Hiring a Top Tier Senior Living Marketing Team to Beat Competition

Carlene Motto, Chief Marketing Officer, Belmont Village Senior Living
July 20, 2018

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Competition in the senior living space is fierce. And, with greater competition, comes a greater demand for talent.

If you’re a senior care marketing manager, where are you going to find your next great hire? And what background and skills should you be hiring for? This is such an important decision that can have a tremendous impact on your organization’s results and culture. If you’ve ever hired the wrong person you know how costly that mistake can be.

On this episode of the Senior Care Growth Show, we talk to Carlene Motto, Chief Marketing Officer of Belmont Village Senior Living about how marketing managers can hire their next rockstar.

Listen now or read the full transcript below.

How do your marketing and sales activities stack up to other communities? Download the Senior Care Sales and Marketing Report to find out now!

Hiring a Top Tier Senior Living Marketing Team to Beat Competition

Carlene Motto, Chief Marketing Officer, Belmont Village Senior Living



Winston: Welcome to this episode of the Senior Care Growth Show. My name is Winston. I am super excited today to be joined by Carlene Motto. She is the Chief Marketing Officer at Belmont Village Senior Living. Today we’re going to be talking about how you can hire a top tier senior living sales team to beat out competition. Carlene, welcome to the Senior Care Growth Show.

Carlene: Thank you so much, Winston. It’s a pleasure to be here. As you said, I’m Carlene Motto. I’m the Chief Marketing Officer with Belmont Village Senior Living. I’ve been in the industry for a little over 25 years. In all facets of health care, from assisted living to independent living; memory care. Early in my career I worked in acute care and also skilled nursing. I currently have responsibilities for the sales and marketing organization at Belmont, which includes innovation, product development, social media, public relations, marketing efforts, and all of our communication in the company. I absolutely love the industry. I’m excited about the growth, the challenges that we currently face, and all of the great opportunities that we have to continue to improve quality for the seniors that we serve and also the employees.

Winston: Yeah. That’s awesome, Carlene. Well, I’m excited to have you on the show. Obviously you have a wide breadth of responsibilities and you’ve got just a ton of great experience and so given that that depth of experience, maybe you could shed some light on a question of how has the industry changed in recent years? What have you seen in the senior living space? How does it look today versus say five, 10 years ago?

Carlene: Sure. There’s no denying that occupancy levels are a critical factor that keeps many senior housing operators up at night. Nick just recently released their first quarter 2018 data that reflected senior housing occupancy for the primary markets fell to 88.3%. That was a 90 basis point decline from one year earlier. AL occupancy is at an all time low rate since Nick began. Previous low for assisted living was 86.5 % in 2009. I think most would agree that the decline in occupancy in our primary markets is the result of annual inventory growth. AL pay seen annual absorption for both assisted living and independent living. Many operators were also hit very hard in the first quarter by the flu season, which did impact our occupancy levels and now many of them are just starting to recover. New supply like we’re going to talk about today. New supply does not just put pressure on occupancy levels, but our ability to recruit and retain best in class sales associates and employees at every level. So I’m delighted that we’re going to spend some time today talking about, on the podcast, human capital people and how that’s really different in this senior sector. How people truly do make the difference.

Winston: The team that you have supporting the organization and helping to drive occupancy and sell seems very, very important in this competitive atmosphere. Would you say that that’s true? Why is this such an important thing?

Carlene: Absolutely. I think that most people, when you think of traditional real estate, my son’s in real estate, and you always hear location, location, location, and how important location is. Well in senior housing, I feel while we are trying to compete with a shiny new building down the street and all the new bells and whistles, the real key differentiator is your team, is your people. People drive this business. Experience absolutely matters. If you’re managing a mature community, then investment that you put on your people is just as important and greater than the investment that you make and the physical plant changes.

Winston: Yeah. That’s awesome. And so what impact does having that team have on revenue?

