Ep. 10 Mastering Sales & Marketing: Inside 12 Oaks Senior Living’s Success

Apr 1, 2024 | Podcast

David Ensor, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, joins Lori Jones, Chief Operating Officer of 12 Oaks Senior Living, to discuss challenges the senior living industry has experienced since COVID. They divulge into experiences, insights, and strategies which have involved adapting sales approaches and addressing evolving needs of resident and family.

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Lori (00:13):
Good afternoon, David. I’m so glad that you’re here with me today to take the time to talk about the challenges that we’ve had in the senior living industry over the last few years. Obviously, COVID really impacted our industry as well, and we’ve had a lot of difficulties, navigating and getting ahead of the turbulent times. And so today I am looking forward to hearing about your experiences, insights, and strategies amidst all of the challenges that we’ve had, and we’ve had to adapt sales approaches and address evolving resident and family needs, and your expertise has really played a pivotal role for 12 Oaks in not only making sure that our seniors are well cared for with our teams, but also, helping with the success of our communities. So before we jump into some questions, I would love for you to share a little bit about your background. David is our vice president of sales and marketing at 12 Oaks, and we are so happy to have him here. So David, if you could share a little bit about yourself.

David (01:10):
A little bit about me. I’ve been in the industry for 12, 13 years now. Most of my time was spent in the sales and marketing world. I did have a few years there as a regional director of ops. So I’ve got enough of an understanding of the operation side, I think to be dangerous, but really more focused on really just helping families out of tough times and into better times, which is what we do. It’s what we specialize in.

Lori (01:45):
Well, thank you for being with us. I’m gonna dive right into some questions for you. You’ve been with 12 Oaks now for a while. I would like you to talk a little bit about what sets 12 Oaks apart from the competition.

David (01:55):
I think I could fill a podcast with just this question from my perspective, and it might be a little skewed. I think obviously our sales approach and our marketing, the way we handle marketing is, pretty unique. But really at the end of the day, it all boils down to people the way that 12 Oaks focuses on our, on not only our people, the people we serve, people in general, I know it’s kind of a cliche answer a little bit nowadays, I feel like everybody’s focused to people, but being a part of how we do what we do and, and sitting in the meetings and, hearing how every decision we make starts with how it’s going to affect people, ends with how it’s going to affect people, and kind of watching how that approach kind of the openness and freedom and, creativity that creates within the communities and, within the home office and just every bit of what we do, and I think that’s the real game changer, is focusing on our goal of helping people and not losing sight of that really permeates everything.

Lori (03:14):
And speaking of people, 12 Oaks takes a very unique approach to manage our occupancy. We use the Sherpa method and it’s very relationship based selling. Can you talk a little bit about this and how it benefits our residents and families and our sales teams?

David (03:30):
It comes back to people. You know, the thing with the Sherpa, Sherpa in general, you know, it, really is prospect centered selling, understanding the fact that the, the people that we serve on a daily basis are coming to us in probably one of the most challenging moments of their life, right? No one ends up with us unless there’s something going on that’s life changing. The prospect centered model really focuses to allowing our sales teams the ability to kind of get down in the muck with the people that we deal with. We don’t shy away from the emotional side of what they’re going through and encouraging our salespeople to kinda lean into that emotion and get there with them. You know, one of the biggest challenges for salespeople, especially in this industry, I feel like, is that we’re salespeople and the prospects know that we’re salespeople.

David (04:35):
And I feel like there’s an inherent kind of guardedness that people have as we’re working with, and talking to them and, Sherpa and really the sales, in order to be good at sales in what we do, you have to be good at building trust and connecting with people. And the fact that we focus so much on leaning into the emotion and getting in there with the leads really lends to that. The prospects and, and the clients that we serve are getting support. They’re actually being able to work through the emotions of what they’re dealing with and the intricate struggles that they’re dealing with and trying to decide what to do next with, you know, a mom just that just got diagnosed with Parkinson’s or whatever they’re dealing with. There’s, there’s benefit there. And for us it’s funny how doing the right thing gets you good results, right? You know, I think our results kind of speak for themselves and where the benefit for us lies with that approach. But again, it comes back to people.

Lori (05:53):
Would you say that it’s really, it’s not as much transactional? I think as you mentioned, we focus so much on the person and what their needs are and getting in the well with them and connecting, we call it what connecting and tangling advancing our relationship. So it’s not just a hard and fast sell, and we keep those folks close as we learn about them and understand more about them through things like creative follow up. Can you give some examples of creative follow up?

David (06:22):
As you mentioned it’s working them through a process, right? There’s no lead that comes to any senior living community because they want to live in a one bedroom apartment and move out of their 4,000 square foot home, right? It’s something else that’s going on there. And you mentioned creative follow up as a way to connect, attunement, listening to our leads and understanding where they’re coming from and what they’re saying to us and what that means and what emotions they’re processing at the time, create a follow up specifically is a way for us to make that prospect feel heard and seen and understood and connect, right? It’s giving that person something to say that, as you were talking about all those things that are important to you, I was listening and I heard you and I understand where you’re coming from and here’s a little something. I know it’s tough right now, but maybe, hopefully this is something that’ll brighten your day or make you smile or make you feel like someone has listened to you. Because I think a lot of people we deal with haven’t been listened to in a long time, right? And, and that level of connection, again, from a lead standpoint, it’s invaluable. Even if they don’t move in with us, they get to feel like they matter again, which is sad that that’s the case, but that’s what it is.

Lori (07:49):
Real invested, serious interest in discovery, which sometimes gets lost in the busyness and the hurriedness of trying to get the sale, right? So that is so important.

