Mike Peacock: Hey, everybody. Welcome back to Cosmic Soup. Thanks for tuning in again today after a very long and very unintentional hiatus. I know it’s been a while but I promise we haven’t forgotten about you. We haven’t been slacking.
In fact, it’s been just the opposite. It’s been absolutely crazy here at 3rdThird HQ. We have so many new things in the pot, so much going on, so many new ideas, and even some new people, so I’m excited to talk to you all once again about all the awesomeness that we have added to the Soup.
Speaking of awesomeness, today’s guest is one of the new main ingredients in the vast pot of Cosmic Soup. He’s that indescribable umami element, the new secret sauce that really sells the dish – literally. Please welcome to Cosmic Soup the new VP of sales and marketing at Community Coach, the man, the myth, the legend, Don Warfield. Don, welcome to the show, brother.
Don Warfield: Mike! I don’t think I’ve ever had an introduction like that. I’m not going to be able to live up to it, but you know what? It’s great to be here. I’ve heard great things about Cosmic Soup.
Ironically, I had soup today for lunch, but it wasn’t cosmic. It was tomato soup.
Cynthia Thurlow Cruver: [Laughter]
Mike: Oh, well. You can pretend and we’ll make the unreal the real. That’s what we do here. Of course, joining us today as well, none other than the mirepoix of the company, the foundation on which the ramen broth of the company is based. The pilot of the mothership through the cosmos, Cynthia Thurlow Cruver, of course. Welcome back, as always.
Cynthia: Thank you, Mike. I love that introduction, too.
Cynthia: I’m super excited to have Don here.
Mike: Soup-er excited.
Mike: See what we did there? [Laughter]
Don: Man, oh, man. I’m hoping I can keep up with you guys on that, but we’ll see. We’ll give it my best.
Mike: Now, of course, that I’ve described you both as food elements and made things super weird, let’s just dig on in.
Cynthia, before we sing the praises of Don, maybe you can kind of catch everybody up on what’s been going on for the last couple of months. I know we kind of took a little bit of time off from the show. We had some new things kind of pop up and some things just kind of in the works that we’re just crazy to deal with, as is the world today is kind of crazy to deal with. Tell everybody out there in Cosmic Soup land what the heck has been going on.
Cynthia: Well, a lot has been going on out here. Let’s back up to COVID-19 when it started in March. We created a pivot program for COVID, marketing virtually, and lead converting. We just got our stats in. We’ve been working hard on those analyses. We generated 400 leads in 5 months and we closed $1.5 million of sales in that time, which is crazy during a pandemic.
Cynthia: Awesome. What else have we been doing? Oh, well, fleshing out the Community Coach and then Don joining us as part of that initiative. Community Coach continues to grow with operations.
Now we have sales coaching and we’re going to talk to Don more about his role in that, and then Dining Cloud. We also are launching Dining Cloud this year, November or December, which is super exciting. I keep saying “super.” I can’t stop myself.
Mike: [Laughter] I know, right?
Cynthia: Dining Cloud is a cloud-based cycle menu program that allows communities to serve the same food to independent living residents as skilled nursing. In other words, the skilled nursing food is the same quality, restaurant-quality that you would find in an upscale IL community, so we’re super excited about that.
Then LeadingAge, gosh, we just finished the LeadingAge Washington conference, our first toe touch in the virtual conference water, and our booth was the number one visited booth at the entire conference.
Mike: How crazy is that?
Cynthia: I know. Eldergrow — we love the ladies at Eldergrow — they were number two, and Culinary Coach was number three. We had the top two of three spots.
Cynthia: November 10th, we’re going to be at LeadingAge National, so that’ll be our second virtual conference this year.
Mike: Yeah, so clearly we weren’t just standing around picking our backsides. We had a lot of stuff in the works. We wanted to make sure that, when we came back, we had enough awesomeness to share with everybody. All that stuff that Cynthia just touched on, we’re going to be talking about in future episodes coming right down the pike.
Now is the time for the main course. Let’s dig into Don Warfield. Don, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, kind of where you came from. Tell everybody who you are.
Don: I’ll give you a cliff notes version because I don’t want to put the listeners to sleep right away.