Carlene: Absolutely. I think first of all, when you talk about revenue, a sales organization are your revenue drivers. You need to first create a sales culture where everyone sells. They’re motivated, they’re rewarded. You need to get everyone focused on the same goal. When you look at our industry, you know, we’re always looking at ways to enhance the overall resident experience. You need to put that same rigor around your own employees, Put the customer first and recognize your customer is also all the great employees that you currently have working for your organization. You need to embrace their ideas, allow them to be creative and innovative. Make an investment in your people. We need to, as much as we all feel very anxious about when you have an open sales associate position, you need to be responsible and higher heart. Take your time, train appropriately. Make that investment in training, coaching, mentoring. Give your employees opportunity for growth, motivate them along the way, and celebrate those small successes and milestones also along the way. People typically don’t leave a company because of pay. They leave a company because of who they’re working for.

Winston: Yeah, those are all great points. So a couple of followup questions there. You mentioned getting focused on the same goals. What goals do you recommend that sales organizations look at? How do you rally your team around the right kind of goals?

Carlene: First of all, I think if you put that investment in the right areas, one, we look at a multitude of goals, you obviously have your occupancy and revenue goals need to also have your resident customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction goals, resident experience goals. So selling is a team sport, so it needs to start with your executive director as that sales leader at the community, ensuring that every member of that team is aligned and working towards achieving and accomplishing those goals. So we put a lot of recognition and incentives around the fact that it takes a village to really move your occupants the to create better experiences. So ensuring that every member of the team also participates in that recognition and in those rewards along the way builds better alignment.

Winston: Yeah, for sure. And on the note of alignment, I think this is not directly related to hiring, but it’s sort of is. You mentioned having the right training, coaching, mentoring in place, but also setting these goals. So obviously in a sales position it’s going to be somewhat independent. But you need to have that support mechanism in place where you’re teaching and training and they need to have some level of oversight and development. What are some of the traits that you look for when you’re hiring someone to kind of fill that role where they can be independent, but they’re also willing to listen and be coached? What are some of the traits that you look for?

Carlene: Right. I think that’s a great point because they are working within a team, even though they’re independent selling skills going on a team player is really critical. So we look at, we’ve had a lot of success on the human capital side growing our talent organically. So we looked at sales assistance in those roles, bringing them on board. They may not be at a place in time where they can do the full time sales assistant, the sales associate role, but working under someone that has a proven track record. Someone that’s a good mentor trainer has been a great growth opportunity for us. Today, we have at least nine individuals. We have 28 communities across the country. We have at least nine individuals with us that have started in sales assistant roles. What we look for is we look for someone that has excellent listening skills. Someone that it can relate to the customer. When you talk about listening, it’s probably one of the that you train and coach and a lot of different ways, but when you go out and you try to actually provide training in the area of listening, there’s not a lot out there. So one, you want someone with good listening skills, good writing skills. There’s been a lot of organizations that have found individuals that have a journalism background, do very well in the sales organization because they have excellent writing skills. So our customer today, it’s not just a discovery process when they walk in the front door, but it’s over the phone, it’s through text messages, it’s now email communication. So someone with excellent writing skills, someone who’s open to coaching, learning, Someone who’s authentic. Someone that, you know, can build trust and establish that trust with our family members.

Winston: Yeah, those are all great criteria. That makes total sense. I think you mentioned a couple of really, really good ones there. I love the idea of hiring a salesperson with a journalism background. That’s not something that I think most people would think of, but I’ve been on the receiving end of plenty of sales emails and the communication is sometimes really lacking because that person is not, they don’t have a communication background, they don’t, they’re not a writer but especially in something in a decision so considered a nuanced as senior housing that it has to be professional. The communication has to be at a high level so you can establish that trust with the prospect.

