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CW 125: Julie Podewitz

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

This series focuses on specific pieces of the occupancy puzzle, what contributes to the outcome, what action to put in place, and how to coach others.

For this episode on coaching others, Julie goes into the interrogation room of her favorite detective series, NYPD Blue.

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday. I’m Julie Podewitz, CEO and Founder of Grow Your Occupancy, a Bridge the Gap ambassador, and author of Solving the Occupancy Puzzle, a Senior Living Sales Leader Playbook. I’m glad to be back with you for part four 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. 

Goal posts were the subject of the last episode, setting activity benchmarks. I use a metaphor of football and all I know about the game from watching Friday Night Lights. Seriously though, it’s a metaphor I think we can all relate to the rules of the game learned at a very early age, every team needs a playbook. I mean, can you imagine a team that didn’t understand the rules or how the game works? The most highly skilled players need a playbook. Well, it’s the same with sales. Even the best, most naturally gifted sales director needs to know the rules of the game, what is expected, starting with activity benchmarks, what to do. Conversely, even with the best playbook, players without the skill and practice will not have a winning season. Sales directors without the skill and practice will not solve the occupancy puzzle. If you haven’t listened to part three from last month, listening to it now will help make more sense. 


In this episode, we go from Friday Night Lights to NYPD Blue. In every good detective series there is the closer, the detective that is brought in who will finally get the suspect to confess. I loved John Kelly in the first season of NYPD Blue. He seemed like such a great listener, a great connector. He would sit on the table, lean forward, eye contact, connect, listen, and get the suspect to say things no one else could get them to say. Then it was Dennis Franz’s character who didn’t turn away from the tough questions to ask to get to the truth, not accepting the I didn’t do it objection. And there was Kira Sedgwick who stared in a series called The Closer for years, and she was a detective who had what it took to get the confession. 

I can’t help but think it was her approach, her confidence, the questions she asked, and her listening skills, and not fearing the objection. That always fascinated me. What did they do that others didn’t to get that outcome, that confession. I know it’s fiction, but the concept is the same as the very non-fiction real world of sales and coaching. Questions elicit responses, and the quality of the questions determine the quality of response. 

Think about it. You bump into an acquaintance you haven’t seen in a year in the grocery store. How are things going? Oh, great. You know, Tony started preschool and Jessica’s growing like a weed. How are you? Oh yeah, busy with everything. Trying to keep all the balls juggling in the air. I feel like I’m living my life as an Uber driver. You know, the kids are so busy with activities in school. Oh yeah, yeah, great seeing you. Oh, great seeing you too. Let’s get together soon. Not great questions, vague responses, but seeing someone every once in a while is really not knowing them. So responses are going to be vague. 

Similar in your coaching relationship, if you’re not connecting regularly, your sessions may feel and sound like this. How are things been going? What struggles do you have? Or how can I support you to meet your sales goals this month? I may know little about football, but I do know a lot about pop music culture. Stay with me for a minute here. What’s more emotional than music? A song can take us right back to our eighth grade school dance or to our first love or our first heartbreak, and questions are often asked in music to get the listener involved. There’s a lot of great questions. Tina Turner wants to know what loves got to do with it. REM, what’s the frequency, Kenneth? The Who’s, who are you? Men at Work wanna know who can it be now? Pink asks, what about us? Marvin Gay poses a biggie, what’s going on? And the Clash has perhaps the quintessential senior living pop song question, Should I stay or should I go?

Okay, let’s bring it back to coaching to note your approach to coaching is the same as the approach a sales director has with a prospect or referral source. Same concept. Same approach. You’ll use what you teach others to do in your coaching sessions. Similar skills are used. Genuine interest in understanding where to start, what problem you’re trying to help solve, or in what area you can be of guidance, or when and where to offer advice. Identify where your client or customer is, either logistically, emotionally, mentally, or what has gotten them to where they are. Then determine what to do or focus on to get them where they want to go. And identifying where that is. 


Let’s start with the quality of your questions. Questions such as how are things going? How’s your week been so far? Have you been doing getting out to do your outreach? Aren’t helpful for either the coach, or the client, or student or customer, or if you’re a Star Wars fan like my husband, Padawan. Questions like this, elicit responses like good, frustrating, busy, or in the case of asking how outreach is going, and the person hasn’t done any, to feeling defensive in which cases, excuses or roadblocks are put up. That may lead down to that rabbit trail, the coach trying to solve that objection, which may or may not be the best use of coaching time. This is an example of solving the problem too soon. Another parallel with customer facing sales, which we used to call needs matching. You don’t drive, we have a van. Oh, you’re not cooking anymore, we offer three meals a day, plus nutritious snacks. You’re lonely, we have great residents living here, you’ll make a lot of friends. And then being surprised when our customer gives an excuse as to why she can’t come in for a tour or decide on which apartment she likes best.

Similarly, a coaching question like, How can I help you meet your moving goal this month? Or What do you need for me to support you? Requires the recipient to know the answer or how to solve their own problem. To know what action step to take, instead of offering a solution or a next step, you are asking them to tell you. Yes, you want to ultimately help them self-solve, but you’ll do this better or more successfully by asking better questions, listening, learning more, getting more details, and then offering advice, once you feel like you’ve gleaned enough information and recapped it back for mutual understanding. Sound familiar? Let’s look at the parallel between you coaching others best practices to sell senior living, and your coaching them to do it. There are many. 


