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Senior Living Sales Tips: Characteristics of Super Star Sales Talent

Senior Living Sales: Characteristics of Super Star Sales Talent

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) reported that assisted living occupancy reached a new low last quarter (Q2-2019).

If you operate an assisted living facility (or other type of senior living community), what can you do to remain competitive and boost occupancy? You can’t change your location, product, or competitors. You probably don’t want to turn over the management team or cut rate. You might even think you have the best community (your competitors probably think the same thing). You say that you care more, that you have the best team, that you are resident-focused, just like everyone else says.

How can you improve your sales conversions?

Well, for one thing, you need a super star sales counselor, and they are a rare breed. But if you know what to look for, you might just be able to find one in the wild. Here are the five top characteristics of the best senior living sales talent.

1. The Best Senior Living Sales Rep Sees Prospects as Real People.

Unfortunately, too many sales people in our industry treat prospects as a commodity. These sales folks tend to take the position of “subject expert.” They want to be right, and they believe they have heard it all before. They perceive prospects as numbers and assign them a value: top 10, hot, warm, cold, or future. This value assignment drives their effort and engagement. Their approach is to talk prospects into the community, and they often use fear and manipulation to create urgency.

You want to avoid this type of sales “talent” at all costs.

Because the greatest sales people seek to understand the prospect’s wants, needs, and goals. Solving the problem on behalf of the prospect is their biggest concern—and they are passionate that they have the best solution. This dedication to the prospect drives their engagement.

2. The Best Senior Living Sales Rep Sells Value, Not Features.

After listening to thousands of mystery shops, it’s clear that too many sales people still approach interactions as a transaction. They spend most of the time talking, listing every feature, and hoping something will stick.

Great sales people spend time developing rapport with the prospects. In other words, they take a relational approach. They listen and reflect back what they hear to demonstrate that they care about the prospect. This builds enough trust to empower the prospect to open up and communicate their needs and goals. After this, the sales person can focus on personalizing the value of their community to each individual prospect.

3. The Best Senior Living Sales Reps Are Respectfully Persistent.

Rejection is common in sales since more prospects will say “no” rather than “yes.” Most sales people give up after a couple of attempts because they are uncomfortable with rejection. But what these sales folks don’t understand is that it often takes multiple attempts simply to connect and build rapport. Still, these sales people would rather focus on the new leads and hot leads rather than nurture the leads that aren’t ready yet.

The greatest sales counselors understand that most prospects are stressed and emotionally exhausted. The best sales counselors know it takes multiple attempts to engage and build trust. They focus on what they can do and they are politely persistent in staying connected. They do not take rejection personally because they understand that when someone is making an emotional decision, the path is rarely linear.

These sales folks also embrace technology that can help nurture these “not ready” leads over time. They work with marketing to make sure relevant lead nurturing workflows are set up that will resonate with different buyer personas.

4. The Best Senior Living Sales Rep Are Not Afraid of Silence.

Super star sales counselors leave space for silence to give prospects time to process the information. This type of sales person wants to hear what’s important to the prospect (or what the prospect is questioning).

In an interview, I always ask why the candidate thinks they will be successful in a sales role. The interview is over when they say, “I’m a good talker!” This type of sales person will not do well in an emotional selling environment because they will make the conversation about them, rather than about the prospect. Instead, I always perk up if the job candidate says, “I’m a good listener. I hear what people are saying and can respond accordingly.”

5. The Best Senior Living Sales Reps Embrace Follow Up – Creatively, Personally, and Energetically!

It takes energy, effort, and optimistic persistence to continue to follow up with prospects over the course of their sales journey. Prospects inquire, go dark, re-engage, and change direction throughout the process. Most sales people work the hot leads and new leads because they are only interested in closing sales in the next 30 days—they’re not thinking about the long game.

Super stars realize they need to keep the pipeline full with leads at every stage of their journey. They meet them where they are and stay in touch throughout the sales cycle – without any strings attached. Super stars drop off dinner, write a personal note (yes, handwritten!), leave a plant with a note on a doorstep, and/or send a book they know will help. When they leave a voicemail, it’s to let the prospect know they are thinking of them, not just “checking in” for an update.

Bottom line: When it comes to filling your community with super star sales talent, hire for heart first. You can always train them on specific skills as they go along.

