Senior Living Business: Best Practices Q&A:

Bonnie Blair, Founding Principal, Retirement DYNAMICS

 Retirement DYNAMICS is a consulting firm located in Charlotte, North Carolina, that provides market and consumer research, marketing and sales management, and training that is specific to the CCRC industry. Bonnie Blair, founding principal of the company, gives us her observations and some pointers about marketing in the current economic environment.

When marketing retirement communities, how does today’s marketing environment compare to the “good old days” that ended abruptly in fall 2008? The marketing environment today is still definitely challenged in comparison. Prospects have experienced an “aha moment” that reminds them of days in their past or in their parents’ past that left them with some level of fear and uncertainty. While the stock market is recovering and the news about CCRCs that have faced bankruptcy is subsiding, the difficult housing market is still the biggest hurdle to overcome. Many reports indicate it may not have hit bottom yet. Although homes are not selling at the dollar values of the past, many mature adults are beginning to realize that selling their homes will not generate the income they expected in 2006 or 2007. Now that that reality has set in, they are beginning to sell and move on.

 Due to the plethora of news articles about the senior living industry in the past couple of years, prospects are savvier in terms of questions to ask, especially questions about the financial strength of the sponsoring organization. We’re seeing seniors choose a residence that may not be as large as they would have selected in 2006, which is impacting occupancy of large units and, therefore, revenues. The residence mix for newer communities tends to lean toward large residential units; the selection of smaller units, however, is helping communities with somewhat more modest sizes and fees.

 Communities are spending more on marketing than in years past but are working harder to produce the same or fewer sales. Prospects are taking longer to decide and are very cautious. The best thing we can do is provide confidence and trust in ourselves as sales counselors and also in the community’s financial strength. A community has to be at the top of its game at all times. The economy won’t insulate a community that is less than excellent. That applies to operations and marketing, as well as sales.

How should organizations be evaluating their established marketing efforts and controlling the sales process? Even with the economic slowdown, there are still targets to follow. Communities should be reviewing marketing and sales activities on both weekly and monthly bases. How many new leads, how many phone calls, how many presentations, how many sales?

 A good measure to evaluate is the source of leads over the past three years—and this is where the community’s database can demonstrate its true worth. Has there been a change in the origins of the leads? Have the demographic and geographic markets changed? Taking a look at those aspects of the market area can provide a better understanding of the current market. For instance, has the number of leads available in your primary market area changed since the economic downturn? Have the ages of your prospects and new residents changed? These characteristics can have a big impact on where to look for new prospects. Some communities have recognized that they must depend more on secondary markets than in the past and must implement more or different strategies to reach that secondary market. 

 Controlling the sales process begins at intake of the inquiry. Handling new leads and cultivating them is more important today than ever, because prospects have many more choices today. They want to feel valued and important. They want your attention. Phone calls and follow up are both key. Letters are helpful, but the personal, interactive contact is what will move the sales process forward. And have a goal for every phone call. Don’t waste their time or yours by calling just to “check in.” The goal of every phone call should be to move the prospect closer to the decision point. Be strategic...and persevere...Want to read more? Click here for a free trial and download the current issue today