Don: I’m native to the Northwest. This is home. This has always been home. I have a great passion for the business of senior living. Very close family – I come from a large family that had to deal with my parents’ needs. That’s really when I got introduced to it.
I’m a people person. I’ve always been in sales and marketing for about 30+ years holding different roles. That’s really been nurtured through the work with family and my father has been in sales all his life. If it wasn’t for my mom’s illness and dementia early on, I think he would have been selling securities and being a stockbroker until his late 70s, but that’s just carried over in the blood and that’s who I am today.
Then I have this opportunity to find my passion, which is senior hospitality and senior living. Recently made a change with 3rdThird is exciting.
Live here in the Northwest all my life. Live in Belleview. I have a couple of boys that are grown and out of the house. Thank God. With COVID, I don’t think I’d want to be dealing with kids in school right now. God bless all those folks that have to deal with that and get to it every single day.
Don: It’s a little bit of who I am and it’s great to be here. I’ve listened to just about every episode. They’re fantastic. It’s really an honor to be in this position to do a podcast and talk a little bit about what I love to do best.
Mike: Awesome. Hey, yeah, we’re honored to have you on board. Now, you and Cynthia worked together in the past, correct?
Don: That is correct. That’s correct. I’m about building relationships. I think sales is about integrity. Create a relationship and you’re going to do a sale. The saying goes, “Make a friend; make a sale.”
Really, Cynthia and I started that almost seven years ago when I was at the community level called Park Shore here in Seattle. I was a lost soul in the marketing department in a community that needed a lot of help. Through a network, Cynthia and I met, and really was the partner in the success we built at Park Shore. It just grew and grew and grew.
The integrity she brought to the partnership is one of the big reasons that I’m here today. If you can’t beat them, join them.
Don: You just heard about all the exciting things happening, Mike. As we often say to folks that are looking for senior living, there’s so much good going on. You’ve got to come in now.
Basically, that’s what Cynthia did to me. She said, “Now is the time to come, Don. We’re doing a lot and there’s a lot of upside.”
Mike: It’s kind of funny. You and I have somewhat of a similar story in that sense because many, many, many moons ago Cynthia and I also worked together when she owned a restaurant in Kitsap County and I was her chef and her manager. After that went by the wayside, I got a random message one day just to kind of reconnect. We started talking and, all of a sudden, “Hey, check out what I’ve got going on.” How did you end up working back – how did she rope you back in, I guess, is the question.
Don: You know what’s so exciting? Again, I’ve been in this business, as I like to call it, senior hospitality, senior living, whatever you want, but it’s about people. When I found it about 10 years ago, it was great, and I wish I would have found it 20 years ago.
Cynthia and I just kept this relationship going. As we grew in our business relationship and had success, the conversation kind of morphed into, “Don, you need to join us. You can do this with us, not only at the community level, but outside.”
What I’m going to be doing here in the future is what I’ve always wanted to do. The only way to do it was to step away from the single location community and join a group like 3rdThird Marketing that is forward-thinking and has a lot of upside.
She’s a hard salesperson. I’ll tell you that.
Don: I think, the last three years, we’ve been talking about it. Last year, we’ve been talking about it. Ironically, the timing was just right. Excited? Yeah, that’s an understatement. I’m excited about the things that are coming, happening now, and will continue to grow in the near future.
Mike: Yeah, she is a fantastic cult leader. There’s no denying that.
Mike: You can’t escape.
Mike: You’ll be back in some capacity. Let’s do a fact check, Cynthia. Does Don’s story match up? Is that how that really happened or did you slip something into his coffee one day, some truth serum, and kind of rope him in that way?
Cynthia: I did. I said, “Sign this paper, Don.” Oh, you just accepted a job with 3rdThird? [Laughter]
Cynthia: No, but one of the things I remember about Don when I started working with him early on is, he does things extremely effectively and he’s very business.
Mike: Which I love, by the way.
Cynthia: I love that. I would go in. We would have goals. I would say, “Here’s a plan. Do you like it?” He would check down the list: yes, yes, no, yes, no, yes, yes. Boom! Go away. Do my job.
He was doing his job. I was doing my job. We filled up that community and built a waiting list together for a couple, three years, I think. I always loved that about Don and then he moved to another community and I worked with him there.
