Selling to Seniors Part II: Essential Skills

A Different Kind of CRM

Continuum CRM changes the way you'll view customer relationship management tools in Senior Living. It goes beyond activity tracking for the Marketing & Sales department. It helps sales people manage relationships and marketers track campaigns. For managers and corporate team leaders, it’s a powerful data-driven machine capable of providing insights to achieve better budgeting and strategic measures.

Selling to Seniors Part II: Essential Skills

Tips for Selling to Seniors Part 2

I recently wrote a blog entitled “6 Dos and Don’ts for Selling to Seniors“, outlining a strategy for how to effectively sell in the Senior Living industry, mainly focusing on the next generation of customer, the Baby Boomer. I’ve decided to dig a little deeper by writing a series on Selling to Seniors.

In the next two editions of “Selling to Seniors” I’ll highlight a few of the main points of the original piece. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d start there.

Silence is Golden

To be a successful sales counselor in senior living, you have to be able to get past pushing features and benefits and really hone in on building a relationship.

The customer has thousands of options all across the country to choose from. I’ve seen the same phrases describing hundreds of communities. Words like “Vitality, Vibrancy, World-Class Amenities, Premiere, Elegance” are often used, and don’t get to the heart of what the community is about. They’re eye catching words and phrases meant to draw in the consumer.

It’s your job as a sales counselor to be the heart and soul of your organization and to help your prospect navigate the sea of shiny possibilities in front of them.

How are you going to set your community, and yourself for that matter, apart? Most communities are truly beautiful. Some have amazing amenities not found anywhere else. A few are in a class of their own and your jaw drops walking onto their campuses. But each of these are not for everyone. It’s like buying a home, it may be big, beautiful, and all you’ve ever dreamed of, but when it comes down to it, it just doesn’t feel like home.

So how do you get past all of this with your prospect to get to their true motivation? Active Listening.

Throw away the sell sheet. Toss out the features and benefits brochure. Listen actively, ask thought provoking questions, and get to know the person behind the prospect.

As a Director of Sales, it was important for me to reinforce some very important skills to each of my counselors, some of which I’ve outlined below.

Skill 1: Shut Up

That’s right, simply be quiet. It’s so hard for us sales people (I’m one of them) to just shut up.

We are so excited to have the opportunity in front of us to make another sale, that we often vomit features and benefits all over our prospect without having heard what is important to them. And I’m not talking about the day spa, although that’s a really nice feature.

Instead of talking, we need to do what is most difficult and just listen to our prospect. Don’t prepare your answer. Just listen.

You would be amazed what happens when you don’t fill the air with the sound of your voice every time your prospect pauses to take a breath.

When it was my turn to react, some of the best statements I learned to say as a follow up are; “Tell me why that’s important to you”; “That’s interesting”; or simply “Tell me more”, and then, you guessed it…shut up.

The silence seems deafening, and really you think you’re going to blow it, but then, after what seems to be an eternity (in reality probably only 10-15 seconds), the prospect starts to divulge. Truly divulge the motivation behind their desire to leave their beloved home of 40 years to search for a senior living community.

And there folks, is the golden goose of senior selling. SILENCE.

I remember working once with a couple who was visiting PA from Arizona. I sat down with them, and 3 of their adult children, and heard about what they were looking for in a senior living community.

The first thing they said was “We want a villa.” This was an immediate problem and red flag because our community had a 7-10 year wait for a villa. I could have told them and that would have ended the appointment right there. Instead, I asked them about their home in Arizona.

They spoke in depth about the natural light, the layout of the home, the open floorplan, and their southwestern artwork they were so proud of and wanted to be able to display in their new home. I admit, having lived in Nevada for nearly 10 years, I was at an advantage knowing the type of homes that were built, and the styles of art that are popular and was able to visualize this in my head.

After they spoke for about 45 minutes about everything from their 4 highly successful kids, to how much they loved their home in Arizona, I let them know we didn’t have any villas. They didn’t think an apartment would give them what they were looking for. I asked them to “suspend their belief in what they wanted, and give me a little latitude” and asked them to look at 2 apartments. Only 2. After all, they were already here, all the way from Arizona, and it would only take 30 minutes of their time. If they didn’t like them, we agreed they would move on to the next community and we would part ways knowing they at least looked. They obliged.