David (08:02):
Looking at it as a marathon and not a sprint, right? And knowing that it could take six months to help someone through the process they’re going through and, and untangling all the difficulties in their life and everything like that. Being able to focus on that person and doing the right thing with each lead that we talk to, you get out of that rat race at the end of month, right? We need to get this many movements to get net, following a process and staying with the process. It allows the lead to dictate what they need rather than us dictating, I need you to move in this month because I need one more to grow occupancy, right? And by doing that, leads that connect with it and they appreciate it and, all things considered, that’s where they want to live, right? The other side of what we do is you’re dealing with an adult child trying to prove to them that you’re gonna take good care of their mom or dad. The best way to prove to them that you’re gonna take good care of their mom or dad is to take good care of their mom and dad through the sales process, right? And put your money where your mouth is.

Lori (09:16):
You’re really keeping your pipeline full if you think of it that way, because you’re working, you’re working with them through the process on where they are and not by trying to get it done right now. And it makes a difference because the pipeline is what continues to keep us growing occupancy. And speaking of, overall with some of the challenges we’ve had, occupancies has been recovering over the last 15 months or so, and we are adjusting the way, senior living in general is adjusting the way that we’re seeing the glass is half full now versus half empty. So we’re still not out of it, but we have a lot more positive outlook on it. And at 12 Oaks we use data-driven technology. So would you share a little bit about some of those metrics and how is it successful and what are the benefits? Do we have any pitfalls? And then how are we comparing to the industry?

David (10:11):
I’ve been wanting to brag about us for a while, so I’m gonna start by bragging first and answer to how we’re comparing to the industry. 2023, in that 12 month period, we were able to grow occupancy by right at 170 net grew by 170 units. All this while also, doubling our size and expanding and all the challenges that come with that. We do that by focusing to data-driven metrics. And I think the key with that one of the obvious pitfalls that I’ve seen when it comes to focusing on metrics, is metrics are a good indicator of where to look. They’re not necessarily what’s gonna tell you exactly what’s wrong. And when you’re managing 40 communities, you don’t have, you’ve gotta be very strategic and efficient with your time to be able to help everybody that you need to help.

David (11:22):
So being able to quickly look in and look at how much time is our team spending in the selling zone? Where are they spending their time? What different activities are they engaging in? And are those activities working right? There’s, you know, the tried and true conversion metrics, I think we take it a little bit farther, and we look at not just overall leads, but qualified leads and are those converting and what percentage of total lead base ends up being a qualified lead? I’ve had sales positions before where leads are just dumped into a bucket and you’re looking at, we generated X number of leads this month. Well, if 75% of those are not actual viable leads, then what did you really accomplish? We, we really spend a lot of time looking at and making sure and fine tuning, are the leads we’re generating actually benefiting our communities, or is it just a number?

David (12:29):
Then drilling down from there, I would be remiss if I didn’t also point out almost 30% of our portfolio is 90% or higher occupied. And of that 80 plus percent of those, or actually over 95%, so it’s not a bunch of 90 ones and 90 twos. It’s a lot of very highly occupied communities that when you get to that level, you really have to be very good at where, how quickly you can get in front of whether it’s a trend in the local area or a trend with the community, or a trend with a lead source, but getting in front of just a sales team that gets distracted by something else, right? Being able to quickly address and identify where the opportunity lies. It allows you more time to dig into the why behind where that number’s coming from, which is really where the magic happens, right? That’s where connecting with your team and digging in and understanding why is our lead to tour metric this number, right? What are we doing on a daily basis? And actually helping them versus speaking to a number, telling ’em where you want the number. And moving on.

Lori (13:55):
As we look at the metrics, we do take a very individualized approach by community, by sales leader, by team, by trifecta team on how to manage what’s going on at that community within their own community. And it’s that individualized approach that helps us to really dial it in. 12 Oaks has a history of really growing their people. We have a lot of folks that have grown up in the company. We have really strong retention rates. Kind of changing gears just a little bit, but what makes a great leasing director in your opinion?

David (14:28):
Well, one thing, to your point of our retention rates and, and how we grew from within, and I think that really starts with the hiring process, right? I think we do a very good job of, and, and it’s again, not by accident. When you focus on people so much, you get to really understand people. And when it comes time to hire people, you’re a good judge of people and you end up hiring the right people and then you support those people and they stay with you and they do well and they’re successful. What makes a good salesperson is, you know there’s a lot of attributes to a salesperson, their ability to speak to a person in front of them, be persuasive, their ability to understand numbers. But really with what we do, the most important piece is having the ability to build trust with other people.

David (15:29):
I know for myself, and I think I can speak for 12 Oaks, is that we would much rather hire good people who can build trust and teach them how to sell than a salesperson, and try to get that person to be able to learn how to make people trust them. I think again, it goes back to whether it’s a societal thing or what, but there’s a kinda an inherent distrust in salespeople. Everyone thinks of a used car salesman or some bad experience with someone that talked them into something they didn’t need. When you start with salespeople who are very good at connecting, who are comfortable with having emotional conversations and difficult conversations, and able to keep their head about them when having those conversations and can build trust through that process that’s how you end up with 30% of your portfolio at 90 something percent. And another piece, I can’t believe I didn’t mention this, I’m pretty proud of this one. I wanna say it for last, I guess. For the 12 months of 2023, we had net growth in 10 of those 12 months with what we do. And if we hire the right people that are able to get out there and really connect and attune and listen to people and build that trust and we support them, you can grow.

Lori (16:53):
David, thank you very much for your time and for taking this opportunity to just share some of your expertise and your insights into what we’re all facing out here. Appreciate it and thank you for being part of our 12 Oaks team.

David (17:08):
Thank you very much.

Speaker 1 (17:10):
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