Traci Bildis the CEO of Bild & Co. which works exclusively with both operators and investors in senior housing to deliver double-digit occupancy growth results for clients in the US, UK, and Canada. Traci dives into the importance of marketing, culture and relationships to build teams and see success.
Episode recorded at InterFace Southeast Seniors Housing Conference in Atlanta, GA.
Lucas: Welcome to the Bridge the Gap podcast with Josh and Lucas. We are here in hotlanta putting down the senior living thought leadership, and you guys just came off of a panel and that I found- I was taking notes the whole time and Traci Bild, you were the one that was moderating the panel. Welcome to the show today.
Traci: Thank you. I’m excited.
Lucas: So talk to us about your background, your passion in senior living because I just found out something I didn’t know about you last night at our mastermind dinner is that you’ve been around senior care and senior housing from a very early age.
Traci: Yes. So my mom was a nurse aide. I was a candy striper, and my grandpa was in the nursing home. So I would go with her at night and she always went back when people passed over to like literally washed their hands and feet and stay with them when their family wasn’t there. So I would go with her, and it scared me quite honestly because it’s very loud in nursing home at night and I was very young, but I grew up in that environment and then I think life brought me full circle when I entered this space about 20 years ago, and I do care about it. It’s really, really important what we’re doing. I think people like our grandparents.
Lucas: Exactly, exactly. Josh, one of the things last night that we talked about was changing perception and then how do we break into a younger demographic of people that can put their talents and passions behind the industry and Traci’s the prototype.
Josh: Absolutely. Yeah, so we did, and I think you’re referring to the mastermind dinner that Traci was at and several other thought leaders. We love doing those. But yeah, so much great discussion. I want to know more, Traci, because I didn’t realize until we’d just gotten to know you recently that you have such a rich experience. So what is the progression and it may help for a lot of people that are just starting their career and I think one of the interesting things we always talk about with our guests is how’d you get here? What’s your progression been like? Where have you been? What have you been doing? So kind of bring us from the start to modern day.
Traci: And I’m with you. I always try to tell people about this amazing space because no one knows what it is. Most of my friends have no idea what I do because it’s just complicated, right? Now that people are experiencing mainstream senior living, moving their loved ones, they understand. But I’m a big believer that if we want to say attract the millennials, we can attract them, but we’re not going to keep them until the culture changes, the workforce, whole dynamic of looking at our parts, you know, the time of punching a clock, flex days, having daycare on site. We need to change how we interact with our employees and how the packages we’re offering, cause they don’t want to work for the same thing that many of our workers do today.
So my track was, I was introduced to the industry by accident. I would say I met my soul mate by accident. And um, my first book, Seven Steps to Successful Selling came out, sold really well in airport bookstores and Debbie Daroff, who’s with The Fountains, um, David’s, The Fountains Retirement Communities just hired me and said, “Wow, we need help in sales.” And so I literally trained their company over the phone for a period of like three months. We increased sales in six months by $4 million. And people are like, what are you doing?
So Tony Mullen, who’s no longer with us, invited us to speak at a conference. I had no idea what I was walking into, but I just started playing recorded tapes of me calling communities. And I’m like, why do you not answer your phones? Why can I not buy this service? And I literally, executives were going like this in their chairs and I’ve always been a truth teller. And so my whole career track, I think the reason we’ve been able to maintain our traction in this space is I’m never going to not tell you the truth about what I find in your customer experience, in your product, with your people. People don’t always like us because we tell them the truth. We don’t tell them what they want to hear. But then I’m a big believer that if we tell people the truth and then show them and teach them how to fish and to do this for themselves, they will be successful. But you have to have a growth mindset.
This is why I love about you guys in the mastermind last night. It has so inspired me about senior living. It’s the first time I’ve been to a conference in a while. I’ve kind of stopped going to a lot of them, where I’ve seen so much energy and youth around knowledge. It’s, it’s really exciting. I think I told one of you, I woke up this morning like I’m so excited. So it was really infectious.
So, the other thing I want to say is a lot of my early clients, people I trained myself and I don’t do a lot of our training anymore, my staff does, are now CEOs of companies, you know, uh, they are just doing incredible things. So promotional opportunities, income opportunities if you want it. That’s how we’re going to get attention of younger people. The career path trajectory is incredible here.
Josh: Yeah. Well I heard something that even came up last night and we had a young person, a young leader in there. She was basically challenging, I think us as leaders challenging us as a leadership group and talking about what she wanted to be celebrating in a year around that challenge. But, but one of those was having a younger workforce represented at these conferences. She gave us some basic ways that we could do that. But I think you’ve got one great compliment that I would like to talk a little bit more because you mentioned the word a couple of times connecting and you got great praise for how you have created some systems to connect actually probably to a lot of different generations. But this particular person was bragging was from the younger generation involved something that may be scary to some of our senior living providers. And it was dealing with maybe some AI and it was a technology and platform that you’ve implemented to kind of no matter what time, day or night, to connect with people and them get an immediate response. You mentioned, why don’t you people answer your phone. Well a lot of people are not trying to connect by phone anymore unless it’s by text or by email or by an app or something like that. So what has been your philosophy on trying to be accessible and connect to people and be honest with people?
