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CW Ep. 36: Christy Cunningham

Christy Cunningham discusses three mindset changes to fuel your rebound in occupancy performance this year.

Welcome to Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday I’m Christy Cunningham. Thank you, for tuning into my very first podcast and also a big thanks to Josh, Lucas, Sara, and the bridge the Gap team for having me be a part of the 2021 series. I am super excited to be a part of such a terrific group of contributors this year. And wow, if you have not listened to their kickoff episodes this month, go back and do it. You will not regret it. There is some great, great stuff. Now in these Wednesday shows on the last Wednesday of each month, we’re going to be playing in the sales and marketing sandbox. So for 13 years now, my focus like many of you has been to keep my head down and drive performance and occupancy and deliver for the organizations that I worked for. So in the time that we have together over the next six months, I want to speak to you, the folks who are making it happen every day. You’re going to hear encouragement from me. I might share some stories and I also plan on introducing some topics that are a bit controversial in an effort to spark a conversation, maybe even healthy debate. We’ll see. So please like, share, comment and message on these episodes. I want to know what you think. And I also want to know whether I’m hitting any nerves in the topics that we discuss.
So in today’s episode, my very first one, it has been a real challenge to figure out what am I going to kick off my series with? I’ve got so many great things that I want to talk about and things that I want to share and debate with you all. So where do you start? And I just couldn’t help, but recognize the moment. The fact that this series is starting in January, we’ve had such a rough year last year.
I know like many of you, I was counting down practically the seconds to midnight on December 31st, with gratitude when we were finally in 2021, because I was ready for a fresh start and for a fresh go at occupancy in another year. And I thought, you know what, that’s what I want to talk about. I want to talk about starting this next year and the kind of headspace that we need to be into in order to really drive performance and results. And there are three things when I reflect back on this last year, and as I talked to my colleagues who are out there working hard, there are three things that I think have gotten in our way in 2020 that we need to recognize and correct to make 2021 a different story for ourselves.
So the first thing is, we got to get the noise out. We’ve got to get the noise out of our heads. There is so much pressure to perform, especially as occupancy was sliding. And there were, you know, anecdotal stories of organizations and communities that were maintaining high occupancy are still driving a number of move ins. All of that really culminated into this feeling that you should be performing. Why aren’t you performing drive, drive, drive. And as we go into this next year, we have to recognize that we don’t get our best performance when we do that, right? Our teams don’t perform at their best when we’re just throwing pressure down their throats, right? Instead they choke, literally they choke, they then go into the situations in front of their customers and they’re not focused on the customer, their story. They’re trying to think about their metrics or how do they close or what are they going to say on their conference call that they have to do later in the day because they’re on two day conference calls now to really ensure that we’re doing everything we can to drive results, right? Those are the kinds of things that start to happen when we pressurize our system for our sales team. On the management side, we get wacky too, right. We stopped focusing on behaviors and skills and building that muscle memory for our teams. And instead we start driving metrics and numbers and effort, right? And we need both of those things to be successful, don’t get me wrong. The problem is when one gets really out of balance with the other, suddenly our conversations aren’t meaningful. Suddenly we’re not really driving performance, we’re driving people to be compliant, right? And there’s a difference between compliance and performance. When it comes to sales and marketing, I can be getting all hitting all my sales metrics, but still not ultimately getting sales.
And that’s really the danger on the management side. When we let that pressure get to us and all of that noise.
So early in my career, I want to share a story here. I had made a transition out of the home care industry into senior living. I was working in a memory care community that had had a pretty big drop in occupancy before I had arrived. And I was being brought in to help drive their occupancy backup. And I had done really well in home care and there was a lot of positivity that I was going to do really well. And guys, I whiffed it. I whiffed it bad. I struggled so much to perform in my first months because I was so focused on what everybody else thought about me. I was so focused on my regional and whether or not she thought I was good enough, my executive director and whether or not I was doing all the right things. I had gone through a training and was trying to keep up with all my calls and trying to keep my database clean. And I was trying like heck to just survive and get through thinking that if I just do all these things that everybody was telling me to do, then miraculously, I would be successful. And ultimately what was happening was I wasn’t being successful. I was missing opportunities with customers to close. They were moving into competitors that they shouldn’t have been. We were a fantastic community. I shouldn’t have been losing the sales and I was really, really struggling with it. There was even a comment made that maybe Christie just isn’t a closer. Maybe she’s just not a closer. Maybe she just can’t hack this. And it was really culminating for me into a lot of stress and a lot of pressure feeling like I was gonna lose my job if I couldn’t make something happen.