Carlene: Absolutely. So I think, you know, journalism is a great background that maybe you will not consider. I think there’s a lot of discussion and debate over, does someone need to have prior industry experience? And I think we’ve experienced at Belmont village and many of my colleagues have experienced that you don’t necessarily need that prior experience and sometimes having that prior experience brings someone that may not be as open to learning your culture, your process, your systems. We found teachers have actually been really great sales assistants. Again, they’re great with multitasking, they’re great with listening, they’re genuine, they’re humble, they’re open to ongoing learning, which are all great skillsets to be part of this. So when you look at all the new supply, all the new growth, I think that organizations need to be open to looking at a different variety of individuals that maybe we didn’t look at before. Obviously that also opens us up to the millennials. And I think again, our sales assistant track gives us a great opportunity to bring in more of the youth that come with some great exposure to technology and being able to communicate quicker, faster, and more effectively with our consumers today than we did in the past.

Winston: I want to touch on that too because I think that people get a little bit scared when you advise someone to think about hiring millennials, because I think in the business world, in general, millennials sometimes get a bad rap for being difficult to manage or maybe not as motivated, but with the method that you mentioned with hiring at a sales assistant level and then helping them grow through the organization. You know, my first thought, and you mentioned this just a little bit ago, is having the right culture. My thought is that really in order to do that, to hire someone young and develop them through the organization, you’ve got to have good culture and vision and mission for that organization, for that to work. Would you say that’s true?

Carlene: Absolutely. I think that’s what we find with millennials that we’ve brought into the organization on the sales assistant side, they are very mission driven. So mission driven is very important to them, culture is very important. Teamwork, collaboration. They’re innovative. I love the fact that they’re willing to take risks. They’re not afraid of failure. Yes, I think they get a bad rap with, you know, everybody gets a trophy. But we have found their ability to plan, take risks, challenge us, and I think the challenges, that is a great thing. Why do we have to do it that way? Have we thought about it this way? Have you looked at the technology that exists now in our space? When I’m at industry events, I am overwhelmed by the amount of innovation and technology that now exists in our space today that wasn’t there 10 years ago.

Winston: That’s a great point. So I think if you can find the right type of person who is willing to learn, who’s willing to put in hard work and can listen, like you said, that’s such an important thing, but who’s really empathetic to the person that they’re speaking with and then can use new technologies and tools to communicate effectively to them. I think you’ve described a really interesting model for finding someone in a sales position, but really that model, it really does need that organizational strength in order to flourish. Otherwise, I can only imagine you’d hire someone young, you don’t have the support for them and they sort of fall on their face or they get frustrated and they end up leaving.

Carlene: Right, And I think that’s why, you know, the mentoring, the coaching with someone that is mature already in our organization has been a great path for them. The other thing that we’ve really identified with a lot of the millennials is that their grandparents and great grandparents, have really been a role model for them. So many of them are really excited about our industry because one, they’ve grown up now with their grandparents being a very big part of their lives. We’re finding out even the shift in decision making where it’s grandchildren coming in with their grandparents that are looking at the senior living and making the senior living decision. Well, they communicate very differently. So again, they’re not calling us. They’re texting us, they’re emailing us, they’re live chatting us. They’re reaching us in different ways and they relate very well to our sales assistants.

Winston: Gotcha. Yeah, that’s a great point. I think they’ve kind of experienced that and then maybe even had some sort of a role in that decision making process for a grandparent or a loved one. That’s great. So just a question too. We were talking about, you know, kind of hiring the right people for your sales organization. You mentioned sort of a sales assistant role. Could you speak a little bit to maybe the structure of a sales organization that you find effective? And what other roles might you consider in building a sales team for your organization?

Carlene: Sure. So our sales organization, I feel strongly that your sales organization should report at the community level into your executive director. That builds a more collaborative integrated team and they need to be part of that team. So our organization, the way that it’s set up is that, our community relations associates, which are full time sales associates, report into the executive director. Our sales assistants report into the community relations associate, so they are the ones that are guiding a lot of their responsibilities. They’re working side by side, so there’s coaching, there’s on the job training, but then they’re also picking up a lot of those responsibilities that are really important as you prepare for that customer. If it’s a scheduled tour, if it’s an unplanned tour that’s coming in, there’s a lot of behind the scenes precall planning that needs to go into that presentation.

