When the COVID-19 pandemic first hit, senior living facilities became frequent topics within both the news and private households. While local and national reporters discussed the safety of these facilities, concerned daughters, sons, and grandchildren asked themselves whether or not to move their elderly loved ones home. Uncertainty about the virus laid at the center of these conversations, which created an uphill battle for senior living sales teams. Jami Sexton, Chief Sales Officer at Bridge Senior Living, has had to overcome this and other factors, as she and her team reimagine the sales narrative for a more speculative crowd.
“Our sales communication has morphed from a lifestyle message to a health and safety message,” Jami says. “Bridge Senior Living has always prioritized the health and safety of our residents, but the public was previously less interested in our directives. Now they are at the forefront of most conversations.”
Spread across 15 states and various brands, Jami supervises the sales processes for all 27 Bridge Senior Living communities. With 15 years in the industry, her experience in both operations and sales has provided her with the perspective needed to support her sales teams as they rethink tactics to market their communities.
Under normal circumstances, senior living sales are centered around an in-person relationship with the client. The Sales Director would sit down with the potential resident for a comprehensive conversation about their needs and desires. Together, they would take a site tour, meet staff and other residents, and participate in some aspect of community life The Sales Director would focus on building connections throughout the visit, and the client would have an opportunity to develop a physical understanding of the community’s aesthetics and surroundings.
“If the on-site environment felt good to the client, they would likely decide to move in,” says Nick Nemer, Vice President of Business Development with LifeLoop. “Without access to these visits, however, senior living sales teams across the country have had to brainstorm ways to create this positive feeling through methods that prioritize the health and safety of all parties.”
Jami’s team has done just that, utilizing the hero of the pandemic hour: technology. With iPads, Zoom, FaceTime, and 360 virtual tours, Bridge Senior Living redirected to include more technology into both their sales process and their senior living communities. They also partnered with respected third-party senior living experts to develop a training series for sales associates, ensuring their ability to give insightful virtual tours that displayed to prospects how communities were kept safe.
“It’s certainly more difficult to create connections with people through a screen, because we are used to taking a very hands-on approach,” says Jami. “But the sales basics remain intact: we are still focused on building a relationship, but we use a new medium to show the client how our community meets their needs.”
Instead of an on-site chat, the sales associate first has a video call with a potential resident, followed by a 360 virtual tour like this one on the Somerby Senior Living website, a brand of Bridge Senior Living. These tours allow the prospect to digitally walk through the community, and with a video available for each apartment style within a community, sales associates can personalize the tour to a client’s needs. Next, they come together in a virtual conference room to process the tour and answer client questions. Information regarding pricing, contracts, and move-in dates follows.
“The need to quickly pivot to a virtual way of doing things sped up the addition of technology into the senior living space,” says Jami. “This is something that would have potentially taken us much longer to adopt on a wider scale.”
And according to both Jami and Nick, these advancements are here to stay. Baby Boomers are currently moving their parents into senior living facilities, and with their generation at the front-end of the technology boom, instant information and the use of technology will soon become the norm for ensuing generations of senior living residents.
“There will be an expectation moving forward to incorporate tech into all facets of senior living communities,” says Nick. “We need to be able to present this to our consumers as a high-stakes differentiator for their communities.”
In addition to completely rearranging their sales methods, Bridge Senior Living has also pursued a variety of new ideas and technologies to be able to market their communities, including the following: shifting marketing efforts to a 90% digital approach, developing a “White Glove Program” to communicate sanitation initiatives, adding virtual tours to all community websites, varying marketing messages through advertising campaigns like “Uncertain Times” and “Peace of Mind,” hiring a Director of Digital Strategy & Communications, and adopting LifeLoop to allow easier connection between residents and family members.
“LifeLoop is the next step in adding technology to provide even better support and connectivity to our residents, families, associates, and prospects,” Jami says. “We are also adding an external sales portal to LifeLoop, where prospects can learn about the community and schedule tours.”
Though move ins slowed in 2020, the company is now seeing their inquiry, tours, and move-in velocity begin to normalize in 2021. Jami attributes this to the internal effort to distribute a wealth of relevant information to prospects.
“The increase in move-in numbers reinforced for me the need people really have for our business. No matter what’s going on in the world, our seniors still need to be cared for,” she says. “I’ve been fortunate to sit on the inside of an organization that has worked tirelessly to invest resources, love, and care into our business in an effort to create safe spaces for seniors.”
Like many senior living companies, Bridge Senior Living met the challenges presented by the pandemic and worked not to simply overcome them, but to become more effective as a result. Even with significant changes to health initiatives, marketing strategies, and their sales processes, Jami says the heart of what her sales teams do remains the same.