NIC Notes

Insights in Seniors Housing & Care

By: NIC  |  December 15, 2020

Marketing Strategies: The Pandemic Pivot

Economic Trends  |  Ideas and Discussion  |  Senior Housing

Two educational sessions at NIC Fall Conference address the sales challenge.

As an effective vaccine for COVID-19 rolls out, seniors housing operators and owners are hopeful that sales will get a big boost in early 2021. But until then, they still face a challenging marketing landscape as the virus continues to spread amid renewed lockdowns and restrictions. 

“We have to win back consumer confidence,” said Traci Bild, CEO at Bild & Co., a Tampa-based sales and marketing firm.  “We have to be proactive.’ 

missingBild participated in two sessions at NIC’s Fall Conference on the sales and marketing challenges presented by the COVID-19 era. Other panelists included operators and providers.  

The sessions were led by Bre Grubbs, senior vice president at Leisure Care, a Seattle-based operator with 52 communities nationwide. She asked the participants how their marketing plans have changed over the course of the pandemic.  

Sales took a back seat when the pandemic first hit. Operators were focused on saving lives and securing personal protective equipment. They also faced a changing array of rules as regulators struggled to find the best approaches to mitigate the spread of the virus. “It was a crisis,” said panelist Joe Kiernan, chief strategy officer and senior vice president at Ocean Healthcare, a New Jersey-based post-acute provider.  

As the first wave of the pandemic eased in the Northeast, Ocean Healthcare was able to admit new patients with strict precautions in place. COVID and isolation units were created. As testing ramped up, more patients were admitted. “We have learned so much,” said Kiernan. 

Transparency saved the hospital referral pipeline. Ocean Healthcare had direct conversations witall its stakeholders including resident families. Data was shared on the number and outcome of cases. A plan was developed to handle a resurgence of the virus. “We are ready to support our hospital partners,” said Kiernan. 

Salespeople Get Creative 

Flexibility has been key, according to session participants. Marketing strategies have evolved over time as the virus spread across the country as new hot spots emerged and cases surged in the fall nationwide.  

Sales efforts are being tailored to local market conditions. Contributing factors include the disease positivity rate in the wider community, and state and county regulations.  

Operators knew the pandemic would hurt move-ins, so early on they turned their attention to prevent move-outs. “One of the things we could control was our back door,” said Summer Blizzard. At the time of the panel discussion, she was vice president of sales at Independent Healthcare Properties. She now works for another provider.   

Blizzard_Summer_photo_9-18-20 - WP

Blizzard said that the sales team quickly pivoted to working with families to deepen relationships with them. The goal was to keep current resident safe, happy and engaged. “We had to get creative,” she saidThe sales team had to be educated about the virus and take a new approach.  

The session panelists said that sales representatives have faced two big objections from potential residents and their families: safety and isolation. They want to know how the threat from the virus is being handled by the community; and how the community is dealing with the isolation of residents because of the need for infection control.  

The panelists emphasized the importance for salespeople to be transparent and authentic. Sales leads must be nurtured. A soft approach works best. An occasional check in with those who have shown interest in the property has been found to be valuable.  

With restrictions on in-person meetings and tours, virtual tours and zoom conferences have helped sales teams stay in touch with referral sources and prospects.  

Successful sales reps have learned to quickly convert a phone call into a walking tour. “Virtual tours are fun,” noted Bild. “No one will move in without seeing the community.” She added that in some respects a virtual live tour makes it easier for prospects to ask questions.  

Though sales have slowed, marketing executives say that the new residents who have moved in are frailer than those of previous years. Healthier seniors are staying put. The ones who are moving can’t manage at home anymore. However, Grubbs noted an uptick of interest in recent months from seniors looking for independent living units.  

Marketing executives are revamping advertising campaigns. Video testimonials are finding some success. Property websites should be refreshed, the panelists said. Direct mail is getting another look since more people are at home. Fewer folks are out driving by properties, which can be a big source in inquiries.  

Much of the marketing focus has shifted to social media outlets such as Facebook. People at home are spending a lot of time online. A thoughtfully designed Facebook page can show a vibrant lifestyle in action despite the restrictions, according to Grubbs. Residents can be seen meeting with family outside or engaging in a fun activity.  

Marketing consultant Bild noted that the pandemic has heightened the realization that senior living is still an emotional sale. What drives a new move-in is the connection that the sales team makes with the adult child or resident. “It’s not about the building,” she said.  

Grubbs emphasized the importance of getting back to marketing basics. The goal is to stay in touch with prospects, show genuine concern and follow up on leads.   

Bild agreed. She advised operators to stay on top of leads. “The pandemic has hurt traffic,” she said. “But the traffic that is coming in is legitimate.” She expects demand to resume with the introduction of the vaccine, advising operators to redouble their sales efforts. “Prepare now,” she said.  

About NIC

The National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC) is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to support access and choice for America’s seniors by providing data, analytics, and connections that bring together investors and providers.

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