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Selling change in the UK’s growing retirement living landscape

October 07, 2021 by Sherpa UK

With more than £20 billion ready to be invested in the later living sector here in the UK over the next five years, there is high confidence that the market can deliver. This translates to high to full occupancy rates, waiting lists, and a healthy database of prospects to work with to build trust and strengthen connections for future sales.

Operators in the UK, and around the world, are reeling from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the decision to move often takes time, operators don’t have time to waste when it comes to setting a sales strategy for increasing occupancies and helping more older adults live better.

Attitudes, values and priorities in our lives have shifted. It’s no different for the older generation, our prospects, who are barely considering making a life change. If we don’t recognise this fact and continue to do what we’ve always done, the results will speak for themselves.

An opportunity to increase occupancy post-lockdown

UK operators, from the CEO down, need to recognise the fundamental but often overlooked part of the profitability puzzle that is sales. Its function is so much more important than bolting it onto marketing/operations with limited trained personnel in place. The post-lockdown selling environment now provides an opportunity for us to review and potentially reset.

The RE-COV research project, published April 2021, helps us understand experiences of retirement villages and extra care housing during the pandemic. The data demonstrates that residents living in the surveyed villages/communities here in the UK had a more positive outcome than people with the same age profiles living in the general population.

As David Williams, CEO of the Dunhill Medical Trust, says in the report: “This evidence points to what we know all along – older people are safer and age better living within a retirement village than they do in the wider community.”

The Trust, like many other operators in the UK, have experienced unprecedented levels of demand following the pandemic.

An Associated Retirement Community Operators’ (ARCO) survey from Oct 2020 found a ‘very significant increase in older people enquiring about moving to a retirement community’ during the year. 55% of operators surveyed cited sales and lettings 30% higher than 2019 with 25% saying they were as much as 50% higher.

The pandemic may have provided a silver lining for our industry – but it’s what we do next and how we really grasp this opportunity and maximise it, that will make a real difference to our sales performance.

55% of operators surveyed cited sales and lettings 30% higher than 2019 with 25% saying they were as much as 50% higher.

ARCO Survey (Oct 2020)

Our co-founders Alex Fisher and David Smith ran a sales webinar during the pandemic. They illustrated how the constraints of the pandemic situation could be turned into an opportunity to connect on another level. It was a chance to find a new way forward in one’s daily sales approach. See a clip from ‘Cultivating Readiness’ below, or watch the full webinar.

What we’ve learned and how to move forward

Lockdown meant that many of our sales techniques and tools had to be temporarily scrapped. We couldn’t open our doors to showcase our communities; we couldn’t host sales events to entice prospects in; we couldn’t even host lunch gatherings to shout about our food and dining offering.

Sales teams had to adapt and work differently.

With a database of prospects they were unable to physically interact with, retaining a connection and nurturing that relationship became more vital than ever.

This is where the pro-active and high performing sales consultants came into their own, revisiting their sales database and taking a different approach.

Covid as an equaliser

Rather than allowing the pandemic to be the reason for the ‘not move right now’ objection, the switched-on sales consultant turned this conversation to their advantage in prospect calls.

The pandemic presented an opportunity to do things differently. It was an opportunity to build connection with empathy. It allowed a consultant to get closer to their prospect, sharing stories of their own experience during lockdown and how it affected them. By opening up in this way, it built an understanding and generated a level of trust. As a result, prospects felt happy to open up themselves. Many shared how they truly felt about being cut off from family, not seeing friends to, say, play bridge, not going to church or even walking to the local shop. They explained just how lonely it left them feeling.

In so many instances, it was a cathartic moment, this shared emotional experience. This became a natural sales conversation and trust-building discussion during the pandemic.

In the video below (see the full webinar here), Alex asks a top performing sales consultant how she approaches a prospect and how she nurtures that relationship.

Looking ahead

Building a strong rapport and connection was key during the pandemic as sales teams had to work at arm’s length from their prospects. It tested sales skills but those consultants who embraced this, will have nurtured some great leads, generating meaningful relationships with prospects, resulting in more sales. 

While the pandemic provided a perfect scenario to adopt this approach, building trust and understanding through empathy is the most natural and unforced technique a sales consultant has at their disposal. The beauty of it is, it can and should be applied to any situation or objection. It’s a great way to break down barriers and get a consultant closer to their prospect emotionally, while helping to guide the decision-making process.

Objections are often an expression of fear. It might be a fear of getting older or losing independence. Understanding what a prospect is afraid of is an important step on the right track to helping them as a credible sales professional.

Building a strong rapport and connection was key during the pandemic as sales teams had to work at arm’s length from their prospects. It tested sales skills but those consultants who embraced this, will have nurtured some great leads, generating meaningful relationships with prospects, resulting in more sales.

 

At a time when we were most distant from our prospects, it actually became the time to get ‘closer’ to them, emotionally rather than physically.


It’s now absolutely vital that we don’t default to some of our pre-pandemic traits as the world opens up again. Maintaining a highly personal approach is the most natural course of behaviour to adopt with a prospect. It may take a little longer to build that rapport and that relationship, but five highly qualified conversations of this nature will be far more valuable than 20 cold calls. The days of more calls means more leads to fill the proverbial hopper are over. Prospects expect, and quite rightly, deserve better.

Post-pandemic strategies need to be built harnessing our most valuable skills when it comes to selling retirement living. We advocate for a truly personal approach built around empathy and listening. The pandemic provided evidence that this is so much more than a property sale. When communities were unable to do tours of their properties, they switched their focus. They got to know the person, their needs, desires and aspirations – and it showed results!

Stay tuned for the next post from Sherpa UK, ‘Relationship-building is key to recovery’. Meanwhile, read more from Sherpa UK.

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