And finally, I hit my breaking point and I said, you know what? I’m going to take this hat off. I’m gonna take off all this pressure. The voices in my head from all these people telling me, you know what to do. I’ve listened to them. I hear it. I understand why these things are important, but what I’m going to do when I’m in front of the customer is I’m just going to focus on them. And if I go down, then I’m going to go down. I guess we’re inflaming underpants, right? I’m going to go down Christie’s way. I’m going to go down feeling the way I’ve always sold and been successful selling by focusing on the customer. What seemed miraculous at the time I started getting sales and I didn’t really know exactly at the time what had changed. But now looking back, I see that it was the voices in my head that changed.
I stopped letting those voices dominate my psyche. You know, there would be that conference call that I would need to hop on in an hour after I’m done with this tour. And I’ll deal with that then. But for now, I’m just going to be with the customer. Later in my career, as I was managing teams, or I was working in sales training capacities, overseeing many communities, there were still those moments of pressure. Still those moments of am I doing enough? Am I gonna perform at a high enough level? I need to do more. And I’m always reminded of that very first situation to say, you know what tune out the noise. Then what, right? Suddenly things became clearer about where I needed to focus in my division, or I’m sorry, in my division or district to drive an impact.
Or I started to recognize some of the subtleties in the way that my teams were doing their work that was holding them back from actually driving sales. Or even better yet, I started to recognize in my teams when they were a little too preoccupied with the metrics and the pressure, and they weren’t focused on the customer enough to actually get the results. And I was able to intervene with some coaching to help get their focus back where it needed to be. My very first regional, who I hope listens to this episode, I’m going to message her actually after this episode and tell her I’m thinking about her. She told me early on, after I started to get some sales, she said, you know what Christy, there’s always going to be a metric that makes you look like a rock star, always going to be metrics that make you look like a rock star. And at the exact same time, someone else could come in and pull a different report that would make you look like a total loser. She said don’t get caught up on the metrics. They’re there, they’re there to help you. They’re there to help you strategize, but if you are too focused on those things and what the storyline is that those metrics create about you. You’re going to get sucked into that world and not have the focus where it needs to be. And so I remember that all the time, every time that I’ve had someone celebrate a raging success in my career metric wise, I’m reminded that yeah, well pull a different report and it might look like something different. And every time someone has said, oh hey Christy, you know, here’s some areas of opportunity I thought, yeah, that’s true. There’s also some areas that I’m kind of rocking it too. And that’s helped me stay more balanced in my own mind and not let the whims of the moment and the pressure of the moment really drive me too far off of balance. And that’s what’s allowed me to keep my teams and myself really moving forward in my performance.
So first key this year, the first thing I want to convey guys to sum it all up is tune it out. There’s a time for you to focus on metrics. There’s a time for you to be in the moment with your regional or with your executive director or whoever it is that you’re working with to try to get you to perform at a better level. But that time is not going to be when you’re with your customer. It’s not going to be when you’re coaching and working with your teams and you need to do your best to protect your mind in those instances, and to really focus and be in the moment and not let all that stress and pressure just roll into the next situation that you’re in.
Number two, focus on what you can control, right? Focus on what you can control. There’s a lot, if we look back on 2020 that gosh there was a lot that was out of our control, right? There was a constant change in what we could do, and couldn’t do. The public perceptions of our industry, where we’re shifting by the second. We had families that at one point were going to try to make it work at home. And on the next point, we’re in a total crisis, figuring out what to do and we were just along for that ride. The problem is that with so much out of our control, we lost sight of the things that are totally within our control. So I want to talk specifically about the folks who are struggling with what can I control. Because in talking to the colleagues that I have about their teams and performance, the thing that we have talked about over and over again, and there’s been about five or six people, who are doing work all across the country that I’ve talked to, who have recognized that at the community level in our mystery shops and in our market intelligence, we’re seeing over and over again that people have lost the basics. Like suddenly with COVID it not only drained the normalcy, but also drained our basic habits and fundamentals that are really going to help ensure that we have strong relationships with our customers.
