4 Reasons Your Executive Director Should be Your Senior Living Community’s Sales Leader

4 Reasons Your Executive Director Should be Your Senior Living Community’s Sales Leader

The following is adapted from It’s About Time!

In terms of sales effectiveness, especially when it comes to senior-living communities, I’ve found one thing to be true above all else: culture matters. For some reason, though, a culture of effective sales performance is currently undervalued in large segments of the senior living industry. 

One of the biggest reasons for this is that while the Executive Director (ED) should be the CEO of the community, they rarely have any responsibilities to be accountable for occupancy. But they should. 

The ED’s authority, credibility, and visibility enhance selling. Putting the ED into a sales leadership position also brings a strong, credible source of motivation and leadership to the sales staff and reassurance to prospects. 

To put it plainly, if you want to create a successful sales culture in your community, the first thing to do is make sure your ED is also your sales leader. By doing that, you ensure that your messaging to prospects is consistent and reassuring, you eliminate marketing and organizational silos, you create a supportive work culture for your team, and you make sure that the person making the decisions has a clear understanding of what’s really going on.

#1: Provide Consistent Messaging to Prospects

There is a strange phenomenon in our industry: we often treat our customers quite differently during the sales process than we do once they move in. Once they sign up, they become an actual person with a story, a personality and preferences. Before they sign up, they are reduced to being thought of as a “lead” or an “inquiry” that needs to get pushed through a sales funnel. 

The unintended message a higher-functioning prospect gets is, “We will really care about you once you move in and start paying us rent. Please understand that it is not part of our sales culture or methodology to actually demonstrate that we really care for you right now before you sign up.” 

To demonstrate this, consider a few common phrases in a typical senior housing mission statement and see whether they sync with sales practices:

  • We are family: Do we try to “sell” to our family?
  • We care: How do we really demonstrate this when we are spending as little time as possible with each lead in an effort to move to the next one? Quotas lack compassion!
  • We honor your individuality: But do speed-to-lead sellers truly have time for or realistically honor prospect stories? 
  • We value your independence: Does our sales culture teach to convince and persuade, or do we serve as guides for prospects to make their own decision?
  • Our people make the difference: Or are our salespeople just filling quotas and booking call outs and tours?

Fortunately, most senior living providers today boast a resident-centered approach with the ED driving the community’s operating culture. There is a huge opportunity to also have the ED lead a prospect-centered approach in sales. However, all of our industry’s currently accepted sales performance metrics scream the opposite. 

#2: Eliminate Marketing and Operations Silos

The most successful sales cultures eliminate artificial distinctions between marketing or sales and operations. Currently, many senior living portfolio operators tend to manage sales effectiveness by creating dual chains of authority that run from a national marketing director to regional and community-level managers. 

Generally, the marketing chain of command runs parallel to similarly organized operations or administrative staffing. Nearly all of the smaller independently owned and managed communities also keep marketing and management functions segregated from the “trenches” level up to the very highest levels of management. 

In this model, the operations chain has all the authority and control, while the sales or marketing chains are primarily advisory. Nevertheless, the sales chains are generally where people are held accountable for sales results. 

An essential key to executing more effective sales is to have the ED create a prospect-centered sales culture that is in sync with operations. A good first step is to eliminate artificial distinctions between marketing and operations. In my experience, the most logical and cost-effective way to do this is to eliminate dual lines of authority by truly making the ED the “CEO” of the community. They are a CEO in that they are directly responsible for driving revenue as well as controlling expenses and are therefore consistently involved with sales and marketing efforts on a daily basis. 

#3: Create a Supportive Work Culture

The senior leadership and investor stakeholders at many senior living companies today are still grounded in the antiquated speed-to-lead sales metrics for reporting and evaluating performance. Unfortunately, this perspective creates confusion with community-based sales teams that attempt to employ processes and metrics from prospect-centered selling. 

Cognitive dissonance often occurs when the sales counselor on-site, their ED, and/or their regional managers attempt to comply with two contradictory standards for sales effectiveness. People have an inherent desire to be consistent in their views, thoughts, and actions. When sales professionals are held to activity quotas based on getting more leads, tours, and call-outs, it creates stress and emotional discomfort. This may account for the whopping 50 percent-plus of senior living sales counselors who turn over each year. 

The ED is also in a unique position to create and maintain a supportive customer-driven selling environment across managers and departments . All too often, the relationship that develops between the sales staff and those in operations is adversarial rather than cooperative.

Left to fester, such conflict can impair everyone’s selling effectiveness. The ED is in the best position to identify and eliminate selling barriers. They can offer creative responses to special client needs, relocate the space used for discovery and closing, help with targeting activities, and identify staff or other residents to assist in the selling scenario. They can also help by relocating, refurbishing, or eliminating model apartments.

#4: Gain an Objective View Into What’s Going On

Too often, senior management and owners lose touch with what’s happening in the selling trenches. Hands-on involvement by the ED, however, affords an objective and realistic window into what’s happening there. 

Management’s involvement also ensures a better assessment of budgeting and personnel needs, pricing and special incentive strategies, and special prospect needs. Getting the ED directly in touch with incoming prospects is a cost-effective way to avoid what Jim Moore refers to as a “lack of vision for realistic planning for the future.”

This isn’t the only advantage. The ED can also support sales counselors by:

  • Minimizing obstacles to help sales counselors spend as much time in the selling zone as possible.
  • Participating actively in prospect planning sessions.
  • Whenever possible, meeting and visiting with prospects during tours or events.
  • Recognizing small successes and advances, not just move-ins.

Senior living sales strategies identify opportunities to advance readiness along an evidence-based continuum. Enlisting the ED to directly participate in and provide ongoing oversight of the sales effort enriches and elevates a person-centered culture in sales and operations.

Start at the Top

To be sustainable, the commitment to improve sales effectiveness and wipe out vacancies using a prospect-readiness orientation, rather than an investor-centric perspective, must start at the top. The mission, culture, and success metrics of customer engagements need to be promoted and aligned at every level of the organization, from the investors to management and the on-site, community-level sales professionals.

The only way to do that consistently and effectively is to put your ED into a sales leadership position in your community. Streamline leadership and make your ED accountable for occupancy, and the benefits to your prospects, your residents, and your entire team will be huge.

For more advice on how to enhance your senior living community’s culture of sales effectiveness, you can find It’s About Time! on Amazon.