He has a huge connection. I think this is so funny. Just today, we were on a client call and he has his wedding photo there in the background. The client is going –
Is it St. Joseph’s?
Don: That’s right, St. Joe’s.
Cynthia: “Is that St. Joe’s Church?” [Laughter] Don is like, “Yeah, my dad is a deacon, was a deacon at that church and he married me there.” She said, “Wow! My family goes to church there too and I got married there.”
Anyway, Don has deep roots here in Seattle, and I really have always respected his professionalism and his integrity. If Don says something, it’s happening. There’s no question.
Also, on the converse of that, if he tells you something and he’s just being honest, he’s not shy about that, which makes, I think, a really good coach, a consultant.
Mike: That’s why Don and I will get along so well. We are the revealer of brutal truths; I like to say.
Don: Amen, brother. I learned that about you. I’ve learned that about you real soon. Cynthia, that’s very kind words.
Really, what also attracted me so much with Cynthia is we’re opposites a lot. Yes, she says she’s not a real great salesperson and she doesn’t like to close. She does.
Don: Yeah, right. She’s developed this business but she has something that I lack and that’s the creative side. That’s the “think outside the box,” though I’m getting better at it. That’s what I needed, so that partnership was built through integrity, trust, and loyalty.
What also was very appealing is that Cynthia and the team at 3rdThird jumped in. They were there for the events. They were there for help. They were there, whatever you needed, and that I will never forget when I did my first event. Cynthia, you may remember it was at Park Shore.
Don: It was opening day and Park Shore sits on Lake Washington, so opening boating day in May is huge. We did a direct mail piece to try to do a little open house. We didn’t have a lot of people.
I’m there on the Saturday or Sunday. I think it was Saturday. I turned around and here’s Cynthia and a couple of her team members coming in. I’m like, “What are you folks doing?”
“We’re here to help any way you need.” That meant a lot.
Mike: You were working on the lake, right?
Mike: They were just having an office day on the lake.
Don: Well, Cynthia, you recall we probably didn’t have a lot of people because I don’t think they were used to seeing marketing like that, but it really was the starting point to where we are today, Mike.
Mike: Well, so here is where we are today. Let’s talk about sales then. Your fancy-schmancy title, VP of Sales and Marketing, what exactly does that mean? What does that entail?
Don: Better create business. I better drive business. It’s really simple, Mike. I’m going to be marketing and selling the services of 3rdThird Marketing, which is very exciting.
The VP name is a great name but, at the end of the day, it’s not about the title. It’s about taking what 3rdThird has built and delivering it to communities that need it. Guess what. There’s a ton of them out there that need it.
I’ve been just inundated in three weeks. I’m surprised I’m standing right now and doing this because my head is spinning. The other side of this is really something I’m passionate about is coaching.
Don: I’ve coached sports teams. I’ve been coaching for my boys. That’s who I am.
When Cynthia put together this incredible program – I may be jumping ahead on you. I do apologize – Community Coach, it just grabbed me. It just grabbed me.
There are so many communities, especially at the not-for-profit side of senior hospitality that need this. I’m not one just to say, “Do this, do this, and put it into play.” I’m going to get busy. I’m going to be in the community with these folks.
I’ll be making calls. I’ve already done webinars for communities. I’m going out to Columbus next week and doing a webinar. The marketing director is just so nervous about Zoom. I said, “Forget it. I’ll do it for you.”
I really think when you bring that coaching aspect in and the Culinary Coach and the sales and marketing aspects, 3rdThird is setting itself up for great success.
Mike: Yeah, I love the idea of the coach. Obviously, I’m a member, like a cult. Again, with a cult.
Mike: Culinary Coach. It is. It sets us apart in the sense that we’re not just consultants that point our finger, tell you what to do, and then walk away. We’re boots on the ground, in the trenches, working right there with you.
That being said, part of your job is to help turn things around, show people how to do it. “Here is what you might be missing. Here’s what you’re doing well.”
Why don’t you define that for us? What is sales coaching and how does it work?
Don: Well, it’s really taking an open mind. I’ll tell you. I’m just getting into it now and I had a call last week with a client I’m going to go see.
Part of the process of coaching is to make sure that they’re not intimidated. “Here comes the coach,” right? This person is going to dictate.