Carlene: The sales assistant is really critical in that piece. We’ve also had some really great success when you look at, besides developing our sales assistants into community relations associates, we’ve developed a pipeline. It’s almost like our residents where friends want to live with friends, employees come to work with colleagues that they really highly respect. So at Belmont Village, we’ve also had a lot of success by putting in a formal program that says, be sure to talk about Belmont Village to your colleagues. Be sure to talk about Belmont Village to your friends, and let’s build our sales force through those networks, through those relationships. So today, half our sales force has come from our existing sales force that have made recommendations and said, I think this individual would be a great sales candidate for Belmont, and so we recognize them, reward them and that’s how we’ve kind of built our bench within the company.

Winston: Super smart because it is so hard to find the right person for a particular role. And I know firsthand just how lengthy that hiring process can be. So what a nice thing when someone that you already know and trust is on the team; is willing to sort of stake their reputation and recommend someone else. I think that that referral program makes a ton of sense.

Carlene: And then the other thing to your question about the sales organization, at the corporate level, we have a full department which consists of our marketing and communications, public relations, social media. So they are an extension of our salesforce at that community level that is available, partnering with them to create best in class programs to drive quality leads into the communities. So that relationship is very integrated, which I think has also created a lot of success for us as an organization.

Winston: Yeah, I would imagine so. I mean we’ve talked on this podcast before about the need for marketing and sales alignment and so I think that if you have someone, especially with the organization your size where there’s a kind of a corporate office or sort of a headquarters that can dictate the marketing vision and the messaging that needs to be sort of a disseminated amongst the different communities, then that sales team can sort of work in tandem with the marketing message to say the right things in sort of work hand in hand.

Carlene: Absolutely. So a lot of our content marketing strategy comes from the feedback that we get at the community level; that’s important. A lot of our brand and our messaging is built around customer experience, expectations of the customer. And that strategy again was built from our sales associates and our executive directors and our teams at community level. What does the customer have to say about us, what’s important to them? And then how do we build that messaging?

Winston: Yeah, I love that. And that brings up a good point again, on the type of person that you would have in that sales organization. It needs to be, like you said, someone who can listen, but I think it also needs to be someone who’s bought into the organization mission and values and can listen and then give that feedback back upstream to the correct people. So you really need to be bought in, I think for that, that transaction to happen because otherwise you’re kind of working with blinders, you’re doing your day to day and you’re just getting the job done, but the right person who can kind of filter that information upstream to help better the organization’s messaging. That’s a beautiful thing.

Carlene: No, and I love what you said. It’s, you know, sales and marketing is absolutely integrated here. It’s absolutely collaborative. Our whole marketing strategy planning process as is completely integrated with the community. So we’ve looked at our swot analysis, we looked at our planning process, we look at what’s working, what’s not working, and then we make those refinements and changes.

Winston: That’s great. And just kind of on that note to follow up question, how do you encourage the sales folks to share that information? Is there some kind of mechanism for them to say, you know, we had this great conversation, I think this will be something that we want to talk about within the organization. Does that come from just having kind of close alignment of those two departments or how does that function?

Carlene: Yeah, I think that the alignment is important. Also your sales structure. I have two vice presidents of sales that work very closely also with the communities and with corporate marketing part of our annual processes. We build their marketing plan together and that’s based on where their leads are coming from, what’s been successful, what are some of the advertising, digital marketing efforts, channels that they’ve had success with. Because of our size, we’re very nimble. We’re small enough where we’re responsive and open to the feedback from the field. So that takes place during, you know, weekly sales calls, monthly sales calls where again, marketing and sales is integrated.

