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

Episode 76: Brandi Sharp

Culture and connection- that’s what Brandi Sharp is bringing in this week’s episode! Hear more about senior living sales. 

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Lucas: Welcome to Bridge the Gap Podcast, the senior living podcast. You’re on with Josh and Lucas, and we are in St. Louis. We’re at Sherpa at the Sales Culture Starter, and we have a great guest.

Brandi, introduce yourself and your title and the company with.

Brandi: I’m with Allegro Senior Living and I’m an AVP of Sales, so I support the teams in the communities with their sales functions and processes.

Lucas: Awesome and you’re out of Florida?

Brandi: Yes, I live in Florida, but Allegro is based right here in St. Louis.

Lucas: Wonderful. Wonderful. You had mentioned before, just before we hit record on the mics that you come to this conference… you’ve been to the training a couple of times. What keeps you coming back?

Brandi: David and Alex always keep it fresh and, you know, there’s new material every time that I come and that’s kind of how I talked my boss into letting me come for my fourth time is, you know, they’re just always constantly adding new material and new things that I can take back to my teams that may make impact on our overall occupancy and successes.

Lucas: Josh, we’ve learned a lot already and our listeners right now they can hear the energy in the background.

Josh: A lot of energy.

Lucas: A lot of energy. This is middle of the day, way after lunch and it’s on a slight break and so people are out and the wheels are spinning because all the topics that are coming up, they’re doing a very deep dive into the psychology of what older adults are going through when they’re making that transition to decide to go into a senior community.

Josh: You are exactly right, and you touched on it, so this is actually I think the second 3-hour session of the day. After lunch, late in the day, most conferences you go to energy starts to really wind down. Everybody’s kind of like mind numb. Not here. Lots of people interacting, lots of great questions, but one of the things that’s been really interesting to me was that whole bridging the gap of fear for that potential, that prospect. They talked a lot about that. They even talked a little bit sometimes the fear for marketing and sales people of all the unknowns going into conversations, and what do you do and all the pressures that go along with that. So what are some of the key challenges that you have, your teams have, in sales and marketing that you feel like what you’re learning here is is great to take back to them to encourage them? 

Brandi: Sure, and I think that as sales people, we always have the quotas, and of course, it’s a business so we need to make money. But we also want to keep the human side of it and really meet with the prospect. I think David and Alex really talk about how we can do that and still meet our goals. And if you follow the process, then the outcomes are going to be positive, and we’re going to get movement. So it’s just getting people to kind of shift their gear, focus more on the prospect and not so much on the quotas. And sometimes  that can be the most difficult thing I think. Especially with people with tenure that have been doing it for a long time because it’s very different what we do and what David and Alex talk about.

Josh: Lucas and I, this is our first conference. We’re very excited. I’ve obviously been able to follow Sherpa for a lot. We got them in our communities love it, but we’re still relatively new. You’re a veteran. I think you said four times. So what are some of the key takeaways for our listeners that maybe they need a cliff notes version, maybe to understand why I need to come here. I know for example one of the things, the terms that Alex was using and David was a lot of it is counter – counterintuitive to what we were taught in marketing and sales as far as the approach. Can you touch on that some?

Brandi: Sure, we really want to make sure and I think prospects are more open if they are not encouraged to make a decision but we’re kind of guiding them to make that decision themselves, and I always say, you know, we need to meet people where they’re at, and you know where they’re at in their journey and sometimes that may not be a move in or may not be a tour or visit to our community, it may be just getting to know them better so we can help them navigate through that journey. So that’s what I say and what I will take back to my teams is, you know, how come we slow down, really listen more and stop focusing on the sale but focusing really on the process of the sale or the process of the prospects that we’re dealing with.

Lucas: Sure and I’m familiar with the Allegro. I’ve actually worked with some of your teams over the years and have… you’re a small organization as far as many buildings you have, but it’s diverse. You have beautiful ground up, mold-breaking type communities. But you also have some older acquired buildings and even the little bit of third-party management unless that’s changed recently. So can you talk about the differences? That’s a, even though maybe a small organization not thousand communities, but you have touched on basically the three big pillars of the different types of communities that are being managed. How does sales differ in those different situations?

Brandi: Again, I think we refocus our advisors on not focusing on the real estate but focusing on the people and we do have some beautiful communities and we also have some that we’ve acquisitioned. So we want to make sure we’re not selling… Everybody has a dining room. Everybody has the most amazing, you know, activity program. But what makes a difference in what Alex said in there is how we make them feel. 

So again, I bring you back to slowing down getting to know, you know, what makes people move what makes people, where they are at in their process of thinking and doing more that. So stop focusing on the real estate. That’s the advice I would give to anybody who’s trying to build occupancy in a community and focus on who we’re working with.

Josh: So I’ve got a question for you. Given that this whole approach and obviously you’ve implemented it in your communities as far as a whole different sales approach. Has that also spoken into how you recruit for talent? Because I know we talked a lot or they talked a lot about empathy vs. sympathy. Has that kind of shaped like who you’re looking for to fill the positions as well?

