As Canada’s best sales recruitment company, we work with some of the most innovative sales leaders in a wide range of industries. These are senior strategists and tacticians who are always finding ways to increase their revenues, grow market-share, and provide their customers with a better experience. I recently sat down with one of these sales leaders Heidi Benard – the National Director of Sales for Revera Retirement Living. The senior housing industry has exploded in the last 10 years, with massive investments in new retirement facilities and communities. Heidi sheds some light on this highly regulated industry and how Revera – a leader in this space – is tackling the significant competition for clients.
Interviewee: Heidi Benard – National Director of Sales and Training, Revera
Jamie Scarborough: What is Revera’s positioning?
Heidi Benard: Revera is the largest provider of senior care - that would run from the full spectrum from home help, to retirement living, to long term care, to skilled nursing in the states. We are just starting our 50th year, and have well over 200 facilities.
J: How many are you specifically responsible for?
H: I’m responsible for all retirement living, which represents about 93 properties. I help coach all the sales standards for the company, from Montreal out to BC down to Oregon. This is my 23rd year within the industry and it has changed significantly over the last decade. There used to be a time when just anybody could hang up their shingle. It used to be that you had an extra bedroom and you would be Jamie Retirement Living, and away you would go. Now for the first time we are starting to get standards, so we’re seeing that there is more accountability in the industry, and we’re seeing a lot more competition than there used to be.
J: How has that increased competition changed Revera’s sales strategy?
H: 10 years ago we would literally be able to wait until there was a knock at the door, and we were turning people away. People would come to see if there was an opportunity for their mom to move in, and they were thrilled when they could find them a spot. Now there is so much competition out there, there are so many companies that are getting ready for that curve of the demographics that will need senior care.
J: What typically drives customer choice?
H: You know people often think price is the influencing factor, I truly believe that it’s not. I believe that it’s the relationship that is built by the community. When you come in to look at a place for your parent, you ask: “what is the feeling I’m getting?” I will pay more if it means that my parent will be taken care of better, and so I think that the driver is making sure that the care is the best and that it’s the lifestyle that is going to be continued from their home, to the retirement living. So if Mom was very active, they are going to be looking for a home that is very active. If Mom or Dad were interested in a certain kind of food, they are going to be looking very closely at what’s being provided or options that can be provided. So you really have to delve into who your customer is, to really decide on if this is really the right fit.
J: How has the role of a sales person changed in the industry?
H: My first role was called a Community Relations Manager. What we in Revera now equate it to, is called a Lifestyle Consultant. So basically I was a sales person. I would be waiting for people to come through the door. At that time outreach [going out into the community and actively looking to build relationships with potential customers] hadn’t been developed a lot, so I did a bit of outreach, but it was quite unknown. People would say “what do you mean you’re going golfing or out for dinner and you’re going for this meeting and that meeting, and trade shows?” It was thought of kind of like fluff and stuff, and now of course that is what drives our business. You can’t wait for people to come to you, you have to make that phone ring and that door knock. So holding a shingle out and going on your laurels at Revera, is just not good enough. In individual communities you have to get out there.
J: It sounds like you were a bit of an innovator with that outreach component.
H: Yes exactly, now we are really starting to establish networking communities. Not just going to the chamber for the sake of it and having a glass of wine to say "check I was there", but meeting someone new with a referral potential and saying, "okay what do you do and how can we partner?" "What are you looking for and what are your ideal customers?" And "what are my ideal customers and how can we help and make it a win/win?" So that was very new.
J: Can you share with us what Revera’s sales process is?
H: Especially at Revera we are truly a full sales culture company. And I’m so thrilled with that because it doesn’t matter if you are the receptionist or the maintenance person doing the garden outside, when I have a prospect that is coming to our building, it starts before you even get to the building. It starts from the first phone call you made trying to find out about our building, it comes from the maintenance person who is trimming the hedges and says “well good morning, Mr. Smith”. They are shocked because they think “How did you know I was even coming?”, but it’s because in their morning meeting they have said that Mr. and Mrs. Smith are coming for lunch at noon. I want to see that maintenance man out there saying “Good morning Mr. and Mrs. Smith, I understood you were coming today, let me get the door for you.” I want them to be wowed from day one, so every single touch point is truly reflective of the great lifestyle we create day-in/day-out for our residents. If they walk away and say to their brother or sister, “Hey you have to come and look where I want Mom and Dad to live, as a lifestyle for them I think it’s going to be amazing!”, you have complete confidence that every single touch point is just going to keep confirming what you have been saying, we’re caring; we’re loyal to our residents; we’re here for them; we’re your extension of your family when you’re not here.
J: I don’t think enough sales people know of the career opportunities available to them in senior living. Every one of your facilities has at least one sales rep, correct?
H: We may have a couple of rural areas where we may rely on the Executive Director and the Office Manager to team up to be that sales representative, if we don’t have the ability to have a sales leader in that building. But for the most part we have a Lifestyle Style Consultant in every building.
J: So when you look at a Lifestyle Consultant, which is your front line sales person, what is it you are looking for from them? Do they need to have experience going in?
H: For what we are looking for, we definitely want someone that has experience with relationship- building sales. Someone who is going to take the time to discover someone’s needs, and how we are going to fit that into the lifestyle we are offering. It’s very different from product sales, and what we’re finding is that people who have had experience in the travel, tourism, hospitality and healthcare industries are the kind of backgrounds that we tend to see excel as Lifestyle Consultants.
J: When doing interviews, how quickly do you know if that person would be a good fit?
H: Certainly if they start to ask good questions from the very beginning, and they want to look at targets and look at what’s achievable and what’s a stretch target. When somebody starts to talk to me like that, my little antennas start to get excited and I’m like okay let’s talk.
J: What key things do employees need to succeed as a sales professional in senior living?
H: When you are walking around with a prospect they’re probably remembering only 7% of what you just said. So if I asked you to reiterate everything I just said in the last 20 minutes, you wouldn’t be able to do it, and vice versa. But if you brought your team in here and had to tell them what you think I’m standing for in this industry, you would hopefully be able to say Heidi is passionate, she’s got energy, is interested in helping others etc. How are you getting that? Well you are getting that by how I’m presenting myself, how I am speaking, eye contact, etc. That is exactly what our prospects are saying. Did she sit there and listen to me? Did she try to understand me? So when they go home and talk to their family, they are going with the feeling that you really cared. That is what they are going away with, that feeling of how Mom or Dad are going to be taken care of, not that they have a bigger flat screen TV than the competitor.
J: Heidi, you are such a passionate person and it’s such an interesting industry and you seem to be so well fit within it and within the sales spectrum. As you know our company is focused purely on sales and I really appreciate you coming in and I absolutely loved chatting with you!