Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Defining the Sales Process

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • The senior living industry from a sales perspective
  • Five situations prospects find themselves in
  • Tailoring your message for lead acquisition versus lead nurturing
  • Attributes of the best salespeople in the senior living space
  • The best way to approach personalization
  • Keys to empathetic selling

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Leff Bonney, an Associate Professor of Marketing at Florida State University where he teaches both graduate and undergraduate courses in sales and sales management.

Leff has been involved in various consulting projects for major senior living providers to help them define their sales process and do a better job engaging with prospects and guiding them along the decision journey.

Some of the primary insights uncovered by Leff and his team include the fallacy of the persona-driven segmentation. Different situations may arise between customers who match established demographics. Therefore, Leff recommended shifting to situation-based segmentation that takes context into account.

Another unproductive practice is the one-size-fits-all approach that prevents providers from differentiating themselves from others, which of course is vital in attracting the right prospects.

Prospects find themselves in one of five situations when they come through the door. The top two situations are what Leff calls dazed and confused (comprising about 20% of prospects) and red alert (comprising about 30% of prospects), with the rest being either in the ready referral, prepared shopper, or tire kickers categories.

Asked for the attributes of top-performing salespeople in the industry, Leff names adaptability as the number one skill, as this allows them to navigate the often fast-paced developments that a prospect for senior living providers tends to undergo.

Another is curiosity, which allows them to paint the best picture they can of the prospect and their particular situation. Likewise, creativity minimizes the tendency for the salesperson to fall back on a one-size-fits-all approach.

In the same vein, the ability to personalize experiences dramatically boosts that all-important know, like, and trust factor, not to mention contributes to differentiation when done right.

Finally, Leff comments on the power of empathetic selling and how a focus on defining the problem instead of the solution, along with simple tweaks in copy, can make all the difference.

Resources Mentioned:

Leff Bonney on LinkedIn


Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Is Print Dead?

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • Is print dead?
  • The basics of a successful direct mail campaign
  • Integrating online and offline marketing seamlessly
  • Measuring the success of a campaign
  • Little touches that set your printed material apart

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Scott Burford, President of Fischer Group, a marketing agency which creates efficient systems that streamline the marketing materials supply chain by providing creative and branding support, cross-media solutions, direct marketing services, fulfillment, and promotional materials.

Fischer aims to answer three questions: 1) How can our marketing team get more done for less money?; 2) How can we control cost and creative more easily?; and 3) How can we reduce waste and work smarter?

“Is print dead?” It’s a question that Scott has heard time and time again—for over 15 years now. While digital marketing has taken center stage, Scott says that, “If you follow the trends and read the reports, you’d know that print is still a very vital component of any marketing campaign.”

If anything, it is only the form of print that has evolved. Debbie agrees, saying that, while in the past, print was released “in big runs and generic, now it’s in smaller runs and more personal.” This is especially true in the senior living space. From branded books and photo albums to creatively textured business cards, the sky’s the limit when it comes to creating printed material that prospects and existing occupants and their adult children won’t forget.

When it comes to putting together a successful direct mail campaign, an important yet overlooked factor is consistency. Ideally, it will consist of a series of mail drops that are delivered strategically over a period of time. The key is to have enough meaningful touchpoints that increasingly resonate with recipients. Brand recognition grows with consistency therefore creating value.

What also contributes to the success of a direct mail campaign is an updated and relevant list, a meaningful offer, and multiple options for the recipient to be able to respond—whether via QR code, phone, email, or a link to a website where they can fill out a response form.

Resources Mentioned:

Fischer Group


John Gonzales

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Utilizing Marketing Channels Creatively

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • How to use trusted marketing channels more creatively today
  • Attracting young talent into the senior living space for the long-term
  • The case for providing training for emotional intelligence
  • How to make employees feel welcome after the marketing campaign
  • Minimizing your turnover rate

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with John Gonzales, President of Haven Senior Living and Senior Vice President of Haven Senior Investments. With over 30 years of experience in the industry, John shares his experiences and perspectives on the state of today’s senior housing landscape and what operators should expect in the new normal.

“It’s a critical time in our industry right now,” says John. After a 10% drop in occupancy in 2020, it is only now that the numbers are finally leveling out across the board.

A lot of the issues can be solved with a change in messaging to ensure maximum health and safety for potential occupants and their adult children. The virtual tour is a powerful way to provide this assurance.

“If you have a strong presence online, they’ll find you. But when they do, you have to have the right message to attract those folks.”

Speaking on ways to bring in the newest generation of talent, John believes that employers need to think about creating “anchors” for employees that not only attract them into the industry, but also motivate them to commit to their work. For young talent, this means instilling a sense of purpose in what they do and encouraging relationship-building between staff and residents.

