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CW 121: Julie Podewitz

Solving the Office Puzzle  –  Friday Night Lights in Senior Living Occupancy

During this series, Julie Podewitz takes a deeper dive into how to solve the occupancy puzzle by first identifying the problem, determining strategy, what actions to take, and how to get there. 

 These six podcasts narrow in on a key area of the occupancy puzzle, what contributes to the outcome, what to do, and how to coach others to achieve goal.  

Speaking of goal (posts), in the third episode of the series, Julie explains how senior living sales is like an episode of Friday Night Lights.




Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday. I’m Julie Podewitz, CEO and founder of Grow Your Occupancy, BTG ambassador, and author of Solving the Occupancy Puzzle, A Senior Living Sales Playbook. I’m glad to be back with you for part three of Solving the Occupancy Puzzle. In this series, we look at how to solve the occupancy puzzle, what factors are causing the problem, and how to solve it. During each episode, we look at a piece of the occupancy puzzle, what determines the outcome, what action to take first, how to coach, and measure results. 

In the last episode I reviewed the second step, not enough sales. I used the metaphor of choreography to compare putting together a musical to this senior living sales process. I see it very much, the same, senior living sales and putting together a musical. You have to have the right actors and dancers, the right talent, a great choreographer to create the dance movements, to fit the score. You need a great teacher to teach the movements. A great coach to roll them out section by section, practicing, tweaking, providing input and feedback, strategize, change what’s not working, continue to do what’s working. Continue to rehearse, communicate, put costumes on, prepare for the show, do a lot of dress rehearsals. And you’ve got a great tour and move in or a great musical performance. If you haven’t listened to part two from last month, listening to it now will help make it a lot more sense. 

In this episode, senior living sales is all about Friday Night Lights. Hmm. Let’s get started. 


This week’s puzzle, goal posts. Keep in mind, leading measures are what is done to get a result. So the actions, the left side of an equal sign in math, the lagging measure is the result or the right side of the equation. So leading measures and lagging measures, leading measures, combined two things, action and skill. What is done and how well it’s done. At the time of this recording, it’s mid August. I live in middle Tennessee, and that can mean only one thing. High school football season. 

I grew up in the Midwest with two older brothers and a dad hyper focused on sports. My brother Paul is an assistant athletic director of sports information for Midwest University. I attended a big 10 university, one of the biggest football programs in the country. I went to one game and sold my tickets for the rest of the years I attended school. We have one daughter, one child, a daughter who spent her entire childhood inside a theater and has zero interest in sports of any kind. So it wasn’t until I binged Friday Night Lights that I begun to have even the slightest idea of how football is played, seriously. And yet Friday night during late summer and fall. My husband, Jim, and I are in the stands, cheering on the local high school team. Even though we know no one on the team, we love to go the crowd, the small town comradery, the concession stand, the marching band, the fans, and cheering on our underdog team, who by the way, went to and won the state championship two years ago. 

By now I’ve realized the rules of football, you know, how to score, penalties, downs, three point conversions, false starts, and it’s all fairly simple. I mean, I’m sure there are rules I don’t understand, that make complete sense to the more informed, but basically I can follow along. 


Once you’ve got the rules down, it’s the skill of the individual players and the team as a whole, which is going to win games and seasons. A team needs an interested owner, an excellent coach coaching team, strong captains, a playbook, a skilled quarterback leading the plays, and then the players who know the playbook and how their position and their play make a part in the overall success of the game.

So I’m sure football players learn the rules at an early age. I mean, can you imagine a team that didn’t understand the rules, they get on the field and they don’t really know how the game works? Even the most highly skilled players need a playbook and conversely, even without the best playbook players without skill and practice will not have a winning season. 

So let’s bring this all back to senior living sales, and let’s start with the playbook, the rules. The executive director in this scenario is the head coach. The sales director will say is the quarterback. And I’ll be honest, from there I’m a little bit lost in the analogy of the leaders in the community, to the players, but the rest of the community team are those key players on the field, as well as on the bench. 

In football, there are touchdowns that happen quickly and they’re super fun to watch. The quarterback throws a long pass. The receiver runs across the field unchallenged, and woo woo. Touchdown. The music plays, they do their fun dance. Or the receiver, on a return, the receiver, you know, runs down the field, seven, eight yards. The defense is unable to catch him. It’s super exciting. And a novice like me asks, well, why can’t they just do this over and over again? Right? It doesn’t work that way. 

Most touchdowns take a lot of effort, many downs. That’s when I was young and I didn’t quite get it. I’m like, all they’re doing is, you know, crashing in to inside, you know, kind of crashing into one another and not going very far. How exciting could that be? You know, each possession does not result in a score, right? There’s turnovers and interceptions. If you don’t make your certain yardage in a certain number of downs, you’ve lost your chance to try for a touchdown. Right? 


