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Inconsistent response time, lack of relationship-building and inadequate sales presentation skills are leading to a poor senior living buyer experience industry-wide, according to a sales and marketing expert.

In a recent white paper analyzing more than 250 senior living community web and phone mystery shopping experiences, senior living marketing consultant Bild & Co. revealed a staggering 22% conversion rate from inquiry to tour. Feeding into that number is the fact that 15% of shoppers never received a return call from the provider, and 53% of web inquiries did not receive a response within two hours.

Bild Director of Training Dana Asche described those findings as “alarming” and said they make it clear that operators not only need to improve on inquiry response times but also relationship-building with potential prospects and sales presentation skills.

A scorecard on website and phone mystery shops in the white paper gave an overall score of 49%, and relationship-building scored 41% due to providers not asking questions of prospective buyers. Sales presentation scored 42% because providers did not drill down to determine prospects’ needs or interests, and next steps scored 46% for operators vaguely inviting shoppers to tour a community or for failing to arrange appointments.

The data showed that sales representatives provided pricing without determining needs and did not personalize presentations.

The good news, Asche said, is that senior living communities are answering the phone: 87% of surveyed communities are answering the phone within three rings, she said. And although first impressions received an overall score 79%, she said, everyone should be working toward 100%.

“I tell operators, ‘If you want an “easy” button, everybody should be thinking, “I need 100% on first impressions,”” she said, adding that failure to reach 100% on first impressions typically boils down to not enough training for anyone who can cover the front desk or answer that initial phone call from a prospective customer.

“Our buyers are in a different mindset. They want an ‘easy’ button,” Asche said, calling it a disconnect with senior living’s “old school mindset” that it’s OK to wait. “We are all Amazon shoppers; we want instant gratification and a fast response.”

Another big problem, she said, is closing to the next step. Asche said that this issue is known as sales reluctance, where salespeople get into a “pleasing mindset.” 

“Really being that expert adviser is the piece that’s missing,” she said. “Operators have to remember, these people call for a reason. They’re not going to get all of their answers on that first call, and there should be a natural progression that everyone comes in. But sales associates many times have that reluctance. They become passive and too agreeable and don’t want to seem pushy versus stating what that next step should be.”

Training and mindset

Resolving those issues, Asche said, comes down to training and mindset. 

Salespeople need to be “poured into” and they need a lot of encouragement. The thing about sales, she said, is there are a lot of things operators and leaders don’t see — someone sitting in an office, behind a closed door, making a bunch of phone calls can be daunting.

“You might get 99 nos before you get a yes,” Asche said, adding that it’s important to set an expectation with leadership to send encouragement to sales staff members through messages, emails or suggestions for a motivating podcast. “You mindset — you have to protect that.”

For sales reps, setting that mindset can be as simple as spending 10 to 15 minutes each morning being intentional — whatever it takes to get in that headspace, she said.

“Operators are quick to have that hard, ‘I just need sales; make it happen,’ mindset,” Asche said. “They do need that motivation piece.”

Looking at positives, pointing those out, celebrating wins all are important so that as the sales team focuses on the next goal or task, they still believe they can do it, she said. 

“At the end of the day, they have to learn new skills or change behaviors to close better, but there has to be some mindset encouragement to do that as well,” Asche said.