John asserts that marketing, sales, and operations need to be integrated, not just for attracting prospective residents, but for the purposes of recruitment as well. It is not enough, he says, to put together the “perfect” campaign and promote a great image of your facility. There needs to be actual follow-through that actualizes the welcoming environment projected by marketing and promised by sales.

Resources Mentioned:

Haven Senior Investments


Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: All Things Mailing Lists with Adam Van Wye

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • What can we do with lists these days?
  • How to attract high-value clients
  • What to know about list pricing
  • What ailment data tells us
  • Marketing to the independent living adult versus their adult child
  • Reaching out to individuals in caregiver roles
  • How to create integrated campaigns and what kind of results to expect
  • The relevance of direct marketing in today’s digital world and pull versus push marketing

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Adam Van Wye of Mailing Lists, Inc. Founded in 1994, Mailing Lists, Inc. offers highly targeted and cost-effective lists for direct mail, telemarketing, opt-in email, mobile marketing, digital advertising, and multichannel campaigns.

As a list broker, Adam describes his responsibility as “[putting] the right message in front of the right person at the right time. When you do that effectively, it’s a win-win for everyone.” This means that the message, no matter how masterfully crafted, means very little if it is ill-timed or sent to the wrong person.

Adam explains that targeting goes beyond highlighting the usual demographics of age, sex, geography, and marital status. He gives often overlooked facts surrounding an individual’s “household income”, considerations around targeting homeowners versus renters, and tips on creating campaigns for marketing events.

He also goes over compiled lists versus response lists, how to determine whether an email list is worth investing in, and how marketing changes based on whether one is marketing to the older adult or their adult child, best practices for target profiling, and how to transition from offline to online through integrated campaigns.

Ultimately, says Adam, the key to strengthening any outreach campaign is through continuous testing.

Finally, Adam makes the case that the vast amount of resources available in today’s digital world doesn’t mean that direct marketing is no longer relevant. In fact, he does a deep dive into the merits of pull (inbound) marketing and push (outbound) marketing and why great marketers never have to choose between the two.


Resources Mentioned:

Mailing Lists, Inc.

[email protected]


Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Discussing Senior Housing Providers with Pam Steitz

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • Good news for senior living communities in 2021
  • Why market analysis is valuable to senior housing providers
  • Penetration rates between different types of providers
  • Why developers should consider building smaller, more intimate settings to serve as social hubs for seniors
  • Segments (i.e. independent living) that have fared better than others (i.e. assisted living)
  • How the industry should innovate or reimagine itself to respond to questions of health and safety in the new normal
  • When and how to adjust prices or create short-term incentives

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Pam Steitz, President of PLS Market Analysis, LLC, which provides market research services including feasibility studies and focus groups to senior housing providers. Pam is also a member of the Board of Directors for the Liberty Lutheran Senior Services and Retirement Community.

Because data informs marketing strategy, Pam speaks on how providers are doing research in order to adapt to the logistical, organizational, and even cultural challenges that have developed over the past year.

Market studies, she says, should always aim to answer the question, “Why are we struggling?” Whereas the senior living industry was somewhat saturated in pre-COVID times and required a different set of skills to navigate, providers now need to pinpoint the obstacles they face in simply maintaining their lead base or nurturing new leads entirely.

Market studies are not a one-and-done event—they are meant to be updated ideally once a year. “We’re going to see so much growth in this industry in the next five years that a market study really needs to be something that is routine,” Pam asserts. She speaks on the value of consumer research to extract lessons from mistakes and, using these lessons, determine how to reposition one’s marketing.

Market analysis is also about helping providers home in on their niche. According to Pam, “It’s really important to understand the marketplace, and that is really through data, both quantitative and qualitative.”

Pam also gives her thoughts on what providers need to know about the future of the senior living industry based on takeaways from market analyses in 2020 and early 2021.

Resources Mentioned:

PLS Market Analysis

Pam Steitz on LinkedIn

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Operating in the Senior Living Space Post-COVID with Amy McKinley

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • Operating in a completely virtual environment
  • How salespeople can effectively address concerns related to COVID-19
  • Introducing empathy in the call and building a genuine relationship with the prospect with a no-touch system
  • The senior living space in a post-COVID world

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Amy McKinley, a 35-year veteran of the senior living space and the Co-Founder and CEO at Senior Source Consulting Group.

Amy discusses the overnight reality of having to advise providers on selling their community in a no-touch environment. Amy says that salespeople “now have to be more on point.” For instance, in-person tours and face-to-face mystery shopping have exclusively turned into virtual walkthroughs and phone calls—which arguably take more skill to manage.

