Investing more time on each lead, rather than contacting and giving tours to as many prospects as possible, is the most successful way to sell senior living, according to an unprecedented study of thousands of encounters between sales counselors and prospective residents. An analysis of data collected during 2015 by Sherpa, the senior living CRM and sales conversion system, dispels the deeply held belief that amassing, calling and touring more prospects are what cause higher sales.

The study’s initial phase, conducted by the ProMatura Group, examined 302,159 interactions of 502 senior living salespeople nationwide with 23,480 leads at 41 communities offering independent living, 71 communities with assisted living services, and 75 communities providing memory care, between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2015.

The study demonstrated that Sherpa users significantly outperformed non-Sherpa users based on national benchmarks for tour-to-move-in ratios. It concluded the biggest factor leading to better sales results is investing more time in an individual prospect through in-person and phone conversations, planning next steps, and personalizing creative follow-up.  Sherpa calls this process “The Selling Zone℠,” or TSZ.

“For prospects that closed and moved in, the sales counselors on average invested nearly 18 hours for independent living and about 10 hours for assisted living and memory care to learn about them, address their resistance and follow up with creative approaches that were personally relevant,” said Dr. Margaret Wylde, founder and CEO of ProMatura, a global marketing and research firm specializing in housing, services and products for consumers 50 and above.

“It’s about getting to know customers and helping them get ready. Industry sales counselors generally focus on the product instead of the prospect. Then when confronted by resistance, which is predictable, most simply give up too soon.”

The data also showed that among top performers using the Sherpa system, time invested in planning before (19%) and creatively following up after (23%) each prospect interaction had the greatest impact on conversions.

“With this focus on planning and creative follow-up, it is not surprising that top Sherpa performers see significant impact from their phone activity, with leads more likely to return their calls,” Wylde said. “The conversion ratio when sales counselors talk to these prospects who call in to the community is 7.5 times greater than that of outbound calls to leads, at 15% compared to 2%, respectively,” Wylde said.

The study breaks new ground for the senior living industry, according to Wylde, who says she has never seen this much quantitative information collected about factors that directly affect sales results. “I don’t know of any other set of data that measures the nature of what sales counselors are doing,” Wylde said. “By offering metrics for time-per-prospect invested as well as the relative value of time per activity, we will now be able to quantify and value each hour of paid sales counselor time, have guidelines to manage from, and be better able to predict results.”

Jayne Sallerson, chief operating officer for Sherpa, says she believes the findings will lead to a sea change in the senior living industry.

“This study demonstrates that sales success comes from investing the time to build trust and help resistant prospects navigate one of the most critical decisions in their lives,” said Sallerson, who was executive vice president of sales and marketing for Emeritus Senior Living prior to joining Sherpa in 2014.

“In our industry, sales counselors have traditionally been evaluated on how many leads they’re calling and touring. The assumption has been that simply increasing that number, regardless of the time invested or outcome achieved, will result in more move-ins.”

“This study shows that the amount of TSZ per interaction is a much more reliable predictor of success. It also confirms that adding excessive outbound calls or tours within a fixed time frame is counterproductive, since it reduces the time that could have been spent generating successful conversions.”

A full report on the study is expected to be published this fall. You can read more about the study in McKnight’s Senior Living‘s and Senior Housing News‘ websites.

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