So this being discovery number one, it’s amazing to me the sales folks who have great under normal circumstances, great skills at discovery, and can be so focused in the moment with their customer, right? And they are doing such a great job. And then suddenly COVID happens, and poof it all goes away. And the inquiry became transactional. We stopped really digging into stories and understanding the how and why people needed to make a change or a move and what they aspire to in their next steps. And instead, we just started focusing on the transaction. What’s your name? What’s your phone number? Can you afford this maybe? And then here’s a virtual tour, which I’m going to talk about virtual tours in a second. And that has really held us back. Not only has it held us back in terms of initial relationship building opportunities to actually share the value of what we do with our customers, right. In a meaningful way to them, because we took the time to learn about their story. But what it also does is hurts us when we hear those objections. You see COVID objections guys are like, all the other objections we’ve heard, right? Some are harder than others, just like the other objections that we would hear under normal circumstances. The reasons why people are scared or hesitant to move forward shouldn’t necessarily change our approach to them. Yet it has. Suddenly when teams would hear an objection, like well I’m really unsure if now’s the right time to make a move during COVID suddenly they didn’t know what to do. They didn’t know the right answer or the right thing to say. Now under normal circumstances, what do we tell people with objections, dig in, learn more. Why do you feel that way? Tell me a little bit about what’s going on.
Let’s talk about your objection and let’s try to understand it so we can see whether there’s a way for us to move past it and what is really going to be required to do that. But we’ve lost that. So it’s not rocket science. You’re going to, you are going to hear trainers, consultants all over the industry, your, your mystery shoppers. We’re all going to be seeing the same thing, discovery. You can’t close without knowing your customer. You can’t move them forward in a journey to considering your community as a place for them or their loved ones to live. If you haven’t taken the time to really understand them. It’s basic, but it is dramatically missing. And that’s scary, especially when we’re all held accountable to the results that we’re getting or not getting. And right now we’re pointing to so many things that are outside of our control yet we’re missing on some of the most basic fundamentals along the way, like discovery.
So in this year, we need to focus on what we can control, right? We can’t always control the objections that are going to get sent to us, but what we can do is control the way that we’re going to react and behave. Are we going to stay composed? We’re going to go into discovery and try to figure out how to overcome that. Are we going to panic and try to come up with a perfect answer, or let them be, and just let them walk out the door with their objection in hopes that they work it out on their own and come back some day if they feel like it? No, we can’t do that. Right. Are we going to treat the new inquiries that come in like transactional sort of processes where we get their contact information,
we give them the basic information they’ve requested and they’ll call us if they have any questions, No, we can’t do that in this next year. We can’t be so consumed by our crisis that we miss on those fundamentals right. Now the third part is technology right now. Oh gosh, years and years have gone by now in the industry that we’ve talked about the need for technology, the need to improve our technology. And man 2020 was a quick bang of technology, especially in sales and marketing. We are using different tools than what we’ve ever used before. And there are some dramatic improvements in the experience we get to create for customers. But something sort of disturbing has also happened, which is that we have started to use our technology as a substitute for us in sales. We’ve started to email folks prerecorded virtual tours and said, okay, here’s everything you need to know about the community, call me if you have any questions afterwards. And that’s really an issue guys, our virtual tours that are the prerecorded or the 3d walk-throughs, maybe you’re using an app that allows you to do a personalized prerecorded video and send it to someone. Those are all awesome. And I’m sure many, like many of you, I look at those things and think, gosh, why weren’t we doing this before? Uh, these are fantastic. The problem is that I’m seeing sales teams who are using the heck out of those tools, but they’re almost doorbell ditching them along the way. They’re going to a customer, they’re having their conversation. And then they’re ditching the technology at the front stoop as they run off down the street and wonder why the customer isn’t coming back to them to move forward. Right? The technology is awesome, but it still needs you in sales to help build the relationship, to try to put some context to those virtual solutions. Maybe even take them further? Those prerecorded experiences should be things that are kind of offered early in the sales process to excite that more personalized experience with you. And if you’re not a community that’s touring in person, that’s fine. We still should be doing some sort of live interactive virtual experience via zoom, FaceTime, Facebook live. And there’s a plethora of platforms out there that can be used to have that really great customer experience face-to-face, maybe even a live tour of the community and meeting of your leadership team, key members of your residents, who they would connect with et cetera.
So the number three thing here is technology. Let’s not abuse it, let’s embrace it for all that it is to offer, but let’s also not let it be a substitute for an experience and a relationship that needs to be had in our sales process.
So those are my three things guys. We needed to tune the noise out and not let that pressure consume us and not let that pressure roll downhill. We need to focus on what we can control, digging in and doing the discovery with our customers that we know we need to do in order to progress the relationship. And number three, let’s stop the doorbell ditching our technology. We love it. We’ve embraced it. We need to use it, but we have to wrap it up in an experience that we create. And that we’re really a part of, it’s an engagement with them, a two-way conversation, and just ditching a video on their doorstep and saying, here you go let me know if you have any questions is just not going to do it. So those are the three things that we can focus on to make 2021 a better year than 2020. So thank you all for listening to this week’s Bridge the Gap Contributor Wednesday, please connect with me btgvoice.com.

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CW Ep. 36: Christy Cunningham