This article is brought to you by Sherpa. The article is based on an interview that took place during a virtual roundtable with Alex Fisher, co-founder of Sherpa and Casey Jackson, executive director of the Institute for Individual and Organizational Change. The panel took place virtually on January 19, 2022. This is an excerpt from the session, which has been edited for length and clarity.
SHN: Welcome to the SHN Sales Summit. We’re starting our event strong this morning, talking about what the senior living industry really wants. This is a challenge even when there is no ongoing pandemic.
Again, if you’re in retirement home sales, I think you know how hard the job is managing leads, arranging visits, providing product marketing information to leads, or, should I say, to people. Sales teams have quotas. It’s worth asking, do these intentions best meet market needs? People are still struggling with fear, ambivalence, confusion, and in some cases they are going through a crisis. Today we’re going to learn how salespeople and sales teams need to be sensitive to this.
Today we welcome Alex Fisher from Sherpa, a St. Louis-based company that offers a sales enablement platform providing sales methodology, CRM technology and analytics to the retirement home industry. . We also have Casey Jackson from the Institute of Individual and Organizational Change, who offers training and advice on evidence-based motivational interviewing.
First, I want to thank our thought-leader sponsors, which are Sherpa, Conversion Logix, and PointClickCare. I also want to thank our outreach sponsors, Caring.com, The Vectre and Gemini: Advanced Marketing Solutions.
Alexandra Fisher: Institutionally, our industry was born out of this idea of housing and caring for individuals. It grew out of the skilled nursing industry where older people who needed shelter, care and support came. Many things have changed since then. A lot has changed in the way we construct our buildings, in the way we design lifestyle and amenities. What really hasn’t changed much is how we sell, how we seek out leads and potential residents, and how we try to close them.
By that I mean it seems like we’re really focused on the 5% of our market or prospect base that is ready to go. They have a certain urgency. They need care, they need shelter, they can’t stay at home anymore. But 90% of the market are ambivalent about whether they would leave their homes. I think what people are really looking for is place to belong. A place where they can preserve their identity and find a sense of belonging so they can spend the rest of their lives in a community that sees them, that values them.
We discussed the need for practical empathy, the need to be remarkable. How do you become remarkable? How do we become more empathetic? How to act with more urgency? Finding no urgency in our market, but being more urgent about the enormous tasks we have to bring happiness and long life to our market, to our potential residents.
So what is needed in terms of imagination and curiosity? Institutionally, we have been educated to know things, not to be curious about things. We go to school, we are asked for our expertise or our knowledge and that is how we are evaluated. We’re trying to shed some light on whether this is good practice for our lives and for our work.
Casey Jackson: Alex, one of the things about thinking outside the box is that I’m not in the senior living industry. I’m way out of the box with this. I have a mental health and addictions background and work with families and incarcerated individuals. It’s quite far from the retirement home industry.
What fascinates me when we work with human beings is that I have studied trauma and stress extensively. When we talk about pre-COVID, we’re talking about being in the throes of COVID, it’s just a stress on the brain. When we are stressed, we go into fight, flight and freeze mode. What people tend to want to do is save or sell or push or coax or coerce, find ways to engage people in a process of change to resolve ambivalence, and the metrics around that show that it doesn’t work. This can exacerbate situations.
The thing that always fascinates me, with the populations that I serve or work with and also look at with older adults, is that we know some basic physics around human behavior change. We know, from a cross-cultural perspective, that human beings want their behavior to be aligned with their values and goals. We want to be in tune with that.
If you tell me that you have a high level of integrity, if you tell me that you always show people respect, and then if I rewind your whole life for the past two months and say, “Wait a second, what about that? ? You posted on social media. Does it have integrity, or does it show respect? As soon as we get caught or catch ourselves, the first thing we do is either blame someone outside of us or find an excuse.
When we make excuses, it means we are internal, which means there is ambivalence there. If we blame outside of ourselves, it’s resistance, energy between two things. What fascinates me about human dynamics, and when you look at the human brain, is that you try to help them resolve ambivalence and that’s where we tend to push, we tend to generate resistance.
When you study these things, what is fascinating is that according to physics there is no such thing as a resistant individual. There is no spouse resistant to an elderly person. There is no resistant adult-child. According to physics, no human being, no human being is resistant. Even in the world of drug addiction, they don’t resist.
The way you think about it, when you look at physics, is if I took a rubber band, what is the resistance of a rubber band? None, until what? Until we shoot it. Every time you open your mouth in a conversation, personal or professional, you can increase the tension or reduce it. That’s what’s fascinating.
According to physics, it is resistance. Resistance requires two things, which means you have ambivalent people. If you have an ambivalent person who is struggling to make a decision and someone enters the equation with a thought or an opinion, the energy can change that direction. As soon as he changes that direction, now you have resistance where there was ambivalence.
There are specific methods to convert resistance into ambivalence. The tension between two things, where there is no way there is a win-win when there is tension between two things. What we can do in a short time, which is why I’m obsessed with evidence-based practices and fidelity, it’s like when I work with law enforcement. I’ve had videos where there’s a significant amount of resistance, incredible amounts of resistance, and within three minutes they’ve already generated ambivalence instead of communication resistance.
Because the only thing we have control over is what comes out of our mouths. This is what we control. We have no control over their way of thinking. You can try to suppress functionality, you can try to educate, you can try to provide information, and it doesn’t de-stress the brain. It actually increases brain stress.
That’s what’s so fascinating about it is that when you look at it from a physics perspective, the picture would change. Because if I bring up the photo and say, “Hey, where do you see resistance in this photo?” Most people will say, “Well, with the donkey.” If I asked a physicist where she sees the resistance here, she would say, “Well, I can measure it between the shoulder of the kid and the butt of the donkey.” I can put a mechanism in there and measure the pressure point right there.
What happens, what is difficult in the world that you work in, is that the more you attach to an outcome, the more you push, the more you facilitate resistance. In this picture, the irony is that if the child gets up and takes two steps back, the donkey’s head swings forward, and as soon as you get up and start pushing again, the donkey starts to to move back.
It’s basic physics in dialogue or communication. It’s really hard for people because we get attached to other people’s results, but the science and research on this is pretty clear. When you generate stress in someone, it can’t get into their prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is where our decision making or good decision making comes from. Our entire cortex of our brain is where the executive functioning is, the CEO of our brain that makes good decisions. The more stress there is, the more the brain cannot move up into the cortex. It actually goes into the primitive brain and the survival brain.
Now you take a pandemic on top of that, where people are chronically… You, yourself, have low levels of chronic day-to-day stress that you’ve never experienced before. Which means that sometimes you don’t always make the best decisions, or the decisions you make are more survival decisions. “I’m not going to meet people in person. It makes me too nervous”, or “I’m not going to do this” or “I can’t do this”. We go into survival mode.
For some reason, we believe that if we give someone enough education or information, they will actually change their behavior. What we see at the national level, it does not work. When you work with a person or an elderly person who already has a low level of stress, then add a pandemic on top of that, then you add someone who brings them muffins every two weeks, saying I’m your friend, will you listen to me and talk to me because I have great things that I think will help you, that don’t engage the cortex. It does not engage decision-making in this process.
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity. To watch the full video discussion, go to:
Sherpa is a sales enablement platform that elevates the retirement home industry by transforming the sales process with a Prospect Centered Selling® methodology. By combining cutting-edge CRM technology, hands-on training, robust analytical tools, and deep customer engagement, Sherpa is revolutionizing the way senior housing is sold. To find out how, visit sherpacrm.com.