So imagine a football team saying we only wanna score the easy plays. We don’t wanna do these downs. We don’t wanna do all that effort. We don’t just, we just want the easy ones. Well, no one would watch the game, right? Because most of the touchdowns happen when it takes more effort, right? As if fewer happen on those, the hail Mary passes or the kickoff, boom runs 70 yards down the field. 

Well, again, it’s the same in senior living sales, we have the quick move-ins, right inquiry, tour, deposit, the needs high typically, or our customers are coming to us thoroughly researched. They really give us a check and set a  move-in date on the first tour. We love these and we always want more of them, but most move-ins are the kind that require many downs, right? More effort, a lot of follow up, a lot of planning and prep, and time out. Let’s go back to the sides and strategize and what are we gonna do for our next play? Right? So this is the activity, right? This is the activity of the game. This is the activity of senior living sales. 


So let’s take a look, today, at setting benchmarks for your playbook and coaching, to meeting and exceeding those that are set. 

Okay, first you wanna set the activity benchmarks. And remember results are a combination of activity plus skill. So the better your conversions, the better the result, and the lower the overall activity is going to be needed, generally speaking. Okay? But we start with the activity. So for example, let’s look at a goal of six move-ins. Okay?

Start with tour to sale or deposit to move in. Okay? If you need six move-ins, and you convert tour to move-in at 20%, that’s one out of five. So for every five tours, you get a sale and a move-in, those are unique tours, meaning it’s not one person touring twice. It would be six opportunities. Okay? Excuse me, five opportunities to get one sale, right? And you need to do that 30 tours, right? To get six, because that’d be one out of five. So again, at 20% you would need 30 unique tours to close six move-ins, okay? 

To get 30 tours. If you’re converting, half of your conversations to tour, you’ll need 60 conversations. Those are either initial conversations or follow up conversations, right? Because these could be initial tours. They could be retours. So in order to have 60 quality conversations, okay. On average, the attempt to connection ratio is about one out of three.

So in order to connect with 60 and really have good conversations, you’ll need to pick up the phone 180 times. And we’ll say, this is in a month, 180 times. So picking up the phone 180 times, you’ll have 60 quality conversations. You’ll convert those 60 quality conversations to 30 tours, or face to face, and you’ll convert 20%, those 30 tours to six move ins. Does that make sense? 

Let’s look at the same scenario with a 33% conversion of tour to move in, which is one of three instead of one of five. Okay. To get those same six move-ins you’ll need 21 tours, you’ll need 42 conversations to get the 21 tours. So you’ll need to pick up the phone 126 times. Does that sound more manageable? You’ll need to know your conversion ratio to accurately set activity benchmarks. Okay. Don’t set activity benchmarks to the ratios you want. Set them now at the ratios that are current, cuz you’re gonna continue to work unless you are surpassing conversion benchmarks. And if you are, that’s awesome. Right. But if you’re not too conversion benchmark, you need to look, what is your team doing now? And set activity to that conversion. 

I’m mentioning tours. Okay. Tours can be combined with home visits as an activity, especially if your tour number is low. So if tour activity is lower than benchmark, or if you’re thinking, I don’t know if I’ve had a month where I’ve ever had 30 tours, for example, consider bumping up home visit activity. So home visits, the first rule of thumb is to add home visits to that tour number. If tour activity is lower than benchmark and B, if conversion ratio is lower than minimum, add home visits. Note home visits are proven. They’re a proven activity to increasing tour to sale. All right. So home visit to sale to move-in ratio. So if you’re not doing home visits now is the time to consider adding home visits to the activity. Benchmark. 


Another metric to track is the deposit cancellation rate, as well as time between deposit and move in. So you’ll wanna set a standard for both. Note, recommendation here is that the deposit cancellation is 10% or lower. If your deposit cancellation is 30, 40 50%, we may be closing too quickly, not following up with secured next steps, or the time between deposit and move-in is too long. And we’ll talk about that in later episodes. 

So time check and move-in so. Check, I should say, check the time between check and move in. Okay. Two weeks for at the max for higher acuity, two weeks to a month for independent living and for CCRC entry fee 30 to 90 days on the outside, rule of thumb. For prelease, communities that are not yet open, you’ll wanna set the metric of how many gross deposits, how many net deposits, because there will be cancellations. And then the time, what is your timeframe to have all initial depositors moved in or paying right on occupancy if they’re not physically in the building. Note, track this occupancy, okay. Paying for the room, paying for the apartment, and physically being in the building. So “in sales” on census or a move in the world of sales means a resident is paying for the apartment, whether they’re physically there or not.  


Let’s move to outreach. Again, this is activity and skill. Gotta do outreach, so first set and track the activity. How many appointments, how many face to face? This is a start. How many conversations are needed to yield your desired result? 

