Like many of you who have had interviews for sales positions, you’d often get thrown a question like, “Sell me this pen.” And you had to demonstrate your sales skills to convince the interviewer that you could easily sell him his own pen. But, I think the better question would be, “Sell me something that doesn’t exist.”
That’s what many of us do every day for Life Plan Communities under development or for expansions in existing communities. We are tasked with directing the curious to become depositors and eventually residents of something that doesn’t exist! Depending on how you look at it, it can be daunting or exciting. I choose exciting!
Why? I feel that selling “blue sky” (meaning something that hasn’t yet been built so all you see is the ground and the sky) allows you to utilize your imagination and creativity, but also the best of your sales skills to create a vision with each and every individual you meet. It’s never the same from day to day or person to person. You have to work a bit harder, in my opinion, because you need to know more about your prospect so that you can create the right vision that aligns with theirs.
Here are some helpful suggestions for helping you get your prospect into the right frame of mind and to help create that picture for them that will resonate with their expectations. These seven factors are the ones most often need to be addressed:
1.) Ask the important questions.
This is not the time to “feature dump”! Sure, it’s enticing because you (only) have a list of things that will be featured in this new community, and maybe even a couple of renderings, so it makes sense to tell them all of the great things that your community will have, right? Wrong! Treat every individual on the phone or who walks into your Welcome Center as an individual. Assume that they don’t know anything about you (because they probably don’t) and take it one step at a time.
We at Love & Company like to say, “People don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I have nothing to do today so I’m going to look for a retirement community.’” Something has made them initiate the search. And so, their reasons for looking are often different than the next person’s. You need to find out what made them choose today to inquire. By asking the questions that get the prospect to think about their plans (or lack thereof), you can demonstrate your advisory role and encourage their trust in you. Whether you are an existing community or blue sky, this #1 rule of thumb doesn’t change. You cannot sell successfully if you don’t know what your prospect needs.
What are some good questions to ask?
- What inspired you to call/visit today?
- What are you looking to achieve?
- Are you familiar with the different types of senior living options? (Find out what they know – and don’t know.)
- Have you ever heard of a Life Plan Community? (or Continuing Care Retirement Community as many states have not officially transitioned yet to the new terminology.)
- What is your lifestyle like? What do you like to do? What’s important to you?
- Are you currently living in the home you raised your family in? How many years is that?
Recent research shows that most people initiate a search only for the purpose of eliminating all but 1-2 options. It’s important that you give them a very good reason to talk and meet with you. The first hurdle you have is to get them to trust you and share. By asking questions that demonstrate an “I’m listening, and I care about what is important to you” attitude, you can soften the resistance they might be feeling.
2.) Learn how to explain how you are different from ‘real estate.’
This is probably the most difficult part of the sales process (especially on the phone) – whether you are an open community or blue sky. For whatever reason, your prospect was inspired to call to ask questions (and, of course, find out how much you cost!). By asking the important questions I noted above, you at least have an understanding of what they know – and don’t know.
We know how confusing the financial options in a Life Plan Community can be to a novice. I’ll bet it even took you a while to wrap your head around contract types, refund options, monthly fees, entrance fees, etc. Approach it simply. Don’t feel that you have to give a dissertation on the phone. You will have plenty of opportunity to explain to them when they are sitting in front of you. Instead, give them enough information to make them more curious while satisfying their need for information.
(Important reminder: As we stress at Love & Company, the purpose of the phone call is to get the appointment!!)
Here’s an example:
- Do you own your own home? Are you looking to downsize or relieve yourself of the burden of home ownership?
- Are you paying a lot to maintain your home? Do you pay real estate taxes?
- A Life Plan Community like ours is designed to relieve you of those burdens while providing an engaging lifestyle no matter what your age. And, the bonus is that, if you should ever need higher levels of care/services, it’s all part of the package. Buying another home or condo doesn’t provide for those additional services, so that’s where we are different.
- Think of us as a very good insurance policy that comes with a really nice residence!
- How about you stop in and I can give you some materials and walk you through how this works. Does that work for you?
3.) What’s your plan?
I have found that asking this simple question can have profound results in getting your prospect’s attention. Always remember that they came to you – you did not cold call them! Isn’t it funny how they walk in the door and yet fight you all the way? That’s fear and uncertainty talking. This is where you become the advisor and not a “sales” person. You know they need it; they know they need it. Now you both have to find a way to come together in agreement. By asking this simple question, “So, do you have a plan for how you want your future to look like?” puts them in the position of having to come up with an answer or at least to start visualizing their future. Hearing themselves say out loud, “Well, we’re not quite sure. We’d love to stay in our home but we’re not sure that’s the best idea…” opens the opportunity for you to poke holes in this plan with more questions.
- What will happen if one or both of you aren’t driving anymore?
- What if one or both of you might need some extra care in the future?
- Are you going to ask your kids to help you out? Or move in with them?
- Do they know they are part of these plans?
- Have you thought about how you’ll maintain your home?
4.) “I’m not ready yet.”
These are the words that make every senior living salesperson cringe. But in a blue sky situation, they are welcome! Because our answer is, “Good! We’re not ready for you either.” One of the many benefits of being an un-built community is that you still have many phases of development ahead of you before you open your doors and welcome your first residents. In our sales training at Love & Company, we give salespeople tips to overcome this big objection. In blue sky selling, however, you have the opportunity to use this information to help your prospect plan without pressure. The timing of your community’s development gives them the chance to evaluate their current living situation, start downsizing, and get used to the idea of making a change for the better.
5.) Paint the picture.
When you have learned more about your prospect, you can help them visualize the future community through their eyes. The artist will see how they can continue and expand their hobby while living there, while meeting others who share their passions. The fitness enthusiast will see how the community will allow them to continue their fitness program whether it’s a walking club or aquacize in the pool or working on their balance with the personal trainer. The book lover will gravitate to the library and participate in book clubs. Every individual will need to visualize how they will live in the community based upon their interests. The good salesperson will have learned what these important things are and make sure they help create that vision. And then, introduce them to their future neighbors that share the same interests. Create those neighborly bonds well before moving day occurs.
6.) Ask: “Who else should I be talking to?”
When you have that trusting relationship with your prospect, you both can benefit. The prospect sees how this community will be a solution to so many unknowns and they’ll want to share it with their friends and family to encourage them to come along with them. Referrals by prospects/future residents has the highest volume of conversion. If you don’t ask, you won’t know. Let your future residents be key in generating high quality referrals for you. Your sales and marketing plan should have a specific referral program in place that will reward both the referee and the referrer. The incentive could range from discounts off the first monthly fee, upgrades for the new residence or a combination of these and other ideas. The idea is to not only get the depositors; it’s also to retain them.
7.) Keep your depositors involved and engaged.
When construction begins, two things will happen: you’ll lose some depositors because they either have had a health issue, a timing issue or a fear issue. The other is that construction timelines often have a lot of “movement” in them. If you took a deposit from a prospect and haven’t developed that special relationship we spoke of earlier, their loyalty to you and the community doesn’t exist. Creating regularly scheduled events to bring together the future residents of your community allows them to develop bonds with their new neighbors while reinforcing the trust they have in you. The anticipation of moving in in order to continue to experience these relationships helps to secure the future census.
Of course, there are many steps in between this overview that create challenges or opportunities to the timeline and plan. Being able to adapt and pivot to address each as it comes along will be important for long-term success. We will share more helpful tips on Blue Sky Selling in our upcoming blogs and webinar.
Need help with sales and marketing for your blue sky community or expansion? Give Tim Bracken at 410-207-0013, or Rick Hunsicker at 214-906-3801 today. Or, reach out to us online.