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Written by Alyssa Gerace of Senior Housing News for ALFA Update 

Senior living lead management may sound as simple as A-B-C—or, to be exact, “Always Be Closing,” the mantra of the quintessential salesman Blake, as played by Alec Baldwin in David Mamet’s screenplay Glengarry Glen Ross. But today’s salespeople must also look beyond A-B-C both to maintain current customers and generate new ones in light of the huge shift toward leads being generated online.

Lead conversion rates are somewhat mediocre across the senior living industry, but there’s potential for substantial improvement, especially for online leads, say sales and marketing professionals specializing in the sector.

Largely, it comes down to lead management, with a special focus on three areas: Choosing a user-friendly customer relationship management (CRM) system, adequately training staff on how to use it, and following up on both leads and sales staff, says Traci Bild, president and founder of Bild & Company, a consulting firm that specializes in senior housing sales and marketing.

When it comes to online lead management, leave no stone unturned, says Karen Nelson Crolius, senior vice president at consulting firm Sage Age Strategies

“As a rule of thumb, you try to make contact with a lead no matter where they come from,” she advises, whether it’s from a placement company such as A Place for Mom or or an unqualified Internet lead. 

Getting the Most Out of Your CRM System

Not using CRM software to its full potential is one of the biggest problems Bild sees in lead management.

“When we’re looking in those [CRM] databases, we find that [about] 75% of senior living leads don’t have a next step scheduled to encourage people to move forward,” says Bild. “There’s always an activity you can schedule. A lot of people get entered into the CRM, and that’s it. The lead never moves forward.”

Across the assisted living industry, the average inquiry-to-visit rate is 45%, according to Bild & Company data. Bild thinks that number can realistically be a much-higher 60%, with a “stretch” goal of 75%, which she says is possible even though the sales process has changed.

These days, people have many more choices among senior living options and communities, and they’re shopping—and making inquiries—online, as a result.

Internet leads have gotten better in the past couple years, but they’re still neglected “in a big way,” says Bild. “Some salespeople tend to think online leads aren’t valid, and they aren’t responded to with the same urgency as a call or walk-in. But if someone inquires over the Internet, that means they’re online and doing their own research.”

It’s best to respond to online leads immediately, within about two hours of the inquiry, says Bild, yet the senior living industry is currently “nowhere close” to this timeframe. 

Visit-to-move in rates for assisted living are, on average, 22%, Bild finds.  But persistently maintaining relationships can improve those rates, says Karen Hogan, Life Care Services (LCS) director of marketing and sales. LCS worked with Bild & Company a few years ago, and Hogan says the importance of the “discovery process” during initial inquiry can’t be emphasized enough.

When prospects are visiting five to seven communities on average, they’re looking for the perfect fit, Bild says. If they don’t find it, they keep looking. “You have to be willing to focus on their needs. Stop talking, start listening.”

Providers can maintain relationships by functioning as a referral source or point of assistance for various seniors’ needs for leads that aren’t directly becoming sales.

“Have solutions, such as trusted real estate agents, or downsizing or house-staging services,” says Crolius. “You should be their go-to throughout the process.” 

Training and Managing Your Sales Team

While properly training staff on how to use a CRM is a huge component of properly utilizing the software, it’s only part of the process, says Bild, as oversight of lead management is crucial. 

“Trainers and managers should spot check the lead bank every week,” she recommends. “We don’t want to rely on asking them, ‘How many calls did you follow-up with?’ We can go in ourselves, pull out five to six leads, and ask why there aren’t follow-up calls scheduled.”

At LCS, management sets goals and guidelines for each sales person and what’s expected of them, says Hogan, and they look at the rates for conversions on phone calls to tours, and tours to move-ins, on an individual basis. 

Current rates for the company are in a 10-6-1 ratio, she says: Ten phone calls with prospects will result in, on average, one scheduled appointment. For every six face-to-face appointments, one sale is booked, although some sales staffs’ numbers may be different.

When salespeople close out leads that don’t seem “hot” and disqualify them too early, says Bild, it’s a big problem.

“Trues salesmanship is taking someone who’s not as interested, moving them from warm to hot, and from a hot lead to a resident,” she says. “Every lead that [contacts] a community is a hot lead. Why else would they be calling?”

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