Winston: Gotcha. That’s great. Let’s see. Trying to look back at our question. We could talk all day. There are about 50 topics that have popped up in this conversation I’d like to explore further with you, but I’m just on the note of hiring. Any other kind of words of wisdom you would give to folks who were looking to build the right team. We’ve talked about some of the criteria that you should look for in those people. We’ve talked about ways to find them with kind of referral sources and putting in place a reward program for other employees to recommend people. Anything else that people should be looking for when they’re starting to hire this team that can help them beat out some of the competition?

Carlene: Well, I think the most important thing, and we talk about this in the industry, and this is why I’m so happy that you have something like this, is that at the end of the day, the competition in our space is still at home. So it’s the senior that’s still living at home that has not made that decision. So I think the more that we collaborate together and I think as much as you hire hard on the front end, you have to also put in programs, incentives, recognition, high quality compensation to keep your good employees. So again, we’ll look at resident attrition and the efforts and the rigor we put around to ensure someone stays with us as long as they’re safe and healthy and it makes sense. You need to do the same thing for your employees. So last week we just found out at Belmont Village we learned that we’ve been certified as best place to work, which we’re very honored to be part of. It’s a very prestigious honor. I would encourage, this is the first time that in our space there is a certification just for our sector, so make sure as you look at when you go into planning 2019 and everything that you put in place to drive revenue and drive quality for your residents, drive that same quality on the human capital side and look at ways to improve your training process, improve your onboarding, improve your compensation because turnover is very costly. And at the end of the day there’s opportunity just listening to your employees to make some changes. Refinements to make that a really happy, satisfied experience for that employee of yours.

Winston: Yeah, that’s an excellent point too. Just on the retention side, I mean, I think that the cost of replacing that employee is so high and the knowledge that leaves the building when that person leaves is so damaging and so it’s so difficult to replace that you’re dead on. It’s not just hiring the right people, it’s keeping them motivated through the right coaching and mentoring and the right compensation structure to make sure that they’re able to continue to, to sell effectively and to contribute to the organization.

Carlene: And I think you just said it best. I mean that’s the thing that truly differentiates us from other sectors is that when there is turnover in that sales position, they are typically the first point of contact with your family member, with your potential resident. And it is very detrimental when that turnover happens. So again, going back to how we started the podcast, experience absolutely matters in this business. It’s not location, location, location, and traditional real estate. It’s your people, your people, your people, the operation, the operation, the operation. So experience matters, drive your tenure, drugs, seniority. Recognize that because at the end of the day, the shiny new building down the block can have all the bells and whistles, but if their turnover is very high. The customer as well educated today and will not buy from that community.

Winston: Yeah, I love that. So not just in. You mentioned this a little bit ago, but not just focused on the experience for the residents. Put that same focus on the experience for your employees and I think that that just translates directly into the experience for the prospect and so really you have to be at a high level on all fronts as we’re looking at some really stiff competition.

Carlene: Absolutely and happy employees are happy residents. So everything translates and everything is integrated in this business. Which makes it so exciting when you look at growth. So again, I know you know a lot of operators when you see the new supply coming, there’s a high level of anxiety that there’s a big piece of the business that you can control and you know that that employee sector, that human capital piece, you can own it and you can make a big difference.

Winston: Great advice. Well Carlene, I think that’s going to do it for today. We’ve covered so much good information on this podcast. I think you’ve given some folks some really good tactics and tips for finding the right people, keeping them engaged, how that helps your bottom line, how that helps a beat out competition. I can’t thank you enough for being on the show today. We talked before you came on about all the different topics that you could cover. This is the one that interested me. I’m going to put you on the spot and say I want to have you back on the podcast sometime in the near future because we could talk for hours.

Carlene: Well I’d love to be back and I really appreciate you reaching out and I’m really excited to share my knowledge and again, we all want the same thing. We want what’s right for our employees and what’s right for customers, so thank you so much for having me.

Winston: Yeah, absolutely. So thank you Carlene Motto for being on the show. You’ve been listening to the Senior Care Growth Show where senior care sales and marketing professionals come to grow. My name is Winston and we’ll catch you next time. Thanks a lot.

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