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The senior living industry has a voice. You can hear it on Bridge the Gap podcast!

CW 57: Christy Cunningham

Um… Smarketing? Oh yeah! In this episode, Christy Cunningham discusses the origin of “Smarketing” and three ways the senior living industry can change their sales and marketing focus in order to gain competitive advantage.

Hello and welcome to Bridge The Gap Contributor Wednesday, I’m Christy Cunningham and it is sales and marketing week here at Bridge The Gap and today’s episode is going to be really fun. So some of my previous episodes have been a little sales centric. That’s just how I’ve been inspired, I guess, over these last five months or so. But today’s topic is the world between sales and marketing, the world of both sales and marketing. Yes. Folks, we’re going to talk about smarketing. No, I did not just make that up. It was actually a term that’s been around for awhile. And I’m going to talk a little bit about the history of that here in just a second, for those of you who don’t know, but in today’s episode, I’m going to give a little bit of a background on smarketing and where it came from, and then kind of fast forward to today and where we are senior living wise with regards to smarketing.

 

And really the purpose of this episode is to get to three things that we can do to take that farther, to compete better, and ultimately to win. And I know that that’s what we’re all focused on trying to do right now is win. And I think there is no better time to talk about where the worlds collide between sales and marketing than right now this minute. So let’s dive in. Smarketing, you can Google this, like I said, I didn’t coin this term. Actually was born right around 2007 we think. That’s when it went made mainstream and a well-known software company called HubSpot deserves the credit for that. HubSpot at the time was also going mainstream with some evolved ideas for inbound marketing in particular, but also sales. And their evolution really started in this idea that instead of just these generic customer types, that might be demographic information and really high level kind of simplified information about our customers, that we should really be creating more sophisticated models of those customers because they’re people and they’re dimensional and they coined this term persona, which is the process of which is the result of taking your customer type and using empathy and research to actually create a dimensional person that represents your customer or a type of your customer.

 

And so not that that was perfect language, but you guys know what I mean. And from there a company might have multiple personas. Each of those personas might have sort of a unique journey from the time that they are sort of aware of maybe your business all the way through the process to where they finally become a customer. And the idea behind these personas and this journey was that if you understood them well enough and you understood that journey well enough, then you could take the next bit, which is this trend, this broader trend that Google, social media, and others are all really fostering at the time, to deliver relevant content at the right time in that journey for the right person. And if you have that relevant content, then sales can also be engaged at the right time with the right person and those things working together, sales and marketing collaborating, and working together, they coined the term smarketing.

 

They said, smarketing is the way in which we’re going to deliver this ultra relevant content to our, and using personas and customer journeys, to our customers in a way that’s going to allow us to beat the competition. So they came out with their software program. They have a whole academy really of learning that’s available. Anybody can go on there and take it. A lot of it is free information, so definitely can refer you there. But guys that was all the way back in 2007, that HubSpot was really emerging with this information. And for those of you who’ve been around in digital marketing in particular, but also marketing hearing about personas and customer journeys and relevant content. You know, those kind of phrases are very mainstream and have been for a very long time. I know that to some, you might not have heard that before.

 

So hopefully you enjoyed the history lesson. But point being it’s been 14 years since smarketing was coined, and this idea of integrating the sales function, which is that direct customer experience of going through a sales process on the journey to becoming a customer, and the marketing process, which was this broader communication and engagement strategy to create interested people for the salesperson to sell to. To integrate those worlds in order to achieve highly relevant content delivered at the right time to the right people. So 14 years have gone by and senior living has taken note. Those of you who attend conferences, where sales and marketing topics are a part of the discussion, you’ve almost certainly heard things like the customer experience, customer journey personas. Those probably aren’t the first times you’ve heard that. Most senior living organizations have a blog of some type, again, hearkening back to this idea of content marketing and being able to deliver content to your customers based on their personas and what their journey might look like.

 

So these are things that have been around kind of circulating here for a bit. And in 14 years, the world has evolved a lot, a lot, probably more than what I’m an expert on by any means. But there are two things in particular that have evolved from 2007. We have learned a lot about the customer journey, for example, where early sketching out of the customer journey was very kind of linear. We had different stages of the process that a customer might go through from being aware of us, to actively being interested in researching, to engaging with us, and starting to kind of go down the path of decision-making and eventually moving in. It was very linear, kind of sketched out process. What we’ve learned is actually our customers are a lot trickier than that. They don’t follow this perfect linear path to moving in.

