Advancing the Sale with Digitally Generated Leads

by | Sep 29, 2022

Best practices and tactics for addressing the unique needs of digitally generated prospects

By Ellen Stokes, VP of Marketing Innovation, and Genie Heer, Strategic Sales Advisor, Love & Company

This is the third of a three-part series on digital marketing, with additional blogs focusing on generating leads through digital marketing tactics, and on nurturing prospects through the research stages of their journey.

Tactics for the final phase of the journey

In the first two blogs in this series, “Opening Gates: Inviting Senior Living Prospects to Begin the Customer Journey,” and “Creating Engagement: Guiding Senior Living Prospects Through the Customer Journey,” we first showed how digitally generated leads and sales have grown dramatically in recent years, becoming the second most important source of sales behind the collective word-of-mouth sources. We then addressed how communities can most effectively create engagement with digital leads (for which we often don’t have more than a name and email address), ultimately converting them to sales-qualified leads, those who are ready to engage directly with the community.

This process of engaging with prospects is hugely different from the approach many of our sales counselors were trained to follow earlier in their careers. Traditionally, sales counselors have been tasked with engaging with new leads as soon as possible, largely through personal phone calls. In fact, their performance was largely measured by their ability to speak directly to prospects through connected calls. Today, in an environment in which the majority of new leads don’t provide a phone number (at least not initially), sales teams have tended to discount digital leads, thinking they aren’t “real” leads unless they provide a phone number and are ready to talk. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth.

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Prospects’ acceptance and embrace of digital communications

Pre-pandemic, senior living prospects had gradually been increasing their use of technology over a long period of time. Then, spurred by the early stages of the pandemic, our market’s adoption of technology for all sorts of uses increased dramatically.

In a study Love & Company conducted in the summer of 2020, early in the pandemic, we found that the proportion of prospects in communities’ lead bases that used video conferencing tools increased from 31% to 84% in only four months. In that same time period, their use of online educational programs increased from 22% to 41%, and their use of telemedicine increased from 8% to 53%. And their usage rates have only continued to increase from those early pandemic levels.

Similarly, this digital revolution extended to prospects’ use of media as well, resulting in a significant increase in prospects that were using streaming TV services, subscribing to podcasts and streaming music.

The impact of this for senior living sales teams is that traditional ways of interacting with and advancing sales with prospects has changed…forever. To be effective in this digital environment, our sales processes need to evolve accordingly. Since our prospects will come to us more educated, we need to adjust our discovery practices. That said, we still need to get to the “Why?” behind their research and motivation, and that is unlikely to be uncovered by the digital tools. So sales counselors’ skills are still a critical factor in helping prospects make a decision that is not purely financial or based on floor plan type.

The personal touch: Laying the foundation for an ongoing relationship

In each of our previous two blogs, we’ve addressed the importance of video to attract and retain prospects’ attention. The same holds true for the sales process. One of the most effective ways to begin to create a personal relationship with new prospects is to use a tool such as OneDay or SalesMail to send them a personalized “welcome and thank you” video. Then, over time, additional personalized video emails can be sent at regular intervals. Even though prospects may not respond to them, they will begin to have a face and a name to connect with your community. We have heard many stories from sales counselors about prospects who call them for the first time and say something like, “I already feel like I know you!”

Engaging with the sales-qualified lead

Whether they have had a short or lengthy journey, at some point prospects will signal they’re ready to talk, i.e., your ongoing digital marketing program has resulted in a marketing-qualified lead being converted to a sales-qualified lead. Once that happens, the next phase will involve a call with a sales counselor, a tour (either live or virtual) or both.

One advantage of a digital lead is that in most cases, the prospect and the community will already know a good bit about each other. In the second blog in this series, we discussed the “micro-yesses” that digital marketing initiatives should be getting from prospects. This can be a positive two-way street for both the sales team and the prospect. As prospects move through their sales journey, they may provide information about their health and income in return for various educational materials. By the time prospects are ready to engage with a sales counselor, they will likely have researched the community online and will have been sent several tools to help them better understand senior living. And through the use of cookies and other tracking tools, the sales team will have information about what things are most important to those prospects. Thus, rather than have resistance to digital leads, a sales team should welcome the additional insights a strong digital marketing program can create—provided a strong nurturing program is in place.

Meet them where they are

As with any communication at any stage of the customer journey, it’s important that sales teams communicate with their prospects in the way they wish to be communicated with—not the way the sales team wants to communicate. Although some prospects are fine with phone calls, many prefer email and even texts to phone conversations, at least for much of the journey.

The recent Love & Company analysis of our clients’ sales results showed that, on average, the number of email communications with prospects increased by 164% from 2018 to 2021, while the number of completed calls dropped by 37%. In fact, in 2021, the average number of emails was well over double the number of completed calls. Although not many communities are tracking texts effectively yet, many reported a high number of text communications with prospects as well.

The methods to communicate effectively with digitally oriented prospects extend far beyond just emails, texts and calls. They include:

  • Virtual tours: Many prospects want to experience a virtual tour of a community before committing to a personal tour. This is especially true for prospects that may live a distance away from the community. Tools such as YourTour by The Vectre are valuable assets for both virtual tours and in-community meetings with prospects.
  • Webinars: Many prospects (again, especially those at a distance) value the opportunity to learn more about a community through a webinar before visiting. Webinars were not a temporary “fad” during the pandemic; they are here to stay.
  • Virtual staging: When a specific residence is available, many prospects want to see what that residence may look like before committing to a personal visit. Virtual staging programs such as BoxBrownie and TruPlace do a great job of staging an empty residence for a low cost.
  • Personalized videos: As noted earlier, personalized videos developed through programs such as SalesMail or OneDay are quite effective at helping to build personal relationships with prospects.

Enhancing the relationship: It’s not all digital

Although digital tools are important assets to build relationships and communicate with prospects, it’s rare that a sale is made without a personal visit to a community. So, of course, all the digital tactics shared above need to be augmented with invitations to events, invitations to visit the community, home visits by the sales counselor and creative follow-up techniques, such as creating an opportunity for a prospect to engage with residents doing something about which the prospect is passionate.

Pulling it all together: Digital marketing becomes the new “work horse”

When a community develops and implements a well-coordinated digital marketing program, from inviting prospects to start their journey through a variety of digital tactics, educating and nurturing prospects along their unique path, and tailoring sales techniques to the individualized preferences of each prospect, communities will be able to substantially increase the value of digitally generated leads. Digital marketing is now the “work horse”

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