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Senior Living Marketing Tips: The Adult Child’s Journey

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We talk a lot about the buyer’s journey, specifically the one the senior embarks on. But what about the adult child helping the senior make the decision?

The adult child’s journey runs parallel, but it is different, and understanding the differences is essential to your senior living marketing efforts.

At the 2023 SMASH conference, Jamison Gosselin, an executive-level marketing strategist with over two decades of senior living industry experience, shared interesting findings from an in-depth survey he conducted with thousands of adult children.

Below, we’ll discuss two key insights that Gosselin shared with Debbie Howard, Senior Living SMART’s CEO and Founder, during our Senior Living Marketing Perspectives podcast. (You can check out the complete episode here.)

1. Having an optimized website isn’t enough to land your community on an adult child’s radar.

Adult children in the early stages of the buying journey are usually trying to educate themselves about senior living—what it is, how much it costs, and what insurance covers. They’ll often perform searches around those questions.

But guess what? Google’s top results aren’t likely to include your community—even if you have content that answers those questions.

Instead, other sites with more authority—think government agencies like the National Council on Aging, lead aggregators like A Place for Mom, and magazines like Forbes—will rank higher in the SERPs (search engine results pages).

So now, the question becomes: Once the adult children educate themselves and are ready to compile a list of communities to tour, how do you ensure your community makes it onto their list?

If you think having an optimized website is enough, think again. Other factors influence the adult child’s list-making before the adult child even makes it to your website. And the most significant influencer is your community’s Google Business Profile.

Gosselin says the Google Business Profile came up a lot among his survey participants. He adds, “If companies are not completely optimizing every feature and functionality available on their Google Business Profile, then they are missing out because the Google Business Profile has a number of bells and whistles that are more than just bells and whistles, frankly, and are like the church bells that should be ding-donging every time someone goes and does a [search on] ‘senior living in Las Vegas’ or ‘senior living in Portland, Oregon.'”

Google Business Profiles are critical because of the prevalence of “near me” searches. If someone searches for “senior living communities near me,” Google understands where the person is searching and will serve up well-optimized Google Business Profiles accordingly.

Optimizing your Google Business Profile (GBP) goes beyond simply claiming it and adding a blurb or two and some photos. Here are several mistakes that we consistently see communities make with their GBPs:

Not choosing the correct category. We’ve come across profiles for assisted living that use “skilled nursing” as their lead category. That won’t help your GBP show up for searches on assisted living.
Not optimizing the Q&A section for long-tail keyword phrases. Answering questions is a great way to demonstrate your community’s expertise and compassion while also giving Google more context about what your community offers.
Not using GBP posts effectively. Treat Google Business Profile posts like mini blog posts, where you can include clickable (and trackable) calls to action, like “Schedule a Tour” or “Join us for lunch.”

2. Don’t underestimate the power of referrals—or the adult child’s role in giving them.

Gosselin says 46% of his survey participants received a referral from a friend or family member. “That’s a huge number,” he adds.

However, too many communities don’t think through their referral or loyalty programs over the long haul. In particular, operators often forget to nurture relationships with the adult children of past residents.

The adult child’s journey with the community might have ended when their loved one died or moved out, but that doesn’t mean the child’s memory of their loved one’s experience ended. If the loved one had a genuinely good experience in the community, the adult child could remain a good referral source for years to come, provided you nurture this relationship and keep your community at the top of their minds.

Ideas for nurturing the adult children of past residents:

• Craft a special newsletter for adult children whose parents are no longer residents. The tenor and tone of this communication must be respectful, not sales-oriented, and you should carefully curate which adult children you add to the distribution list. Maybe you create a quarterly or yearly “Perspectives” newsletter or publication that shows what’s new in the community, highlights residents, and includes a spotlight on a long-term employee. These things can help keep your community on the adult child’s radar.
• Consider memorializing past residents so the adult child remains connected to the community. Invite adult children whose parents were particularly happy in your community to select a memorial item with their loved one’s name, like a brick in the new wall around the gardens, a butterfly tree, or a bench—you get the idea. Encourage the adult child and their family to visit the memorial anytime, including meaningful dates, like birthdays and wedding anniversaries.
• Send a “thinking of you” card to the adult child on the anniversary of their loved one’s passing. You don’t need to do this forever, but you could send a thoughtful card in the first few years after the resident’s death.
PRO TIP: People’s relationships with their parents are often fraught and complex. Don’t make assumptions about what the person might be feeling. Keep it simple. Here’s an example: “As the first anniversary of your mother’s passing approaches, we wanted to reach out and let you know we’re thinking of you.”

