COVID-19 Forces a Shift in Sales Strategies, Say Exclusive Webinar Panelists

The seniors housing industry continues to face new challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But there are reasons for hope.

A recent survey conducted by marketing and client acquisitions firm LeadingResponse showed that 90 percent of prospects are still considering moving into seniors housing. Over 60 percent felt they had a good understanding of the costs of seniors housing and the programs available to make it more affordable.

The survey, sent out in September, polled more than 2,000 seniors and their adult children who had already expressed an interest in seniors housing.

The results were presented on Dec. 2 during a webinar titled “Marketing Strategies for Senior Living Operators — Survey Results Reveal How Customer Journey Has Changed.” Valerie Whitman, vice president of senior living for LeadingResponse, moderated a panel discussion that also featured Elias Papasavvas, CEO and president of Second Act Financial Services; Cindy Young, vice president of marketing for National Church Residences; and William Swearingen, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Spectrum Retirement Communities.

One negative result from the survey was a slight majority of respondents still felt home care was a better alternative to seniors housing. Anecdotal responses indicated that this was largely due to a lack of understanding regarding the freedom residents still enjoy in seniors housing, said Whitman.

“They can have the same care in the community as at home. You have to overcome those misperceptions.”

Regardless, the pandemic has completely changed the way potential residents and their families are approached, according to Swearingen.

“Our paradigm shift had to be quick and it had to be significant. Client journey is completely redefined. Our message has to be narrower and more concise and it has to speak more directly to the consumer. We have to humanize our message more.”

“We thought as an industry that our message was living in that human element,” continued Swearingen. “COVID showed us it wasn’t. It was a little manufactured, sterile and cliché.”

In addition, Swearingen urged operators to be completely transparent when it came to COVID cases in their communities. Spectrum keeps real-time information publicly available on its website showing how many positive cases each of its communities has experienced. He said that potential customers would rather know what’s going on, even if it’s negative, than feel like an operator is hiding something.

“Our consumer just appreciates that we’re telling them the truth,” said Swearingen. “The focus groups showed us they needed a lot more honesty and transparency from us as an industry at this time, in order to understand that we are battling on their behalf.”

Young said that communication in general during the pandemic is a lot more high-touch, both within the company and with prospective residents. She said that the corporate team doubled its communication with the sales team, and that prospects required twice as many touchpoints before making a move-in decision.

Additionally, Young said that operators should be prepared to make big concessions to get a move-in at this time.

“Is it better to go ahead and just cover rent a few months so they have time to sell the house? Then what’s a second stressor for them? The actual move. We offer moving credits, give downsizing advice and tell them not to worry about the rent for a while.”

For prospective residents, selling a home to move into a seniors housing community has been a major stumbling block, according to Papasavvas. Although real estate prices have largely remained high during the pandemic, there is an inevitable challenge with nationwide job losses meaning there are fewer buyers on the market.

“Our consumer has to sell their home to someone, and that person has to get a mortgage,” said Papasavvas. “The younger person applying for the mortgage is afraid of losing their job. The mortgage lender is processing their application today, but they’re wondering if this person will have their job two weeks from now.”

“What that’s doing is slowing down the home sale process,” he continued. “The longer it takes for a home to sell, the more agony, frustration and perhaps lack of decision-making that goes on with our consumer.”

Swearingen supported this claim, saying that a prospect’s inability to sell his or her home was Spectrum’s No. 2 reason for lost leads, and increased by 66 percent during the pandemic.

To view the full webinar, click here.

— Jeff Shaw