Brandi: Yeah, and a lot of folks…And we always want the experience when we’re hiring new staff and new advisers and that’s so hard because most people come from that volume and velocity philosophy. So, you know to try to shift gears of what they’re used to doing and to slow down sometimes can be hard. So we really implement that conversation or use that conversation in the interview process to get a gauge if someone’s going to be open to that shift and most people are very positive, but it takes some time. It’s a big difference from what it was 20 years ago when I started.

Josh: Absolutely, so what would be… give us a little forecast. We haven’t heard all of the sessions yet. What is to come? What is your number one thing that you’re going to take back so far from your time here? You said you always pick up on something a little bit different every time you come. What’s going to be the nugget that you take back?

Brandi: Well we’ve just started doing some internal trainings and the Connect, Untangle, and Advance is new. It wasn’t something that they went over the first couple of times. So the second… the last time I came and this time I came, they really focused and got more material on that and I really think that connection and what’s important for people to remember is we’re closing when we start, you know. That’s when you start the first impression. That’s when you set the expectations of what the journey will look like as we work together and try to advise people. So, I think that’s the main thing that I’m taking back to my team. And like I said, we’ve created some internal trainings to kind of echo what Alex and David train here.

Josh: So one of my last questions, this is practical and some of our listeners that aren’t familiar with Sherpa or the system or that whole different approach. I think they’re starting to pick up on it as we’re talking about this, but they spend a whole lot of time talking about listening, gathering a lot of information from the resident, from the prospect, the potential resident and you know, I think our natural instinct is to think, “Oh my gosh, that’s very time-consuming.” How do I take and gather all of that information and then put it into the system into this tool. So what are some practical ways of how you apply that? Of how your team is kind of gathering that information and then getting it into the system. It may be practical for people there to thinking, “Oh, well I just don’t have time to get together all that information.”

Brandi: The average time in the selling zone for prospect, and for those who don’t use Sherpa, that’s a big term that we use to spend more time with less leads, you know, and you get that through home visits and that’s how you get to know people like the examples that they gave up on the videos. Repeat the question. I’m sorry.

Josh: Basically with all of that time and you kind of touched on it, you want to spend I think more time you called it in the selling zone with less prospects. Is that is that how you phrase that? 

Brandi: Yes. 

Josh: Okay. So when you do that, I mean basically you’re encouraging your teams to do that, to spend more time so that you get more of the story so you know how to help them more. How is that received by the team?

Brandi: I think it is received well. It’s almost giving them the permission to slow down and not make the 20 calls a day. More callouts and more tours doesn’t always equal more move-ins, so getting to know people and doing the home visits like they said, because it’s something not everybody is comfortable with but it really makes an impact, you know, creative follow ups or doing that follow up planning session after a tour and helping to determine what are the next steps, not for us but for the prospect. 

So that’s how you kind of use more time. Planning sessions can sometimes last 45 minutes to an hour on one lead, you know, so the more time that you do it, and it’s a team thing. So it’s not just one person. You know, we meet as a team talk about Mrs. Smith that came in and you know, how can we meet her where she’s at and advance the lead at the pace that she’s ready or make a recommendation as an adviser of what the best next step would be.

Josh: That’s awesome. You know one of those statistics I wish that I could remember the actual number but it was significant: the number of conversion rate or the percentage of conversion rate and kind of the industry average versus the top performers and the difference really that they’ve been able to track statistically is that probably what you’re referring to time in the selling zone is it when you’re spending more time gathering, collecting that full life story of the resident, which again I think is to our minds that we’re just set on closing, it’s kind of counterproductive. You’re wanting to get to the point, get to the point to the point of closing. But when you spend more time, your actual conversion rates, studies have shown, go very, very high. Much higher rates to the top-performing category. Have you experienced similar?

Brandi: We actually have a community where when they started embracing it, really following and got up to like 2 hours and 10 minutes per prospect was the average they were working, their conversion rates to visit to move in went up to 73%. So that’s really significant compared to the industry average. We usually see 25-30%, so that’s really an example that we use throughout teams and try to share best practices of his success story of embracing and really, you know, driving, you know, the prospect-centered selling philosophy.

Josh: Well, I love some of the analogies that David gave on that and Alex as well.

Lucas: Yeah, I’d love to transition. Let’s talk about the sales people now. I think that one of the things that I took away, because I feel very comfortable here. I’ve been in the sales role. I’ve been in b2c and currently in a beet a b2b role. Alex made a point that this is b2f. You might wonder what does f mean? Family, so it’s a business-to-family-type sale. It’s very complicated. We’ve talked about this many times on the program with capital providers, bankers, operators, CEOs, C-suites about how complex the industry is of senior’s housing and senior living, and so selling in this environment is very complicated, and it takes a right kind of person. 

So how- let’s talk about those salespeople. How do they stay motivated? How do you train? How do you retain and recruit the right kind of people to come into this business to not just check those boxes, be the sales person and make a culture shift and change in the industry?