The next day, when they were supposed to be in New Jersey looking at other options, they called to tell me they cancelled their appointment at the community in New Jersey, and wanted to come in that afternoon with a check for the second apartment we had seen the prior afternoon.

Five years later, they still tell everyone they encounter about that experience. Their beautiful southwestern art is proudly displayed in their home, and the natural light from the two exposures from their corner apartment is everything they wanted. And yet, it wasn’t what they asked for, or thought they wanted, when they walked in the door.

Had I not stayed quiet, and had I tried to overcome the lack of a villa with features and benefits, I would never have seen them again. Instead, I listened to what drove them and their search. And it had nothing to do with the amenities.

They already knew what we had to offer for them to do. What they didn’t know, was that the home was going to be one they’d fall in love with and couldn’t live without. That is what made all the difference.

Skill 2: Don’t Sell Based on Fear

You may wonder why this one is in here, but it’s actually a biggie. In senior living, it’s so easy to look at a prospect and sell based on the possibility of a bleak future. I’ve heard plenty of people ask questions like “Aren’t you afraid of the steps in your home?”; “What will you do if your health fails?”; “What happens if you fall again?”; “Who’s going to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself?”

Now, while these scenarios are valid, and often part of the thought process the customer goes through, and it DOES need to come up at the appropriate time, there’s a much better way to handle this. It goes back to asking the probing questions, and you don’t even need to ask them directly.

That’s where the statements I referenced at the beginning really come in handy. When your prospect starts talking about their mother who was in a nursing home and how horrible an experience it was, do not ask “What are you going to do if your health fails and you need a nursing home?” Instead, lead with something like “That must have been awful. How has that affected you?” which clearly can lead your prospect down the path of buying instead of putting them on alert with fear.

You can also draw from Dr. Phil if you’re a fan and ask his favorite question, “So how’s that working for you?” The second style of questioning builds trust, shows genuine concern, and is an affirmation of their beliefs. You want to draw the prospect in, not push them away.

Skill 3: Get Permission to Proceed

After you’ve listened, affirmed their beliefs, gained trust and authentically and genuinely shown an interest in them and their concerns, it’s time to test the waters. At some point, becoming a trusted advisor and great sales counselor requires you to get deep and personal. But you absolutely may not do this without their explicit permission.

You literally must ask the question. Often my counselors were coached in this style of phrasing. “I know this decision is hard for you, but if it’s okay with you, I’d like to ask you some tough questions. This will help me help you decide whether or not we are a fit.”

Once given permission, it’s not carte blanche on the questioning and you still have to practice the delicate delivery referenced above. Throughout your questioning, you have to go back to the beginning, ask if it’s still okay, reaffirm you’re there to help, and let them know at any time they’re not okay that they should tell you.

Skill 4: Don’t Leave Nuggets on the Table

So you’ve done all of the above and your prospect is really opening up. They’re doing the vast majority of the talking and you’re truly listening. All of a sudden they drop a big golden nugget of information on the table. One that could really position you as a trusted advisor if you play it right.

And then…you ignore it. You got scared and didn’t want to probe or push.

NO!!!!! Remember, you’ve already done your job and gotten the permission to ask questions in a delicate and respectful way! So ask about it!

Let’s look at the scenarios above again. If I hadn’t asked about their home and lifestyle, I would never have heard them clearly and would have lost a sale based on the lack of availability of a villa.

Or, take the woman talking about her mother in the nursing home. If you don’t ask how that experience affected them, you may never get to the motivation behind their buying journey.

The most successful sales counselors are successful because they have become trusted advisors. They’ve learned that providing your prospect with a defined plan to meet their goals is the best strategy for selling. They know that trust is something that is earned. They ask tough questions when appropriate and are quiet for a majority of the discovery appointment.

Try it out. You’ll find the silence refreshing and your job will probably be a lot easier. After all, you won’t have to worry about presenting. All you have to do is listen.

Kristin Hambleton

Kristin’s passion is in helping others succeed in the senior living industry. Her objective is to assist teams in becoming better sales people through consultative selling, and helping managers be more strategic in their roles through data mining and analysis. With her role at Continuum CRM, Kristin is able to focus on both of these efforts.