Lessons Learned From Doing 100,000 Mystery Shops

Senior Living Mystery Shopping: Lessons Learned From 100,000

Senior Living SMART recently interviewed Mike Miller, CEO of Primo Solutions, to discuss senior living mystery shopping. He has mind-blowing data gathered from doing over 100,000 mystery shops (phone and in-person) of senior living sales professionals.

Let’s dive into the results of this senior living mystery shopping.

RESULT: 90% of questions asked by the Sales Counselor are closed-ended questions, which makes it nearly impossible to build rapport.

SLS: What are some of the best open-ended questions that every sales counselor should ask? 

MM: I normally do not provide a list of open-ended questions because it can be different for everyone. However, one of the best questions I love to ask the adult child/family member is this: “When you are not taking care of mom/dad, what are some of the things you enjoy doing?” Not only does this open the door to building rapport with the adult child, but it also puts the sales counselor in a closing posture. Saying that, I am including a list of “Starter Questions” that sales counselors can use to get a conversation started as well as transition through the sales process.

RESULT: 98% of the Sales Counselors talked more than 70% during the entire call.

SLS: How can sales managers train/ coach to improve this?

MM: This can easily be improved by asking more open-ended questions, which force the prospect to answer with more than 1 or 2 words.

SLS: What do they talk about? Is it feature-dumping/ laundry listing?

MM: Yes, it is features dumping. After asking just a couple of questions, most sales counselors jump right into presentation mode. They share everything there is to know about the community. The problem is that they never discovered the true needs (both physical and emotional), so most presentations are not specific to the prospect and that is a huge mistake.

Watch the Recorded Webinar: How To Use Mystery Shops as a Coaching Tool

RESULT: 45% of the time, the prospect was asked to visit the community in the first two minutes of the call. No rapport or discovery was attempted. How do you think this made the prospect feel?

SLS: Are there any stats about how many questions sales counselors typically ask before trying to close for the tour?  

MM: This is a great question and it really does depend on the personality of the sales counselor and the amount of training and coaching they have received. But if I had to put a number on it, I would say they typically ask 4-5 questions. Although asking too few questions is a problem, asking the wrong questions compounds that problem. Most of the questions being asked are questions that qualify or disqualify a prospect from moving into the community.

RESULT: The receptionist asked for the caller’s name only 20% of the time.

SLS: Is this getting worse?

MM: It seems to be getting a little better for those companies who are actually investing in the front-line staff members who answer the phone. However, the industry as a whole is not getting any better. Many times the caller is put on hold and then just transferred to the sales counselor. This one “little” thing can make the difference in creating a good first impression.

SLS: Do you offer training on this?

MM: When we are brought on to conduct sales training for a company, many times the concierge and management is included in the training. However, one does not need professional training to learn how to properly and professionally answer the phone, and then how to handle the call. A little bit of guidance from the ED or sales counselor can go a long ways.

RESULT: 35% of the time, prospects did not get answers to their questions on the first call.

SLS: Why is this?

MM: This statistic is actually derived from call backs. The first time a prospect calls a community, they think they have an idea of what questions to ask and what information they need to gain. However, as we all know, it is an educational process.

Sales counselors need to ask questions that lead to an outcome. They need to ask questions to guide the prospect to start thinking about for more than what they called in. However, it normally takes several calls to other communities before they start piecing together the questions they did not even realize they needed to ask. The bottom line is that most of our prospects do not know what questions to ask when they call in. It is the job of the sales counselor to help them identify those questions, needs, and solutions.

Download ‘Questions to Use in the Inquiry Process’ checklist

RESULT: 60% of the Sales Counselors used the brochure as the close. 

SLS: Why? Have they disqualified the caller as not being hot/ urgent enough so they call back to the brochure?

MM: After the initial call, if a tour has not been scheduled, the sales counselor immediately offers to send a brochure. The problem is not the sending of the brochure. The problem is that they are not gaining a commitment to the next step. Perhaps the prospect needs to share the information with a family member, or they need to call a few other communities. There could be a number of reasons why the prospect does not agree to a tour initially. However, there still needs to be a next step, e.g. follow up call.

SLS: Do they not have other options: tour, lunch, event, home visit, support group, etc.?