• Encourage adult children to maintain connections with other residents. Adult children often become friendly with people their loved ones befriended in the community. Encourage the adult children to stay in touch if it feels right.
• Don’t forget to send a thank-you note when the adult child makes a referral. Hopefully, your team is good at asking prospects who referred them to your community. If it turns out the referrer is the adult child of a past resident, you should still thank them by sending a handwritten thank-you note.

Understanding your community’s personas is the key to effective senior living marketing.

Creating personas isn’t a once-and-done exercise, and it isn’t something you should guess at or make up. We have a proven process for developing custom personas that will inform your marketing going forward. Contact us if you’d like to know more.

Photo of graphs for the article: How to Diagnose Senior Living Occupancy Issues

How to Diagnose Senior Living Occupancy Issues

Photo of graphs for the article: How to Diagnose Senior Living Occupancy Issues

Anyone who’s worked in senior living sales or marketing knows the tension that exists between the two. Marketing might say, “Hey, look at all the leads we’ve delivered. Why haven’t you closed more?” Meanwhile, the sales team often responds with, “These leads stink! They’re not qualified.”

Marketing and sales teams each play essential roles in driving senior living occupancy. This is why we must dial down the tension and find ways to encourage collaboration. To foster collaboration, everyone must understand two key points: who’s in charge of what and how to diagnose issues.

Below, we outline what marketing teams “own” and what sales teams “own.” Then, we provide tips for diagnosing senior living occupancy issues in each case.

What does marketing own?

Simply put, marketing owns lead generation.

⮚ Are you generating enough quality leads, meaning a good mix of sales-qualified leads (SQLs) and marketing-qualified leads (MQLs)?
⮚ Are the SQLs converting into tours and move-ins?
⮚ Are the MQLs advancing to sales-qualified status over time?

How can you tell if you have a lead gen problem?

Ask yourself the following questions to help diagnose a lead gen/marketing problem.

Where are most leads coming from? Understanding lead source attribution is critical. Your primary source of leads should come from organic search. Paid search takes the #2 spot. Direct traffic (which suggests an awareness of your brand) and referral traffic round out the top four. Read more about the difference between organic and paid search.

Are you bragging about lead volume, but the sales team still complains about lead quality? Listen to them! Too often, marketing teams point to the volume of leads generated rather than the quality. Quality trumps quantity every time. Think about it. Would you rather have 500 mediocre leads that don’t convert or languish in nurturing workflows? Or would you rather have 200 quality leads, half of which are sales-qualified and the other half marketing-qualified? It’s a no-brainer.

Are you dealing with website traffic issues? Traffic problems usually present themselves in one of two ways:

Not enough quality traffic to yield leads. You need a healthy amount of quality traffic to hit lead quotas for the sales team. Issues like poor optimization or lousy site performance can cause traffic problems. For example, Google might not even serve up your website if it isn’t secure or mobile-friendly. Use our instant website audit tool to evaluate potential problems.

High traffic, low conversions. Do you offer prospects plenty of conversion points related to where they are in their buying journey? Have you reviewed CTA performance? Do you use specific landing pages instead of a generic “contact us” form? Are you using third-party conversion tools, such as surveys, 3-D floor plans, and chat? All of these things matter and can make a huge difference in conversions. Check out specific strategies for turning website traffic into leads.

Are MQLs advancing to SQLs at an appropriate rate? You don’t want your marketing-qualified leads to wither on the vine. After appropriate nurturing, many of them should convert to SQLs (aim for anywhere between 25 to 40 percent).

How are your paid ads performing? Is your impression score greater than 10%? What is your conversion percentage and cost per conversion? Don’t throw money at paid search without a solid understanding of the ROI you should be getting. Read more about cost-per-lead benchmarks for senior living.