If you think here, and I’m a big fan of sports, so I’m going to use the Seahawks as an example. You look at Pete Carroll. What does he do? He pulls his team together. They all want to play for him. They all want to learn from him. He’s a player’s coach.
Now, 20 years ago, Mike, or even further back when I first started watching football, there were great coaches back there, but that old school of dictating this, this, and almost being afraid of the coach doesn’t work today.
Mike: Yeah, the Vince Lombardi style.
Don: No. My goal is to go in, get to know the sales and marketing team, understand what their strengths are first. You’ve got to hit on the strengths. You’ve got to recognize it, so then you can identify areas of need and they believe in you. Help them fix and tweak those and have those candid conversations.
Don: I did that at Park Shore. My head salesperson was doing everything but selling. At the end of the day, you’ve got to move the needle.
I have an approach that I want to get in there, work with them, help them, assist them, be an advocate for them. But at the same time, I’m going to be honest.
Don: If someone is doing things wrong and something needs to be tweaked, well, that’s what they’re paying us to tell them and paying us to give them a solution.
Mike: Yeah. Just to clarify, we’re talking about sales in the sense that you’re helping them with their programs to build census and get their occupancy up, right?
Don: I think on day two, Cynthia said, “Hey, a community in Charlotte, North Carolina, has a webinar. They don’t have anyone that wants to do the webinar or can right now.” I had no idea, but I’ve done a webinar. I know how to talk to people and feel comfortable on the webinar. I did it and I know the community probably hopefully appreciated that because I’m going to jump right in and help make a difference.
Mike: Yeah. As a coach then, somebody who is knee-deep in it, you’re going in there. You’re seeing all this stuff that’s happening. You’re making your observations. You’ve been, in some capacity, responsible for sales of some kind for the last 30 or so years. What are some insights you have? Why do some teams fail in the same industry while others succeed in the same industry?
Don: Listen. Listen. Listen. Hey, I’ve been doing this a long time. One of the biggest challenges I still have is I’m so passionate about it and the first thing I want to do is share so much and give the love.
We’ve got to listen. We’ve got to know that prospect, whoever that prospect is. You define it. What is important to them? What are the pressure points? What do they need? Get to know them so we can deliver a solution and give them a reason to listen to us.
Now, the solution might come down to saying, “You know what? We’re not the right person for you but here’s where I do think you should go.” I think we have to listen more and we’ve got to get to know them, discover more.
I’m a salesperson. I told Cynthia earlier. I like to get out of the gate and I want to get to the finish line as fast as I can. But that’s when we trip up. That’s when we make mistakes. That’s when we put our own goals ahead of the salesperson.
The way I’d answer that to you, Mike, is you go out. You’re a consumer. We buy things every single day. The difference between good customer service or good sales is how we feel, right?
Don: You know when you’ll feel good. Typically like this person – I just don’t feel good about this decision or this purchase. When you do feel good, I guarantee you, you can point back to, “I really trusted that person. I liked what they had. They understood what I needed and they delivered upon that need.”
Mike: Yeah, absolutely. Cynthia, you looked like you wanted to add something to that.
Cynthia: At the end of the day, it’s the same with marketing. Well, it starts with, how do I feel? How does that make me feel? And so, I think sales is a continuation of that.
As a brand marketer, we’re developing messages and communications to generate a lead. When that lead hits the community, we need the tone to follow the tone that we just set with the marketing piece. I think that is the magic and the beauty of having Don on the sales coaching side because he’s on the other end helping the team to level up their game and follow that tone all the way through to the sale.
Don, I’m curious. As you’re coaching people and, certainly, you’ve been a director of sales in several communities, how do you see the opportunities? How do you spot trouble spots? Then what do you do?
Okay, let’s say that I’m a CEO and I’m listening to this podcast. I feel like maybe I’ve got a challenge in my sales department but I don’t know what it is and I need some help. What kinds of things would you look for right away? What are the common pitfalls that happen in the sales department?
Don: Well, it’s about also being involved. You’ve got to be involved. You’ve got to be looking at the numbers. You’ve got to be involved.
It could be as simple as just shadowing that salesperson on a tour or understand what they’re saying, listening to phone calls. But be willing to look at the numbers. Are they doing the basics to get to where they need to convert?
