Every month, I listen to community sales people speaking with prospects through recorded calls made through website phone tracking systems or by way of mystery shop companies. The purpose is to hear what the sales people are saying, evaluate how they are handling the inquiry process, assess their rapport building and discovery techniques, and look for opportunities to coach and improve the senior living sales teams.
It is often painful to listen to these calls, so here are some do’s & don’ts when making that critical first impression with a prospect.
Senior Living Sales Tips: Mistakes to Avoid When Managing Phone Inquiries
1. Keeping people on hold for too long. It costs about $500 to generate a lead that actually picks up the phone, yet we too often keep them on hold for an eternity.
While on hold, they get to hear how much their call means and how wonderful the community is, but they wait seemingly forever before someone finally picks up the call. Don’t even get me started with dumping inquiry calls into voicemail or telling a prospect to call back!
- Solution: Use a system that alerts people how long the wait will be. AND offer/encourage other ways for the prospect to make contact, such as email and live chat.
2. Having the wrong tone. The difference between phone inquiries and in-person inquiries is that, on the phone, prospects cannot see a sales person’s body language. That means the prospect must rely on the sales person’s tone of voice. Too often, the sales person sounds rushed, distracted, disorganized, or bored/ disinterested.
- Solution: Good old-fashioned coaching can help sales people improve their phone etiquette. Role-playing works well. So do incentives.
3. Interrogating rather than conversing. Good discovery sounds like a conversation, but many inquiry calls sound like the sales person has a checklist they are trying to get through and that becomes a barrier to listening and developing rapport.
The conversation should be natural with the sales person listening 70% of the time and asking questions, digging deeper, and repeating/empathizing the other 30%. The only time that the sales person needs to take the lead in talking is to match their community solutions with the specific needs expressed by the prospect and schedule the appropriate next step.
- Solution: Same as the previous point. Practice, practice, practice. It also helps to post reminders in offices and around phone banks that sales people should use their two ears and one mouth in direct proportion to one another.
4. Booking the tour too quickly. I’m always struck by how little time sales people spend in listening and understanding the prospect’s situation before they blurt out “when do you want to schedule a tour? Is this afternoon good or would tomorrow be better?”
Unless a sales person understands the prospect’s specific needs, timelines, budget range and/or financial insights (e.g. do they have to sell a home?), and other solutions they’re considering, then they are NOT ready to schedule a tour. Waiting until the tour arrives to do full discovery robs the sales person of the ability to personalize the tour based on the prospect’s unique situation, wants, and needs.
- Solution: Each sales person should have a list of discovery questions that they ask during the call. The key, of course, is asking the questions in a natural way during the conversation (rather than making it sound like an interrogation, which we discussed in #3).
5. Focusing on selling real estate. Many sales people spend too much time focused on the real estate side of their community rather than on care, resources, solutions, value, and the lifestyle the community offers. Most of our prospects already have a real estate solution (their own home, living with family or in another care setting) so that is not why they are calling.
- Solution: Again, the sales person should have materials handy every time he or she answers a call. In addition to a list of discovery questions, the sales person should have a list of benefits that the community offers.
6. Focusing on selling current inventory. Our job is to find solutions in the prospect’s best interest, not sell what we currently have available. In one of the worst calls I’ve listened to, the sales person actually said, “Oh, you don’t really want a one bedroom. It’s a waste of money and way too expensive.” The issue with this statement: the sales person had no idea of the prospect’s timeframe and all she had available that day was studios. Once the prospect heard that the one bedrooms were too expensive and not available, she moved on to a competitor.
- Solution: Make sure sales people aren’t working under unreasonable quotas, which might force them to push inventory that isn’t necessarily helpful to the prospect.
7. Being evasive. Too many sales people dance around questions they don’t want to answer. Sometimes, they flat out refuse to answer questions. I heard one salesperson tell a prospect, “I could not possibly give you any pricing – it is absolutely impossible!” Really? Would you rather book tours with completely unqualified families and waste time for both of you? Remember, transparency builds trust and helps prospects self-qualify.
- Solution: If you want sales people to be transparent, then transparency needs to be part of the overall culture of your community from top to bottom. Management needs to be transparent with staff. Staff needs to be transparent with residents. And sales people need to be transparent with prospects. This won’t happen overnight, but it can happen.
8. Using jargon. Inquiry calls are often laced with industry specific jargon that is meaningless to the prospect. I’m talking acronyms like IL, AL, ALZ, CCRC, SNF, ADLs; titles, such as ED, RCD/RSD, CRD, MOD; clinical terms, such as CHF, COPD, and so forth. Don’t use jargon with prospects.
For example, what significance does the phrase “Activities of Daily Living” have to a family? Can’t we just interact as people and say, “We can help with personal care”? Jargon is usually used to express our expertise. But all it does is confuse and overwhelm people.
- Solution: This one is easy. Don’t do it. If it’s a problem, coaching can help the sales person break this bad habit.
9. Ending the call without a next step. You’ve invested $500 to motivate a prospect to call, yet there’s no follow-up process AFTER the initial call. That doesn’t make sense, does it? Leaving it to the prospect to call back or “stop by” will not increase move-ins.
Too often when I look up the shopper or recorded prospect in the database, they have not been entered or we are lacking valuable contact information. It’s critical that sales people record the info and follow-up tasks!
Keep in mind that not every next step needs to be a tour. It could be an assessment, home visit, attending an event or support group, etc. But there should be some time-activated commitment to move forward at the end of an inquiry call. “Closing” is not an event. It is the outcome of multiple advances!
- Solution: Make it a requirement that sales people record prospect’s key info in a database along with follow-up tasks. The right senior living CRM can make this easy.
Remember, even the best sales people need reminders and refreshers from time to time. That’s why conducting mystery shopping and providing follow-up sales training and coaching are so important. Check out our Partner Marketplace for companies that specialize in both.