Building Trust and Following Process: The Keys to Driving Sales in 2022

By Joan Kelly-Kincade, Strategic Sales Advisor, and Kate Leach, Strategic Sales Advisor

For senior living sales teams, the past two years of the pandemic have led to the adoption of many new technologies to augment the sales process. As our colleagues Lisa Pearre and Sara Montalto shared in their recent blog, Plan to Pivot: A Guide to Successful Marketing and Sales Strategies for 2022, community sales teams have adopted tools like webinars, virtual tours, automated emails, video emails and more, or risked falling behind their competition. But technology has not changed two fundamentals of the sales process that remain as important as ever: developing personal relationships with prospects, and establishing and meeting solid standards for sales performance.

We explore these ideas, along with many other keys to sales and marketing success in 2022, in our recent webinar, Marketing and Sales in 2022: Plan and Pivot Your Way to Intentional Success, which was held on Friday, February 4 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Joining us in that webinar were Lisa Pearre, Principal and Chief Client Services Officer, and Sara Montalto, Vice President, Strategic Services for Love & Company.

Getting to know our prospects and their families on a deeper level has always been integral to the overall sales process. As we all know, people buy from people they trust. Now that uncertainty and certain levels of fear are prevalent among the population we serve, there is an even greater need to gain trust and provide reassurance that we, as Life Plan Community counselors, are looking out for their best interests. The best way to build this trust, and to discover what those fears and uncertainties are, is to act as a guide rather than a salesperson. This creates the best opportunity to help mitigate those fears and uncertainties and move our prospects forward in the journey.

Over the past two years, we have seen a far greater need to connect emotionally as early in the relationship as possible, regardless of whether the connection is made in person or via Zoom. For the most successful sales teams, discovery has become less of an interrogation and more of a true, two-way conversation. For example, sales counselors should be asking questions like “What has it been like for you living at home during COVID-19? What, if anything, has this experience brought to light for you? What do you like best about the life you have now? How do you imagine living happily in the future?”

At this early stage, the conversation is not about needs and wants, and is definitely not about amenities and services. It is about connecting with prospects to learn why they are happy where they are and helping them imagine why they may be even happier when they make a change. Simply opening this conversation can bring up concerns about isolation, loneliness, health conditions and more. We can then better understand what actions to take to address and—hopefully—move past what is immobilizing so many of our prospects and their families.

Although technology is important in creating new ways to communicate with clients, active listening and trust building are still the most important ways to develop the depth of a relationship needed for a prospect to feel comfortable moving. It works.

In fact, in 2021 one of our clients, St. James Place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, made the most sales it has made in more than 20 years, largely due to the intentional and consistent communication with prospects and families during the pandemic. Consistent and regular communication helped secure the sales team’s role as a trusted resource. Prospects and families depended on this team to help them navigate through senior living when communal living seemed more frightening than comforting. This led to that team being able to share the stories of how their residents benefited from being in the community, surrounded by dedicated staff, friends and everything they needed to be safe and to remain engaged.

Our second fundamental—establishing and meeting solid standards for sales performance—is one that many sales team members think conflicts with the need to focus on relationships. In truth, solid standards are critical to creating the time and environment team members need to build those relationships.

For the sales process to be effective, sales teams need to have a clear way of doing things—a consistent process—that everyone understands and buys in to. These processes become our standards, and we can then use them to measure results and make projections.

To be clear, establishing standards does not mean that the standards can’t evolve. Rather, processes and standards always need to evolve to reflect changes in the world around us. As situations change—as they certainly have over the past two years, including all the adoption of technology noted earlier—our processes, and thus our standards, need to evolve as well.

A great example of this comes from McLean, a client of ours in Simsbury, Connecticut. McLean has a unique sales team structure in that sales of both independent living and assisted living were handled by two part-time sales counselors who had established effective ways of tag-teaming the sales process.

However, as the community began 10% presales for a significant expansion just about the time that COVID hit, changes in their processes were needed. First, the workload associated with the presales of the expansion meant that an additional team member was needed to handle assisted living sales. Second, they shifted from tag-teaming appointments to doing them independently, adjusting their schedules as needed to ensure they could meet with their prospects. Third, as communications became more virtual, the team made greater use of emails, resulting in the evolution of their reporting standards. Whereas connected calls had been the previous standard, the new standard became “connections,” with an email thread (significant back-and-forth communications, just like a phone conversation) counting as a connection.

The McLean team adapted well to these modifications, hitting every presales target and currently at 93% presold. The same two part-time team members are still in place, and we are proud of the flexibility they have demonstrated and what they have accomplished.

Standards exist to provide a path, so we know we are going in the right direction. By having a consistent approach with defined steps and processes, our sales counselors can ensure they are investing the right amount of time, and taking the right steps, to develop strong relationships and trust with their prospects. When they do that, they will be seen by their prospects as partners in the final decision.

Again, these are just two of the many topics we address in more detail in our recent webinar, Marketing and Sales in 2022: Plan and Pivot Your Way to Intentional Success. Discover the marketing strategies tools you need to succeed in 2022.

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