Sometimes, they’re just too much reactive, not proactive. That’s what surprises me is that most of the CEOs or the executive directors you can talk to, you can walk in there and say, “Tell me about your sales team. How many calls are they making? What are the conversion rates? Are they doing tours?”
They’re nice people. They say, “I don’t know, but I’ll have you talk to the sales and marketing director.”
The biggest one is just getting in there and seeing how they’re behaving. Listen to a call. Listen to that phone call. Figuring out how they’re coming in. Are the calls coming in from the marketing department? How many touches do they have?
But in this business, we’ve got to bring people into the community. Are they doing the things to get those prospects into the community? Are they asking for those people, giving them a reason to – what I call – closing. Always close for the next step.
I would encourage executive directors and CEOs to set aside some time to work with your sales teams. If you don’t have those answers, get in there and spend time with them. I’ve been at communities where I had weekly meetings with the executive director.
Get involved with a presentation. Better yet, pick up the phone and do a mystery shop yourself.
Don: Better yet, you be the salesperson and you do it and see what it’s like. There’s so much you can do. I think the biggest thing is that they get hands off and then they get focused on the operations, which I get it because get what. We’re going to sell them, bring them in, and turn them over to operation.
Don: We set the bar high and then we’re going to turn to the outside. A lot of times the CEOs and executive directors say, “We just don’t have the time.”
Cynthia: Yeah. Here’s a question. This is a burning question. I’ve heard this so many times. It’s a common complaint of both salespeople and sometimes sales directors or executive directors.
I feel like it might be antiquated, but tell me if I’m wrong, this old notion of, “Well, you’re just not calling enough people. We don’t need to spend more on marketing. Get on the phone. You should call 25 people every day, and you better do that or else you’re not doing your job.”
I always think, as a marketer, it’s hard to get people on the phone these days. They know you’re calling and if they don’t want to talk to you, they’re not talking to you. Doesn’t that kind of set the salesperson up for failure? I get you; you have to nurture leads.
Cynthia: But if people aren’t going to answer their phone, what do you do?
Don: Yeah. I’m kind of split on what I call the numbers game because, in my pharmaceutical days with Johnson & Johnson, it was a numbers game. It wasn’t selling. It was just about how many doctors could you see and if you did this, this, and this. It just was a numbers game.
Sometimes, I’m not hot on the numbers but I also get it for larger corporations. That’s the only way they can really measure success for some people because they know if they do this and they call.
In senior living, I see it as a whole different. It’s the quality of call. You’re exactly right. The challenge is that the 62+ crowd is being inundated on every device they have and they’re reluctant to answer. That means when those prospects come in, there’s more pressure today to make sure you establish rapport right away in the expectation that, “Hey, we’re going to reach out to you,” or “Hey, if you don’t want to come in. We’d love to have you come in. We’ll just talk for 15 minutes. These are great reasons to come see our community.”
If they say no to that, you’ve got to expect that, okay, here’s our next step. You’ve got to set it up for success.
I’m about quality sometimes over quantity. But during COVID, one of the things I told the sales team that was working for me at my last community is that the numbers came down and we better be diving into our waitlist, our database, and having these conversations and trying to develop because you are going to get an opportunity to find what I call a nugget out there.
Don: Maybe those days will come when I used to shut my door and I would do 20 to 30 dial outs into the database and try to pull out one nugget that we haven’t talked to. I’m a little bit more about quality over quantity in senior living.
Cynthia: Mike, I have one more question.
Mike: Do it.
Cynthia: I don’t know if Don will do it, but pretend—
Don: Oh, Mike’s still there? I thought this was you and me, Cynthia.
Cynthia: What happened to the–?
Don: Mike, wake up. [Laughter]
Cynthia: What’s he doing? He’s adding things to the Soup.
Mike: I’m a conscientious observer.
Cynthia: [Laughter] I was going to ask Don, if I were on your leads list and you called me, what would you say? Let’s roleplay.
Don: Wow! Roleplay.
Mike: I like to call this game, “What would Don do?”