 

And I’m sure there are a lot of salespeople out there that are going to hear this and say, well, duh, I could have told you this, but it was, it’s kind of an epiphany right now that, oh, our sales or our customers actually work in a non-linear way, meaning that they might move quote unquote forward maybe the next stage of decision-making, but then they might tread water there for a while. They might go backwards into more research. They might pivot and look at alternatives after months of engaging with us. And there is more that’s really unique about how our customers are moving through their process. Then there is, real similar in a linear way. And so what that means is that the customer journey is actually really messy. There’s a lot of uniqueness. There’s a lot of doubling back, and there is still a lot of pressure for us to advance people through our milestones that we’ve created, but that in some ways might be going against what the customer is actually wanting to do.

 

And we know this because of a couple of reasons. One is that we just we have more sophisticated tools on our belt than what we did in 2007. We can see how people are behaving online. There’s now a connection because of this smarketing effect, where we have our sales systems that might link our prospect profiles to their online activity. And there might actually be some sort of like note or information in our sales systems now that tell us when our prospects have been online. And so we know now because of that in particular, that our customers are engaging with us even when our sales team isn’t necessarily their holding their hand and working them through the sales process. We can also look to our own data to give us some hints that there’s something else going on.

 

And when I say data, you know, we have some very traditional metrics that we’ve looked at for a long time. The inquiry-to-tour conversion. A tour-to-move in conversion. Like those are some very common conversions. I went back and if you look back to, yeah, I’m going to look at a pre COVID year. I’m going to look at 2019, cause I don’t want to muddy the waters with an exceptional year. But I go back to 2019 and I’m referencing the Enquire benchmark report that was published for 2019-2020. That actually shows that, for example, roughly 70% of our inquiries that we generate don’t tour within a designated period of time. So about 70% don’t tour. About the same as true, very similar data for tour to move in. It’s about 70 to 80% of those that are touring with us are not moving in.

 

So for me, this is really exciting. It kind of gets my heart pumping because we spend so much time focusing on that 30%, 30 to 40%, metric of like, how do we push that? And hold that line and make sure we’re getting 30, 40, 50% conversion rates wherever we can. And so we spent a lot of time focusing on that, but what we spend a lot less time on is playing in that margin of that negative percentage of who isn’t moving forward? And what’s interesting about that is that that 70% or that 70 to 80%, they’re also not lost closed. Like we’re not losing all of those to competitors. We’re not losing all of those to not being qualified. Or even not losing all of them to non-responsive, being non-responsive hopefully. There’s a significant number there that’s somewhere in between.

 

They’re not hitting our designated milestones yet they’re also not lost closed in our world. Then where are they? What are they doing? Well, they’re living in the space between and this I think is a logical case for why we’ve always had a non-linear customer journey. We just didn’t really realize it, or we didn’t know how to be strategic about that. Because those prospects are still out there. They’re just not hitting our milestones. And the better we can get at engaging them in some way and being versatile in that way, the more likely, I think we’re going to be to increase those conversion rates and have a differentiated experience than our competition. Which means I think we’re going to win. So the data tells us that there is a good margin of our leads that are operating outside of our designated milestones, but are also not lost leads.

 

And we now have insights into online behaviors in particular, which indicate that people are messier in their approach. That they don’t stop looking at our website or don’t stop looking for online resources, just because they’ve made the connection to the sales person. They have a lot more available to them and they’re using it at all stages in their journey. And that that’s not necessarily linear. So that is an evolved insight that we can look at what we know today to be true and recognize, wow, this is different even than what it was in 2007. We also are living in a world where every industry is being impacted by not just this push for relevant content, harking back to 2007, but this hyper-relevant content. And hyper-relevant means that it is almost precise, almost surgical with its relevance, being hyper-local information. It’s exactly what you want when you want it.

