In January of 2021, Love & Company hosted a webinar, The Path to Rebuilding and Sustaining Census, in which we looked forward at sales and marketing trends for the year ahead. At the time we were deservedly optimistic: The first COVID-19 vaccines had been approved and were rolling out, and we had reason to believe that 2021 could be the year that the senior living field returned to normalcy. No one could have foreseen that the Omicron variant would lead to the biggest wave of COVID infections to date—infecting vaccinated and unvaccinated people alike—and that workforce challenges would be even more exacerbated.
That leads to the key lesson learned from 2021 that we need to apply to 2022: “Plan to Pivot.” We explored these ideas more in our recent webinar, Marketing and Sales in 2022: Plan and Pivot Your Way to Intentional Success, held on Friday, February 4 from noon to 1:30 p.m. Joan Kelly-Kincade and Kate Leach, strategic sales advisors for Love & Company, joined us for this webinar.
What do we mean by “Plan to Pivot?” Clearly, we are not yet in a post-pandemic environment. We continue to find ourselves actively having to adapt to the changing circumstances around us. In fact, many scientists warn that COVID-19 may never be “behind us,” but rather something for which we will always have to adjust. So as we plan our marketing strategies for 2022, it is imperative that our plans include contingencies to ensure we have the flexibility to quickly adjust.
It’s always important to have a Plan A and a Plan B…and sometimes even a Plan C. As new variants emerge, this preparation becomes increasingly important. We recommend creating a backup plan to switch any in-person events to webinars and building an extra week into schedules. We recently did this for January events for one of our clients, and the decision was made a week before the mailer was scheduled to go to the printer in mid-December. If we hadn’t worked together to concurrently develop a contingency plan, we would likely have had to cancel the events.
That leads to another important point: The new technologies we had to adopt in 2020 and 2021 are here to stay. Webinars and virtual tours are not just fallback strategies for times when prospects can’t come onsite: They have become fundamental expectations of the market. At Love & Company, we believe that—even in times when our communities are totally open to visitors—most in-person marketing events will need a virtual counterpart. Virtual tours and webinars are more convenient for many prospects, and we have to be prepared to meet prospects where they are—literally—to make them comfortable. In fact, Kate Leach, one of our fellow presenters in our upcoming webinar, shared this: “The biggest epiphany I had after we started using webinars is, why haven’t we ALWAYS been doing this in senior living?”
Integrating virtual components also allows your community to reach a broader audience geographically than it may have previously. We recently completed an analysis of webinars for Blue Skies of Texas, a client in San Antonio, and found that more than 60% of attendees reside from more than 30 miles from the community. Since this is an affinity community (Blue Skies was originally launched to serve Air Force widows) with a nationwide market, that finding is not that surprising. But it does highlight a missed opportunity that may be open to many other communities, as most attract 20% to 40% of their residents from outside of their primary market areas.
Of course, new technologies are not always easy to adopt. We have seen several examples of organizations that tried something once (like webinars), didn’t like the experience, and didn’t continue using it. This quick dismissal of new technologies is likely to have a significant and negative impact on those communities’ sales moving forward, especially as their competitors successfully integrate the new tools, leaving the slow-adopting communities behind.
Success in adopting new technology requires careful planning and implementation to ensure your sales team understands and is comfortable using the new technology. Likewise, it is key that community leadership support the new technology and the requisite learning process.
For example, last year Westminster Canterbury Richmond adopted YourTour, an exciting new virtual tour and sales enablement platform developed by The Vectre. As part of planning for the launch of YourTour, we worked through a training process with the Westminster Canterbury Richmond sales team. The team was first given an extensive overview of the system, and then the team brainstormed on how best to use it. Next, sales team members tried using YourTour with a few prospects, and then came back together to share their experiences, working together to map out the most effective way to use it. This deliberate, hands-on process enabled the sales team to gradually get comfortable with the new technology, build their confidence, and learn from other team members. It has now become a highly successful tool for them.
Another important use of technology is automated emails. We live in a world where people are accustomed to getting immediate responses to online requests, and any delay in responding to a request for information paints a negative picture of your community—particularly if another community’s response reaches your prospect faster. Automated emails—which can include a short video from a sales counselor to begin to establish a personal relationship—enable your community to be responsive to requests, as well as to continue to build a relationship with a prospect. They are a valuable tool that augments your sales team and sales process.
That leads to our last point for this blog: What picture is your marketing communicating to your prospects? Our team has done many one-on-one interviews and group discussions with residents who moved into communities since the pandemic has begun, and their experiences living at a community are far more positive than the news stories we see all too frequently about assisted living and nursing homes. How are you sharing these firsthand perspectives with prospects? Again, video is a highly valuable tool to tell your residents’ stories and build a strong, positive image of what life in your community is really like, and thus to build a strong brand story.
These are just a few of the experiences we shared in our recent webinar, Marketing and Sales in 2022: Plan and Pivot Your Way to Intentional Success. Discover more insights from Joan and Kate on sales and discovery tips for 2022.