Don: You know one of the things I always believe in, as crazy and as goofy as this may sound, if I got you on the phone, Cynthia, I might just say, “Cynthia, I’m calling because I was thinking about you recently and remembered that you had mentioned that you were very interested and you liked the idea of gardening. We’ve just developed this great opportunity and, boy, your name just popped right in. Do you got a couple of minutes to talk? I really want to share this about gardening because you enjoy gardening, correct?”
Don: We have to have that discovery to create opportunities to call these people back.
Cynthia: To have a conversation.
Don: It may not even be that we have anything gardening, but I learned it was nurtured from a great marketing director at one of my first communities. What she was so good at was that personal touch. She would just say, “I was just thinking about you and I’m really concerned that you’re missing a great opportunity.”
Sometimes it’s about their health.
Cynthia: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
Don: “You had mentioned that your husband wasn’t doing well. How is he doing? You thought that you guys were going to have to make the move sooner. We have a great opportunity right now. I want to tell you more about it.”
Just get into those heartstrings and pull on those sometimes.
Cynthia: Yeah and have some enthusiasm. You always are so enthusiastic.
Don: If you come across as genuine and you’ve listened to them versus, “Hey, Cynthia, I haven’t talked to you in three months. What’s going on? Have you gone out and seen six other communities? I’ve got this one bedroom and I’m going to discount it by $10,000. Would you be interested in coming and seeing it?”
Cynthia: No. [Laughter]
Don: No because that’s about me, not about you.
Don: “I’ve got a big, old, fat commission coming in, so if you could come in before the end of the month, that would be great.” That’s not going to happen.
Cynthia: Uh-huh. Yeah.
Don: Especially during COVID.
Mike: Well, and so since you brought up COVID—
Mike: –and we were going to go down that road anyway, obviously it’s drastically changed the landscape of, of course, our industry and so many industries, but especially for us because we work with people that are in direct contact with a higher risk population. How is selling different now? What kind of steps do we have to take to not only make sure that we’re being safe but that we kind of hit those bells and whistles for these communities that let them know that there are still ways to market and that you don’t just throw in the towel and say, “Well, it’s COVID. I guess we’ve got to wait until it’s over”?
Don: Absolutely. But that’s human nature, right? We all are like, “Oh, my God. This is COVID. What am I going to do?” Everyone pulls back.
My philosophy has always been to do the opposite. Do the opposite. When someone is telling you something, ask the question, “Why not do the opposite of what they’re telling me to do?”
“Hey, let’s hold that spending. Let’s wait. We can’t do tours,” right? You’re going to spend it.
I was with my 89-year-old father the other day, driving him back to his community. He’s like, “I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime. I won’t. Don, you may.”
I said, “You’re right, dad, but it can’t slow us down.” My philosophy is this is the new reality. We don’t really know how long. Hopefully, a vaccine will come slow things down and make things better.
My approach has been it’s flopped. We’re flopped. It’s flopped the marketing approach.
The marketing approach before was: Come on in. See us. Come to an event. Do a social event.
Now, we’ve flopped it. Now we’ve got to take that marketing to them wherever they are, the virtual way, to keep them connected.
One of the things is to step outside your comfort zone. I’m a comfort zone guy but Cynthia took me out of that years ago.
Don: That’s probably why we’re here today because I never thought I’d be in this position. For COVID, the new reality is once you accept the reality of having the market different, when we do start coming out of it you’re going to be that much further ahead of your competition.
When I say flop, do whatever you would do at the community but do it virtually. Still do an open house. How do you do an open house? You get everyone on the team to buy in and you do a Zoom open house. I did it extremely successful. You take it to the people.
You’ve got to give those folks a reason to continue to community because guess what. Aging doesn’t slow down. The 62+ is the most rapid growing demographic out there for the next 10+ years. The services are needed. People want to sell their homes. Now, as we continue to live with COVID, I think folks are realizing that that cannot be a reason not to make a move.
Mike: Yeah, there are so many things that are just up in the air with timelines and what’s going to happen. You could just – I don’t know – for lack of a better way to say it, wait yourself to death. You know? You wait for things to just kind of fall into place versus making them fit into place on your terms.
Don: Right. Right and that’s exactly the conversation that I had internally and I think communities still need to do because, again, as I said earlier, it’s human nature just to say, “Oh, my gosh. This is a mountain I can’t move.”