 

And it’s either something that you can predictably and proactively go find without a lot of effort of searching through a whole bunch of stuff that you don’t want in order to find the thing do. And hyper-relevant content is also stuff that just passively just comes to you. It’s almost predictive in that you’re walking through life and something that you just thought of just lands in your hands. This idea of hyper relevance, has really evolved since 2007 as well. So we haven’t stood still on these concepts of customer journeys and relevance. In fact, those things have really evolved significantly and senior living as an industry, we’ve taken some nice steps. I’m going to give us some prompts for some of the stuff that we’ve done. There’s more info available online about our organizations and about senior living in general.

I think there’s a lot of credit to be given to just the content creators out there who are just putting great resources out into the world. So kudos to you. We’ve gotten a lot more sophisticated in terms of our online experiences. You don’t just get to see the building when you come in for a physical tour anymore. There are lots of virtual experiences you can have, there’s downloadable content, chat features on websites. I mean, we’ve made a lot of advancements over the years in adding to those options. In sales, in this last 10 to 15 years, we’ve gone pretty far in creating tailored experiences for people. I know that there’s a lot of work still being done on this. It feels like we can’t train it enough, but this idea that you do really fantastic discovery to learn about people, and then you use that information to create next steps that make sense and are relevant to them, or create tour experiences that are really terrific and tailored to exactly what they need and what they can touch, taste, feel, and imagine when they’re there in the community. 

 

Compare that to the Vanna White, no offense Vanna, tours of the past, where we might’ve just walked and talked people through a designated tour route of our building. That was really from before. And we’ve gone pretty far in making mainstream this idea of a tailored experience. And our technologies have followed, our sales systems, as I mentioned before, have become a lot more sophisticated and they’re giving us a lot more insight and visibility into how people are engaging with us in kind of a pre sales and also a post-sales kind of world where it’s helping us to bridge the worlds of sales and marketing into seeing how those worlds are interacting and the data that we can use helps inform sales and marketing strategy alike. And I think that there is a good amount of collaboration that is attempting to be had between corporate marketing departments and marketing agencies that are hired to do work.

 

And the boots on the ground, sales teams and operations teams that are living in the world of our customers every day. There’s a good amount of collaboration that’s happening. And all of that is really great to see. Before I move on to the next thing, which is the real meat of this podcast episode, I just want to recap. It’s been 14 years since smarketing was introduced. It is not new. We’ve made advancements at the same time the world has been changing around us. And there is an extremely high bar set for what we have to achieve if you think about it. The high bar that we are set to try to achieve today as sales and marketing professionals is recognizing that our customer journeys are non-linear, that they’re going multi-directional, forward and backward and treading water all in different combinations and where that is happening, the expectation of our customer is also higher than ever.

 

They expect the content to be hyper-relevant, hyper-local, delivered at exactly the right time to them. So this idea that we have to reach that bar is kind of mind blowing when you think about it, that, wow, we’ve come so far. And yet we have so far to go in order to really satisfy that for our customer. So we’ve made some progress, but we’re not quite there. And I think that there are three things that can be done, whether you are a big company or a little tiny one to help in smarketing and to really maximize the opportunity that we have of having the knowledge of the customer journey that we have today. And just the capability in our collaboration to build some really phenomenal things. We have three things that we can do. The first kind of piece, it’s a little bit of a soap box for me.

 

So I apologize in advance is we’ve got to break down the silos. And in particular, I’m talking about the silos of sales and marketing. And we’ve got to get marketing out from behind their desk. I’m sorry. I said it. I said it, I put it out there in the world. I know, I know for those of you that work in advertising, digital marketing, social media, you’ve got a lot to do, and you’ve got to be very productive and you also have to keep a respectful distance from the day-to-day operations so that you guys can be strategic and you can be focused. So I say that out of the gates, I get it. Here’s the deal. There’s a lot changing in this world. Our customers are changing. The competition is fiercer than ever. There’s a lot of alternatives to senior living out there, and people are juggling a lot in their decision making more than what a sales person or a selected group of salespeople or your sales leaders or middle managers can actually convey to you in a powwow.

 

You also can’t learn what you need to learn by looking at what everybody else in the industry is doing, because then we end up just mimicking what they’re doing. And we all end up looking as vanilla as we look right now. So we’ve got to get out from our desks. You’ve got to go drink from the well of inspiration. That is real life for our customers and real life for our residents. And you’ve got to be inspired by that and find subtleties and nuances and themes that other people don’t see. And you’re going to get there by getting out and bathing in it a little bit. And I’m sorry to say, but you know, we’ve got 20 years at least of change ahead of us as we welcome a new generation and try to adapt to meet their needs. Many folks who are working today as professionals in marketing did not work in the community or work as caregivers at some point.

