Senior Living Sales: Why You Need to Be an Opener, not a Closer

By Kate Leach, Senior Sales Advisor, Love & Company

If you have been in the business of sales in one industry or another, you have probably read several motivational books, viewed countless “how to” sales presentations, and attended a fair share of conferences with experts in sales and the sales process. You have probably even been inspired by a movie or two that highlights successful salespeople and what they do, i.e., Alec Baldwin’s Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross, who coined the term “ABC; Always Be Closing!” And while some of these experiences may resonate, in senior living sales, the best advice I have ever heard is that we need to be opening, not closing prospects.

So, what does that look like in the real world? Most of us in senior living sales have accepted the hard truth that we are selling products/services that most people do not really understand; thus don’t know whether they want them. If your next question is, “How do we make them want it,” then you are asking the wrong question. A better question is, “How can we help them understand that senior living is something to which they can aspire?”

When starting in senior living sales almost two decades ago, all sales conversations revolved around closing; is this person a “closer,” what is their “closing ratio,” did they “close the sale?” And all we had to do as salespeople to get to the “close” was continually call prospects until they agreed to come to the community for a tour, then walk them around the campus to show them the pool, the grand ballroom, the fitness room and the dining room, then drag them through every available apartment (while quoting complicated pricing structures), finally sending them off with a huge packet of information for them to slog through on their own. After the three-hour tour, we headed back to our desks to start the entire process over again.

Fast forward to today. We are making progress, but still have a way to go.

When we talk about “opening” with a prospect, it is a process. But in just three steps, and with a bit of practice, anyone can do it. Think of it as a kinder and gentler sales method focused on the journey you and your prospect will embark on together.

  1. Connect

    Start with the goal of finding some common ground with your prospect. An appointment with you should begin by sitting down with the prospect and starting a conversation. If it does not flow naturally, ask some key questions to jump-start things:

    • “What made you decide to visit our community today?” This can give you clues about what is going on with this prospect. It is not to learn about where this “lead” came from, it is to learn about a circumstance that led them to consider a community.
    • “Tell me about yourself.” This can help you find common ground on which to build the relationship. People talk about their career backgrounds, schools attended, and places they have lived and traveled; they share their life story.
    • “How can I help you?” This tells your prospect that you are walking this journey together. You are here to help them, even if the solution you find lies outside of your community.
  2. Listen

    “Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.”
    –Roy Bartell, online business and sales thought leader

    • If we do most of the talking when our prospects engage with us, we lose the opportunity to understand their perspective. If we spout out all the community’s features without truly knowing how those would benefit this individual, then we are wasting our words.
    • It is our job to learn about our prospects. Most likely, they already know there is a problem they must solve. Anything they share with us allows us to help guide them to the best solution for their unique issue.
  3. Help

    “Approach each customer with the idea of helping him or her solve a problem or achieve a goal, not of selling a product or service.”
    –Brian Tracy, motivational speaker on personal and business success

    • The decision to move from a home that our prospect has lived in for 40+ years into a communal setting with lots of other seniors and a handbook full of rules is daunting, to say the least. It is not like buying a car or even a house. We must remember that this is an emotional decision, and our prospects need our help to navigate it.
    • Helping our prospects understand our community, and senior living in general, is key to our process. But we must also help them understand how to navigate all the bumps along the road to making this decision.

No sales process is perfect, whatever the field or industry. But if you think of your process in terms of “opening” rather than “closing,” you are setting yourself up to connect and become a trusted partner who can guide your prospects to the right decision for them. Listening and truly tuning in to who this person is and the problem they are trying to solve allows you to help so many people trying to navigate next steps as they age. Whatever they decide, they will undoubtedly speak highly of their experience with you and your community.

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