She adds that, nowadays, “we have to be more transparent, but in a way that is meaningful to the prospect.” It is important to make people feel important on the phone. This is, indeed, more work, but if done correctly, can easily allow one community to stand out in a sea of ever-increasing noise.

Health and safety have obviously become top-of-mind concerns among both prospects and providers. It is vital not just to demonstrate the safety measures your facility adheres to, but also to give good reasons why a family member should make the move to that facility as soon as possible. One point to emphasize is that it is much better for that family member to live among a community than to be alone in these uncertain times.

Salespeople should never rely on filling the CRM alone. Unfortunately, most do. What Amy recommends is for the salesperson to apply tactfulness during the call, keeping an appropriate balance between discovery and building rapport. In other words, salespeople should never forget the lasting power of building genuine relationships.

Emotion, after all, is what creates urgency to make a decision. “They’re not going to get to that point if you’re just asking a checklist of questions,” says Amy.

Resources Mentioned:

Senior Source Consulting Group

Amy McKinley on LinkedIn

Contact Amy: 615-330-9553

[email protected]

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: All Things Paid Search with Jay Buerck

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • How the pandemic has impacted organic and paid search in the senior living space
  • Differences between Google and Bing for paid search
  • How to maximize organic search and, later, complement it with paid search
  • The steps to mapping out an effective SEO strategy
  • First-touch versus retargeting campaigns
  • Paid ads on Facebook versus Google and Bing
  • How to set proper expectations when running ad campaigns

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Jay Buerck, Director of Strategy at Digital Strike, a “search-focused marketing company” catering to businesses of all sizes. Specializing in organic and paid search, the company’s focus is to harness intent-based marketing from search engines.

In this conversation, Debbie and Jay do a deep dive into all things Google Adwords, PPC campaigns, and other strategies to increase a business’s web presence.

With over half of Digital Strike’s business being in the senior living space, Jay references a DialogTech study which found that search volume has been decreasing, up to 40% for certain providers. At the same time, 75% of searches related to finding a community have taken place online, with about 83% of those searches coming from individuals who do not have a specific community in mind.

“It’s vitally important to be online,” says Jay, “and increase your visibility, whether that’s through organic search or through paid search.”

Asked about maximizing organic search, Jay refers to the three pillars of SEO that Digital Strike subscribes to: technical, content, and authority. Anyone can start seeing a boost in their search rankings by optimizing all three of these foundational factors.

Jay also speaks on setting expectations when running ad campaigns, saying that it’s important to look not only at your company’s metrics, but those of others who have run comparable campaigns so that you are not looking at your data in a vacuum. It also helps to engage in conversation with stakeholders and refer to reports that reveal current market trends.

Resources Mentioned:

Digital Strike

Jay Buerck on LinkedIn

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Solving the Occupancy Puzzle with Julie Podewitz

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • Why Julie decided to write a book specifically about the Regional Director role
  • How Regional Directors can develop productive relationships with different departments
  • How Regional Directors can plan their site visits in a way that is appropriate and adds value to all parties
  • How Regional Directors can create a system for higher conversions and set expectations with their team
  • Julie’s three-person coaching model for effectiveness
  • Why the senior housing lost/mismanaged lead statistic has not improved since 2007

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Julie Podewitz, Chief Sales Officer at Vitality Senior Living and author of the 2021 book Solving the Occupancy Puzzle: A Senior Living Regional Director Sales Playbook.

Asked why she chose to make the Regional Director the focus of her book, Julie says that this is “the role that has the most impact and the role we give the least attention to.” Julie has observed through the course of her career that “Regionals fail because of the lack of systems, the lack of specific expectations, and the lack of training and coaching.”

Julie speaks on the importance not only of communicating, but also of accountability between the Regional Directors of different departments, from sales and marketing to community relations. She also reminds Regionals to make it a point to “maintain their advisor status” in their interactions with prospects, taking care not to cross the line into friendship.

The value of connection extends to one’s strategy for converting prospects. “We’ve got to go back to those basics to build value and connect.” Similarly, Julie emphasizes that Regionals focus on one strategy at a time and double-down on it instead of spreading themselves too thin.

“The quality of your questions will determine the quality of the information you’ll receive.” Practicing these conversations is key, and the best way to practice is through regular roleplay. Julie describes her three-person coaching model for more effective roleplays, in which each of the three take turns (one permutation per training session) assuming the role of customer, sales counselor, or coach.