 

And that means that the subtleties and the complexities are hard to understand if you haven’t actually lived that. And to have a broader perspective, even than just having a relative who’s gone through it is really, really important. Because you have to be able to think about all of your different personas, not just the ones that you relate to the most and not just the journey that you specifically walked. So if you haven’t lived it and lived it with maybe lots of different stories and people, then it’s hard to really have the breadth of understanding that you need to have in order to be as creative, frankly, as what I think you need to be to win. So I get it. There’s a lot of productivity and I don’t want to kind of swing the pendulum and I’m not definitely not advocating that if you’re a marketing person, then you need to not be in a corporate office at all, and you need to go be working in buildings every day. 

 

That’s not what I’m saying. You’ve got to get out in the communities, but I also think that, and it needs to be on a regular basis, but it needs to be in a way that’s kind of organic and just a part of where you’re going to be inspired and to meet your muses out there who can help you develop content and solutions and ideas that are extraordinary. In their relevance and in their insights and in their helpfulness to people. So you’re handcuffed whether you know it or not by what you don’t know. And I love, love, love our sales teams, just like, I love, love, love our marketing teams, but, you know, there are a lot has changed in marketing and our sales leaders and folks working in the community.

 

They just struggle with being able to communicate all of their subject matter expertise and they may not see what you see. So I’m a huge champion of, get out, go see it for yourself. That will help you create content that’s authentic, that’s original, that’s creative. And that ultimately gives insights that your organization will have that others just won’t and that’s going to be a really important. So go out there, be inspired, and have some fun doing because it will fill your bucket. So the next piece here that we have to do better is we have to match the customer journey. So if we know that the customer journey is non-linear right, like we just explained, then what does that mean for our efforts? It means that we have to be super agile, almost athletically agile. We have to be able to maneuver multi-directionally, seamlessly, and as needed. That’s our sales and our marketing and the space in between that they’re working together and integrated to serve our customer. All of that has to be really agile.

 

So, I think of like an athlete, that’s what I have in my mind is an athlete who’s maneuvering multi-directionally, maybe a football player or something, a basketball player, has to maneuver vertically, horizontally, forward, backwards, everything. That’s kind of what I imagined agility meaning for us. So you think about something that maybe hasn’t always had the pressure of being multi-directional like a website, for example. In a more antiquated customer journey, that’s very linear, the website would exist to just generate leads. It would generate interest. There would be a form and then it would generate a lead. And at that point, it’s handed off to the sales team and then the website moves on just continuing to try to harvest interest into leads. In a non-linear context though, you question that. Because something like a website would be a very obvious destination for somebody who wanted to go find ultra relevant content but who might be at a different stage, maybe they’ve already inquired. 

 

So something like a website has to be thinking by direction, multi directionally of what happens when folks are both coming through the site on a traditional kind of path, moving towards inquiry, but also coming back to the site at different stages in their journey and for different reasons. How do you have the site built to accommodate that? What kind of content exists on the site? Even your blog that you have may have to serve a purpose to this multi-directional experience that the customer has. Even something, I think about this for sales, there is a method in sales that, Hey, when you have a web inquiry in particular, come in, that you pursue that web inquiry, maybe for a given amount of time, or you take that through a certain amount of steps, and then if that person is still not responsive, then at a certain point, you may have it in your power to close out that lead as being non-responsive.

 

Well, what we’ve learned is that just because somebody isn’t responsive doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested. I can think of at least five times where I move forward in some way to get more information, but didn’t quite realize that it was going to trigger a salesperson to reach out to me. And I have kind of gone dark on the salesperson because I needed a little bit more time to do research before I felt like I could ask them the questions I wanted to ask them. So I’m kind of saving them for later in my back pocket. Well, if at some point they lost close me before I’m really ready, I may resurface for them again, or maybe forget about them and move on. So it’s another example of a place where we have to be thinking in a more agile way about, well, if we lost close somebody because they’re non-responsive well, maybe that satisfies that moment in terms of a sales process, but from a customer journey perspective, that may not really be what we need to do in order to make sure we don’t miss opportunities.