What does sales own?

Simply put, the sales team owns conversions.

⮚ What is your “speed to lead”?
⮚ Is your team converting inquiries to tours?
⮚ Is your team advancing tours to deposits/move-ins?
⮚ Are you underestimating the value of marketing-qualified leads?

Regarding that last point, the shorter the sales cycle, the shorter the length of stay, which means less revenue. Leads nurtured over a longer timeframe tend to reside in the community longer, resulting in more revenue. In other words, don’t dismiss the “not ready yet” marketing-qualified leads—or your marketing team’s efforts in producing and nurturing them. Many of our clients have over 50% of move-ins coming from MQLs.

How can you tell if you have a conversion problem?

Start by looking at how you score and segment leads. Bottom line: Not all leads are created equal. If you treat all leads the same, you’ll have trouble with conversions. This is where collaboration with (and respect for) marketing comes into play. Let marketing nurture the MQLs. The sales team should only focus on sales-qualified leads. Learn more about the biggest lead-scoring mistakes senior living marketers continue to make.

Review how quickly leads are responded to during business hours. The community that responds fastest to the initial inquiry tends to win. (That’s the reality. We can debate whether that’s fair some other time.) At LeadGenie, our outsourced senior living call center, we schedule 70% of our tours in the first hour and 95% in the first two days. How’s this possible? Simple: We answer 85% of sales calls within 30 seconds. Learn more about LeadGenie.

Review inquiry-to-tour conversions. Turn to sales benchmarking reports to get averages (download this free one from Aline). If your conversions are underperforming, this could be due to myriad reasons, such as poor lead response time, lack of discovery skills, lousy rapport, lack of empathy, problems overcoming objections, or simply not listening close enough to the prospect.

Review tour-to-deposit/move-in. Poor conversions could also be due to myriad reasons, such as a lack of planning/personalization of the tour experience, failure to secure a next step at the end of the tour, or lack of creative follow-up after the tour. Read these tips for converting tours to move-ins.

Review call-tracking data. How many sales calls go unanswered? Look at the time of day and day of the week when calls come in so you can ensure coverage at peak times. Listen to the calls to hear your prospects’ experience when they phone the community. Look for training opportunities for the front deck/concierge and the sales team. Check out why we love CallRail for call-tracking.

Review how the team handles other common types of leads. Let’s discuss three common subsets of leads and how to engage or re-engage them.

Leads that get stuck. Sometimes that once-hot SQL will stall in the pre-tour stage. Others might peter out in the post-tour stage. It’s the sales team’s job to work these leads. This is where creativity, collaboration with marketing, and marketing automation can come into play.

On-deck/generic leads. Some leads are unresponsive to sales outreach, and some CRMs might use generic-sounding status options for these leads, like “on deck,” “lead,” or “contact.” After several attempts, enroll these leads into a longer lead nurturing campaign and leverage marketing automation to stay in touch with these shy leads.

Lost but not disqualified leads. Some leads end up in the category of “lost but not disqualified.” These leads chose to stay at home, hire home care services, or move in with family. Continue to nurture them because, at some point, these prospects will likely need a more supportive environment than what family, home care, or adult day care can provide. Add these leads to a longer lead nurturing campaign so that when the next crisis arrives, your community will be top of mind.

Need help diagnosing senior living occupancy issues?

We can help diagnose the problem and align your marketing and sales teams. Get in touch and let’s discuss lead gen.

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 Sales: How To REALLY Build Stabilized Occupancy

Senior Living Sales: How To REALLY Build Stabilized Occupancy

In the bestselling book Blue Ocean Strategy, authors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne compare “red ocean” markets (where companies compete in an already crowded space) with “blue oceans” of uncontested market space. These so-called blue oceans have untapped demand and the opportunity for highly profitable growth.

As you probably already know, the water is very red in the senior living space. Senior living sales reps are constantly trying to outperform their rivals to grab more market share, all while using similar strategies. As new product enters the market, existing operators are competing for a share of a contracting market, and, as a result, occupancy rates are stalling. This situation pressures operators to “go beyond competing and create blue oceans.”

