This article is brought to you by Sherpa. The article is based on an interview that took place during a virtual panel discussion 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 off our event strong this morning, talking about what the senior living industry really wants. That is a challenge even when we don’t have a pandemic going on.
Again, if you’re in senior living sales, I think that you know how much of the job is managing leads, giving tours, marketing information on products to prospects, or I should say people. Sales teams have quotas. It’s worth asking, do these intentions best meet the needs of the market? People are still dealing with fear, ambivalence, confusion, and, in some cases, they are undergoing a crisis. Today, we’re going to learn how sellers and sales teams need to be sensitive to that.
Joining us today, we have Alex Fisher of Sherpa, which is a St. Louis-based firm that offers a sales enablement platform providing methodology, CRM technology, and sales analytics to the senior living industry. We also have Casey Jackson of the Institute of Individual and Organizational Change, which provides training and guidance in evidence-based motivational interviewing.
First, I want to thank our thought leadership sponsors, which are Sherpa, Conversion Logix, and PointClickCare. I also want to thank our awareness sponsors, Caring.com, The Vectre, and Gemini: Advanced Marketing Solutions.
Alexandra Fisher: Institutionally, our industry has been born out of this idea of providing shelter and care for individuals. It was born out of the skilled nursing industry where older adults that needed shelter, care, support came to. A lot has changed since then. A lot has changed in the way we build our buildings, in the way we do lifestyle and amenities. What hasn’t really changed very much is the way we sell, the way we look for prospects and for prospective residents, and the way we try to close them.
By that, I mean that it seems like we are really focused on that 5% of our market or of our lead base that are ready to go. They have some urgency. They need care, they need shelter, they can’t stay at home any longer. But 90% of the market are ambivalent about whether they would leave their home. I think what people really are looking for is the place of belonging. A place where they can preserve their identity and they can find belonging so that they can spend the remainder 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 we become remarkable? How do we become more empathic? How do we act with more urgency? Not finding urgency in our market, but us being more urgent about the enormous tasks that we have to provide happiness and long life for our market, for our potential residents.
Then what is required in terms of imagination and curiosity? Institutionally, we have been educated to know things, not to be curious about things. We go to school, and we are asked for our expertise or for our knowledge and that’s how we’re gauged. We’re trying to throw some light as to whether that’s a good practice for our lives and for our work.
Casey Jackson: Alex, one of the things about thinking outside the box is I am not from the senior living industry. I’m way outside of the box with that. My background is in mental health and substance use and working with families and people that have been incarcerated. That’s quite a way out of the senior living industry.
The thing that I get fascinated about when we’re working with human beings is I studied a lot on trauma and stress. When we talk about pre-COVID, we talk about being in the throes of COVID, they’re just stress on the brain. When we’re stressed, we go into fight, flight, and freeze mode. What people tend to want to do is rescue or sell or push or coax or coerce, find ways to engage people in a change process to resolve ambivalence, and the metrics around it shows that it does not work. It can exacerbate situations.
The thing that I always get fascinated with, with populations that I serve or work with and what I look with older adults as well too, is we know some basic physics around human behavior change. We know, cross-culturally, human beings want their behavior to be aligned with what their values and their goals are. We want to be in line 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 entire life for the last two months, and I say, “Wait a second, what about this? You posted on social media. Does that have integrity, or does that show respect?” As soon as we get caught or we catch ourselves, the first thing we do is we either blame someone outside of us or we make an excuse.
When we make excuses, that means we’re internal, which means there’s ambivalence there. If we’re blaming outside of ourselves, that’s resistance, energy between two things. What fascinates me about human dynamics, and when you’re looking at the human brain, is you’re trying to help them resolve ambivalence and that’s when we tend to push, we tend to generate resistance.
When you study these things, what’s fascinating is that according to physics, there is no such thing as a resistant individual. There’s no such thing as a resistant spouse to an older adult. There’s no such thing as a resistant adult-child. Per physics, no human being, no one human being is resistant. Even in the addiction world, they’re not resistant.
The way you think about this, when you look at physics, is if I picked up a rubber band, how much resistance is in a rubber band? None, until what? Until we pull on it. Every time you open your mouth in any conversation, personally or professionally, you can increase tension, or you can reduce tension. This is what’s fascinating.
According to physics, this is resistance. Resistance requires two things, which means what you have is people that are ambivalent. If you have an ambivalent person who’s struggling to make a decision and someone steps into the equation with a thought or an opinion, the energy can shift this direction. As soon as it shifts this direction, now you’ve got resistance where there was ambivalence.
There are specific methods to convert resistance to ambivalence. The tension between two things, where there’s no way there’s going to be a win-win when there’s tension between two things. What we can do in short order, this is why I get obsessed with evidence-based practices and fidelity, is 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 less than three minutes, they already have generated ambivalence instead of resistance through communication.
Because the one thing we do have control over is what comes out of our mouth. That’s what we have control over. We don’t have control over how they think. You can try to feature-dump, you can try to educate, you can try to provide information, and that doesn’t unstress the brain. That actually increases stress to the brain.
This is what’s so fascinating about it is when you look from a physics perspective, the picture would shift. Because if I just pop up the picture and say, “Hey, where do you see resistance in this picture?” The majority of people will say, “Well, with the donkey.” If I ask a physicist where she sees the resistance here, she’d say, “Well, I can measure it between the kid’s shoulder and the donkey’s butt. I can put a mechanism in there and measure the pressure point right there.”
What happens, which is difficult in the world you work in, is the more attached you get to an outcome, the more you push, the more you’re facilitating resistance. In this picture, the irony is if the kid just stood up and took two steps back, the donkey’s head swings forward, and as soon as you step up and start pushing again, the donkey starts to push back.
This is basic physics in dialogue or communication. This is really difficult for people because we do get attached to other people’s outcomes, but the science and the research around it is pretty clear. When you’re generating stress in someone, they cannot get into their prefrontal cortex. 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 that happens, the more that the brain cannot go up into the cortex. It actually goes into the primal 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 stress on a day-to-day basis that you’ve never experienced before. Which means sometimes you’re not always making the best decisions, or the decisions you’re making are more survival decisions. “I’m not going to meet with people in-person. That makes me too nervous,” or “I’m not going to do this,” or “I can’t do this.” We shift into survival mode.
For some reason, we think that if we give somebody enough education or information that they will actually change their behavior. What we see on a national level, that doesn’t work. When you’re working with an individual or an older adult who already has a low level of stress, then add a pandemic on top of it, then you add somebody who’s bringing them muffins every other week, saying that I’m your friend, will you listen to me and talk to me because I’ve got some great things that I think will help you, that does not engage the cortex. It doesn’t engage decision-making in that process.
This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity. To watch the full discussion on video, please visit:
Sherpa is a sales enablement platform that elevates the senior living industry by transforming the sales process with a Prospect Centered Selling® methodology. Marrying leading CRM technology, hands-on training, robust analytical tools and deep customer engagement lets Sherpa revolutionize the way senior housing is sold. To learn how, visit sherpacrm.com.