 

So, as I say that example, I also want to say as a cautionary tale, no, I’m not saying that for those of you that never close leads, that’s the right thing to do. It’s probably one of my bigger pet peeves in the industry is that we never, that there’s this faction of us that refuse to close leads and you end up thousands of leads deep in a database that is like impossible to actually work or differentiate lead from lead. Oh my gosh. That’s worse than not last closing your lead because they might as well just be out in space. We don’t know anything about them, including that they’re non-responsive at that point from a data perspective. So, no, please, no, I’m not advocating that you don’t close your leads. And I’m also not advocating that when they are closed, that they’re dead.

 

That’s an opportunity for marketing and sales as an integrated force to create a solution, maybe it’s that there’s a workflow or automation that can help us continue to try to deliver super relevant content to that group of leads for a period of time to drum up some more interest. So it’s an opportunity for that integration when you’re agile and you’re able to think multi directionally versus either losing them to the machine that is a gigantic database, or just lost closing them into nowhere land. It’s an opportunity. Our technology also is an opportunity for us to be more agile. I imagine that athlete out there and we have technology today to help us in sales and marketing that helps us move better, faster, stronger, helps us literally be in more places at one time, helps us learn and become even better in the future.

 

So our ability to use technologies like automation, virtual experiences, predictive analytics, reporting even help us really tremendously better our craft and become more agile. So we need to recognize this need for us to be agile, see opportunities that we need to take things from a one directional sort of methodology to a multi-directional methodology and harness technology where we need to, to help us be superhuman. In those efforts, because that’s what it’s really there to do. And then the third kind of, a sister comment to breaking down the silos is taking that further and saying, we need more coordination. If sales and marketing is really integrated, if we’re actually on the same team, then we realize that we both need to be on the field playing at the same time. And if we are, then we need to know what the other is doing. 

 

So I imagine again, another sports analogy, sorry, it’s just what’s inspiring me today is a pitcher and a catcher. What would it look like if the pitcher was out on the field by themselves and there was no catcher? And then the catcher was out on the field by themselves without a pitcher, it would be weird and disjointed. And we wouldn’t be playing the game of baseball or softball. Same is true for when marketing and sales isn’t coordinated and on the field at the same time together. If they’re siloed, then they’re on the field one by one. And if they’re not coordinated, then they’re not pitching and catching. Who knows what they’re doing, they’re each in their own world catching butterflies or something. That’s not how we win. We win by coordinating those efforts. So case in point, it’s fairly common these days to have sales playbooks.

 

And if you don’t have one or don’t know what that is, it is essentially like a writeup for your organization or for your community that kind of lays out, this is how we do things. Here’s where our customers are. Here’s what a customer journey might look like. And here’s how we’re going to handle certain situations like an inquiry. Here’s how we’re going to respond and how often and what we’re going to use. And it goes through lots of different experiences, maybe an inquiry, tours, home visits, etc, and kind of lays out here’s how we do things. And it’s helpful because when it’s out there as a playbook, it’s a place that we can all reference back to and we know how to run the plays. And even though we’re all very similar, there are some subtleties between different organizations and type of senior living providers.

 

Those playbooks can look pretty different. Non-profit CCRC entry fee community, their playbook might look really different than a single site for profit memory care community, at a very low monthly rate. Those playbooks might look kind of different. So sales playbooks are pretty common, but it’s really kind of a symptom I think of a disjointed effort because if you think about an integrated sales and marketing approach would say that, okay, your sales playbook is only one part of the equation. The other part of it is what marketing is contributing to it and together the harmony is the customer experience that they’re creating as the customer is experiencing their organization on their journey. So instead of just a playbook, that might have to do with sales and maybe a strategy that’s just having to do with marketing, and those worlds not really being integrated and coordinated, we have to think about how can that effort be well-known between all involved, and to be like logistically coordinated so that sales knows what marketing is doing. 

