When one of the nation's largest senior living companies is getting 25 percent of its leads from online senior placement and other referral agencies, a number that “creeps up month over month,” it's likely an indication of things to come for providers. “The real opportunity here is we only get eight percent of our move-ins from those leads,” says John Cincotta, senior vice president - sales at Emeritus Senior Living. “We realize that this is a preferred starting place for the customer right now, and we want to make sure we're meeting their needs.”
Online senior placement services, which have existed for longer than a decade and can be discovered en masse with a simple Google search, have been “exploding over the last couple of years,” Cincotta says. Depending on the specific service, visitors to a senior placement website are asked to input their information to be matched with a facility or selection of facilities that may meet their needs. Sometimes the facilities are those that have paid to work directly with the online service; other times the service solicits facilities with referrals. In regards to both placement services and referral agencies, providers can be charged a flat monthly subscription rate, a portion of a resident's first month's rent if and when they move in, or even a fee per lead.
“It varies depending upon the type of agency and whether or not they have an advisor,” says Cincotta, who has been using some form of senior placement and referral for 14 years at Emeritus. “And those are the ones so far that are working the best for us. They have not only an Internet presence, but also an advisor connected to it. They are basically filtering the lead for us and we build a relationship with that particular advisor.
“Those advisors have seen our communities and we have a bond, and the lead becomes very much personal at that time.”
These personal relationships also allow the senior living provider to continuously educate advisors on the types of residents they accept, or better serve, and ensure that the pricing is right to get the best leads possible. “We don't want to waste anybody's time,” Cincotta says.
Also in the interest of using time more efficiently, since the online placement and referral services are electronic, Emeritus is auto-populating these leads in its lead management system used by community sales forces. “Some of the placement companies can give us reports on how quickly we responded to their leads,” he says. “If we're not responding quickly to these people, we might be overextending ourselves.”
OTHER ONLINE SERVICES
Not all lead generation on the Web is in the form of senior placement. A variety of creative options exist to help providers raise awareness about their facilities. Robert Walker is a brand manager at senior housing directory RetirementHomes.com, a Canadian company online since 1997 that does a bulk of its business in the United States and receives close to 250,000 unique visitors each month. “We have about 34,000 individual facilities listed on our site, of which about 2,600 are paid,” Walker says.
Any facility can receive a free listing on the website, while paid listings appear at the top and have more interactive features, such as photos and access to a mapping function. “Fees for listing are determined by a variable of expected performance,” Walker says. “If a facility is in a state where we receive more traffic, they will receive more exposure, and thus the price will reflect that. But if a facility is in a lower traffic state for us, they do not have to purchase as high a listing to get the same exposure.”
SeniorHousingNet—part of the larger Move, Inc., network of sites—launched in 1999 as an Internet listing operated as an online marketing service. The company also delivers phone and email inquiries from prospective residents to its more than 2,000 senior living provider customers. It's a monthly subscription service and allows providers to link their social media pages to each listing, as well as host facility pictures, floor plans and other media.
SeniorHomes.com is another online directory, which has the option for surfers to contact an advisor by phone. Providers are then charged per qualified lead; no other fees are owed. The site also boasts a staff of 15 writers, mostly geriatric care managers and gerontological experts. “We have all this content to help educate consumers when they're faced with this big decision,” says Chris Rodde, co-founder and CEO of SeniorHomes.com. “What are the costs? How do I pay for it? When I go to visit an assisted living community, what questions should I be asking?”
Rodde says the communities that he sees standing out are those with an outward personality and the ability to connect with individual residents—or build relationships, as echoed by Cincotta. “It's really about figuring out what that person is uniquely interested in and seeing if you've got that,” Rodde says. “And if you don't, then maybe it just isn't a good fit.”