MM: There are a number of different options. It just depends upon the objection given by the prospect. Many times the sales counselor does not even ask for the close, because they have not earned the right and therefore do not feel comfortable. So, they revert to sending a brochure. I am a firm believer that you need to earn the right to ask for the close. However, even if you have not earned the right, you still ask for the close. The truth is that most sales counselors are not earning the right to ask for the close. So, just ask!

SLS: These statistics obviously show there is a lot of room for improvement in the discovery process. Has anything changed in the last 5 years?

MM: There has been a significant amount of talk about changes in the industry. You cannot attend an industry conference without hearing about changes. The place where I have seen the greatest change is in technology. The problem is that technology is not the fix to creating a sales culture in your organization. This industry requires a sales process that is founded on relationship building principles. We do a good job of talking about these principles, but we do a poor job of implementing them.

SLS: Are there trends that we can learn from?

MM: There are certainly some key trends that we can learn from, and they are not industry specific. The first thing we need to do is invest in our people. When it’s time to reduce budgets, normally the training budget is the first thing cut. This is a huge mistake. A training program that is implemented correctly can create a sales culture, increase closing ratios, and decrease turnover.

The second thing we need to do is hold our people accountable. If you make the commitment to invest in them, then make the commitment to hold them accountable. Third, you need to have follow up and follow through measures in place. Training your people once a year will not create any changes. There needs to be ongoing training and coaching. There needs to be tools in place, e.g. mystery shopping, that identifies specific areas of opportunity. Then you reinforce those areas of opportunity with more coaching and training.

SLS: What kind of senior living sales training/ coaching has the best impact on improving skills?

MM: Although there are a number of training processes, I believe we should be using a process that is specific to the senior living industry. Once the sales process has been identified, then you need to ensure specific skill sets are being trained. There is a lot of training out there that tells you what you need to do, but they don’t tell you specifically how to do it. Any trainer can tell you that relationship building is crucial to the sales process, but don’t just tell me – show me. I am not a huge believer in inquiry forms, primarily because the sales counselors are not trained on how to properly use them. The majority of the time, the inquiry form turns the sales process into more of an interview or interrogation.

Additionally, since most of these inquiry forms have pretty much the same questions, the prospect is getting asked the same questions regardless of what community they are calling. When a sales counselor asks a question, they should not know what their next question will be until they have heard the answer. The question should be based off the answer because that is how you are going to get below the surface to the emotional level. The inquiry form seems to be more of a hindrance than an assistance.

SLS: Of the best performers that you have shopped, what are the common characteristics and behaviors that set them apart?

MM: First, they build rapport with the person who is on the phone (normally the adult child). This rarely happens but when it does, it transforms the call completely. Second, the call sounds like they are having a normal conversation with a friend. If they are using an inquiry form, it is certainly disguised by the sales person’s ability to drill down and ask deeper questions. Third, all of the best performers are great listeners. They listen with intent and pick up on key phrases that allow them to dig deeper until they get to an emotional level. Our prospects ask us about the logical things, but they really care about the emotional things.

SLS: Do you ever shop EDs or back up teams/ MOD? Anything we can share about those shops?

MM:  We do have clients that shop their EDs and back up teams. Many clients even conduct phone shops after hours (nights and weekends) to see how the calls are being handled. If you have contact with the prospect, you should be getting shopped. As you can imagine, the EDs and backup teams typically score significantly lower than the sales counselor. The main reason is because they are not provided the necessary training to handle an inquiry. I am not saying they need to master the sales process like your sales counselors, but they need to be armed with enough skills to properly handle the call without losing the lead.

Senior living mystery shopping is one of the most cost-effective tools you can invest in that could provide a very large return. If you don’t measure it, you can’t expect it.

Primo Solutions Mystery Shops & Sales Training

Primo Solutions, LLC is a full service Mystery Shopping, Training, Marketing, and Satisfaction Survey company, providing quality follow-up and follow-through measurement tools to evaluate your sales, customer service, and other team members.

What Baseball Can Teach Us About Leadership

What Baseball Can Teach Us About Leadership

Opening Day is right around the corner. As you settle in to watch your home team with your hot dog and beer, think about what you can take away to improve your leadership skills.