Traci: So this is also one of the bigger problems with the millennial workforce. Most people didn’t even have a cell phone at the site level that’s company sponsored. So you couldn’t text if you wanted to. So I’m a big believer you have to connect with people how they want to connect with you. So I always ask, what’s the best way to reach you? Would you prefer a text, a phone call or an email? I’ll be honest, most people today it’s texts. I can always get someone on, hey, it’s very casual. It shows that people want to have a personal relationship and texting is just more personal. No one’s checking email anymore. So on the back of the brochure, we have a text campaign. So if you want to join this webinar text and then what she liked about that is it said, Hey, what’s your name? And she put her name in it, said what? What? Where do you work? And she put it in. What’s your title? So what we’re doing is we are segmenting our lists. We’re actually engaging with her, I will see that and then we’ll, we won’t waste our time sending our material that she’s not going to be interested in based on title. Site level person does not want to read what the CEO wants to read. There are two different things, so we’re able to segment, but also it’s fun. You heard her when she was talking, she was like, this was actually fun experience to engage, and I feel the same way. I’ve seen that technology and I’m busy. You’re busy. I still would engage because it’s different. It’s like when texts first came out, everybody wanted to text. So we do have to be willing to change how we’re communicating, but also give all those vehicles like chat on the website 24/7. Um, you know, people don’t want to just call 9 to 5 Monday through Friday. So we’re always looking at innovations as a company and learning from other industries and groups.
Josh: I love that. So I’m going to frame a question that I’m gonna ask because on our panel we almost, you asked the question, I’m not sure any of us actually answered your question. We kind of beat around the bush because it was dealing with, I think pricing, but in spend like what’s the average spend? Because we talk about developing on a platform and technology and I think a lot of operators, owners groups, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, I’m already spending so much on marketing. How can I all that’s so expensive?” Do you find that it, that it can be not necessarily a whole new increased side of your budget but maybe reallocating some dollars in that budget that maybe would have been on more traditional means of marketing and advertising print and things like that, that you can move some of those dollars into a more digitally focused and maybe a more relevant way of communicating? Have you seen that?
Traci: Absolutely. This is in my mind, proof that they don’t understand and may don’t want to learn. These features are so inexpensive. It could be $10 a month. I can guarantee you I didn’t come ask for our budget approval because it’s a text campaign. I think it’s textable. Um, you can also, and this is the other thing that people don’t hesitate to spend $500 on an ad when they could tack on a call tracking line to that for 40, 50 bucks. And see every single lead coming in, listen to the call so they can gauge the customer experience, and if nobody happens to answer it, which is about 40% of the time, they would actually still have the number and they could call that. People don’t wanna spend that $50 to me that makes no sense, and I think they just don’t understand marketing themselves. And one of my missions in the last two years I’ve, I myself have had many, many challenges with finding marketing firms is I committed CEO. I became the CMO. I’m going to learn all about digital, print, I’m tired of relying on people to get my word out about my business. And I think that’s where a lot of owners and operators need, they need to learn themselves so they know what is really real, what’s not, what the spend is and everything needs to have an ROI attached to it. I would not spend a penny on it.
Josh: I think that’s a really pivotal point. We talked a little bit each and the panel was awesome. You did a great job moderating and my peers that were up there. I’m sitting there trying to take mental notes myself because everybody’s teaching each other what works, but one of the, one of the great things is you, you are actually implementing this yourself. You’re actually going into the communities and helping people for, we want to give one or two just very tangible, low hanging fruit kind of things for that group out there that’s like, you know, I know from hearing you guys today, this is something I need to be focused on, but they don’t even know where to start and I get asked this question a lot. They’re like, well, do we spend all the money on our website or do we spend all the money on social media?
Traci: I can answer that so easily.
Josh: Where do you, where do you see the real opportunity just to enter the game?
Traci: We need to stop over complicating it. First of all, look at your numbers. It’s either a traffic problem. Literally if you have 10 leads a week, eight leads a week, you’re fine if you have a good sales process. Then you need to look at your inquiry, which would be your virtual door, your front door, your inquiry to conversion ratio and your total tour to move in conversion ratio. That will tell you, do I need to spend money on marketing and traffic or do I need to spend money on my sales and ED and my leadership team at the site level to grow our conversions through a better visit customer, the whole interaction experience? Like we have to make a better buyer experience. We find that most people think they have a marketing problem and that’s why I think they interchange sales and marketing and they’ll say, you know, we want to spend, we’ve got a budget 85 to spend on marketing and always say, no, no, no, no, no, no, wait, wait. We need to run your numbers first because 9 out of 10 times it’s not a traffic problem. It’s a sales problem.