Number one, plan. What information do you need to know that will help you determine which help or advice that your client or student needs to improve? What do they need to do? What should they think about? What data should you review? What notes should you review? What calls should you listen to, et cetera? Plan. Which area needs improvement most, or what will make most impact? What’s the data showing? What problem caused the prospect to reach out for help? In other words, the sales director parallel there. 

Number three, where is your client or your customer now in their journey? Did they just join the team? Are they in their first 90 days? Are they long tenured and maybe feeling a bit burned out? Have they grown their skills and performance to a certain point and are now stuck or satisfied with where they are or the status quo? Similarly, where’s the prospect in their journey? 

Number four, ask quality questions. Just like you coach your sales directors to ask great questions. In coaching, you will want to do the same. Be more specific than how are things going, or How can I support you? Or why are tours low this month? 

Number five, ask one question at a time and pause. Allow time for thought. A good coach asks difficult questions that take thought. They take mental processing. If you are impatient, the student may feel pressured to respond quickly or give an excuse or reason where they are. Or they say something that they think is pleasing to get the coach off their back, similar to how sales directors might feel with their prospects putting up roadblocks or giving excuses as to why they can’t do what we’re asking them to do or don’t want to. They’ll just say anything or nod their head and walk out to get them off their back. 

Number six, Listen. Listen, listen, listen. 

Number seven, learn more. When you say you didn’t have time to get out to do your outreach, tell me what is taking up the time that you originally carved out to do it.

Number eight, start a conversation with a statement of fact. I see that tours are low. When I look at trending 90 days, prospected to conversion has taken a dip by almost 20%. Let’s look into reasons why this may be happening. Your statements of fact, and you’ve done your research, you’ve done planning. Now you’re working together to look at what impacted this, to try to figure out the potential reasons or reason, and then decide on an action step toward improvement. In other words, solving the occupancy puzzle together as a team. 

Number nine, recapping. Get on the same page with your customer, just like you’re asking your sales directors to do that with their customers. Get agreement. Your advice, your next action step, your next area of focus or practice. The commitment you’re asking them to make has a better chance of sticking when you are in alignment with your client, very much like the sales director with their prospect. 

Number 10, determine is there a connection here? Is my client or customer ready? Do I sense they’re ready for this advice? It’s a gut check. 

Number 11, give the advice in a statement with confidence. What to do next. What to consider. What to think about. What to practice, very much like we ask our sales directors to do with their prospects or their referral sources. Give advice. 

Number 12, follow through. You’re doing what? You expect what? From her by when? What will occur? When will it occur? What’s the expectation? What’s the date? And make sure you are following through on this agreement. 

Number 13, be flexible. Conversations do not always go where we think they will or where we would like them to go. Be an active listener. This allows you to stay in the moment to pivot off your original train of thought and onto their train. You will give better advice because you’ll be in alignment with your client, with your student, with your sales director, or whomever it is you’re coaching. 

Number 14, the customer feels seen and heard. I have a business coach. We meet regularly, and I know his intention is to help me, but if I don’t feel seen or heard or feel like he isn’t finding out where I am at that particular day or moment in time or in my business, I may not be ready to take action or buy into his advice. I feel myself making an excuse or saying nothing and not doing it or not thinking about it. This doesn’t make for a comfortable or successful subsequent session. I will say the more we meet, the more benefit I am getting from the sessions. He’s becoming a better coach for me, I’m becoming a better student. We’re learning about one another. He’s asking great questions to find out where I am, goals are, challenges, before either offering advice or even telling me what to do in the sense that it’s a benefit for me, ultimately my business. And we are both feeling seen and heard. 

Number 15, Guide your student by using great questions. Much of the time, they’re open ended, but sometimes closed ended questions are just as necessary. Are you ready for some advice? Do you feel comfortable with this train of thought? Do you feel like you’re being seen and heard? 

And lastly, be vulnerable. Just as you are wanting your customer to be vulnerable and open up to you. You will want to do the same. As coaches, we don’t have all of the answers. We don’t have a magic wand to, bling, solve the occupancy puzzle for every prospect, every situation, every problem, okay? There are many circumstances that go way beyond our control. We don’t have an easy fix for everything. So as a coach, if you’re unsure, acknowledge. If you don’t know an answer, acknowledge that. If someone brings up a good point, something you haven’t thought about, that’s a good point. Let’s think through that. Or I need some time to process. 

As coaches, we aren’t smarter than our students. In fact, the best coach learns from their players, and the best sales directors from their customers, the best senior living sales coaches from their students, or padawans. Just like in selling senior living, coaching takes practice. The rookies aren’t typically sent into the interrogation room on their first week to get that confession. They learn and practice from the masters, just like we do from one another and from our customers, our prospects, our referral sources, our families, one another, and those we coach. 

Thanks for listening to this week’s Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday. I’m Julie Podewitz, CEO and Founder of Grow Your Occupancy. Please connect with me at,, on LinkedIn, or grow your occupancy on YouTube.


Thanks for listening to the Contributor Wednesday series on the Bridge the Gap Network sponsored by Peak Senior Living by Functional Pathways. For a full library of episodes, visit


CW 125: Julie Podewitz