Senior Living Sales in a Red Ocean – Increasing Price Wars, Shrinking Profit, & Becoming a Commodity

The pressure to get quicker move-ins to satisfy the “we need occupancy today” mantra has resulted in a feeding frenzy for urgent/crisis-driven prospects. These prospects represent only 10% of the total market. We win them because they are private pay and because we are “better than a nursing home.”

These residents bring with them high acuity, declining length of stays, greater risk and liability, increasing worker’s comp claims, and dependency on third party lead generation. The impact of this reality is higher resident acquisition costs and declining revenue. Many providers report that by the time they pay room turn expenses, sales commissions, incentives, and the move-in transaction fee, they do not show a profit until month six.

Consumers researching senior housing options are faced with the same messaging and value statements from every community: “We have the best people.” “We offer the best care.” “We offer great food, activities, transportation, housekeeping, laundry, maintenance.” Blah, blah, blah.

For the most part, providers withhold basic pricing information. What is revealed is often confusing—levels, points, packages, all-inclusive, some utilities, no utilities, some meals, no meals—help! Since we have created this commodity mentality, the only differentiator left for families to consider is price.

Senior Living Sales in a Blue Ocean – Reaching the Untapped Market

“Blue Ocean Strategy” offers insights on how companies find their untapped markets. One principle is to “Reconstruct Market Boundaries” to break from the competition.

Here’s a real-life “blue ocean” example to consider. David Smith owns three communities representing independent, assisted, and memory care lifestyles. He found his blue ocean by focusing on the 90% of the market that is “not ready” for community living. With his prospect-centered approach to sales, he created strategies to engage and nurture prospects who identified themselves as being in denial and in “thinking and planning” stages rather than in an “action” stage.

His communities consistently maintain waiting lists of residents who are not “ready”—with the highest rates in his markets. And it goes beyond a sales approach. His communities actually deliver a resident-centered lifestyle. He built a better product than his competitors, and he always finds a way to deliver what he promises. The Gatesworth has won numerous local and national awards, including being named one of the “Nation’s Top 10 Retirement Communities” by Forbes Magazine.

Here’s another example of a blue ocean in action. Zeke Turner of Mainstreet remade his market boundaries by finding a gap between the hospital and skilled nursing space and defining a new transitional care market focused on hospitality, amenities, and more services and attention while providing an unmatched level of post-acute care and accommodations in a state-of-the-art medical resort setting. Mainstreet has also been recognized by Entrepreneur for “creating an exceptional culture that drives employee engagement, exceeds employee expectations and directly impacts company success.”

Senior Living Sales Teams: Wondering How to Find (or Create) Your Own Blue Ocean? We Can Help.

Set sails for your “blue ocean” by remaking your product, amenities, service, and culture or by focusing where your competitors are not to stabilize your occupancy and make competition irrelevant. We work closely with senior living sales and marketing teams to accomplish this. Let us help!

pricing strategy

3 Pricing Strategies to Grow Rate, Grow Occupancy – or Both!

There are many traditional pricing models offered by senior living operators in an effort to grow rate and increase occupancy.  There are no right or wrong answers as long as the strategy is in alignment with your goals.  Generally, pricing strategy is directly related to the stability of occupancy.  With a higher occupancy, operators can push rate. When occupancy declines, incentives may be offered to boost occupancy and that erodes RPU.  The balance is in knowing when to turn the rate and incentive levers and to be flexible and proactive enough to make regular adjustments.  Pricing is not something that operators can do once a year during budget season and then forget about.

Pricing That Offers a Greater Price Range for Prospects without Eroding Rate

Value/ Premium Pricing

This strategy allows a pricing spread throughout the community that offers greater pricing elasticity to meet a wider range of financial options for prospects without eroding rate/ RPU.  Apartments with a premium location (near an elevator, on the first floor, near dining room etc.), premium view or with premium amenities (upgrades, closet space square footage) are priced at higher rates.  Apartments with undesirable locations (end of long hallways, upper floors), undesirable views (parking lot, dumpster, mechanical units) or with a lack of amenities (dark, small, limited closet space) are priced at lower rates.  This strategy allows 3 price points for each apartment type – standard, premium, and value so the overall community still achieves the average rate while offering a greater range of pricing options.

