At Argentum’s 2017 Senior Living Executive Conference, one of the panel participants was asked about how senior living providers can analyze the competition. As part of his answer, the speaker openly mentioned the tactic of conducting secret shops on competitors, along with several other tactics. The one thing that was left unsaid: To be better at growing referrals, closing more referrals into admissions and growing revenue, you have to know your competition’s strengths and weaknesses so you can defeat them.
These five primary tactics can help you fully evaluate your competition: Secret shops, open shops, employee feedback, feedback from residents and families and interviews with referral sources. To get a complete picture of your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses you should evaluate your competitors through many different eyes, including employees who have worked there, residents and families who evaluated the competitors during their decision-making process, secret shoppers and professionals who refer patients or clients to you and your competitors.
1. Secret shops: My first word of advice is to have someone other than you or your key staff conduct a secret shop. Save yourself the embarrassment of getting caught—I have seen it happen. Create a specific prospective resident profile that the secret shopper presents to your competitor. I believe strongly that the evaluation should include your competitor’s sales acumen along with the product, services, cleanliness, price/costs and other factors specific to the product. The secret shopper’s specific need profile will appear believable to the competitor and enable the evaluation to be more detailed.
During a secret shop, look for veiled or direct negative references about your facility or community. These tactics to downgrade a prospective client’s opinion or view of your facility are particularly important for you to counter. For example, one of my client’s competitors discusses directly with prospective residents their large multi-community size versus my client’s size as a single facility, raising the spectre of financial instability.
2. Open shops: Openly request a tour of your competitors so you can evaluate their strengths and weaknesses with your understanding of the industry and knowledge of your own facility’s strengths and weaknesses. Be sure to observe closely any differences between their presentation to the secret shopper and their presentation to you as an industry peer.
3. Employees: You probably have numerous employees who have worked for your competitors or who work in both places. They have insider information that could be of use to you, especially in the areas of culture, staffing, clinical programs/services and treatment of residents.
4. Residents and families: Existing residents and their families may have toured your competitors as part of their search for services or were residents of your competitor previously and as such they have significant insider information.
If residents transfer to your site from a competitor, they were probable dissatisfied with their services. This is a unique opportunity to learn significant competitive intelligence that they will be happy to divulge, if you ask the right questions. I coach sales teams to ask questions about the size of their accommodations, price, quality of care, customer service, and satisfactions/dissatisfactions.