Brandi: Well, I will tell you a lot of our recruiting is word of mouth, because we have sales people that have been in the industry, and I think you find that people kind of go to different companies. You see the same people in the same circles. So I think word of mouth of just, you know, the pressure is not there like it is at some of the bigger companies who are volume and velocity, you know. We allow you to slow down. We give you permission to spend and you know, it’s funny that you mentioned families, because our top referral source in our company as friends and family referrals, which wow, right? That’s because we do things the way that we do, not just the back end when they move in, but from the front. Their experience coming in, their first impressions, how we treat them and make them feel really gives them confidence to refer our communities to their friends and family.

Lucas: That’s awesome. Now talk to me about, you’ve been here a couple of times, how fired up are you after you leave these types of events? Because the energy even though it’s a deep dive and we’re definitely working our brains. It’s inspiring to draw that energy out because sales people need that motivation. They need that energy to keep going because there’s a lot of no’s in this business.

Brandi: Well I will tell you and the reason I enjoy coming back over and over again is not just for the new material and as we were talking and I was talking the training up in that the session up to other folks that were going to attend, David and Alex have such a chemistry and something that creates engagement, and a lot of people can’t sit still for two days straight and beyond that learning, but just the way that they present it and their passion for it, and because it’s their baby is what makes it so exciting. So you do leave pumped up because they’re so passionate about what they’re doing and just bringing that back and you see that, so our jobs is to have them attend, and then how do we keep them moving and motivated and excited once they get back? So yeah, I mean we’ve had great success. We send everybody that starts in a sales role and our executive directors here.

Lucas: That’s awesome.

Josh: You know what I think is cool and you kind of touched on it just then you said, you know, I think we have a fear often times of hearing, “No,” but one of the things that I was kind of at least absorbing from what they were saying, and it was an illustration or example that David gave of talking with someone that was kind of in that zone of, “Hey, I’m not coming. I’m not ready,” and him being okay with that in that, “Hey, you know, I’m going to try to offer whatever solution is best for you,” and he gave the example of a guy that was living at home, that was basically crippled, having trouble going up and down the stairs. It was very dangerous, and he was offering solutions to actually try to meet the guys needs at home. 

So sometimes, you know, we don’t need to be afraid of hearing the no. I don’t think because our goal is really to help meet people where they are, and at some point when they get to the right point, and we help them to get to the point of where you know, our services, our home is where they can they can live. It’s a great opportunity. So I think for sales people we’ve got to get used to like it’s not a no or yes necessarily that we’re always seeking. It’s what’s the best solution for this person right now? So is that how you would kind of view it?

Brandi: And if you are not offering solutions too soon or trying to get a next step that may not be appropriate for the time, you’re not going to get the no’s. I’m lucky enough to work for a company who embraces the process all the way up to the CEO and the COO so, you know, our employees and our advisors have the opportunity to do that without a fear of you know, did you get this many calls out? Did you get this many move-ins? So yes, I absolutely agree with you.

Josh: So I think also what I’m hearing is there has to be alignment from the top all the way down to the sales team because if your incentivizing or if you’re pushing the dashboards around just call volume, number of inquiries, all those marketing things, all those marketing and sales follow-ups, maybe your incentivizing your team the wrong way. Is there any specific incentives that are kind of traditionally counter-intuitive that you guys have put in place from the top down to make sure that your teams know even buy what your having them report on and things like that that hey this is what we’re encouraging, this type of culture, this type of behavior?

Brandi: I wouldn’t say financial incentives. I think we do share best practices and you know highlight people that are being successful in certain aspects of it. One thing we’re doing, and I hate to promote some another company on the podcast, but we were using One Day. So how it relates with creative follow-ups and offering that next step or follow up that’s personalized. We’ve been using One Day so we are doing incentive program to use the One Day and how it impacts somebody who has toured or somebody who’s coming in so they do very much in embrace the other outside factors of the process and doing things the culture starter has taught us. So yeah.

Josh: Wow, that’s great. 

Lucas: That’s great. Yeah, we know Clint. He is a great, great guy out of Dallas.

Brandi: Amazing.

Lucas: Yeah great company. It’s a lot of fun being here, and Allegro, you have a great organization. Big shout out to Jason Rock.

Brandi: Yes, he’s amazing.

Lucas: And your CEO, Doug. We’ve met him at the NIC conferences a number of times, and I’ve been in a number of your buildings. They are beautiful, and you guys have a great culture developing. So thank you so much for sitting down with us.

Brandi: Thank you.

Lucas: We want to encourage the sales people in this business. Josh, it has been really awesome to walk around. There’s a hundred plus people here. They are EDs and they are sales professionals and a number of them have come up to us and they say, “We’ve been listening to your podcast. We love it. We we listen to it on our commutes to work, while we’re exercising, walking the dog, doing all these things,” and they’re people that we’d never engaged with or interacted with before, and so it’s really great to know that the industry of sales professionals are listening in to the show, and we hope that they really value discussion with Brandi Sharp hree from Allegro.

Josh: Absolutely. Thanks for joining us today.

Brandi: Thank you. Thank you.

Lucas: Thank you for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.

Thank you to our supporting partners NHI, RCare, NRC Health, TSOLife, ERDMAN, TIS, and Sherpa.

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Episode 76: Brandi Sharp