 

Marketing knows what sales is doing. It’s important for marketing to know the plays that the sales team might be running so that they don’t say put out an automation that via email, that’s going to interrupt that. At the same time, that example I talked about earlier with leads that might get closed because they’re non-responsive, if marketing is successful and they harvest somebody from that group of folks that was non-responsive and then they deliver that back to sales and the team has no idea where that lead came from, or no idea what the marketing efforts were that made that person resurface. When that customer mentions it or ask questions about an email that they received, your sales team isn’t going to know how to help them or how to respond. And it’s going to erode the credibility in your efforts when you don’t have that coordinated approach.

 

So really thinking about how can we work together in maybe a playbook that is a coordinated customer experience. And keeping things sort of tightly built but also that you’re reporting on that over time, you’re watching the effectiveness of it, and then all of the team members are involved in optimizing it because it’s not going to be perfect out of the gate. And you might have a playbook set that, hey, our customers are evolving fast, technology’s evolving fast, we might need to be revisiting that over and over again. So in a nutshell, how can we take a smarketing farther in senior living than what we have so far? We can do that by breaking down the silos, even more and marketing, I’m going to harp it on you again, get out, get out from behind your desk, go be in some buildings. Two, recognize that we need to be agile.

 

And multi-directional in our strategies. And three, that we need to be more coordinated in our efforts between sales and marketing and that that coordination doesn’t just stop at a single strategy session or the authoring of a playbook, but really needs to continue through reporting and optimization. This gets my heart pumping guys and I hope that it’s getting you excited too, because we have such great opportunity to evolve ourselves. And I think that’s one of the best parts about the moment we’re in as we kind of emerge from the 2020 pandemic, is there is a lot of attention being paid on revenue generation and occupancy. And there is an openness to try new things that hasn’t always been there in the past, because what we’ve always done isn’t necessarily going to get us where we need to be as quickly as we want to get there.

 

So smarketing is a really great way for us to keep up with the times and differentiate ourselves. And those of you who are moving faster are going to really see the payoffs of it. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the fact that for those of you small guys out there and gals, the small organizations, maybe you’re just a one or a few sites, maybe you’re operating in a pretty tight geographic location, smarketing can become your super power. Those that are working for larger corporations, yeah they might have more money to spend. And they might throw around more on some of their advertising than what you can or do. But they have a disadvantage when it comes to breaking down the silos. If those are really strongly ingrained and the hierarchies are really deep and it can be there there’s too much baggage there.

 

Corporate marketing is too distant and it’s too logistically challenging to get those folks out into buildings so that they’re going to have a hard time breaking down the silos. They’re also going to have a harder time coordinating these efforts and therefore they can’t really be as agile. So for those that are in larger corporations or are working for geographically dispersed organizations, this is hard to get to. It’s a high ask to think about how we can get into some of these concepts and take smarketing to the next level. But if you’re a small guy and you can do this and be really smart in your efforts, you can magnify any money that you’re spending in your sales and marketing efforts by having this intensive coordination and integration. So it makes me really excited for those who are kind of battling those Goliath, if you will, in their markets, that there is an opportunity here for you to win, and it doesn’t have to be labor and resource intensive, but it does have to be smart and strategic and thoughtful and very intentional in your pursuit of integrating sales and marketing.

 

So I know not always an easy thing to ask for, but nonetheless. Anyway, guys, that is my smarketing podcast episode for today. I hope that you enjoyed it and it got some wheels turning for you. Please connect with me on LinkedIn. I love hearing from those of you who are listening to these episodes, I’m really enjoying the conversations that we’re having. So keep reaching out. I love it. Also, I mentioned smash the senior care and marketing summit. It is an annual event that happens every year. This year it is going to be at the Green Valley resort in Las Vegas, October 18th through 20th. And if you have not gone to the smash conference, I highly recommend that you do. It is really fantastic. The guys and gals do such a great job of creating a program that is really going to be helpful to you no matter where your focus is going into this next year.

 

And I’m also excited to say that I’ll be speaking at smash in 2021 and delivering information in a session about harnessing your virtual experience, super power. So look that up on the smash website, I look forward to seeing you there. Register today. I’ll link it in my show notes as well for you. All right, guys. Well that about wraps it up. It has been another great episode of Contributor Wednesday. Thank you so much for tuning in. Again, I am Christy Cunningham and it has been a pleasure talking with you today. Have a great rest of your day.

CW 57: Christy Cunningham