Guess what. We tell folks. They tell us, “We can’t move in because I have a mountain of stuff at home I can’t move.” We can move the mountain. We can move the COVID mountain.
The way to do it is to stay aggressive with virtual tours, webinars. Step outside the box. We did a wine tasting to nurture our waitlist. It was extremely successful. People were getting wine at home and then the winemaker was on the webinar giving them a winery tour. Those things really make a difference.
I’m just thinking of some other things. When I say flop, whatever you used to do, continue to do it but do it virtually and find a way to still bring people in. Maybe you’re not going to show them the whole community, but you’re going to come in and see some of the amenity spaces and go directly to an apartment, home, cottage, villa, or whatever it may be.
Cynthia: Yeah. I think what we’re seeing, just as a side note, is the closing times are shocking me. We were generating leads in May and they were closing in September, which that’s a pretty fast close for an independent living entrance fee product – really fast.
I think that you’re right on the money there, Don. Create the relationship virtually and people realize we’re in this for the long-haul and it’s not a reason not to make a decision or not to move.
Don: You know what we found out, especially with the nurturing opportunities? When I say nurturing, I’m talking about future resident clubs. For some communities, there’s truly a waitlist. These people, since March and even now, are hungry for a reason to stay connected.
As soon as you pull back, you’ve disconnected and you make them feel like, “Oh, I’m not as valued anymore,” versus reaching out. Continue in education. Give them access to the resident portal if you have a resident portal. They can feel like it is and then guess what. Then it just gives them – it builds more excitement and more excitement.
What they’re saying to us is, “I can’t wait for COVID to be done because I’m ready to go.” Sooner or later it’s like, “What do you have? I’m not going to pass up this opportunity.”
Mike: Yeah. Well, you did hit that right on the money. I guess, actually, now that I think about it, that’s your job. You’re the hit it on the money guy.
Don: I better.
Mike: Yeah, you better. Right?
Don: That’s right.
Mike: Now comes the time of the show where we ask all guests that come on Cosmic Soup the same two questions because we love to get everybody’s perspective on these same two questions. We now just refer to these as “the Cynthia questions.”
Mike: Are you ready for this?
Don: Should I take the 5th?
Cynthia: Yeah. Get ready.
Don: If I disconnect, you’ll know why. But you know what, Cynthia? Shoot away.
Mike: All right.
Cynthia: Well, when you think about senior living communities, the whole landscape of senior living, independent living – well, actually, let’s focus on independent assisted. What do you think are three things, like if we have operators out there listening to us. Based on your knowledge from being inside communities, what are three things that you think any community could do that would just instantly change the lives of residents and make them happier?
Don: Wow. I kind of go back to one of the first communities I went to. We made some major changes that really was long-term thinking for the market because we were about 20 years behind the market. Listening to market intel was good for our future but changed the lives of the people who live there.
I think you have to take a hard look at some of the policies that you have in place, the simple things like is the pet policy the right policy to have. Dining: What’s the dining like? Is it being a hindrance for future growth and census? If you tweak that, it’s going to be good for the residents.
One is, listen to what the future market wants because that’s what’s important, at the same time enhancing the lives of the current. You’ve got to be willing to make changes. You’ve got to be willing to spend the dollars to make those changes. If not, then you’re going to play catch-up.
Don: If you’re playing catch-up, it’s going to cost you twice as much as it would if you would have just done it the first time.
You asked for three things in the community. Listen to the residents. They have to have a say because they can make and break you.
Have a good referral system. If their life is great, it’s going to resonate with the folks that you need to meet. When I go to the residents and say, “I need some help. I need some residents on the resident panel discussion,” they have folks that you have to turn away.
Make sure you have a champion. You’ve got to have champions in the community, especially for your operators out there that are looking at expansion or growth. You’re going to want their input, so they’re going to be champions within.
What else? Cynthia, you remember some of the things we did at some of the communities, some major changes. I’m a strong believer in people. We’re only as good as the people we hire. If we’re not taking care of those people, and I set the bar high in marketing folks, set the bar and expectation high, we better be taking care of our people that are taking care of our most important asset which is our residents.
