web inquiries and to chart conversations, to create accountability.

“Those leads matter so much,” Saxman said. “If you’re really stuck on needing more leads, look at your CRM [customer relationship management]. Your next move-in is in your CRM already.”