SUPERSTARS WIN GAMES, BUT TEAMS WIN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Each baseball team has its All Stars, like the dominant pitcher or the homerun hitter. These are critical talents for a winning team. But they alone can’t carry the team to the World Series. Strong leaders realize that it takes the whole team working together to be successful, not just strong talent.

YOU GOTTA GET DIRTY

Baseball is played on a grass and dirt field. In my opinion, if a player doesn’t get dirty, they are not trying hard enough. It’s the same with a strong leader. Sometimes they have to get dirty by having difficult conversations or making tough decisions. Also, when a leader gets a little dirt on their uniform, it can inspire team members to power through the challenges they face.

MEASURE THINGS THAT MATTER

Great leaders use all of the data and analysis they can get their hands on to make smart, informed decisions. This includes the strength of their team members. If a batter is in a slump, he may be taken out of the game. You have to regularly evaluate and adjust your game plan based on data and observations.

BE PREPARED FOR CURVE BALLS

You won’t make it in the big leagues if you can’t hit a curve ball. Successful leaders know that there are change-ups, sliders, and curve balls that come up unexpectedly. Being responsive and flexible can help you respond to those unanticipated events.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL

Major league players learned this lesson very early. To hit a pitch going 95 miles per hour, you have to be laser focused. Leaders must also be continuously focused on the vision and priorities for the community’s success.

YOU CAN’T HIT THE BALL IF YOU DON’T SWING

There’s a great quote by Wayne Gretzky, “You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.” How much time do you spend worrying about whether something will work or how you will look if you don’t succeed? Everyone makes mistakes. No one is right 100% of the time. Even Babe Ruth only had.314 lifetime ERA. Wait for your pitch. Then, swing away.

 

Need more help developing your leadership skills? Check out some of our previously recorded Leadership webinars →

How to Get Your Team Rowing in the Same Direction

Get Your Senior Living Sales and Marketing Team Rowing in the Same Direction

When it comes to improving senior living sales and marketing, I like to use analogies. In college, I was a coxswain on our crew team for the eight-man barge. As a coxswain, I was responsible for steering the boat and coordinating the power and rhythm of the rowers. It was mostly about rhythm—making sure that all the crew was rowing together. (Think of the VP of senior living marketing and/or VP of senior living sales as the coxswain.)

When the crew wasn’t in synch, there was a risk of “catching a crab.” This means to put one’s oar in the water at the wrong time, which results in the oar flipping parallel to the boat. When this happens, the oar handle forcibly flies backwards, going over the rower’s head or striking the rower’s chest. In extreme cases, the rower may be thrown overboard. This is bad—especially during a race.

Our first trips on the river were fraught with “crabs” as we figured out everyone’s best position on the boat. But eventually, we went from eight single rowers to one coordinated team gliding on the river.

So how can you get your senior living sales and marketing teams rowing in the same direction – without catching a crab?

1. Know Where You Are Going

As the leader, you are responsible for steering the boat. If you don’t know what direction you are going in, you won’t get very far.

2. Share Your Direction – A Lot

Once you know where you’re headed, you want to get everyone on board. Share your vision with your senior living marketing and sales team. Let them know your goals and what you want to accomplish. Sharing your vision is not a “one and done” event, meaning you shared your vision, your team is excited, but then they just move on to their next activity (and before you know it, they’re headed in the wrong direction). You need to reinforce your vision constantly.

3. Keep Everyone Focused on the Goal Line

Come up with a short list of metrics that you want to measure your progress towards the goal. Keep the list to no more than five metrics and don’t forget to review with your team regularly.

4. Hold People Accountable to be in Alignment

Getting your team into the boat and showing them where they are going is only half the battle. You have to get them to row together at the same speed and direction. If you let one person do his or her own thing, you’ll go nowhere.

The coxswain is the leader of the boat in rowing. They set the tempo, and they keep the boat going in the right direction. They encourage the team, telling them how far they have to go until they reach the goal line, and they correct any rowers who are going too fast or too slow.

In your senior living community, picture yourself as the coxswain: set the pace, encourage senior living sales and marketing staff, communicate constantly, and course correct as needed.

Need help steering your senior living sales and marketing teams? Let us help!

We’re the only agency with real industry experience. Let’s talk about senior living and your community’s specific needs!

Interested in further insights?

Download our Leadership Self-Assessment Tool (42 downloads)

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