Cynthia: Uh-huh. Well, I think that’s something that I really respect about your working style and your management style is you do have that Nordstrom customer service approach, which is, your sales teams have always been extremely professional, extremely kind, nice, and you just felt like this Nordstrom level of customer service with your sales teams.
Okay, now here’s our big, big question.
Cynthia: Close your eyes. Don Warfield is now 25 years older but you could create the community that would be absolutely perfect for you and Chris. If you could design it, create all the programming, build it, what would it be?
Mike: Your dream concept.
Cynthia: Your dream concept.
Don: Can I open up my eyes so I don’t fall over?
Cynthia: Don’t fall down.
Don: You know what? As crazy as it is – not crazy – I thought about this. It’s a community that allows me to be who I am and enriches my life and experience.
One of the changes that’s been happening is to get away from this CCRC, continuing care, selling this idea that, “Hey, you need us because you’re going to need care,” and really changing it to a life plan. For me, a community that allows me to continue to do the things I enjoy at the community level and know that I have this safety net of care there because the one thing I don’t want to be is a burden on my boys and my family.
Maybe it’s a cruise ship. You know the saying now is senior living, senior hospitality is like a cruise ship on land, and I really like that idea. I want to be able to do some – I probably want to be in a warm climate somewhere because I’ve been living in the Northwest all my life and I like it but there are some communities that I’ve seen down in warm climates that I just like the idea of golfing, being able to get out and go biking. God, hopefully, I’ll be still running at 80-some-years-old and knowing that if life selects for me and picks on me that I have quality care there.
That change is slowly happening already because, guess what, the baby boomers want that. I’m right probably outside that, without telling you my age. For me, it’s a community that’s going to give me the opportunity to continue to enrich my life and not feel like I’m giving something up.
Don: I’m already tired of the home. I’m looking out the window today. My yard is full of leaves. The gutters are full. I’m worried about things around the home. I’m ready to give that stuff up.
Cynthia: Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, I think that that’s kind of what we’re seeing is that people are moving younger and younger because a lot of baby boomers have gone to college. They’ve lived in dorms. They’ve lived on campuses and they completely like that lifestyle, being around other people, having a vibe, and having access to amenities: running, golfing.
Don: You’re exactly right. I think the providers that are going to really position themselves for great success are going to give the market the reason to skip that middle move that you and I have talked about.
Don: That middle move of, okay, we’re downsizing and now we’re going to go to a condo somewhere or maybe a 55+. Then they still need to make that other move.
The providers in the communities that recognize and give the reason to skip that are going to, one, get younger population but, two, they’re not going to have that up and down of occupancy issues. It’s just going to be smooth sailing.
Don: The reason why is because there are still 10,000 people turning 65 every day in this country for the next 20 years.
Don: The market is strong. We, the marketers, have to give these folks a reason to make that move.
Mike: Yeah. Well, Don, you’ve provided us some amazing insight, just a brief glimpse into who you really are. I’m sure that we’re going to do a deep dive with you later on a future episode. For now, I think that we’ve had an amazing time having you here in the Soup today.
Either Don or Cynthia, is there anything else that we want to close this out with before we let everybody kind of get back to their evenings?
Cynthia: Well, we hope to see you at LeadingAge National. Visit our booth.
Cynthia: We’ve got a little sister Mary Kate of perpetual ROI who wants to talk to you at LeadingAge National, so come on by.
Then also, we are part of the Envision Experience at LeadingAge National. Mike Peacock here is instructing a cocktail class. Chef Shawn is doing an appetizer, but we also have Rhonda, a registered dietitian, and Kelly, a neuroscientist, talking about food and how it affects our health during COVID-19. We want you to stop by.
Don: Mike, thank you for the opportunity. From my standpoint, it’s exciting to be at 3rdThird, excited to be a part of Cosmic Soup. Looking forward to the future. I just love the business that I’m in and I’m glad that I’m now partnered with the right team at 3rdThird Marketing.
Mike: You can never escape. Just remember that.
Cynthia: You’re here forever.
Don: I forgot about that. Okay. Sounds good.
Mike: All right. Cynthia, Don, thank you again for hanging out today. Of course, thanks to all of you out there in podcast land for tuning in. We’ll be back and talk to you real soon, not two months next time, on Cosmic Soup. Thank you very much.
Cynthia: [Laughter] Thank you.