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Why trust and connection is key to occupancy recovery

October 13, 2021 by Sherpa UK

Coming out of lockdown marks a new era for later living sales. We’ve found that relationship-building is a necessary and effective driver of higher occupancies, especially during this time.

The act of getting to know, and most importantly, taking time to understand the lives and motivators for prospective residents and their families is what separates Sherpa top sales performers from the rest. It’s time to redefine what we think ‘sales success’ means and look at the behaviours that generate results both in the short and long term.

Readiness often takes time

We’ve talked about a truly personal approach based around empathy and the ability to listen. But we shouldn’t be trying to connect with our prospects solely for the sake of building relationships. Our underlying aim is to convert more uncertain prospects into happy residents, those who say, ‘I wish I had moved sooner.’

But the process doesn’t always move at the speed that we hope it will. This is intensified by the fact that many operators rely on a transactional, ‘volume-and-velocity’ method to evaluate sales performance. There’s no time for prospective residents who aren’t ready to buy yet, so they end up as ‘cold leads’. Another limitation is that there are only a few progress milestones when using this model:

  • Number of inquiries
  • Number of visits and tours
  • Conversion-to-sale ratios

These would be effective measurements if everything was black and white – but we are talking about a deeply emotional and complex selling scenario. The transactional approach described above can over-simplify the decision-making process, which needs to happen before the sale. It also tends to focus almost exclusively on the ‘hot’ prospect, requiring a massive number of new inquiries in order to convert the few who are ready or need to move. But what about the rest?

Our underlying aim is to convert more uncertain prospects into happy residents, those who say, ‘I wish I had moved sooner.’

Less hunting, more cultivating

It’s so easy to focus on the few prospects who are ‘hot’ – these people have identified they have a need, often health-related, and they have no choice but to move. As an industry, we try to hunt for these people using marketing, enticing them with a discount so they come to our building and not the competition’s.

But these prospects account for just 5-10% of the people who get in touch with a salesperson. This leaves the other 90-95% of prospects still sitting in the database. Rather than ignoring them as a cold lead, let’s look at ways to address their emotional resistance and cultivate a supportive sales relationship.

We need to think about:

  • Assessing their readiness – where they sit in their decision to change/move and then set some meaningful next steps to support this
  • Engaging in conversations – digging deeper, using empathetic listening skills to untangle the emotional resistance they have to change and leaving their home – this has to happen before they can logically even consider moving
  • Identifying these barriers – explore what prospects regard as an ideal scenario or what an ideal outcome for them would be, then work with them to find it. Sales is about choices and helping people find the right choice for them and their own unique situation

Sales consultant Stacey Muehlher and Sherpa co-founder Alex Fisher explains the need to have a conversation ‘below the line’

Watch the clip below and full webinar here.

Motivating sales teams

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.

Using a transactional, product-centred strategy means filling the hopper with more and more leads. This puts extra strain on both our marketing and sales teams, which may be one and the same. Energy levels wane. Teams inevitably feel demotivated. Next, sales slump. And the only solution out is to find more inquiries faster.

As a result, sales teams revert to scouring the database to identify the people who are the most ready to move. These are prospective residents who have a pressing need. Any who don’t fit this criteria are disqualified because sales consultants simply don’t have enough time to work them all.

This is so counter-productive to achieving higher sales conversions. Sales consultants become disinterested in the colder leads, even though they are already sitting on the database and would actually benefit from a sales relationship. Don’t forget the fact that these prospects didn’t simply arrive in a sales database; they chose to get in touch, to ask about options. So there is a need there, one worth exploring and unpacking with them.

This short snippet from the webinar ‘Measuring What Matters to Dramatically Boost Sales Results‘ touches on the importance of working fewer leads for longer.

Working with a different sales approach

Encourage sales teams to be pro-active and work closer together. Get them thinking about what they will say or do, in advance of contacting prospects. We know the high value of each lead (in marketing spend), so a joined-up approach is essential.

Here are a few techniques we recommend:

  • Prospect planning – build time into the sales diary for the team to sit down together and properly plan ahead. This will prove far more positive than picking the next 20 names on the database to call as a box-ticking sales exercise for the day.
  • Research is key – encourage the team to look back at all their notes, per prospect, and digest them properly. Demonstrating a deeper knowledge and understanding of an individual and their situation will prove invaluable in making progress with them before they pick up a phone to call.
  • Creative follow-up – after a prospect call or meeting, suggest to the team they select a few of their best leads where they can make a follow-up gesture (perhaps arrange flowers for a milestone date, or deliver their favourite meal). The prospect can see that the sales consultant genuinely cares about them, that they know something about them that has made an impression. It has a much deeper and unforgettable impact and, again, supports the sales journey and connection you are trying to encourage your sales teams to build with prospects.
  • Build trust through nurturing – better still, encourage the team to visit your best prospects in their own home. If the person is not ready or not able to visit your retirement living community, offer to go and see them and find out what their world is like.

Here’s another clip from the ‘Measuring What Matters’ webinar that covers trust-building and nurturing initiatives.

Rethinking your recruitment

Selling later living is far removed from a simple real estate transaction. This means your sales consultants don’t need to have been estate agents to do the job. In fact, you may want to look for those who have spent more time working directly with people, rather than having a focus on property.

By far the most important criteria is empathy and a listening ear. Having the ability to absorb what a prospect is telling us will be of far more value further down the sales journey. Compare this to jumping in and trying to find an immediate solution. The expected response to this kind of pressure is almost always ‘I’m not ready.’ The ability to balance patience with pro-activeness could be another prerequisite for your next appointment to the team.

Your best performers will be the sales consultants who understand the sales process is all about connecting with prospects and going on that journey with them. Ultimately, these sales stars will never have to convince a prospect to move; instead, they will help a prospect arrive at that decision themselves!

Our third and final blog in this series on occupancy growth (see our first post here) covers two of our favourite topics – the value of home visits and how your sales team addresses the ‘I’m not ready yet’ objection.

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