Traci: But for the sales people, they don’t want to take ownership. So it’s always a marketing problem- you need more leads, we need to lower our rents. And I think John said in our panel, and unfortunately to fix what I’m talking about, a lot of hard work and it’s not for everybody. If you really want to change the culture, you’ve got to teach your people to connect human to human. And that is a teachable thing. Um, it’s all about the human connection, having the ability to ask lots of great open-ended questions and not always waiting on the next looking at your phone and seeing what’s going on over there, but really like, so what really, really is keeping you up at night, you know, what are you worried about with your mom and you know, what’s this done to you and how do you think she feels having to be dependent on you and you know, what is your mom still excited about in her life and you know, you know, does she have friends? Where does she go if she has an evening to herself? We need to get personal.
And I will tell you being a coach for 20 years and having a coaching team, we really struggle with that. People do not want to get personal and that’s going to be a continuing problem for us. So, so the first thing I do is look at your metrics. Those simple ones I just said and look at your move into your move outs. Cause if you have an attrition problem due to like lack of operational excellence that you’ve got to address it, and you’ll know, do I need marketing or do I need to invest in training? And the last thing I want to say on that, my husband’s an airline pilot for Southwest and he’s always on his iPad doing training and I’m like, you know what? Why do we not do recurrent training? We want to do a one and done. I did it. Okay everybody take it, use it. We should be recurrent training our people on the front lines that are interacting with our customers every month. Right. To make sure we need to inspect and look at it. Is this being delivered? That’s what I was trying to get out of the panel, too. We can have great ideas, but if they’re not happening at the site level, you’re not going to get the payoff for the efforts. So it’s going to be translated.
Josh: I love that. Lucas?
Lucas: Yeah, I mean I think that constant training, it also ties back to the narrative in a way of shaping the culture and the way that we talk internally about our own business. Because I have a feeling from an outsider’s perspective that has the, I mean it’s just the privilege to be able to tour these communities and spend time with the staff and interact with the residents is that everybody has their head down doing the hard work, but they create these silos. As Josh, I’ve heard you say that many, many times and a part of that training could be discussing what are we talking about? How do we communicate not only with each other, but how do we communicate with outsiders to tell the love stories of the business? So I find that really, really interesting. I want to pivot into something else that Traci you’re clearly passionate about, which is occupancy. Are the days of 90 to 95% occupancy. Is that just gone? Is it dead? Should we just accept the new norm is 85?
Traci: No, absolutely not. It’s going to take a lot of hard work. Um, I remember in the last great recession, I sat in my office and I thought, Oh no, no, no, no. I’m not going backwards. I’ve worked too hard to get here. And I made a conscious decision. I’m going to double my business. And I did it every year for three years. Landed on INCs fastest growing company. I’d never do it again it was a lot of work, but it was a lot of work. And what I’m saying is we have to decide as owners, operators who we want to be. And I think we are so complacent to say, well, Oh, you’re at 88 I feel better. Oh, you’re discounting, too.
Okay, we need to be trailblazing, not following. And I will tell you firsthand, I mean my book is called zero loss revenue days. I know any community, even a dated old community with the right customer experience for both prospective buyers and residents and their families and the referral sources, they can be full with a wait list. And we have fooled ourselves into believing it’s all about this new development, over development, and market saturation and pricing. I think we need to stop looking at the competition, look at ourselves, and then at every, look at our metrics. Where is our weakness in our numbers? If you need more traffic, don’t even spend money on marketing, go out and do grassroots marketing. Go. It’s a people local business people buy local. So getting out, if it’s conversion problem shopping, your communities are shopping every dag-gone day until we were capturing 99% of all calls and converting 60% or more into an onsite visit, right? So you’ve got to inspect what you expect, but that, that has to be owned by somebody. And then even harder as you have to get your ED and your sales person to do it. And that means they can’t be your best friend, right? You have to really hold them accountable. But then I always have people say, you know what? I found back in love with my business again. Once they get back to the heart of who they are and why they got into business, it’s all about the people and the connection.
Josh: I love that. Well, I love how much passion and enthusiasm you bring to this. A fresh perspective, some new ideas, taking some lessons from outside of the industry, technology that already exists, practices that are already exist, application reminding our listeners. It’s not a real expensive thing and it’s, we’re over complicating it. I totally agree. So Lucas?
Lucas: Traci, you are a rock star. We appreciate your enthusiasm. You’re an author, a speaker, you’ve been on national media before and you’re giving your energy and talents to the business of seniors living. And we really do appreciate it and we’re definitely gonna put you into the show notes. I know that our listeners right now are figuring out, Hey, I want to connect with Traci. I want to know more about why she does what she does and maybe she can help me solve some of the problems that we’re facing in our community. So we’ll connect with Traci Bild in our show notes, and thank you once again for listening to another great episode of Bridge the Gap.