Variable Pricing

Much like paying points on a mortgage, the greater the upfront move-in fee, the lower the monthly base rent.  For example, for every $2000 more paid up front, the resident base rent is reduced by $200.  This gives the community good cash flow up front, and the advantage for the resident is that the investment is paid back within 10 months. Then all future increases are based on the lower rate.

This strategy provides solutions for prospects who:

  • Have good liquidity from the sale of their home or from strong investments, but they do not have much income (they can put up a large move-in fee and buy down their monthly price that is within their income range).
  • Have a strong income, but do not have upfront cash (waiting to sell their home, money tied up in annuities, CDs or other investment).

Companion Living

In addition to “purpose built” companion apartments, this strategy creates companion living apartments out of studio, alcove, and traditionally private one  &  two bedroom apartments.  The companion price is set between 55 – 65% of the private rate for each resident.  It creates a very low price point, which is attractive to residents who would traditionally be financially disqualified.  It provides the community with 110 – 130% of the private rent revenue and two LOCs.

To be successful, the community needs to set up companion model apartments to show how a small space can work for two unrelated residents.  It may also require some form of divider for privacy.

There are probably many other great ideas out there! Are there other creative pricing strategies you have used successfully to balance the growth of both rate and occupancy? Let’s Chat



How to Increase Sales In Senior Living: The Occupancy Conundrum

Senior living operators often use the words “sales” and “occupancy” interchangeably.  While closing sales is a key component of growing occupancy, sustainable results require a more collaborative strategy. Occupancy involves sales AND marketing alignment, effective service delivery, and strong retention efforts.

Let’s break down each component and learn how to increase sales in senior living. 

Align marketing with senior living sales.

The senior living sales and marketing teams need to collaborate. Together, they will create and execute a marketing plan that will result in more move-ins. A good plan will include things like website optimization, paid advertising, direct mail, social media, and marketing events. The plan should also include specific sales activities, such as nurturing leads, generating tours, doing site visits, networking, and conducting scheduled sales calls.

But even if your sales and marketing teams work swimmingly together and bring in quality leads that convert to move-ins, that might not be enough. Bad services, such as med errors, yucky food, and boring activities, will turn those move-ins into move-outs. Obviously, move-outs erode occupancy and revenue.

Bottom line: Before bugging the senior living sales director for more move-ins, evaluate move-outs. Are they unusually high? If yes, assess your services and retention efforts across all areas of operations. (Keep reading for details.)

Improve your service delivery.

Are you delivering the services promised in your collaterals?  Many “silent” move-outs happen due to issues no one wants to talk about. Sure, some folks will move to a competitor. But what about people who move out for the following reasons:

  • Respites that don’t convert – they “tried out” the community but didn’t have a good enough experience to become a permanent resident
  • Moved home with family (thought the family would do a better job)
  • Financial move-out – they may be able to afford it but no longer see the value
  • Residents who move out into their own condo or apartment and bring in-home care

Even worse: Many dissatisfied residents simply stay, but they tell everyone that the community is not what they expected. They share their disillusionment with their physicians, family, and friends. No, they may not erode occupancy, but they won’t help increase occupancy with referrals. Remember, resident and family referrals have one of the highest conversion rates of any source (30 – 35%).

Boost retention efforts.

If senior living operators spent as much time managing the back door as they do driving move-ins through the front door, occupancy and revenue would be far greater. Some ideas to proactively retain residents longer include:

  • Invest in updated technology and software that monitors resident patterns and health trends with predictive functions to detect changes before an incident or decline occurs.
  • Hold weekly resident tracking meetings to pro-actively manage resident care collaboratively.  These meetings should include representatives from every department and always include input from caregiving staff.
  • Establish protocols for visiting residents when they are out of the community in an acute setting and managing their care by participating in care planning/ discharge planning meetings.
  • Set retention goals for your nurses to mirror the move-in goals for your sales team.

If you only focus on the sales portion of the occupancy equation, you will miss 2/3 of your opportunity to grow your market share & profitability.

Need help with any of the above? Before we created our agency, we spent decades working in the industry (sales, marketing, and operations). We know how to increase sales in senior living. Let us help!