So let’s go back to the football analogy. What if the coach said, just get out there and play. Don’t worry. Don’t keep score. Don’t think about the touchdown. Just keep passing, keep running, and let’s just go out there. Let’s just toss the ball around and, and let’s run around. I mean, how satisfying of a game is that for the players to play? What about the fans? Are they gonna go see a game like that? What about the owners? Can you imagine the owner report? Oh, well the team’s passing is great. The running time is up and defense is awesome. Right? Well, they’re gonna say, that’s all great. You know, are they winning games? What’s their record, right? 

Yet I can say I’ve caught myself doing very much the same. Oh, you know, activities are good, conversions are improving. Okay, great. What are the move-ins? What’s the occupancy looking like? Right. We need to know and focus on the outcome. Right? So the activity and skill needed to yield the outcome, and always looking at both the combination of both and the strategy behind each. 

So for outreach, what is the current rate or ratio, okay? Of referred prospects? So referred prospects specifically coming from a medical non-medical or an influencer in the community or one of your community, you know, resources? How many? What’s the current conversion ratio of those leads coming in? So for example, how many are needed for one move in a month? Start here, and how many appointments then are needed per referral? 

So for example, if you referred lead to move in is three to one, you need three referrals for every move-in. I’m talking about non-paid, you know, professional or influencer referrals, three to one, let’s say. So how many appointments is it going to take to get those three referrals? You need to know this. And if you don’t know, start somewhere. Okay, if you know, then is increasing activity reasonable? If it is, how many appointments are gonna be needed to double that referral number to six, or get it to four to five to six. Okay. If increase in the activity is not possible. It’s time for strategy, skill building, or adjusting your circle of influence or both.


If you’re only getting out and doing maybe five appointments a week and you’re getting three referrals, that’s awesome. That is a very high rate of appointment or face to face to referral received. Bump the activity up. If it’s 20 appointments a week or 15-20, and you’re getting one referral a month, it’s time to look back on who you’re seeing, where you’re going, and what are the conversations like? Right. So that would be the skillset piece of this. 

Once you have a handle on your outreach, on the activity needed, you’ll wanna look at overall lead to move in conversions. Okay. So you’re gonna determine the total number of leads needed and as importantly or more, which lead source? Okay, which lever to pull needs more attention, right? Perhaps you wanna turn to your digital strategy. If that conversion’s not correct. Look at your messaging, your differentiation, your signage, your outreach, your resident, friend, family referral program, your events, okay. Where your leads coming from? How many overall leads do you need to get the number of move-ins? And it’s not just overall number it’s what type of leads, like what bucket or category leads, source analysis, right? Cause you could have loads and loads and loads of unqualified leads coming in and that’s not going to help you with your move-in ratio. 


So finally, let’s move over to events. I just completed a webinar on planning a robust event calendar. It’ll be available online soon, if you didn’t have a chance to register, we talked about establishing a regular events schedule with purpose. So again, having events or happenings on a routine basis, planning, hosting those events, evaluating results, right? So doing them, planning them, and evaluating their results. So quantity and quality also is in effect here with your events. A rule of thumb to just get started, or back started post COVID, do one a month for prospects, one for referral sources and go from there. If you’re already doing that, bump it up to two for prospects and one for referrers or vice versa, depending on where your pipeline needs most support. But you need to track and measure to accurately determine this activity level. 

So activity of this equation, the activity, the equation of activity and skill, is simplest to track. Okay. You’re either on track, you’re at benchmark or above or you’re off track. So be in your CRM daily. This is for all leaders, certainly your sales directors or directors of sales and marketing you’re in there, your sales counselors, you’re adding your tasks. You’re doing your strategy. You’re planning. You are logging everything so that you can have accurate data. You wanna make sure your overdue tasks don’t become overwhelming, says ed. You’re also in your CRM daily. You’re adding your own tasks and your follow up, but you’re looking, are we on track or off, off track for current activity? Is current activity up to date?

Don’t ask about tours. I mean, I’m sure they’re discussed right in depth during your stand up and you know, customers are coming into your community, but look in the CRM. Is the data there are there specifics noted, you know, is there robust notes around who our prospects are and where are they in their journey? Don’t let it go on too long. If you get really past overdue on tasks, it’s overwhelming and becomes very frustrating. 


So once the benchmarks and expectations are set and followed, it’s time to focus on skill set. How the game is played, the players on the field, how well it’s coached, and how well the playbook is followed. And we’ll cover more of this in the next couple of episodes. 

So in the meantime, I highly recommend a binge watch or a rewatch of my favorite show of all time, for inspiration. As coach Taylor would say “Clear minds. Strong hearts. Can’t lose.” 

This is Julie Podewitz, Bridge the Gap ambassador, CEO and founder of Grow Your Occupancy. Thank you very much for checking in, again this week. Look forward to next month. Please check out Contributor Wednesday. My colleagues have fantastic content to share in this amazing industry. You can find me at Bridge the Gap podcast as well as

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CW 121: Julie Podewitz