Resources Mentioned:

Solving the Occupancy Puzzle

Julie Podewitz on LinkedIn

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Business, Sales and Marketing Advice with Doug Davidoff

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • How businesses can communicate with their target market to design better services
  • Creating an environment that makes prospects stay comfortable while in the pipeline
  • Tried-and-true advice for all sales professionals
  • The ever-evolving relationship between sales and marketing
  • Considerations around “high-tech, high-touch”
  • Identifying the touches that matter and ignoring those that do not matter
  • How letting go of (your feeling of) control gives you more control as a company
  • Creating a solid structure for your business to spark more creativity among your team
  • The truth about friction in the sales process and how to use friction to your advantage
  • The difference between a “challenger” and a “provoker” in sales

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Doug Davidoff, Founder and CEO at Imagine Business Development, a management consulting firm that has worked with over 1500 small and mid-market businesses. Doug describes his career as being about “eliminating or mitigating the conflict between buyers and sellers,” an approach that is applied at Imagine.

Imagine has discovered that most organizations already have the raw material to achieve what they want to achieve. What they need is the correct recipe to make their vision a reality. Doug says that the problem usually lies more in what organizations are already doing and have to unlearn as opposed to what they are not doing. Imagine ensures that their clients maintain the structure of their respective businesses “to enable them to achieve predictable, sustainable, and scalable growth, however they define ‘scalable’.”

Imagine has worked with countless businesses in many different verticals, and the number one issue that Doug found is a lack of empathy. Instead of creating a product or service from assumption alone, companies need to see the world through their customers’ eyes. In addition, companies have a tendency to “try too hard” or overestimate what they can do. Sales professionals simply need to solve for x. They need to map their customer’s journey to make their subsequent decisions more informed.

Historically, salespeople were responsible for communicating the value proposition. Today, that has become marketing’s job. Sales professionals now “facilitate the decision using the resources that marketing has created to reduce the effort involved to make a high-risk decision.” Sales and marketing, previously siloed departments, now work parallel to each other.

“Your job is not to sell the community,” says Doug. “Your job is to help somebody make a good decision about where they should spend their senior years.” With sales and marketing working in tandem, operating by the principles of empathy, the entire process becomes smoother. As Doug says: “The single best thing a company can do to increase sales is to make it easier for someone to buy.”


Imagine Business Development

Doug Davidoff on LinkedIn

Senior Living Marketing Perspectives: Adopting New Technology to Promote Well-Being with Sagely

Topics Discussed and Key Points:

  • How Sagely’s platform adds convenience for everyone in a senior care facility
  • The importance Sagely places on personal, one-on-one connection
  • How operators can take advantage of Sagely’s technology to reduce prospect friction
  • Helping residents adopt new technologies
  • Activities that have the highest engagement and preparing for the next generation
  • Customizing Sagely’s platform to different groups
  • Sagely’s remote learning capabilities and future on-demand initiatives

Episode Summary:

In today’s episode, Debbie speaks with Hollie Kemp, Chief Operating Officer at Sagely, a Honolulu-based IT company that “marries the power of software, data, and the human element to empower caregivers, elders, and their families to improve elders’ well-being.” Sagely is a platform to document, manage, and navigate the tracking and delivery of engagement and care programs” that can be used by both residents and their families.

Hollie started out in the senior housing space over 20 years ago as a unit assistant. Through the years, she took on various roles, from caregiver all the way up to Chief Experience Officer. With a primary focus on memory care and engagement, her passion is quality of life and designing stellar lifestyles for the seniors in her care.

Hollie agrees with Debbie that the pandemic has served as an “accelerator” that has forced operators in the industry to focus on making their systems and processes more effective and efficient. Sagely in particular has had to fall back and reflect on their core mission to “keep elders happy, healthy, independent, and connected”.

This required them to create a two-pronged approach for 2020 and beyond: develop technology that is simple to use for residents who may not be tech-savvy, and “free up more time and also provide more efficient tools for that engagement director to meet their residents’ needs at all times.”

Hollie has noticed that, amid the pandemic, “people are less focused on limitations and more focused on possibilities”. The adoption of new technologies today should not actually be as difficult as many make it out to be, even in the senior living space. What makes the difference are the goals you have going into a project, how you hold your team accountable to those goals, and why those goals matter.

“In my opinion,” says Hollie, “in senior housing, technology is never replacing human touch. I do not believe that’s possible. I still think we’re a human business. Technology just enables the human to do their job better.” And this outlook should extend to those initiatives that technology aims to make possible. “A program,” continues Hollie, “can be wonderful on paper, but if it’s not alive in the community, it doesn’t matter.”



Hollie Kemp on LinkedIn